It is 4 years ago to the day since I got sick. Or rather, it is 4 years ago to the day that I was too ill to go to work. My ME-versary if you will.
Back in December 2010 I had been ill for nearly a week but work was crazy with a big transaction aiming to complete before Christmas so I didn’t feel I could take time off. The office was full of winter coughs and colds and the clever decision to hold our department Christmas party in a basement bar only exacerbated matters. The Monday morning following the Friday night party, the office was half empty with people having gone down with the flu. Those of us that were stupid enough to have gone in, were coughing and spluttering, running fevers and generally being hotbeds of germs. I lasted two days working in this state, including attending a client meeting in Birmingham, 2 hours each way by train. I left the office at 8.30 pm on the Tuesday night taking work home with me. I intended on going in the next day, I left my glasses on my desk, as I so often did when I left late and wouldn’t be doing anything more than dinner and bed when I got home.
Wednesday morning I got up early and was walking to the bus stop just before 7 am. I felt awful. The effort of getting dressed had left me in a hot sweaty clammy exhausted mess with tears pricking at my eyes. But I thought if I just went into work that morning I could get my work load under control and then have a few days off to get better. But as I walked to the bus stop, I started to cry. It had snowed a few days earlier and the lying snow had frozen over night. Walking without sliding was near impossible and far too much effort for my poorly body. I had only gone a few steps when I decided to phone my Mum. I know she remembers this conversation as well as I do:
Me: ‘Hey, it’s me’
Mum: ‘Where are you?’
Me: ‘Walking to the bus stop’
Mum: ‘What are you doing? Go home. If you carry on like this you’re going to end up in hospital. GO HOME. You’re no use to anyone in this state’
I knew I wasn’t well enough to go to work but thought I should be going. I needed someone to tell me. And so I turned around and went home. I thought a couple of days off and I’d be back at work before Christmas. How wrong was I. I didn’t return to work until the following April and even then it was only part time and short lived. (If you want to read my story in full see this post).
Viruses are so often the start of ME/CFS and so instill a real fear in those of us with this illness. Over the last few years I have done everything I can to avoid catching colds or the flu, knowing that they have been the undoing of me so many times before. ME/CFS is horrible. ME/CFS + the flu is just plain mean.
For me and so many others the fear is totally understandable, given how my life my changed in 2010 thanks to catching the flu virus doing the rounds, it is only natural that I would be scared of what catching a cold or the flu would now do to me. But no good comes from feeling that way. The fear of ‘is this going to make me relapse’, ‘am I going to go backwards’, ‘how am I ever going to get over this’, just heightens anxiety and increases the stress response in our already overly active nervous system. This in turn causes the standard ME/CFS symptoms to worsen, which seemingly validates our fears and fuels the fire even further, which in turn increases the stress….you get the picture. In short literally nothing good happens.
I am currently sporting a nice red nose and husky voice. I’ve caught the bad cold that has being going around over the last few weeks. I’m actually quite proud, I didn’t catch it from Mr B when he had it a month ago. My immune system is clearly more robust now than I perhaps thought. That statement still stands despite me now being a coughing, sniffing, Vicks vapour inhaling delight. As bad as I feel, I don’t feel anywhere close to as awful as I have felt many times before. My body has met this cold and said ‘NO! You are not taking Jess down, not this time’! And that in itself feels to me like an achievement and another milestone in my road to recovery. Yes my head feels like it is overstuffed and needs piercing to let the congestion out and yes all I want to do is curl up and snooze. But I am still able to function. I still cooked dinner the other night (egg fried rice with lashings of fresh ginger, onion and garlic, all good antidotes to head colds I’m told) and although I felt pretty rough by the time I got back, I was still able to go for a little walk to buy myself more anti flu medication yesterday. When my ME/CFS was rife, even without a cold, even on a good day, I wasn’t able to do these things. So to be able to carry on and look after myself (and a drunken, hungover, stinking man as I did on Sunday) is definitely a score for me: Jess 1 ME/CFS 0.
The fear is still there. I guess it always will be. I am still learning to trust my body again. But I do genuinely feel the fear is less real this time. The further I move forward, little by little fear’s hold on me gets less and less. I can do this. I am getting better. I am recovering. ME/CFS is no longer winning and neither is this pesky cold.
For now though, I’ll keep myself swathed in cotton wool. I’m still fragile. I know that. I’ll keep being kind to myself and keep steering operation beat bad cold into submission: drinking my hot honey and lemon, eating clementines like there’s no tomorrow, slurping homemade soup, relaxing in bubble baths, watching trashy TV huddled under the quilt Mr B’s lovely Mum made for us, inhaling Vicks vapour rub and, when I feel like it, gently moving my body by doing soothing yoga like this Yoga for When You Are Sick sequence by Yoga With Adriene (I highly recommend her You Tube channel for lots of free inspiring yoga videos by the way).
That’s all from me for now. Back to the sofa and quilt I go.
Until next time, stay warm and as cold germ and bug free as you can :-)