health

"Isolation is giving people a glimpse into life with chronic pain. It's time I talk about mine."

During your final years of high school, milestones take place, people grow up and you learn more about yourself than you ever have before.

But for me, being diagnosed with a chronic illness significantly impacted my life for five years.

And yes, I did experience many of those milestones when I was able to, but for most of the time, I was tired and in a lot of pain.

Here’s how you’re coping in isolation according to your star sign. Post continues below.

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During the past few months of COVID-19, there have been moments that have triggered memories of this time and forced me to confront my experience; how large of a role it played it my life.

This is a small glimpse into what I lived with.

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It was 2014, I was 17 years old and suddenly I was tired and sore all the time.

Simple things like stacking this dishwasher, vacuuming the house or typing a late-night essay were all near-impossible tasks.

My joints would ache to the point where I was left feeling like I had run a marathon (no, I cannot and do not run). I would sleep for hours because my body desperately needed it. I barely ate.

During the first year, I had various specialists on rotation and we tried many medications to manage the pain but nothing seemed to work.

And after feeling mentally and physically defeated from constant pain and having no understanding as to why this was happening, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia come under the umbrella of chronic illness. They can both be long-lasting but the severity, symptoms and timeline of both illnesses vary from person to person.

Chronic fatigue is an illness that affects a person’s nervous system, causing pain in the muscles and inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. For many people, it can be triggered by an earlier infection and can develop and worsen over time. For me, it was off the back of a strep infection and left me with extreme aches and exhaustion, all the time.

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Fibromyalgia, whilst similar, is an illness that causes widespread pain throughout the body and only affects two-five per cent of the population. Lady Gaga and Morgan Freeman have both spoken about it and how it has impacted their lives.

And although many people still don’t and won’t ever understand either illness because they cannot be detected by blood tests, I can assure you, they are both very real.

After my diagnosis, I missed three months of my final year of high school. My parents would congratulate me on the weeks when I could make it in at least once. There was a lot of crying.

Don’t get me wrong, I made the most of it when I could.

I attended parties, formals and social gatherings when I felt up to it, but that would always come with the unwanted questions about my absence, along with the confusion of what chronic illness actually is.

The following years came with more pain, medication and mostly, bed rest.

Because exhaustion is the main symptom of both, my body was desperate to rest. So whenever I could, I was in bed watching something or sleeping.

And at 20 years old that was not what I wanted to be doing. I was missing out on life.

I began my university degree and adjusted my schedule to my body’s needs. I quickly learnt how many classes I could miss without failing and saved them for my flare-up days, and I extended my degree for an extra year to ensure I would be able to graduate, even if I had a few issues along the way.

But the thing about chronic illness is, if you think you’re getting better and take it that little bit too far, you can be taken right back to the beginning again.

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This happened many times over the five years when it was at its worst, including early last year when I had to quit my retail job because it was too painful to do anymore.

I have to acknowledge that I’m lucky. Through all of this, I was surrounded by the best people. My incredible mum suffers from chronic illness as well, so I had someone to speak to when others couldn’t understand.

My dad, brother and sister are all fantastic human beings who despite not understanding what I was going through on a personal level, were always there.

And, I met my amazing boyfriend who held my hand through every meltdown (thank you) and introduced me to the one thing that has gotten rid of 99 per cent of my pain for the past year.

 

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Last year, after reluctantly quitting my retail job, I decided it was time to change my lifestyle in an attempt to fix my chronic pain.

I was hating how many pills I was taking and angry at how much control it had over my life.

So I began with baby steps and started eating better and walking every single day. But doctors assured me that this be a long process and it would take time.

However, I stuck to my routine and three months in, I began CrossFit training.

I can honestly say that it changed my life.

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BBB Christmas Party with my favourite coach (might be a bit biased)

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For the past eight months, I have trained two to three times a week (this was built up over time) and maintained a full-time job that I bloody adore with next to no pain.

Over the past few weeks, because of COVID-19, my training schedule has been completely cut off and my pain has come back.

And although it isn’t nearly as bad as before, I constantly think about how miserable I was, stuck inside while everyone was out enjoying life.

That’s until I’m quickly reminded that due to this awful, unprecedented pandemic, everyone else is inside too.

And when people say, “I’m over this,” or “I want to be able to go outside,” I know that they are finally getting a small glimpse of what my life with chronic illness has been like.

So please, before you judge someone who is at home in bed all-day, or consider them ‘lucky’ because they don’t have to face work or commitments, think about this.

Chronic illness is real, it’s debilitating and it’s far from fun.

I’m unbelievably grateful that I’ve found something that works for me and has helped ease the pain, but that isn’t the case for everyone.

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Feature image: Supplied. 

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