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What next…?

It gets to the stage when you seriously question just how many times you can pick yourself back up.

10 days ago I was travelling home after spending the weekend with my oldest friend. My parents had kindly picked me up and we were driving north. A few miles outside of Edinburgh, I started to have a seizure in the back seat of the car. My head banged hard multiple times off the car door. I was taken straight to A&E where it took some time to persuade me to leave the car and when I finally did I started the second of the seizures. This time I thrashed on the gurney. Truthfully, I don’t remember any of this. I suspect the story I’ve been told has been softened up a little. I did spend 3 days in hospital. I did have 3 seizures and I did give myself a small bleed in my brain as proved by a CT Scan that I don’t remember having.

I was discharged from hospital a week ago. I don’t remember too much about any of that, but I do remember starting to feel really unwell as time was going on. When it became a bit more apparent to me that there was something not quite right with my face, I called NHS24 & was given an appointment at a hospital.

Long story, short. I have been diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Half my face is paralysed; one eye doesn’t close; my ears are constantly ringing and yet there is a sense of deafness in my right ear. I can’t speak very well. I can’t eat very well. And without putting too fine a point on it, I’m pretty scared.

Apparently, there isn’t really anything that can be done for Bell’s Palsy. There is a small chance that steroids can help if they are given soon enough after initial diagnosis, so I am currently on a high dose of them, but there are no guarantees. I’ve been told that it’s hard to go out with my face looking the way it does – reassuring! I’ve also been told to try to do it as soon as possible – terrifying! I’ve been for more scans, so perhaps that counts as being in public?! I’ve also got another appointment tomorrow, so maybe that is good enough to reinforce the “get out there” mentality?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about wondering whether I’d done any of “this” to myself. Here I am again. Where to go from here? At what point do I get to feel sorry for myself without inviting the comments about being a victim? Surely, it’s ok to feel a bit hard done by, no?

Epilepsy. MS. Depression. Bell’s Palsy.

Can that not please be enough? Please! Apart from the headaches and the pain, I feel a bizarre kind of emptiness. A sort of “what’s the point”? I don’t quite know the purpose of these struggles. What am I supposed to be learning? Isn’t there an Idiots Guide to… I can read instead? Who the hell have I upset so much that these afflictions are my punishment?

Ah, here they come. The tears. I can blink them away from one eye, but the other just streams. I know it’s going to leave my eye red, sore and swollen. Yet, there is nothing I can do about it. Just something else, that I have no option but to put up with. When does it end? When will it end? What can I do to make this all go away?

Yep, feeling sorry for myself now. Who cares? I’m not strong enough to take this and if I want to dissolve into buckets of tears then where is the harm in that? I’m not hurting anyone by doing that and maybe I just need to know that it’s ok not to be ok. Right? We get told that don’t we? That we don’t have to be strong all the time and that it’s ok to be scared sometimes?

So, here I am. Another affliction I can’t control. Another solitary journey. Another route I can’t explain to another and more feelings of inadequacy.

I don’t know how many more times I can pick myself back up.

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Epilepsy, Janet & KitKats…

I was supposed to be in Krakow last week. Instead, I was at home, hiding in my family tree where I made a discovery of another epilepsy-related death in the family. This time on my mother’s side of the family. The not travelling thing is something I’m going to have to deal with quite soon. My confidence is just shot to ribbons.

Anyway, I’ve written before about GGG Agnes, she died during a seizure in 1914. GGG Agnes was my Dad’s great-grandmother. Janet, my Mother’s second cousin, died during a seizure in hospital in 1933. I wonder just how different their deaths were. What was it like to die at home in 1914 compared to a hospital in 1933?

Today, I spent another long day at the hospital, thankfully courtesy of a scheduled appointment, rather than my usual drop-in-uninvited-via-an-ambulance visit. More scans, more blood tests, more eye examinations, more questions. No more answers. No reasons as to why my body attacks itself. Nothing to help my mind understand so that it stops attacking myself.

I wonder if answers are what its all about though. I mean, it only really matters if the answers enable a resolution? Understanding the why is only part of the story. The next chapter is fixing the why; the prequel is prevention. For me, though, I need to understand the why. I don’t mean the “why me?”; I just mean the why. It’s the only way that I can sort of come to terms with my situation, even if I may never be able to change it. I participate in clinical studies fully in the knowledge that any discoveries made are unlikely to be able to help me, but they could change the life of another human being.

The consultants went to great lengths to explain that I didn’t do anything to give myself MS. On an intellectual level, I kinda get that. I want to get that. But, there is a niggle. An itch that can’t be scratched. With my epilepsy, I spent a long time believing it was the solely the result of a terrible skiing accident. My brother spent a long time believing it was solely the result of him breaking a snooker cue on my head when we were kids. My parents never offered an opinion and it wasn’t until I found out they knew about GGG Agnes that I understood their lack of opinion. In actual fact, it turned out that I was genetically pre-disposed and that in all likelihood the near-death experience in the Alps had simply triggered the faulty gene. It is virtually impossible that the snooker cue incident was the cause.

There are at least two incidences in my family tree to confirm the genetic disposition to epilepsy. I wonder how common it is to have at least one incidence of death by epilepsy on both the maternal and the paternal side of a family? Of course, knowing these relatives died during a seizure is different from knowing how many of my kin suffered from epilepsy but died from an unrelated cause.  I find myself looking through the death certificates amassed for my family to see if I can find anything that may point toward MS. I know its probably a futile exercise and I know that it would be virtually impossible to prove a link, but I feel like I have to do it. It’s a kind of compulsion.

MS can be genetic. You’re apparently more likely to get MS if someone else in your family has it or had it. So, I wonder if I will find that link, whether the gene is inherited or whether I’m just bloody unlucky. If both conditions are inherited then perhaps it’s a good thing I can’t have kids.

It’s interesting, to me anyway, to look back and see what kind of medical research was going on throughout the ages. Given that 1914 and 1933 seem to be featuring heavily for me at the moment, this is part of what I found (paraphrased of course!).

Most of the interest of the day seems to centre around electroencephalography. In 1912, a Russian physiologist, noticed the electric changes in the brain during experimentally induced seizures. In the same year, Pravdich-Neminsky, a Ukrainian physiologist, published the first animal EEG and two years later the first photographs of electroencephalography of a dog were published. Important discoveries in electroencephalography were made during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924, Berger, a German neurologist, recorded the first human electroencephalogram. His results brought controversy and scepticism within the scientific community, but he was not ignored and his results were confirmed later. In 1932, Berger reported sequential postictal EEG changes after a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, and in 1933 he published the first example of interictal changes and a minor epileptic seizure using an EEG. Also in 1912, Alfred Hauptmann was able to synthesize phenobarbital, one of the first anti-epileptic drugs. Fascinating times and great strides forward being made in the clinical side of epilepsy, unfortunately, the social side was still lacking far behind.

So far, in my family research, I’ve not been able to find any clues as to whether MS has played a part in any of my family history. Apart from those deaths during seizures, there has been a worrying amount of heart disease, one “burned to death” in 1834 (must investigate whether she was attached to a stake at the time – the dates would fit with epilepsy=witch!) and an unfortunate dock worker who was hit on the head by a falling wooden beam. Nothing suggestive of an MS symptom, but there is much out there still to research about my relatives…

So, I’m left knowing I need to spend more time in the hospital next week. More tests! I do wonder if its worth it sometimes. I wonder how things would be if I didn’t have MS in particular. I don’t know what “normal” should feel like anymore and I miss knowing myself. It feels like the questions are designed to catch me out. Yes, I’m so very very tired, but I don’t know how much of that is related to the MS, depression and epilepsy! Why aren’t the doctors able to answer that question? Why does it seem to be down to me to know that answer? It’s frustrating in the extreme. I didn’t go to med school. I don’t know the answers and whereas I’m fully aware there is very little definitive info that can be given to me, I want to hear the consultants’ opinions and reasonings as to what is going on. It’s hard to know there are no answers. Phrasing questions like “could it be that…?” – well, of course it bloody well could be anything, but I don’t know! That’s why I’m here asking you the questions!! It’s like saying to me “well, you’ve highlighted there is a problem here, but how would YOU fix it…”.

Ok, so I’ve established I’m frustrated. Tired and frustrated actually. Stressed out? Yep, tick. Burning red twice a day? Yep, tick. However, on the positive side, so far at least, I’ve not burned to death; I’ve not been crushed by a log (my bro tried that one, when we are kids – didn’t work then, won’t work now); and I’ve discovered the wonders of Dark Mint KitKats. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat as many as I have, but to date, my hand-to-mouth co-ordination has not been affected by either MS or Epilepsy, so I’m bloody well going to make the most of it!

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Dear Brain…prt2…

The last time I wrote an open letter to you, brain, I was on my knees and begging for answers. I sure as shit did not like the response.

I’m back again. Well, not that I really left. We’re intrinsically linked. I can’t live without you, but I do find myself wondering if you can live without me. I’m finding it hard to keep up with you, you see. You just never stop. You never give me a moment’s peace. That’s why I’m writing this at 11pm on a Tuesday night. The voices just won’t shut up!

Oh, not those kinds of voices. No, I’m not quite there yet. But someone rabbits incessantly all day, all night. It can only be you, brain. I need to find a name for you. I can think of several that are apt, but none of them look good in print. It seems bizarre talking to you in this way. Because I’m not really talking to you, I’m talking to myself. You are me and I am you. Could drive a person insane trying to figure that one out. But does make me wonder how I can shut myself up…

My brain. Lobelia.

Lobelia presents me with many challenges. She particularly likes to ask me difficult questions in the wee small hours. She knows I need to sleep, but apparently she doesn’t care. Fatigue leads to problems for my epilepsy. Lobelia knows this. Lobelia has known this since she short-circuited when I was 15. Please don’t get wound up on the gender identification I’ve placed on Lobelia. For the sake of clarity – I am woman! Lobelia is going to be a woman too, whether she bloody well likes it or not. Anyway, I digress. Lobelia was triggered into electrical action when I was 15. It’s amazing what a combination of a faulty gene and a skiing trip can do! Maybe Lobelia blames my physical body (which she controls) for this. I don’t know that answer. She only seems to like asking questions at inopportune moments (hours); she’s not really one for giving answers.

Anyway, Lobelia knows that fatigue and epilepsy are not great bed-fellows. One of them really should take the spare room. But still, she insists on making them co-habit. And to make things just that little more interesting, she introduced MS into the mix. MS is like the mother-in-law from hell who moves in, just as your already fractious relationship is teetering on the brink. Lobelia has got a really sick sense of humour. If I am her and she is me, then how come we can’t get along?

Lobelia is average weight – around 3lbs. She is about 15cms long. And she lives the phrase – “good things come in small packages…and so does poison”. She allows me to function on a day-to-day basis, but the price I pay for that is heavy. She leaves me exhausted, but won’t let me sleep. She relies on drugs to soften the hard edges of the living arrangements she created herself; but not the soporific type. She asks me questions that have no answers; she drags up my history and replays it; she loves to play the “what if…” game. She tells me just how tired I am and then sinks me into a depression that is immeasurable. She uses that state to get more drugs. Well, we call them medications. They’re all legal and above-board. Even though one of them gets delivered to my house in a grey package and it always seems a little weird to have that happen. I find myself looking around furtively to see if anyone is witnessing the transaction. I’m glad I don’t live on a street corner!

Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my days? Lobelia knows that she will live forever. Actually, we all live forever. Forever, can only be determined by an individual. Your forever, isn’t my forever. Has anyone ever promised to love you forever, only to leave you 5 years later? I rest my case. Cynical? Perhaps. Best ask Lobelia. Not that she’ll give you any answers.

Dear Lobelia. I am your physical shell. I hold in one place all of your nerves. I know you’re having issues keeping hold of the myelin sheath around those nerves. I know that according to Pakkenberg et al. the length of myelinated nerve fibres in you Lobelia = 150,000-180,000 km. That is a helluva lot of fibres. I know you started with around 20 billion neocortical neurons and I know you lose them at a rate of around 1 per second. I don’t know how quickly you can replace them. I know you pose these questions to me late at night. You throw them in there along with the frivolous musings and the rehashing of conversations I had 20 years ago that could have gone better. I just don’t have the capacity to think about these things anymore. There is no room. You can remember the random facts from a different life, but I can’t remember the birthday of my best friend. You want to torment me with the failings of a previous inning, but I can’t continue to function at a high enough level to keep the current one successful. Lobelia giveth and Lobelia taketh away.

Lobelia. We need to reimagine how this is going to go. What could it be like? What say you let me sleep for a few hours? Hold your questions and accusations for a dedicated time slot during the day? Will that work for you? I know, I know, I’m asking the question and you won’t want to answer. Think about though, please. My sanity depends on it.

What Lobelia doesn’t know is…I’ve donated her to research when my forever comes to a close. Hehehehe.

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The Dark Days of Summer…

I’m finding it hard to write at the moment. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just I don’t know how far I can go before I lose myself to the darkness again.

It’s ironic that the beauty of this UK summer is coinciding with the darkest depression I’ve had in a very long time. It seems that everything is coming together at once and the relentless waves I usually feel my depressions to be, have grown into an almighty tsunami. But I don’t know which metaphorical earthquake has triggered it.

I can’t lay the cause at one door. I’m not sure why I’m trying to. But I can’t just do the whole “acknowledge and accept and let it pass” thing. Forgive me if you will, but I just find that a little bit too touchy feely for my current raw state. My regularly burning skin is just far too sensitive to take any kind of manipulation and I really don’t want to explore what’s in the recess of my mind. I find myself scared of it.

I used to suffer a recurring dream when I was little. It involved the wardrobe in my brother’s room, the non-existent basement to our house and a carpet of writhing, hissing, spitting snakes. I believed that if I stood on the brass makers-plate on the floor of the wardrobe, it would open up and I would drop into the snake pit. I would scream and scream but no one came to help me. I never ever found out what happened to me because my screaming was real and I’d wake myself up. You’d think I’d have a problem with snakes given that nightmare, but I feel neither one way nor another about them. A certain fascination is there, in that I want to learn about them, but beyond that they hold no fear for me. I still think about that dream, a good 30 years since I last had it. I think the snakes were a representation of my thoughts and the basement is just the all-encompassing darkness of the mind. I spent the whole time we lived in that house terrified of a brass plate. It’s now the snakelike tendrils of the thoughts and processes of my mind that occupy my thoughts.

My soul isn’t doing somersaults at the moment, Rumi. Depression came to tea and appears to be staying for dinner. The heart sitting on my sleeve is telling blatant lies through rose-tinted lenses and I’m carrying a shroud of fear and hopelessness that I’m praying is invisible. Bit daft really, when I’m penning a post about how depressing depression is.

And yet, I still get up and function. Traditional descriptions of depression would say that the darkness is all encompassing, there is no functioning, there’s just black. However, this is the 21st century. Most of us who suffer don’t fit this traditional assumption of what depression is. There are just too many facets to it, to adequately pigeonhole all of us who live it.

Why am I able to go to a job and successfully do it if I’m apparently suffering from depression? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, it makes me feel more “normal”. Secondly, it’s a distraction. Thirdly, it’s my way of fighting back. These are the highlights for me. Many others don’t have the luxury of sick benefits – they don’t work, they don’t get paid. Many others are simply unable to get out of bed, get out of the house, get on public transport, deal with those so-called simple things that many don’t even think about, they don’t need to.

Depression isn’t a one size fits all illness. It strikes everybody slightly differently. Everybody deals with it slightly differently. We do what we have to do to get through each day. I make no apology for that.

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MS & Marionettes…

Today, I stepped off the bus and I didn’t know if my legs were going to support me. Tomorrow, I’m going back to the hospital.

As I write this, there is a red, angry rash covering my whole body. It’s caused by the medication I’m on and it happens twice a day. I know it’s the drugs and I know it will pass, but there is a tiny sliver of me that wonders if this will be the time when it doesn’t go away. The rash is accompanied by a burning sensation that radiates from my head downwards. It truly feels like I’m being incinerated from the inside out. The itchy feeling makes me want to claw at my skin. I just want it to stop. I try to see the funny side. I look like a tomato and feel like one that’s being grilled. I feel a bizarre empathy for griddled foods. But it isn’t funny and I’m not laughing. Quite the opposite.

I feel like a puppet and the marionettist hasn’t a clue what they’re doing. I walked from the bus stop to work and with every step, I felt a weakness in my legs. The only other time I really feel my muscles is after an intense burst of exercise. Then it’s generally pain. Today, finding words to describe it adequately is hard. My legs felt weak to the point it was almost funny. The sensation was that of overwhelming weakness but no pain at all. I’m fully aware that my gait is all over the place and I’m supremely conscious of every other person hurrying to get on with their day. I don’t hurry. I can’t hurry. I’m scared to hurry. The invisible puppeteer with his invisible wires is leading my legs on a merry little dance that has no rhythm and no grace.

I know where I want my legs to go. I see the path in front of me and I’m trying to walk in a straight line. I know I’m not. I’m lurching almost from side to side. An old ankle injury seems to be bearing the brunt of my weird walk and I can feel a yelp from the joint. Not an out and out scream, but more that it’s reminding me that it has a valid weakness and it can’t really cope with the extra weight that is being applied at a weird angle. I don’t know that I have ever been that completely conscious of any part of my body before. Other than my eyes. A year ago.

My eyes have been feeling a bit off kilter too. They seem to leak a lot more fluid these days than ever before. I think it’s what people generally call tears. I feel fairly certain that I’m losing more than my fair share of them and I wonder if tears form part of the myelin sheath that’s meant to be surrounding my nerves, but is, in actual fact, leaking out of my tear ducts at a sometimes alarming rate. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, but I was never a great crier. Until recently. Well, I say recently, but I mean in the last year or so. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been adverse to the odd crying session. Thankfully I’m not a wailer when it comes to the expression of tearful emotions, rather they escape silently, steadily flowing down my cheeks. I want to go back to the days when I wore my emotions on my face, but they weren’t accompanied by these hot little tears that are born of frustration, anger and fear. The problem with my eyes isn’t the tears though. I feel a pressure behind my left eye that makes it seem like it will explode at any given second. The fear that this is the beginning of a repeat of those terrifying weeks a year ago is bubbling through me. I wonder (or maybe hope) that it could just be a sinus issue and that’s what I’m feeling. Nothing to do with MS, but instead, a fairly common affliction that the vast majority of us have felt at one time or another.

I also have a, sometimes overwhelming, feeling of sadness. I’m still working that one out.

The feelings of muscle weakness that I have so inadequately described are accompanied by a terror that I try to pretend isn’t there. What if. I’m scared I’m on the verge of a relapse. I’m terrified because I don’t know how that feels and so can’t be certain. I don’t know if the weakness is just because I’m so very tired. All the time. Tired. I don’t know if I’m so focussed on every little thing my body goes through, that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. If I’m being really honest, when I try to describe these feelings to people, the blank looks and the sometimes fleeting expressions of disbelief make me feel fraudulent.

I can’t describe it. Others can’t understand it.

I used to understand my body. Epilepsy is an almighty pain in the ass, but I knew what to expect. I knew how I would feel. I didn’t always see it coming, but compared to how I feel every day now, I’m glad of that. It would hit me like a ton of bricks, leave me battered, bruised and depressed and then bugger off until it stored up enough energy to electrocute my brain again. Of course, I’m describing that in the past tense, but it is ever-present. Always in the background. Always watchful for the next chance to become the puppeteer.

Through the whole “woe is me” and the tears, I try to find the positives. My legs did support me today. I felt like a newborn-Bambi on ice, but I did make the short trip from the bus stop to the office. And I also successfully completed the return journey. Some would say I was worried over nothing, Unfortunately, that couldn’t be said until after I’d achieved the short walk to the office and the subsequent activities of the day. It went through my mind every time I sat down, that the last time I have stood up under my own steam, may have passed. Then I remember that I’m a drama queen and get over myself. But it is stored away in the cupboard that houses the electrical circuits.

At age 45, I knew me. At age 46, I’m a stranger to myself. What is it they say about strangers? They’re just friends we don’t know yet. It would seem that this stranger is going to become a friend I will have a love/hate relationship with!

Perhaps though, that will give me more cheerful things to write about!!

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Soul Mining…

I sponsor a goat. Her name is Ellen and she was rescued, along with 2 little friends, from a life of agony because of a disability. Ellen is a Nigerian Dwarf goat. Her illness is not hidden, but she was all but abandoned because her front legs are deformed. Thankfully, the owner of the farm where the goats were, agreed to hand them over to the Barn Sanctuary and she is being well looked after and having braces fitted to help with her deformity. Ellen is a lucky little goat. Someone saw her life and knew it needed to change.

I also sponsor, through Marine CSI, a Great White shark. Seamus isn’t deformed, but if you get in his way, you very well may be. Such is the nature of a shark to have to bite to know if it can eat you. The water is his domain. You’ve been warned.

It has been a very strange few weeks. Things just don’t seem right. It’s hard to describe what I mean, it seems that nothing is sitting comfortably for me and my feet are getting itchy. For once, that’s nothing to do with the MS! As well as dealing with all that comes with MS and epilepsy, sufferers also have to deal with the everyday ailments the same as the rest of the population. For me, this week anyhow, that’s been the dreaded stomach bug. There is no need to go into detail here, but I know you all get it. Well not necessarily the stomach bug, although…Anyway that, the fatigue which has moved in, unpacked and shows no sign of leaving, and the general feeling of unease, has left me unsettled. I don’t know what is wrong.

I don’t know if anything is wrong! Perhaps that’s the issue. Maybe everything is just too darn familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt, right? That could well be it. I know that I can’t take a deep breath, I know that I can’t shift the fog and I know that I can’t put my finger on what the problem truly is. Or maybe I just don’t want to. I search my soul a lot. It seems to be never-ending, but I guess that’s the whole point of a soul right? I search and look and pry and dig deep. I turn things over and put things back and return to familiar hunting grounds and see the same things. My soul is where I go when I need to research. My soul is my personal Google. I’ve been here before. Many times. The aching chasm of my soul that’s shrouded in mystery and yet alive in glorious, unashamed technicolour. It’s rich and deep and yet can be mean and shallow. It is comforting and frightening in equal measure. It sits on my sleeve and gossips with my heart. Then it retreats after it’s whispered its fears and joys, leaving me with nothing to grasp.

My soul. The keeper of all my secrets. My friend, my conscience, my harshest critic, my biggest fan, my brightest light and my darkest shadow. There lie all the answers. I know that because I believe, our souls – yes, all living beings have one – encompass everything you can’t touch or see but just know instinctively is there. Every book, every article, every column ever written about so-called self-help, tells how it all starts within. And that’s all well and good, but the only way you can start that process then, is to know what is within. Know thyself. I can’t remember right now who that phrase is attributed to, I think it was Socrates that probably coined it, but it could have just as easily been Plato. Thinking about it, neither of them probably said that phrase at all but their writings will have been a long version along the lines of how you can’t really know anything unless you know yourself. But, how can you truly know yourself? (That last sentence was put there by me, I don’t think either of them actually questioned it, but willing to be corrected on that point).

If we are ever evolving and I think we are. We all act and react differently to different stimuli and as we age our tolerances change with us and so we are always becoming something new. If we are changing all the time, then how do we keep up with who we are. Let’s take me for example. This time last year I was reeling from an MS diagnosis. Everything I thought I knew about me and my body was suddenly ripped away from me by those 2 letters. I was numb for a bit. Highly emotional for a bit. Terrified virtually always. Angry, stunned, confused, depressed and lord knows how many more adjectives could describe the feelings that coursed through me. I never returned to the Kirsty I was the day before. I tried to recover me. But that me was gone and I’m left to shape a new me. Ever evolving. What I knew to be true then, doesn’t seem to be true now. How I used to react to different situations and different people has changed. I used to know how I would react. I only know now that I won’t react in the same way.

Sounds a bit confusing and it is. A bit like the Titanic, my soul doesn’t want to give up all its secrets. I can find new ways to search it and develop techniques that help me deal with its depths and caverns, but it seems unwilling to yield to my constant requests for it to help. I know the answers are there, but I just can’t seem to dig them out. So, my soul has swallowed every old version there ever has been of me and so all that I need to know is there somewhere, but I don’t have the right combination of search terms to unlock them. Soul searching is hard to do. Any search will always uncover something you’ve worked hard to forget and bury. Soul searching will always point you in the direction that you need to go, but it doesn’t give you the strength to put your boots down on that path and walk it. Soul searching is best done when it’s been sat with your heart. That’s when the answers are closest to the top. Your soul can give you the directions, but it can’t make you take the journey.

The soul is never going to say the answer is 3 doors down on your left. (Although it could be, if that’s where your heart has told your soul it’s desire is…). The soul is going to give you the piece of unmoulded clay and an idea of what the finished article could look like. It is still up to the current you, you as you are now, to take the search results and action them.

As a matter of interest, as well as Ellen and Seamus, I also sponsor Amur Tigers through WWF, Rhinos through Care for Wild, dogs through Dogs Trust, a young girl through PlanUK, plus I donate to UNICEF and help remove plastic from the oceans through donating to 4Oceans and my cats consist of one adoption and 2 rescues. They all have souls and their souls all whispered to my heart.

And yes, I stole the title for this post from The The. Credit where credit is due.

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Hidden Illnesses and the Kindness of Strangers…

When we hear the term “hidden illness” most of us think immediately about mental health issues. And yes, mental health has become somewhat of a poster child for the phrase. That’s actually a great thing, awareness about different mental health concerns absolutely needs to be raised and the topic needs to be discussed much more readily. But what about all the other conditions that you can’t see?

I’ve talked briefly about hidden illnesses before. But this time, it’s personal. Let’s take a look at my immediate family and take a little checklist of the qualifying conditions. Bear in mind, these are just those that I know about. My family has the absolute right, as do you, to keep their hidden illnesses, well, hidden. Private is probably a better word. So, there is depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, congenital heart defect, migraine, arthritis, cancer and anxiety disorder. Some mental health conditions, some auto-immune conditions, some wiring problems and some organ issues. If I lined my family up, you could not tell by sight who suffers from what. Hidden. Invisible.

What other afflictions, conditions, diseases, disorders are out there that you simply can not see? Diabetes, digestive disorders (Crohn’s, IBS…), chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, Aspergers, Endometriosis, Lupus, Lyme disease, spinal disorders, narcolepsy…the list goes on and on. Most of these are not just conditions whereby you take a couple of painkillers and you’ll be ok in the morning either. Many of these are actually classed as a disability. That entitles you to certain benefits and in the UK, sometimes even the hallowed Blue Badge parking permit. Yet, many suffering these disabling conditions are subject to abuse for it, because there are no outward signs.

The individual stories of my family members are not mine to tell. So, you will have to make do with me…

CPTWN

This is me about to cage dive with Great Whites in Cape Town – do I look depressed?

RARO

This is me trekking on a South Pacific island – do I look like I have epilepsy?

SKYDIVE

SKDV

This is me skydiving in NZ – can you see my MS?

BTRD

This is also me. Have I had an accident, was I attacked, did my partner beat me? No, I was on the receiving end of an unforgiving seizure.

Not so many months ago, I was in a shop looking a little worse for wear. My hair wasn’t washed, I was very pale, had huge dark patches under my eyes and I had bruises and needle marks on my arms. People avoided me. Why? They saw junkie; they didn’t see the after effects of almost a week in hospital on a steroid drip to try to save my sight. Judged by appearance.

I’ve been seen falling in the street in the middle of the day. I’ve been left there while people walked past me, assuming me drunk. They didn’t consider I might be ill. I didn’t look ill. There was no car that had hit me, no stone I tripped over. I was judged, again, by appearance. Strangers picked me up and helped me.

I don’t look sick; most of the time. A losing battle with epilepsy often leaves me bruised and a bit battered, but on the whole, I generally look ok. I smile, therefore I’m not depressed. I laugh, therefore I’m not in pain. I don’t use a walking aid, therefore I’m not disabled. I’m not wearing a cast, therefore I’m not broken.

I’m not a religious person really. I have a set of beliefs that I hold to me and I keep them private. There is one bible quote, however, that resonates with me. It’s from the Gospel of Matthew – “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you”. I feel that it’s actually not so much biblical but rather plain old common sense, and it matters not whether you attribute it to Matthew, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, the Dalai Lama or your Gran.

Don’t judge others, unless you wish to be judged yourself. And if you do choose to be judgemental, then remember that what goes around, comes around. We, in general, have very little clue what goes on behind closed doors, but remember what you physically see will never be the full story.

As an adult, still in control of my faculties, I’ve chosen to share with others my hidden illnesses. I do this for a variety of reasons. Some selfish, some selfless but in there is the desire to bring some conversations to the front and centre. I don’t believe that you have to spill your guts to all and sundry to be part of the discussion, but I do think we could all be a bit more forgiving with our thoughts and jump not to the conclusion that the person who isn’t walking in a straight line and looks like they may fall, might be drunk but they are just as likely to be ill and in need of assistance.

Would you be willing to offer kindness to a stranger?