Anxiety · Chronic Illness · Mental Health · OCD · Symptoms · Tourette Syndrome

Symptom of the Week – Obsessions and Compulsions

This week is not so much symptom of the week, but condition of the week as OCD is a condition in itself.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder which many people have as a stand alone condition or alongside other conditions e.g. Tourette Syndrome. In a nutshell OCD is when a person lives in a vicious cycle of getting obsessive thoughts which cause anxiety that leads them to perform compulsive behaviour for short term relief.

For example a person may have obsessive thoughts about contamination which cause them anxiety so they compulsively and repetitively wash and clean to take away those intrusive thoughts. Another example is having obsessive thoughts that make you believe your actions may leave yourself or other people at risk causing you anxiety, so this leads to compulsive behaviour in the form of checking to make sure things are turned off and/or doors are locked.

My experience

For me OCD is a result of two things: my anxiety issues and my Tourette’s. In terms of anxiety I find being an anxious person I worry about a lot of things from worrying about germs to how my actions may affect someone else. Through the years I have built many compulsive behaviours to combat my obsessive thoughts. However this side of my OCD has improved in recent times and whilst I still do compulsive behaviours from time to time, (disinfecting anything in sight or getting out of bed repetitively to check things are turned off), the majority of my OCD now sits with my Tourette’s. My ticking goes hand in hand with my checking of lists and I tic whilst I check and need to tic if I don’t check – I can’t win!

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My top tips for Obsessions and Compulsions – as always please check with your doctor/specialist before trying any new tips/ideas.

  • Refocus your mind – I know this is really hard when you are in the mist of a obsessive/compulsion cycle, but try to engage your mind on something else. Be it an activity or a happy memory try to distract yourself and move away from your obsessive thoughts.
  • Ask your doctor about CBT – CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a psychological therapy which focuses on the here and now. It teaches you how your thoughts have an impact on not only your emotions, but your behaviours too. Many GP surgeries now provide CBT or can inform you of courses in your area.
  • Speak to a counsellor – If you believe your OCD stems from a particular reason you may find a series of counselling sessions may help. Getting to the root of your problems may help not only your OCD, but your mental health in general. You can access counselling in a variety of different ways nowadays including face to face, telephone and video calling.
  • Get in touch with support groups – Joining a support group or accessing online information will help you to feel that you are not alone. Dealing with obsessive, intrusive thoughts can make you feel very lonely so seeing and hearing about other people’s experiences can help. Charities such as OCD-UK, Rethink and Mind are a great starting tool. To here about my own experiences you can read my article on my anxiety episode with germs here .
  • Build up your self-esteem and trust yourself – I find with my OCD a lot of the time I am looking for reassurance from others because I don’t trust my own instincts and therefore my own self. Realising you are capable of things and you can trust yourself as much as anyone else if not more will aid in your quest to combating your obsessions and compulsions.

Tourette’s related OCD

If you find your OCD is significantly related to your tics then you may find seeking help for your Tourette’s is more appropriate. You can find out more information on tics in my last post here . You can also find details of charities that may be able to help you further.

Chronic Illness · Symptoms · Tourette Syndrome

Symptom of the Week – Tics

So this week is dedicated to my fellow tickers of the Tourette’s variety. According to the NHS website tics are involuntary sounds or movements. Tics can be sudden and difficult to control and usually start in childhood. For some people tics may disappear in adulthood however a significant number of people may find tics continue into adulthood with them.

Examples of physical tics can include: jumping, grimacing, eye rolling, jerking and blinking amongst other things. Whereas examples of vocal tics can include: whistling, coughing, animal sounds, grunting and tongue clicking. However there are an abundance of different tics depending on the individual.

For anyone learning about Tourette’s and tics for the first time it is important to know that not all people with tics swear! In fact people who experience swearing also known as Coprolalia are less common than people who don’t.

My experience

I am what I would call a motor ticker meaning my tics are physical and in my movements rather than verbal. I was diagnosed when I was about 18 which tends to be quite late after spending years being told I was epileptic. I am able to control my tics in public which I know some people are unable to do, but I suffer for this when at home as I have to release the build-up once I am back. This obviously causes havoc with my ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia as my muscles stiffen up when I tic.

My tics have evolved over the years although my current bundle include pacing whilst kicking out legs and arms, facial grimacing and holding my arms and hands stiff.

My top tips for tics – as always please check with your doctor/specialist before trying any new tips/ideas.

  • Manage stress levels – Stress and anxiety can make you need to tic worse. Try to identify any stressful triggers in your life and look at ways to overcome them. You can read my previous articles on modern day stress here and managing stress at home here for more tips.
  • Get good restful sleep – As with stress tiredness can elevate your ticking. Practice good sleep hygiene and make sure you get enough sleep and rest each night. For more information on good sleep hygiene you can read my article I’m not Lazy, I’m Fatigued here.
  • Find engaging activities – I have to admit I do struggle with this particular point because I find I need to tic in intense happiness as well as intense stress. However they do say focusing your mind on an activity can help your tics to subside. Consider activities such as puzzle books, craftwork and reading.
  • Find support through charities – A great tool to feel connected to others with tics and know you are not alone is to look on the websites of Tourette’s charities such as Tourettes Action based in the UK and The Tourette Organisation of America. These websites hold an array of information including information on symptoms, information for professionals and support groups. They can also give you more information on behavioural therapies that you may find of use.
  • Consider a medical card/bracelet – If your tics are severe you may want to consider carrying a medical card or wearing a medical bracelet. That way if you are in certain situations were your tics arise you can show the card/bracelet to others to show them they are a result of Tourette’s.
  • Embrace your tics – Whilst you can find ways to hide your tics and in some scenarios you may find this beneficial, I also think it is important to embrace them too. Tics don’t define you, but they are a part of you and you should never feel ashamed of who you are. Educate others by talking about your tics because the more people understand the real world of Tourette’s the more comfortable you will feel.

Next week’s symptom: OCD

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome · Chronic Illness · Fibromyalgia · ME · UTCD

Work and Chronic Illness

Life in the workplace can be difficult at the best of times, but what if you are in the mist of your career and you are struck with chronic illness? How do you navigate being uncontrollably ill whilst being expected to keep up with your responsibilities in your job role? Today I would like to share with you my experience of becoming ill in the workplace.

My workplace experiences

My own personal experience begins with leaving university with a degree in Psychology and believing I could do whatever I wanted. Before realising I was ill I did a number of different jobs during my time at uni including waitressing and retail work, not understanding why doing a four hour shift was killing me. After uni I moved into a admin position which led me into the corporate world working in a HR department. I was earning good money working five days a week on full time hours, and at the age of 25 feeling I was around 80. Whilst my colleagues worked a full week and had hobbies in the evenings and then busy weekends I would get home and collapse on the sofa just about managing to have food, (prepared by someone else), before falling asleep. My weekends were a blur of sleep and pain not being able to leave the house because I needed so much rest. Going back to work on a Monday morning was always a struggle as I felt the weekend hadn’t been long enough, and having to hear everyone else’s tales of great weekend adventures was simply depressing. Yet the more tired I got the more I pushed myself not realising at the time I was doing myself more harm than good. My ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia conditions had developed and were in their full glory with every working day a battle with feelings of pain, tiredness, sickness and dizziness just to name a few. Needless to say this was exacerbated by the stressful working environment I was in.

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My never-ending ill health led me to having multiple absences from work with each absence lasting months at a time as my body struggled to function. Each time I returned to work I was ushered into a disciplinary meeting whereby I would be read the riot act about absence. Each time I listened and apologised even for being ill, and each time they would tell me they would ease my workload in order to support me and all I had to do was speak up when things were getting too much. So I did just that I spoke up when my symptoms were getting too much, but unfortunately my concerns were ignored. As a result my conditions would take over and I would be signed off work again.

After five years of working like this I made the decision to leave my job as my body and mind were no longer mine to control. I did not return to the working world for 18 months in my quest to get ‘better’. I chose to go back to work after 18 months as I felt I was ready to try again, but this time on part time hours. I lasted 8 months during which I had another extended absence and once again had to walk away. The people I worked with were lovely, but once again my individual needs were not conducive to the environment I was working in.

It was after leaving that job I realised that chronic illness is something I will always have to consider in my working life and finding an employer who understands that will be vital in me trying to keep as healthy as possible. An employer who doesn’t just say they understand disability in order to tick the equality acts box, but an employer who truly listens and acts on what they hear.

The reality of ME/CFS in the workplace

It is wrong to assume every person with a chronic illness cannot work, but for ME/CFS sufferers in particular the whole concept of holding down a job is a job in itself. People assume it is the work itself that causes problems which of course it does, but so do all the elements around holding down a job. From being able to get up early in the morning, losing an established health routine, to the commute into the workplace and the interaction with other people – the whole day can be filled with challenges.

Whilst employers are becoming more aware of the importance of equality in the workplace in the form of disability, there is still one area of disability that many employers are not exploring which is that of the chronic illness employee.

I don’t blame employers for not understanding how to support chronic illness employees in the workplace. I don’t understand it myself either half the time. Living with chronic illness and in particular living with ME/CFS is unpredictable at the best of times and makes planning a normal working week next to impossible. That’s why reasonable adjustments and flexible working are so important when it comes to chronic illness.

Flexible working can range from altering start and finish times, the number of hours you work and probably the most vital tool for people with ME/CFS the ability to work from home.

But what if you don’t have that option and you have to physically go to work? Whilst it would be lovely to sit here and say don’t go to work if you can’t the reality is that isn’t practical for some people no matter how much you want it to be. Whilst I am not working at this moment in time due to my illnesses there have been times when I haven’t had a choice due to finances but go to a workplace, and I know there are many people who are in the same boat.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

My top three tips for supporting yourself in the workplace (if indeed you can make it there)

  • Be honest with your employer – This has always been something I have struggled with since becoming ill – when and if to tell an employer. Should you tell them on the application form? At an interview? Or three months in when you are having an unbearable flare up? The truth is the choice is entirely yours, but being honest with your employer isn’t something you should shy away from. The more honest you are the more you can communicate your needs. Sell your skills as well as your limitations and show that there is more to you than being an illness. This way it is a two way street of what you can give them as well as what you need them to give you. If you become ill whilst in work then you should make your employer aware sooner rather than later to ensure you are given the support you need as soon as possible.
  • Read up on your company’s disability policies – All companies should have policy and procedures which should include a disability section. Read it or get someone you trust to read it and familiarise yourself with it so you know your rights within the workplace. Find out about policies regarding flexible working and highlight any areas relevant to you. Once you feel you are prepared request a meeting with your manager, (taking in a witness if needed to help you record notes). Discuss what reasonable adjustments you are entitled to showing them the policies you have read.
  • Contact HR – If like I did you found your manager isn’t listening or keeps delaying any support you are entitled to contact your HR department. As a disabled employee you are entitled to reasonable adjustments including occupational health assessments and your HR department will know this. Remember to keep detailed correspondence between yourself and anyone you speak to not only to act as a reminder, but to keep as evidence for future reference.

So here you have it my experience of becoming ill in the workplace. There is no doubt working with chronic illnesses is a tricky affair, but so is living with them. The important thing to know is all workplaces are different and they offer different experiences, but that doesn’t stop you exerting your rights. Don’t pressurise yourself to work if you are not in a place to do so, but equally if are able, (or have no choice), speak out about your needs. You are no less worthy of your role than the person next to you, illness or no illness.

If the topic of working is of particular interest to you keep an eye out for my upcoming posts on benefits, employment (with more specific tips in the workplace) and career changes.

Chronic Illness · PCOS · Symptoms

Symptom of the Week – Unwanted/Excessive Hair Growth

We are on week two of PCOS Awareness month so today is another symptom related to PCOS: Unwanted/Excessive Hair Growth.

Hair growth is natural we all have it somewhere on our bodies at some point in our lives, but for PCOS sufferers this can be more than the average person. Excessive hair growth also known as hirsutism is often dark and thick and can appear anywhere on your body. The most common areas for this to occur are your face, neck, upper lip, chest, thighs, tummy, bum and/or lower back.

My experience

For a long time I hid my hair growth from anyone even my doctor because I found it so embarrassing, but then I realised I needed to be honest in order to get help with my diagnosis and other symptoms. Whilst I suffer from hirsutism in a certain area I also find that my ‘normal’ areas of hair growth grow back rather quickly. I can shave my legs one day and two days later it is visibly growing back. I guess that is one plus point for the colder weather – I get to cover up more and not have to keep thinking about any unwanted hairs showing!

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

My top tips for unwanted/excessive hair growth – As always please check with your doctor/specialist before trying any new tips or ideas.

  • Identify your hair removal technique – There are so many ways nowadays to remove your hair – it’s just finding what suits you best. You need to ask yourself what’s important to you; do you want to do it yourself or go see a professional? Do you want something that is fairly straightforward, but may mean having to do it quite regularly or do you want something more fiddly in the short term, but may have longer results? You also need to consider where on your body you need to remove the hair and which technique would work best. The techniques you can explore include waxing, shaving, hair removal creams and plucking.
  • Decide if hair removal is what you want – Not everybody wants to remove their hair perhaps because they have to do it so often or because actually they don’t see it as a big enough issue. If this is the case you may consider bleaching techniques instead to lighten the hair. I have no experience of bleaching so you will need to do your own research if bleaching is something you want to explore.
  • Speak to your doctor/pharmacist about specific areas – If you have hirsutism in certain areas your doctor may be able to prescribe you creams which can help with the speed of your hair growth. Doctors can also discuss with you contraception options to help with your hormones based on your individual circumstances.
  • Review your lifestyle – People with PCOS tend to have higher androgen levels which can cause some of the horrible symptoms of PCOS. If you are overweight loosing just a slight bit of weight, (in the healthy way), can help to decrease your androgen levels and help with your unwanted hair.
  • Accept yourself for who you are – This is probably the most important tip of all, yet the hardest to master. Hair growth can be an embarrassing symptom, but once you accept it for what it is – a symptom of your condition – then you can start to take control on how it makes you feel. Feeling better in yourself mentally will help you deal with your body physically.

In conclusion, there is no rule book saying how you should deal with hair growth and it is up to you what you do about it. Whether you remove it, lighten it, keep it and embrace it; the choice is yours.

Next week is dedicated to my fellow tickers. I am talking Tourette Syndrome and next week’s symptom of the week is: Tics

Books · Chronic Illness

Read a Book Day

Yesterday was Read a Book Day so technically I am late, but that’s living with chronic illnesses for you they don’t make planning easy!

Rather than talk about a self help book or a book about one of my conditions I wanted to share with you some books/authors that I absolutely love to read to escape my days of chronic symptoms.

Reading with chronic illness is difficult at the best of times especially when you experience fatigue; the book can be difficult to hold, the page can be hard to focus on, the fatigued invaded area which is normally your brain cannot take in a word that is being read, but on your good days reading can be magical. The key is to remember that reading isn’t a race and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. There have been times when it has taken me months to get through one book, but it was always worth it in the end.

I have mentioned in a previous blog post that there are ways of interacting with a book even if you can’t read it yourself such as getting someone to read to you, or listening to an audio book. You can also access books from your local library under the Quick Reads initiative which are much shorter than normal novels. My message being that nobody should ever have to miss out on the beauty of a good book.

My favourite books/authors:

Escape – C.L. Taylor

If you love psychological thrillers then C.L. Taylor is the author for you. Every book I have ever read by this author has been amazing so it was hard to pick a particular book. Escape is a psychological thriller with a difference. With never-ending twists and turns the reader finds themselves questioning characters up until the final chapter of the book. The family dynamics within the story were interesting to explore through the generations and I particularly loved the nods to the Irish culture – this is a definite must read.

I would also strongly recommend Sleep if you like a whodunit vibe. My next book on the list to read is Fear which is ready for me to start when I have the energy.

My next read

The Little Shop of Happy Ever After – Jenny Colgan

Another of my favourite authors is Jenny Colgan. Jenny’s books are the epitome of escapism which inspire hope for the future and as a chronic illness spoonie that is just what I need. Again it is incredibly difficult to pick a book as they are all so good, but I found the Little Shop of Happy Ever After particularly resonates with me. This speaks to anybody who would love to start again specifically anybody who would like to start again who truly understands the beauty of books. Another highlight in this book is the Scottish highlands setting and the people who live there.

I would also strongly recommend the Little Beach Street Bakery series which includes a summer and Christmas follow-up.

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage – Erin Green

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage is one of my all time favourite books. Firstly because it is set in beautiful Devon, secondly because I find the characters so relatable and thirdly because it offers hope for the future. Being chronically ill I often feel trapped by my situation and wish I could start again and this book inspires me to believe this is possible – in my head at least and to me that is what a great book should do. It should allow you to escape in your head even for a short while and allow to think of something else other than being ill.

So here you have it – it may be a little late, but these are favourite books and authors for Read a Book Day. What are yours?

Chronic Illness · PCOS

My Life with PCOS

September is PCOS Awareness Month, so today I would like to share with you my experience of living with PCOS.

I was diagnosed with PCOS around 18 months ago when I found that a bunch of my symptoms didn’t fit in with the stereotypical symptoms of my other chronic illnesses. As with all of my chronic illnesses I had to fight to get a diagnosis, with many doctors saying my symptoms were normal or just part and parcel of my other conditions. Nevertheless I knew they wrong and this eventually came to light.

My Symptoms

It is hard to say when my symptoms started, but they consist of hot flushes, hirsutism (excessive hair growth), oily skin/acne and changes to my periods. Of course fatigue and dizziness also play a role, but as they also play a role in my other conditions it can be quite hard to decipher where it’s stemming from at times. I probably started noticing my symptoms when as an extremely cold person even in the warmer months I started noticing the smallest activity left me drenching in sweat. Even going for a short walk outside at a snail’s pace I would get back home and find my back and chest dripping wet like I had just stepped out of a swimming pool. I also started getting drenching night sweats that I had to be seen at the hospital for because it was deemed a worrying symptom that was quickly ruled out for anything suspicious. I had noticed abnormal hair growth in certain parts of my body for a while, but never told anyone out of embarrassment and suddenly the skin on my chest and back started becoming extremely oily and spotty something I had never experienced as a teen. Whilst these symptoms occurred it was probably the change to my weight and periods that made me more aware of the changes to my body.

Weight Worries and Period Problems

At 5’4 I have always had a fairly small frame and my weight had never really been an issue throughout my life except for once or twice and even then I knew of the reasons why. Yet around two years ago I started gaining weight at a fairly gradual speed that I never even noticed it had happened. That was until one day I looked in the mirror and my normal knee length skirt was now sitting on me like a mini skirt because my stomach and hips had made it ride up so much. I looked bigger in my body, but also in my face and I didn’t recognise myself. Whilst I didn’t like how I looked it was the way I felt that affected me the most. I was sluggish and the way I moved felt slow and laboured – an effort that had nothing to do with my chronic fatigue; it was my weight gain. Taking the plunge I weighed myself for the first time in years and found I was clinically overweight something I hadn’t been for a long time if ever. I couldn’t understand what caused my weight gain – sure I probably was eating more than normal, but not at the quantities I would have to have been to gain the amount of weight I had in the timescale.

Then there were my periods. My periods have always been regular as clockwork middle of the road affairs. With them lasting the amount of days at the same severity each month until the last few years. Many people with PCOS have irregular periods or no periods at all, but I am one of the few that still have monthly periods although for how long I cannot be sure. My periods have changed so dramatically that they are barely there and I am scared they will stop before long, but only time will tell.

September is PCOS Awareness Month

My diagnosis

Having all these symptoms and having them dismissed by doctors who clearly thought I had enough ‘illnesses’ as it is, I struck lucky one day with a new doctor. I decided to tell her of my bothersome symptoms and she mentioned the idea of me having polycystic ovaries for the first time. She initially referred me to the hospital to have a scan which was denied, and after much toing and froing with the doctors’ surgery I had another doctor go through previous blood work I had done which were abnormal alongside my symptoms to receive the diagnosis of PCOS.

As with all my chronic conditions my doctors told me there was no treatment or cure for PCOS and it was something I had to learn to live with. The only way I started to truly understand what having PCOS meant was by doing my own research and reading information from charities such as Verity which helped me to understand my symptoms better.

The only advice I was ever given by my doctors was to lose weight which I am proud to say I did. In total I have managed to lose three stone and am back to to a healthy weight for my height although it is a constant battle to keep it stable.

Going Forward

My biggest fear with PCOS is fertility. As I mentioned my periods have changed, but whilst I am still menstruating every month my fertility won’t be checked. Having PCOS by no means translates as not being able to conceive because lots of women do, but personally for me it may not help matters. I have other health issues which have potentially raised fertility as a concern and I can only hope everything will work out in the end.

You can’t see PCOS and like most chronic illness it is invisible to others, but for sufferers it can be a daily struggle. Spread the word and talk about PCOS alongside all other conditions because the more people talk about it the more people will understand it. I certainly didn’t know much about it until I found out I had it.

My message to other PCOS sufferers out there is that whilst PCOS has its challenges it doesn’t have your life and it definitely doesn’t define who you are. Remember you have Power, Courage, Optimism and Strength – you are a PCOS Warrior.

Chronic Illness · PCOS · Symptoms

Symptom of the Week – Oily Skin/Acne

Oily skin and acne are both symptoms which can be seen with the condition PCOS. This is because the condition can see an increase in certain hormones which can lead to a increase in sebum production resulting in oily skin and in some cases acne. Whilst oily skin and acne can appear anywhere on your body most women will notice outbreaks mainly on their face, chest and back.

My experience

Being a teenager who never had any major problems with my skin, it was a shock to notice my skin change in my late twenties. Certain areas of my skin are extremely dry due to certain conditions I have whilst my forehead, back and chest are oily thanks to PCOS. As a result the skin on my upper back and chest can get spotty and irritated which gets worse depending on the time of the month and in times of stress.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

My top tips for oily skin/acne – as always please check with your doctor/specialist before trying any new ideas or tips.

  • Speak to your doctor/pharmacist – The first thing I would strongly recommend is speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about your specific skin problems. Remember to inform them of your PCOS so they will take notice this is an ongoing problem rather than a one off event. Depending on the severity of your skin problems they may be able to recommend specific products you can use as well as talk to you about specific hormonal treatments you can try.
  • Review your washing technique – Whilst it is important to wash your effected areas it is important to not over wash them. This is because if you have acne over washing (more than twice a day) can irritate your skin and start to make your skin dry. Using water that is too hot or too cold can also affect your skin, so try going down the middle and use lukewarm water.
  • Check your beauty products – Look through any beauty or makeup products you use and the ingredients in them. This is because some products can actually make the oil in your skin worse. Finding the right beauty products for you may be a case of trial and error and will be very dependent on your personal skin type. In terms of makeup I personally find powder based products better than liquid as they tend to last longer and diminish the oily look of my skin. You could also look for products which are non-comedogenic as they are less likely to block your pores.
  • Review your make-up – Another quick note about makeup is to make sure you remove all makeup before going to bed each night to avoid pore blocking. Also review how much makeup you are wearing because whilst your go to may be to cover up your affected areas it is also important to let your skin breathe.
  • Carry blotting papers – You can purchase blotting papers from most beauty retail shops which can be useful when out and about and your having an oily skin moment. Whilst these aren’t designed for regular use they can help on occasions to eliminate shine and absorb any troublesome oily patches.
  • Drink more water – Whether this helps with PCOS related skin issues is anyone’s guess, but drinking more water does help with your skin in general so it is definitely a help rather than a hinderance.
  • Look at your stress levels – As with most symptoms connected with chronic illness stress can play a big role in making them worse. For more tips regarding stress you can read my previous articles on modern day stress here and managing stress at home here.

Carrying on PCOS month next week’s symptom will be: Unwanted/Excessive Hair Growth

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome · Chronic Illness · Fibromyalgia · PCOS · Symptoms

Symptom of the Week – Brain Fog

Feelings of confusion, difficulty finding words, being unable to explain things, unable to think straight, mentally fatigued and a brain like a cloud are just a few of the ways you can describe brain fog. In short brain fog affects your memory and ability to focus or concentrate on an activity.

Brain fog can stem from many different reasons related to your condition including a lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of nutrition (hunger), stress, changes in your body or just because your body isn’t playing ball on that particular day.

Brain fog can be associated with many different conditions and can sometimes be referred to by another name depending on your condition e.g. Fibromyalgia warriors may refer to this as fibro fog.

My experience

For me brain fog definitely ties in with fatigue. The more fatigued I am, the harder it is for my brain to function and vice versa the foggier my brain the more fatigued I become. This is one the symptoms for me that reminds me of my former life before chronic illnesses. Before I was quick, on the ball and alert and now in moments of brain fog I am slow, distracted and difficult to engage with.

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com

My top tips for brain fog – as always check with your doctor/specialist before trying any new tips and ideas.

  • Hydrate and eat – One of the first things you can do when you experience brain fog is grab a snack and a drink. You may be dehydrated or hungry so check in with your body to see if this is an issue.
  • Practise mindfulness – Mindfulness is a great way to connect with the here and now. This is helpful in moments of brain fog as it can aid in your focus whilst stopping you from having to think too much. Mindful activities can be as simple as completing a page in an adult colouring book to listening to sounds around you and engaging with what you hear.
  • Get out of the house – This is obviously dictated by your individual conditions and any symptoms you are experiencing at the time, but if possible try to get outside. If you have a garden then sitting outside for ten minutes will help. If like me you don’t then a short walk will also do the trick. The key is the fresh air will help refresh your mind and take away some of the cloud you feel in your head.
  • Get a notebook – If you know remembering things is hard work due to your brain fog then carry a little notebook with you to jot down any notes that are important in your day to day life. This can be helpful for appointments if you want to tell your doctor anything or equally if they tell you anything. You can also use it to remember things such as shopping, important dates or just general bits and pieces. If writing is an issue then you could ask someone else to write for you or use audio notes instead.
  • Get some sleep – Sleep is an age old problem in chronic illness with a lot of people feeling tired, yet unable to sleep. For help with good sleep hygiene you can read my post on Insomnia here for more tips.
  • Embrace your mistakes – If all else fails then embrace your errors and explain to people your having a foggy day, week, month even. Allow yourself to be honest to allow others to be more understanding to any mistakes you make as well as taking pressure off yourself to get everything right.

September is PCOS awareness month. As a sufferer of this condition next week’s symptom of the week is in support of PCOS. Next week’s symptom: Oily skin/Acne

Anxiety · Chronic Illness · Mental Health

Anxiety and Others

FYI – This is a short piece I had written for something else, but it wasn’t used so I thought I would share it on the blog instead. Hope you find it useful!

I have lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember, in fact I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having anxiety induced moments. It’s a part of me, it’s in my being like a disgruntled customer complaining down the phone – I can’t make it shift no matter how hard I try. Even so I have learnt to live with my doubting mind, my fear of social situations and my absolute hate of all eyes on me scenarios. I have learnt for the most part to live through the tough times because they will pass and I will survive, but more than that I have accepted myself for who I am anxiety and all.

However whilst for the most part I have found a way of accepting my situation, it’s not always my perceptions that are the problem; it’s everyone else’s. Some people choose to avoid my mental health issues and shut me down like they can’t see the enormous elephant in the room. Whereas others hone in on them determined they know better than I do about my own mind and feelings. At times I falter caving into everyone else’s demands on how I should be in life whilst making myself suffer in the process, but there are times when I also have the strength to stay true to myself; I’m the person who knows me better than anyone else after all.

The truth is that whilst mental health is more at the forefront in society than ever before, there are still people who struggle with the concept. Anxiety shouldn’t be an elephant in the room, a secret hidden behind closed doors or a monster under the bed. It is a mental health condition yes, but it is also a liveable condition that with a little bit of learning can be understood by others.

The biggest tip I would give in getting other people to understand your mental health, is to open up the dialogue and get them to ask. Misconceptions stem from a lack of knowledge on a subject so share your experiences and let people into your world for them to truly understand it. Even if people still walk away none the wiser it doesn’t matter because you have still spoken your truth and with mental health that can only be beneficial; as they say it is good to talk.

Anxiety · Chronic Illness · Mental Health

Social Anxiety

If this was the children’s movie Inside Out I would be the character Fear; quite simply because most scenarios and interactions in life cause me anxiety. Whilst I live with many anxiety disorders including OCD and generalised anxiety disorder, my biggest anxiety battle is with social anxiety.

Social anxiety is quite simply a fear of social situations that inevitably affects your everyday life. Even though at the age of 32 I am now comfortable with who I am and accept my mental health for what it is I do still suffer with attacks of anxiety in social scenarios. I hate situations where I am being watched and feeling judged. From talking in groups and worrying what to say to feeling people’s eyes on me and stressing I will do something which makes me seem incompetent and stupid. So much so that when I am put in such situations I have actual physical symptoms occur from uncontrollable trembling to feeling physically sick.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Whilst all anxiety disorders are extremely challenging to live with; you can still live life. Managing your anxiety disorders is something that takes practise, but it can be achieved with patience and belief in your own self and your abilities to cope.

My top tips for managing anxiety disorders are:

Learn about your anxiety – Take some time to really understand what it is that makes you anxious. What is going on in that situation that is causing your worry? Are you a social worrier? Is it the idea of germs that are the issue or maybe you worry about getting something wrong. Nine times out of ten there are patterns in your anxiety and reasons behind your altered thinking. E.g. my anxiety stems from a feeling of not being good enough hence the the dread of social situations whereby people may judge me.

Live in the here and now – Anxious people tend to predict outcomes to scenarios thinking something bad is going to happen before it does. By living in the moment you will be more able to go along with reality rather than your perceived vision.

Master cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – Understanding how your thoughts affect your emotions, behaviour and body will help you to see the power your negative thinking has on the rest of your being. Therefore helping you to challenge your rigid beliefs about not only your surroundings, but you yourself.