Solving the Wrong Problem.

Recently this video did the rounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVHpRnTS4TM

On the surface it looks incredible; someone went to the trouble of developing a wheelchair that could climb stairs, thus solving all problems around inaccessibility & eradicating ableism. But then you start to think about it.

The wheelchair is shown going backwards up some steps at a snail’s pace. The stairs are not rain-soaked & are in perfect condition, & miraculously there isn’t another pedestrian barging past at an inopportune moment. As for bad weather the advert claims the wheelchair can handle it, but doesn’t really show it. In fact, it doesn’t show the wheelchair going back down the flight of steps at all. There is also no clear mention of how much power climbing the stairs drains from your battery.

So, the technology is flawed, but with time that could be corrected. At that point we could eradicate all ramps & lifts, & historians could keep their piles of mortar & stone just as they want them without having to deal with something so petty as equality. But wait…

Sometimes disabled people don’t use wheelchairs. Climbing stairs with a severe visual impairment is, by all accounts, bloody terrifying. Similarly, people who have mobility issues or chronic illnesses but can walk may still find stairs problematic. There’s no way I could carry my rollator up a flight of steps; I would still need level access. A stair-climbing wheelchair gives businesses an excuse to maintain their inaccessibility because you should just get a stair-climber. Of course, getting one of these presents problems of its own.

It’s virtually impossible to find out how much one of these wheelchairs costs, but it will not come cheap. With standard powered wheelchairs often reaching several thousand pounds for the basic model, even second-hand, it’s almost certain that the price will be beyond the means of most disabled people. For everyone who couldn’t afford the technology, ramps & lifts would still be required.

So, the stair-climbing wheelchair would only benefit a fraction of the disabled community & access requirements would still exist. It’s an brilliant idea, surely, until you start contemplating the ethical issues that surround this wheelchair.

For starters, when designing things with disabled people in mind, it might be useful to actually speak to us. Even an introductory discussion with a handful of disabled people would have raised basic concerns around the cost & the limitations of the design before so much money was sunk into the project. It would also have quickly brought to light that the wrong problem was being addressed.

Instead of designing expensive, flawed products to get some disabled people into a building, placing the effort & financial onus on the individual, it would make far more sense to make the building accommodating of all disabilities. While this initially costs more than 1 wheelchair, more than 1 customer would be gained. The responsibility of businesses is to serve their customers, and being accessible is a part of that responsibility. Putting the onus on the people who already suffer at the hands of discrimination is just morally wrong.

Quite frankly, this entire project & every other like it, that refuses to work with actual disabled people or to listen to us, is as ableist as businesses being inaccessible in the first place.

M.E Awareness Week: Day 7.

In loving memory of Sylvia Everritt, 23rd September 1931 – 9th May 2019, strong matriarch & welcoming to all. She will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.

A black & white photograph of Sylvia from the shoulders up. She is in her 70s or 80s in picture.

C.B.T (finally!).

At the beginning of February 2013, I began my course of C.B.T. The first appointment was the introduction, where I spent twenty minutes arguing with the therapist over where appointments would take place. As dad had to work, and mum could not push the wheelchair, we could not travel out to the CAMHS centre. She refused to do the therapy at home, as this was unsuitable. Eventually, we settled on a school appointment, during one of my free periods. She wasn’t happy, but it was the best we could do.

At this point, she asked my parents to leave the room, and she told me what C.B.T was all about. It focused on the cycles of thought and behaviour patterns. Negative thoughts and low self esteem often lead to unhelpful behaviour. The aim of C.B.T was to break this cycle, so that it did not spiral out of control so easily. It was a vicious cycle of depression.

However, the nurse refused to believe that I had depression at all, and simply said it was a low mood. This was cover for “get over it”. I could understand where she was coming from, but for a GP to refer someone as needing help, simply getting over it wasn’t an option. I needed help. Then, after discussing the cycles for a while, she gave me a sheet to take home and read.

I read the sheet the next day, when I had some space and time to think clearly about it. The sheet talked about activity being a good way to diffuse depression, which was a valid point, but not always achievable with M.E. The sheet then talked about bed resting being the worst thing for M.E. According to the sheet, getting out of bed and exercising more would sort the M.E out in no time. It was like the physiotherapy all over again. There was no way that I could possibly do this, as I struggled to walk around the house some days. If I followed the sheets instructions, the likelihood is that I would have another major relapse, and be set back by months.

On the next meeting, the nurse arrived twenty minutes late due to snow, so had to rush through my appointment in twenty minutes. I tried to bring up the point about the sheet being inappropriate to give to sufferers of M.E, but my point was disregarded as irrelevant. The point was instantly dismissed. It was like talking to a brick wall; anything I said was either ignored, or in some cases completely contradicted. After the rushed session, the nurse gave me the task of setting some goals, for short, medium, and long term.

I set goals about being more positive, having a high self esteem, doing myself proud, making changes for people with M.E, being better at pacing myself, and eventually to settle down with a family all of my own. I wanted to use the M.E as a learning experience. I was certainly different to when it all began. These goals would be the best way of challenging the depression.

On the third session, I showed the nurse the goals I had written, and she approved of them all. She was pleased that I had tried so hard with them. Surprisingly she took the time to read them, and listen to what I was saying. She also agreed that I actually had depression, and maybe a few anxiety issues too, that could be dealt with using the C.B.T. It was extremely pleasant, and the session was very productive. This time, she set me the task of recording my feelings when I got marked pieces of work back, including exam results. She told me to perform this on my strongest subject, biology, as this was the easiest one to be positive about.

I did the task as asked, which included the result from the exam in January (a B, pleasingly). However, on the fourth session she was back to her normal self, and barely even glanced at the work I had prepared.

I was in two minds as to whether I continued the C.B.T at all, but there were one or two useful things that I could gain from it, so I stayed as open minded as I could. My GP agreed that when it got to the sixth session, which was a review, that I should say that I was able to continue on my own, and be discharged from CAMHS. This I did successfully, and although the C.B.T hadn’t done much for me, there were one or two small things in place that helped me. The best of these was the ability to think calmly and rationally in a difficult situation, and I was never quite so negative on myself again.

Life was beginning to look up.

The Start of the End.

Even thought I was beginning to feel better, I had applied and qualified for the higher rate of DLA, as I couldn’t walk fifty metres without support. This also meant that I was allowed to have a blue badge, which made car parking a lot easier. It was a good feeling to be supported and listened to, after all my trouble with school.

Now that I was recovering, I had to be extremely careful to resist temptation, and not do too much. It was much harder to rest when I felt good, than when I felt really ill.

What I could use my energy for was thinking clearly about my experience of M.E, and to use it as a learning curve.

I’d learnt how to pace myself much better, and to be more patient with myself. It didn’t matter if I failed at something first time through, there was another chance. I had to accept that sometimes I needed help to accomplish things, and that was nothing to be ashamed of.

I’d learnt that I was stronger than I looked, and tougher too. I could take a lot of pain and illness before I began to crack, and even then, with a little help, I could push through most of it.

The importance of true friendship had become visible to me, as well. It was no good hanging around with someone who was a good laugh, if I didn’t feel that I could trust them. My new found friends were better, and much more trustworthy. I could talk to them about faith, illness, and misery. I also learnt that being a good friend was essential too. I had to be the shoulder to cry on sometimes too. To my surprise, I soon grew to love this role, and found that I really cared if my friends were upset.

I’d also learned that money couldn’t buy everything. It couldn’t buy true friends, or family, or good health, or happiness. Money was nice, and it could pad out the life with small luxuries, but it never did any good. The things of true value were the feelings of happiness and pride, and the love that I shared with friends and family.

Last of all, I discovered that it was OK to be “faulty”. I didn’t care what people thought of my looks, my taste in music, my “geekiness” (which I actually came to love), or my disability. The people I wanted to think good of me were the ones I cared about. If they liked how I was and could overlook my faults, then I was fine.

As well as my past, I looked towards my future. I dreamed of a complete education, and a good career. I also yearned for a relationship, someone I could trust & not feel ashamed of them seeing me at my worst.

***

Unfortunately, mum was still very ill, and had reacted to the tablet used to control her overactive thyroid gland. There was no replacement. She now had to suffer the weight loss and sickness; while waiting to see if there was anything else the doctors could do. There was a suggestion that radioactive iodine could be used to kill off some of the gland, forcing it to produce fewer hormones. This would mean that mum had to be kept in isolation for a month, but once it was over, it shouldn’t trouble her again for the rest of her life. Her health was monitored, and nothing was done for the time being. There was still a chance that the disease would correct itself of it’s own accord. Stranger things have been known.

Still, whatever happened, we would be a family.

The Ending.

I used the DLA I had earned to buy two walking sticks and a mobility scooter. I used the sticks round the house, and for trips out into the back garden. With the sticks my balance was much steadier, and I could walk further. I felt safer too. The mobility scooter gave me the freedom to travel out on my own. I could go to shopping centres, and visit one shop, while my parents went in another. I also enjoyed many trips around the park, where I could lose myself in my thoughts, and take in the views. It took a while to get used to the stares and daft comments of others, but I was soon able to cope with it. The freedom it gave me was well worth any negative behaviour.

I finish writing this maybe not quite at the end, but near it. The M.E is burning itself out, and eventually will leave me. I have at most a year to go, maybe even six months. My returning health is due to many things, including patience, good health care, and a positive attitude. I have many things to go ahead and achieve.

Mum is still ill, and will always remain so. With the support and medical care she needs, she should be OK though.

The end of the road is in sight for the M.E, and maybe this means so for the depression too. Someday, all this will be behind me, and I will be leading a normal life, hopefully as a wife and mother. I have learned a lot, and forgotten little. This has been the hardest lesson of my life; far tougher than anything A-level maths could throw at me (not to say that A-level maths was easy. It was just easier)!

This is what I need for my story; an ending full of hope and one or two loose ends. However, I can assure the reader that all these loose ends will sort themselves out over time. They always do.

Edit: Obviously I didn’t recover as I had hoped. I clung to this hope for far too long but once I had admitted to myself that recovery wasn’t certain, I actually felt a lot more positive about my condition. It took many years following on from this point, but eventually I learned to accept my lot in life and carry on.

Menopause Inbound.

I managed to obtain the hormones today, & I’ll be injected on Friday.

Apologies again for the lack of subtitles, but in summary I had one hell of a fight to get the prescriptions with it being opposed every step of the way, but I will be getting treated on Friday morning.

Last weeks vlog can be found here.

M.E Awareness Week: Day 2.

Wheelchair?

When it came to October half term, I was more than ready to see the physiotherapist, and start the programme. I was looking forward to a feeling of less pain and more energy, as I had been promised.

The physiotherapist herself was quite brusque, but to the point and matter of fact. She discussed my current abilities, how far I could walk unaided, my limits, and what happened if I exceeded them. She asked me how long relapses lasted, and how often they occurred. She also inquired as to pain levels, and where the pain focused.  After about half an hour of talking, she got me to do some step-ups and star jumps. I could manage about ten of each.

When the appointment came to an end, she said a letter would be posted to us containing a physiotherapy and hydrotherapy programme. I was to ring up with any questions, and return for an appointment in a few months time. Then, as we were about to leave the room, she called us back.

“One more thing,” she said, “It might be worthwhile to purchase a wheelchair for use over long distances.” I was never to use it on a daily basis, or around school, but it would free us up at the weekends.  The NHS would only be able to lend us one, and as I might need it over a longer period, it would be better to buy one that we could keep and use for as long as we needed to. I wouldn’t be able to self-propel the wheelchair, I would need an assistant. If I pushed myself, I would be taking the weight of both me and the wheelchair on smaller muscles, and this would only fatigue me more.

I nodded at this insight, but can’t say that I took it in at the time. It wasn’t until a few days later, on actually purchasing the wheelchair that I realised what was happening. I didn’t think that using a wheelchair would be at all problematic; if anything I thought it would be fun.

When the letter came containing my physiotherapy, I was surprised at the rate at which I would be increasing exercises. Once a week I would increase each exercise by a time of thirty seconds. The exercises were to be done every single day of the week, without a break. The hydrotherapy increased at a similar rate, although it wasn’t such heavy exercise to begin with.

At first, the exercises seemed to make me tired for an hour or two, and then the fatigue wore off. However, after the first couple of weeks pain began to build, and I had to give up the exercises one day a week. I decided to increase the exercises once every two weeks as well, hoping this slower pace would rectify the issue. After another two weeks, I was still no better. Mum phoned the physiotherapist, but I was instructed to continue as I was, and that it was just a bad patch. I trusted the physiotherapist, remembering what had happened previously when I ignored a medical professional’s advice.

I carried on, telling myself that I would just have to break through the pain barrier. I was disheartened to find that every time I pushed through one barrier, I came up against another, even harder one. Eventually, I could take no more, and was forced to stop the exercises completely. They were too much for me to cope with.

For the short time I tried it, the hydrotherapy was blissful, as the water took my weight and relieved my pain. It was an oasis of relief, for two hours a week, and very welcome to me. However, once the G.E.T had destroyed any health I had, I could no longer continue with my hydrotherapy.

The problem was, even when I had stopped, my health continued to deteriorate. I was therefore discharged from the physiotherapy department.

Now that I was in more pain, I was also using the wheelchair a lot more often, over shorter distances. The reality of being disabled became frighteningly clear.

On crowded shopping days, people would push past me, ignoring me completely. I had my ankles kicked as people stepped over the front of my wheelchair, and I had to duck to miss several handbags and shopping baskets that were swung across my face. Doors were often allowed to swing shut in my face, and I was spoken to like a two year old. That was, if people spoke to me at all. Lots of people spoke to my parents, but ignored me, on the basis that having a wheelchair made me phenomenally stupid.  Several shoppers would stop directly in front of me without any warning, not realising that the wheelchair was not so easy to stop suddenly, and then complained when they got bruised ankles. I seemed to be invisible. There were occasions where kind people would stop and hold doors open for me, or pass me things that were out of reach. Often enough, these were other disabled people, who suffered from the same problems as I did. One particular wheelchair user gave me tips about getting in and out of lifts- she said it was easier to go in backwards and come out forwards, as when you came out, you could see where you were going and who was stood in your way. Also, she told us about getting into lift queue’s first; as it was rare that people would share a lift with someone who was disabled if they could possibly help it. There were numerous times when I wanted to yell at people that I was a human being too.

The highlights of my shopping trips soon became when people flashed me a smile; this happened so little that being acknowledged at all seemed nothing short of a miracle.

***

It was about this time that mum began to lose weight. She was small anyway, and hadn’t done anything special to lose weight. If anything, she was trying to gain a few pounds. It was just another small worry among many, which got overlooked. Mum had had spells of losing weight before, and it had never amounted to anything of consequence. So, we simply kept an eye on it, just as we always had done, and pushed it to the back of our minds.

A visit to the paediatrician.

Mum developed a severe chest infection the week before I was due to visit the paediatrician, so she couldn’t come with us to the hospital, where she was likely to spread infection. She had visited the same GP that was treating me, and he had sent her to get an x-ray. The x-ray showed us that half of her left lung was completely filled with mucus and bacteria. She was given anti-biotics, and was asked to rest. Then she was told to return to the GP after the infection had cleared. We had to be extra careful not to give mum any more health issues, and now the weight was really beginning to drop off her, we were worried.

***

I managed to walk from the car park to the waiting room, as it wasn’t far. My appointment was with the head of the department.

When I went in, I told him what medication I was taking at the time, about my pain levels and the failing physiotherapy. He did a physical examination, and then confirmed my GP’s diagnosis. Next, he referred me to the nurse to have a few more blood tests done, so that he could see that there was absolutely nothing else wrong with me, which could worsen the symptoms. He prescribed cocodemol for the pain, and dismissed me.

***

The next day I started on an adult dose of cocodemol, and went to school as normal. Less than an hour later I was sent back home again with crippling stomach pains.

Mum took me to the emergency doctors later on that day, by which times the pains had subsided. I was checked over, and it was agreed that the cocodemol had caused these symptoms, especially as I had taken no more, and the pain had all but ceased. I was advised to stop taking them. Nothing else was provided as a substitute, so I was back to square one- the waiting game.

The following week I revisited my GP, and explained my desperate need for painkillers stronger than paracetemol. We still hadn’t heard anything from the hospital about my blood tests. My GP was concerned about me, and wrote to the hospital, asking whether I could start taking painkillers called amitryptiline. He could not give me these without permission from a consultant. Amitriptyline is a very general drug used to treat pain and mild depression. He also asked for the confirmation of my diagnosis in writing.

The next week we received the letter confirming the diagnosis, and instructing me to start on a course of amitriptyline, at 10 mg per night. Each week I could increase the dose by 10 mg a night, until after five weeks, I was at the maximum dose of 50 mg. It wasn’t advisable to start with this dose all in one go, because amitryptiline is known for making people very drowsy.

After five weeks, I was on the full dose, and my levels of pain had decreased miraculously. My life became a lot more comfortable, and I could begin to enjoy myself more on a daily basis. Although the drug made me drowsy at first, it was worth the sweet, and long sought after relief.

In all of this I was lacking for only one thing. Someone who could share their experiences with me and help me, and somewhere I could talk about the M.E with other sufferers. Someone I could share a common issue with, and get some understanding. My parents were supporting me well, but they could never truly know what the M.E was like, without having it themselves.

I was looking at M.E on the NHS website, and ways to cope with it, when I noticed a hyperlink called AYME (Association of Young People with M.E).

I clicked on it.

Menopause…At Age 22.

I was bored having just one chronic illness, so I decided to get another.

Please be warned, this is 6 minutes on why vaginas suck.

Apologies; I haven’t had the chance to put subtitles on, but in summary:

I went to the gynaecologist today & have been diagnosed with bilateral dyspeurenia, a condition that makes penetrative sex virtually impossible due to severe pain levels. Things like lube, special condom coatings, & different positions don’t help, & it’s virtually un-treatable. If I eventually want to have children this will cause problems.

Secondly, after starting periods 11 years ago I have finally managed to get a doctor to listen to all the symptoms I have experienced over the years, without them being blamed on puberty (still), or even the CFS. It’s possible I have a condition called endometriosis, which affects 1 in 10 women & runs in the family.To formally diagnose endometriosis they’re going to medically induce the menopause at age 22. This is reversible & doesn’t increase my risk of breast cancer, & if my symptoms go away it’s indicative that they are caused by endometriosis. In this case I will return to the doctor and be put forward for a diagnostic laparoscopy, where they can see if I have endometriotic tissue in the pelvic cavity. If they find it, they may even be able to remove some.

I’ll be vlogging my experience because women’s health is still a taboo subject that we don’t talk about enough.

Also I’m terrified.