So here goes! My first blog. I have been contemplating writing a blog, well probably for the past four years. I kept putting it off thinking I would write it: when I was better? Found all the magical answers of managing my condition? Become at least good enough at managing my condition? On reflection what all of these meant I am not sure. What I do know now is that I am not better, I do not have all the answers and I am continuing on the long journey of allowing myself to be human and ride the complex, emotional and physical waves of the roller coaster ride of living with a severe, debilitating and invisible chronic illness. I also know that putting off this one thing that I a m passionate and physically capable of doing (with a little help of a volunteer and a computer programme) would be putting my life off yet again for another day awaiting some magical cure rather than living the life I have now in this moment.
Nearly seven years ago I seriously injured my back rupturing discs in my lower sine. The significance of my pain meant that I was unable to do very little resulting in subsequent atrophy and stiffness. A year later in 2008 I went for a procedure on my back which unfortunately in my case went horribly wrong leaving me with spinal headaches and chemical meningitis. My condition significantly worsened and I began feeling very depressed and anxious. Over the past five years although I one point I started to feel a little better again and felt like I was on the road to recover, generally my condition has been worsening with me experiencing severe pain in my neck, upper and lower back and hips. Any of you reading this who experience any form and severity of chronic illness will understand how extraordinarily difficult it can be.
Alongside all of this when my condition began I was half way through my doctorate in clinical psychology. Through the support of many special people in my life who I will be internally grateful for, and the support I received from the University of Leeds where I was training. I somehow managed through more up and down times than I can now remember complete my doctorate and subsequently get a job working six hours a week as a clinical psychologist. I had to be extremely creative to make this happen, utilizing various aids such as a book stand, alter book, voice recognition software. In addition to the dictator I am currently talking into.
And here comes the essence for why I would like to write a blog. I would like to use it to do whatever I can to share my experiences, reflections, thoughts, fears, hopes, frustrations, anger and so much more. With any one going through anything remotely similar, in the hope that in some way I can even for a second help make that person’s life just a little bit more bearable. Being a professional, and in particular a psychologist has both its advantages and disadvantages when living with a chronic illness. On the one hand I do without a doubt have a wealth of knowledge on the inner workings of the human psyche in addition to the many therapeutic techniques to help one cope. Being able to draw on these in a time of need can obviously be very beneficial, however on the other hand sometimes knowing too much in addition to expecting yourself to be super woman can have its drawbacks. I am blessed that I am able to use my skills and expertise to help many other people, however I have had to learn to try and accept that this does not mean that I am somehow impervious to pain. And that I most definitely do not have all the answers. What I would like to do however, is draw upon my experience of being a patient and a doctor to try and connect with and help other who may be living with the most difficult task of a chronic illness, in addition to those who love that person and the doctors and other professionals whose job it is to treat them.
Now that I have provided a wee bit of an introduction, in the next blog I would like to share my reflections on my own naivety as a health professional prior to living with an invisible illness. Part of the work that I did, was working in a neuropsychology department as an assistant psychologist, frequently working with people with unexplained medical illness. Where because western medicine, science and doctors were unable to comprehend what was going on within a person’s body, the psychological aspect of their illness was often emphasised. There is no doubt that our psychological state has an impact on our health and wellbeing whether we are someone who has severe chronic illness or someone who is for the most part healthy and living a functional day to day life. What I am also sure about is that every one of you who is reading this, who is living with an invisible chronic medical illness, particularly those which western medicine has yet been able to really understand, have been dis missed, belittled, misunderstood and well the list is exhaustive, both literally and metaphorically. I hope you have enjoyed my first blog (hopefully of many), and would be greatly interested to hear your thoughts, experiences, reflections in addition to what you feel someone who is both a patient and a doctor can do to help you, someone you love, or indeed wider society and the professionals treating us. Thank you for taking the time to read, my thoughts are with every single of you.
Dr Kristine Abercrombie