health · top tips

How To Cope With Having A Mystery / Undiagnosed Medical Condition

I’ve previously written about how it feels to have a mystery or undiagnosed health condition. This post follows on from that, and looks at tips and strategies for how to cope with undiagnosed illness or while managing an unknown medical condition.

tips for how to cope with undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Tips For How To Cope With Undiagnosed Illness

1. Acknowledge and talk about your feelings

Having a mystery health condition is really hard and stressful. It’s completely natural and normal to feel sad, frustrated, angry, stressed out and more. Trying to keep your emotions pent up isn’t healthy. It won’t help you cope with undiagnosed illness, and it won’t help you feel better in the long run. Give yourself a chance to feel those emotions, and accept the way you’re feeling.

Ideally, talk to someone – a friend, family member or partner – about how you’re feeling. Not only will it help you deal with your emotions, but it will also help them to understand what you’re going through.

2. Communicate your needs

One of the most common complaints from people with chronic illness is that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. It can be especially upsetting and frustrating when it seems that the people closest to you don’t understand – or worse, that they’re not even trying to understand how you’re feeling. You can end up getting that your needs are sidelined or ignored, or that no-one is prepared to help.

Remember that the only way that people will understand is if you tell them. Try to be proactive about communicating and give people a chance to listen to how you’re feeling and what you need from them. I remember a few weeks after my first brain surgery, I had to travel across London. I was very wobbly and it was my first time out on my own, but outwardly I looked like a normal 21 year old.

At King’s Cross station, it was very busy but thankfully I got lucky and found a seat while waiting for my train. Everyone else with a seat in that area was middle aged or older. An elderly woman walked up and stood nearby, and started giving me angry looks and clearing her throat. Clearly she expected me to give up my seat for her, as the youngest person there. But she never actually asked for it.

If she had asked, I would have explained that I really needed the seat, and probably someone else nearby who wasn’t in such need would have offered her their seat. But she never actually asked, so I never explained, so she never got to sit down. No doubt she thought I was incredibly rude, but she didn’t communicate her need, so no-one accommodated it. This really drove home to me the importance of asking for what you need. You might not get exactly what you’re going for… But if you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing at all.

Be specific if you can – for instance, rather than saying “I get very tired and need to rest”, you’ll get better results from saying “I get very tired and can’t be on my feet more than about ten minutes at a time. Then I will need to sit down for half an hour”. You may think that your emotions and needs should be blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain… But it’s not always the case.

3. Be kind to yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. When you’re frustrated and stressed and finding it hard to get things done, it’s easy to push yourself too hard and forget to give yourself a break. But it’s important to look after yourself and your mental health. Don’t spend all of your available energy doing life admin – make sure you occasionally have time to have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, or whatever it is that you enjoy.

But being kind to yourself isn’t just about having a spa day. It’s also about listening to your body and believing in yourself. When you’re experiencing medically unexplained symptoms, it can be easy to start worrying that they’re all in your head. When there is no label that explains the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may feel that people don’t take your illness seriously – or that you shouldn’t be severely affected by it. Try to remember that a diagnosis is not a permit to be ill. You don’t need permission to be sick. Your experiences – your pain, fatigue, whatever other weird and wonderful symptoms you’re experiencing – are real. And you need to listen to your body and its needs, and take care of yourself.

4. Be your own best advocate

It’s a hard truth that when you have a chronic illness, the one who cares most about finding a diagnosis and a treatment is YOU. Yes, it’s your doctor’s job to work out what’s going on, but no matter how committed your healthcare providers are, at the end of the day it’s just that – a job to them. Whereas to you, it’s your life.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. That is likely to mean different things to different people. It might mean chasing up those appointments that are slow to arrive, or those test results that no-one seems to want to discuss. Or, it might mean having the persistence to keep going back with the same symptoms that no-one seems to want to investigate, or pushing for a second opinion . It might mean using these techniques to get your doctor to listen to you. Whatever you need to do to push your best interests.

5. Seek out support to help you cope with undiagnosed illness

You don’t need to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for support. It can be difficult to find external support networks, because most charities and support groups focus on specific illnesses… Which is difficult if you don’t know what illness you have. But support is out there for the undiagnosed.

You can join Facebook support groups such as Undiagnosed Illness Support Group or Undiagnosed Chronic Illnesses… And many more. Equally, you may wish to look online for ways to connect with people who experience similar symptoms to you, even if you don’t have a diagnosis yet.

Do you have any tips on living with an undiagnosed medical condition or mysterious unexplained symptoms? What are your recommendations for how to cope with undiagnosed illness? Let me know in the comments!

health

What It’s Like To Have A Mystery/Undiagnosed Illness

Today I’m going to be talking about coping with having an undiagnosed illness – one where the doctors can’t work out what’s wrong (or may even not believe that anything is wrong at all).

I think I’m pretty well equipped to write about this subject; it took years for my brain tumor to finally be diagnosed, including almost a year where I had a resting heartrate of 140 beats per minute (for context, about 60 – 100 bpm is normal, so that’s pretty darn fast) for no reason that anyone could explain. Then, more recently, after I gave birth to my son I experienced unexplained thyroid issues that took a number of months to diagnose.

What it feels like to have an undiagnosed illness

what it feels like to have a mystery undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Having an undiagnosed illness is really stressful (unsurprisingly). It can be helpful to break down and acknowledge some of the key reasons why that is the case, and you may find this list helpful to share with family and friends if they’re struggling to understand what you’re going through. I’ve also written a follow-up post with tips to cope with having a mystery health condition.

The uncertainty is frightening

Often the options for what’s causing your symptoms may include life-changing and/or life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer. It’s very scary to live with the threat of that hanging over you, and it will affect those closest to you as well. It can be difficult to carry on going with your day to day life with that fear constantly in the background.

It’s surprisingly busy and tiring to manage healthcare tests and appointments

It is stressful, unpleasant and often exhausting to go through repeated sets of diagnostic tests. Not to mention that it can feel like a full time job to be constantly chasing up the hospital for test results, next steps plans, and appointments.

It’s hard and depressing having to adjust to having to change short and long term plans

You may have to make changes to your life or future plans based on your symptoms, with no idea whether you will ever be able to go back to how things used to be, or whether your plans will ever be achievable. It can be depressing feeling “left behind”, especially when new symptoms that you initially hope will clear up quickly seem to be sticking around indefinitely. You may feel like you’re mourning the loss of long-held ambitions or dreams.

It’s tiring to keep people updated

Friends, family and employers expect regular updates and it can be difficult to keep telling people that you still don’t know what is wrong.

You can end up minimising how sick you really are

In the absence of a diagnosis, it can be easy for other people to (purposely or unconsciously) minimise or be dismissive of how sick you really are. It can be difficult to get enough support, and it can be frustrating and upsetting to find that people close to you don’t seem to be taking your illness seriously, or even forget about it at times.

Linked to the above – it can be easy for YOU to underestimate your illness. It’s easy to beat yourself up for not getting things done or not keeping up with your normal routine, when there’s nothing “officially” wrong with you. You may worry that nothing is really wrong, that you’re just lazy, or weak.

what it feels like to live with an undiagnosed health condition or mystery illness the sickly mama blog

You can feel like no-one is listening

You may feel that friends or family members don’t understand what you’re going through, but it can be even worse if you feel that your doctors themselves don’t take your symptoms seriously or are not listening. It can be very depressing and stressful to keep going back to your doctors trying to get them to investigate your symptoms.

l’ve written previously about techniques you can use to get your doctors to listen to you, which you may find helpful.

It can be hard to manage existing responsibilities

It may become hard to manage your existing responsibilities – not just work, but parenting or caring responsibilities, or even smaller things like managing bills, life admin and keeping the house clean. Tasks that haven’t been done can build up, causing a high level of background stress and/or guilt about not doing a good enough job.

Money worries with undiagnosed illness

Chronic illness often brings money worries with it. Depending on where you live, you may be dealing with stress and worry about medical insurance and whether it is likely to cover the cost of your diagnostic investigations and subsequent treatment. But sickies everywhere will worry about employment, having to take time off work, and whether continuing to work is realistic in the long term, given your symptoms.

Your Experiences of Mystery/Undiagnosed Illness

Phew! That’s a lot to deal with. Have you experienced living with an undiagnosed or mystery health condition? How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments! I’m planning on following up this post with a look at coping strategies for mystery conditions, so let me know your thoughts.

baby · health · hypermobility · pain · parenting · top tips

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

As a mama with hypermobility spectrum disorder, I have rubbish joints! How rubbish they are tends to vary from day to day and even hour to hour. Some days I don’t notice any problems – other days when my hands are very stiff and sore, I struggle to open jars; or I’ll find that my hip or shoulder keeps popping out of the socket, or everything will just be very achey and stiff. But how do my rubbish joints affect looking after a baby? I’ve written a little about being a hypermobile mama previously, but it seems time to do something a bit more comprehensive on parenting with a joint condition…

And so, here are my top tips, focused around looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, from the newborn stage through to when they start toddling. Hopefully this guide will be useful to other parents with hypermobility spectrum disorder, EDS, arthritis and other joint conditions. If you have any tips you think I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

Feeding your baby comfortably

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, especially during the newborn days you tend to spend an awful lot of time feeding and burping baby. Spending a lot of time in the same position is often uncomfortable if you have dodgy joints, and the limited range of feeding positions – and the fact that you don’t want to disturb a baby who’s happily feeding, by having to move them – can also be an issue.

Tips: Have a comfortable chair or spot in your house for feeding, which is set up just for you. I had a cosy armchair with a couple of cushions for back support, a footrest for my feet, and a spare cushion nearby which I could put under my arm or under Little Man to get us both comfortable. Having my arms supported definitely helped me. If you’re breastfeeding, there are different positions you can try to see what’s easiest for you. If you’re bottle feeding and struggling with holding a bottle, there are devices you can use for hands-free bottle feeding which clip on to a car seat or bouncer.

Poppers or buttons on baby clothes

Okay if you have terrible hands, these are THE WORST. I know lots of people hate poppers, and I know I’ve written about how I hate buttons on baby clothes previously; but as I love to labour a point and we have moved into the colder weather – which always makes my joints get even more stiff and achey – I just have to say it again. THEY SUCK. It’s hard enough to get my wiggly Little Man to stay still long enough for a nappy change, let alone while mama struggles to undo and then do up 5,000 poppers on the legs of his suit. Poppers/buttons are no good if you’re parenting with a joint condition!

Tips: All baby clothes should be mandatorily done up with zippers or, at a push, velcro. Obviously, I have yet to succeed in getting this written into UK law. And unfortunately it turns out that for some reason baby clothes with zippers are both hard to find and often really expensive. So my tip is: before the baby arrives, tell everyone who might buy you a gift that you want ZIPPERS damnit, and let them pay for it!

Alternative tip: Ask your husband/wife/partner/friend nicely if they can help with the damn poppers.

Hanging out on the floor all day

Turns out, having a baby means a lot of time spent hanging out on the floor. For me personally, getting onto the floor is fine, but it tends to be when I try to get up that I suddenly discover that I’ve been sitting with my joints in odd positions without realising it, and everything hurts. Oops. And the older Little Man has grown, the more time we’ve ended up spending crawling around together on the floor.

Tips: There’s not really much to be done about this one, unless you can persuade your baby to learn to fly! I tried bringing a cushion on to the floor with me, but once Little Man started crawling it was too much bother to keep moving the cushion around with both of us. My best advice is to think about specific activities that can be done away from the floor. For instance, a tabletop changing table might help for nappy changes, or bathing baby in the sink rather than in a tub on the floor. You can also look at getting a raised Moses basket and/or cot, so that you’re not having to stoop to and from the floor at nap time or when baby is very small and spends most of his/her time dozing.

Lifting and moving baby

I’m fortunate that although my joints are often painful and stiff, I tend to be okay with lifting and moving Little Man, but of course there are lots of joint conditions that could make it much more difficult to lift and move your baby around the house.

Tips: Using a sling or baby carrier is great, especially for the newborn phase, as you can take baby with you around the house without having to do lots of lifting, and spreading the weight evenly across your shoulders and back. Be careful though with using these aids if your joint condition makes you more likely to trip or fall – if that is the case, it may be safer to avoid using carriers. Make sure you follow good lifting technique to support your joints and minimise the risk to you and baby.

Related tip: Have a couple of stashes of key items around the house e.g. a couple of stations with nappies, wipes, a change of clothes etc. That way you’re not constantly having to carry baby up or downstairs or around the house if you need to change his nappy, clothes etc.

Taking ages with tasks….

One of the issues when your hands are stiff and uncooperative is just that things can take a long time, which is difficult for things like nappy changes when baby may just try to wiggle away.

Tips: My top tip is baby sensory videos to distract your little one! If you go on YouTube and search “baby sensory videos”, you’ll find loads of free videos that feature simple images and jolly music which will help distract baby while you get stuff done. Little Man loves the fruit and vegetable videos!

Your tips for looking after a baby when you have a joint condition

If you have experience of looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, I’d love to hear your tips. Let me know in the comments!

I also love this article about parenting with arthritis, which has lots of great advice that is transferable to other joint conditions as well.

baby · fatigue · health · pain · parenting · top tips

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Being a parent with chronic illness can be tough. It’s tiring enough looking after a baby or toddler without having to deal with pre-existing issues with fatigue and pain. When I started the Sickly Mama blog, one of the key things I wanted to do was write about parenting with chronic illness, and connect parents who suffer from chronic illness and disability to build a supportive network (you can join our Facebook group here if you’re interested!).

But of course I’m not the only one writing about this, so I wanted to do a post featuring articles from other blogs about parenting with chronic conditions, to bring together a range of advice on the subject from people who aren’t just me…

parenting with chronic illness and disability a collection of advice and articles the sickly mama blog

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Parenting and pacing yourself:

When you have a chronic illness, pacing is so important! I remember when my hen do was being organised, my husband was basically a consultant to my bridesmaids about how much I’d be able to do before I’d need a break. He did a great job, as did they, and I had a fab time (and then a really, really long sleep lol). But how do you manage pacing yourself while looking after a tiny, unpredictable bundle of energy (or two? Or three?).

I liked this blog post, which gives key tips on pacing yourself as a parent with chronic illness.

Coping with a newborn as a parent with chronic illness:

The newborn period is notoriously an exhausting and difficult time for all new parents. If you already have chronic illness, it can be quite scary wondering how you’ll cope with the newborn phase, especially if you suffer with fatigue under normal conditions. How much worse will it be when you’re woken up constantly by a baby who needs feeding every couple of hours? Will you be able to cope?

I’ve found a couple of articles that give tips for new parents with chronic illness, on how to manage that difficult newborn phase. This blog post covers tips for managing a newborn with chronic pain and chronic fatigue. And this post covers taking care of a newborn and yourself when you’re chronically ill.

I think the best tips for looking after a newborn when you’re chronically ill are about determining the things you absolutely must do each day (feeding baby, feeding yourself) and identifying the things which perhaps are good to do but not essential (giving baby a bath, doing the washing up). That way when you’re having a bad day, you can stick to just doing the essentials without feeling guilty, and on a good day you can aim to get a bit more fine. Oh, and asking for help is important. Always ask for help if you can!

Helping your child cope with having a parent with chronic illness:

When your child is still a baby, it’s not really something you have to worry about. But I’ve already started wondering – when Little Man is a bit older, how will we talk to him and explain things when I’m having a flare up of my symptoms? This is a really special article, which is actually written both from the perspective of a parent with chronic illness and her grown-up daughter, looking back.

I think the key thing I took away from the article was the reassuring sense that it’s totally possible to have a great childhood even with a parent who clearly suffered from very severe illness. Even totally healthy parents tend to suffer from the mum/dad guilt that they’re not doing enough for their children, so naturally the same guilt is there when you also suffer from a chronic illness that is sometimes limiting. But treating your child with respect, honesty, and trying to maintain a stable routine is what they need.

How to thrive as a parent:

So far in this blog post, I’ve used words like “coping”, “managing” and so on to describe being a parent with chronic illness. But that seems to be setting our sights a bit low. What about thriving as a parent with chronic illness? After all, none of us goes into parenting with the intention of just ‘getting by’ – we want to enjoy the experience!

I like this blog post which focuses on thriving as a parent with chronic illness. It includes some general tips on managing your days and practicing self care.

parenting with chronic illness a collection of articles and advice for parents

What are your top tips or best pieces of advice for others who are parenting with chronic illness? Let me know in the comments!