Chronic Illness and Cleaning

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I hate cleaning. I hate it with a burning passion, because it takes time and energy and effort and then you have to do it all over again next week. I like things to be done once and then stay done. Which, sadly, isn’t the case for the dishes, or the dust, or the cat litter trays, or the bathroom, or the toilet, or the carpet, or the cat hair …

I live with two lads who firmly believe that cleaning is a thing you do once every six months when it’s a flat inspection and that’s about it. If anything was cleaned, it was me who did it. Including most of the dishes. A few years ago we decided on a compromise: we’d all pay a bit extra, and each week we would have someone come over and clean the communal areas for an hour, these being the floors of every door that’s open (so my flatmate can leave his office door open if he wants and it’ll get vacuumed), the bathroom, and the toilet. It worked out fantastically for everyone involved – I suddenly had more spoons to spend elsewhere, and we all got a nice clean house.

Unfortunately COVID is a thing and my amazing cleaner is half way up the country at home. I’ve been managing to vaguely keep on top of at least the cat and dog hair, and the bathroom, but the toilet’s gone to the lads. Even more unfortunately we have a flat inspection in three days.

So I get to do all the cleaning.

Now I’m the kind of person who likes to get up, do everything in one hit, and then sit back down again. This sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. I’d read somewhere about doing things in bits, and taking rests in between – a concept that fills me with deep unease and no small amount of misdirected anger. Since I have only a few days to get the house to rights, and then a full week ahead of me (with a full day of driving immediately after that), I figured I should probably do the sensible thing and pace myself.

I got up, I cleaned a few more spots of cat puke off the carpet, liberally applied toilet duck (although at this point I’m convinced the toilet requires an exorcism), and sprayed the cleaning product all over the shower stall. Then I lay down for 40 minutes.

It was a bloody challenge to haul myself off the couch again and continue cleaning, but get up I did, and thus I cleaned. I did the shower stall and the sink, and lay back down. Then I got up and went out to the paddock for the first time in days.

And you know what? I think this whole ‘doing a bit at a time and then resting’ has a lot more going for it than my usual ‘DO ALL THE THINGS AT ONE TIME’. And I didn’t combust with misplaced rage while doing it, either. I’ll have to experiment with it more!

I Got A Dog

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As the COVID lockdown loomed, I sped out into the back country of New Zealand to one of the largest sheep and beef stations in the North Island.  There, I was met by a woman and a dog.  A dog named Flash.

A dog who will, hopefully, become my “helper dog”.

I call him my “helper dog”, because here in New Zealand we have very strict legislation about what can be classified an Assistance or Service Dog.  Despite the training he will receive, he cannot be classified as an Assistnace Dog until one of the named charities certifies him.  There is one named charity that certifies owner trained dogs, and they are not taking new applicants at this time.

But that’s okay.  I don’t need him certified for him to help me around the home, or at work, or on the farm.  I just need him to be gentle, willing, and trainable.

After two days with him I can confirm he has all of that, in absolute spades.  He is a collie cross, a purpose bred heading dog, bred to stare at sheep until they move.  He just … didn’t do sheep.  At all.  So at the grand age of one, he was fired from basic training, and passed over to me.

It’s early days yet, but I am cautiously optimistic that he will fit in with the rest of my hairy horde and complement our lives.

An Injury Is Never Just An Injury

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When you have fibromyalgia, or trigeminal neuralgia, an injury is never “just” an injury.

Three weeks ago a door viciously attacked my little toe.  It was … well it wasn’t broken, and that’s the only positive thing I can say about it!  So the next day my fibromyalgia goes “HAH, PETTY TOE, LET ME SHOW YOU THE TRUE MEANING OF PAIN” and everything from my waist down felt swollen and heavy and on fire.  My joints all the way up to my hips were stiff.  I lay in bed and read trashy fanfiction to distract myself from the pain.  The day after that the burning heavy stiff sensation was only in the leg with the bung toe, and after that it went away completely.

So fibromyalgia is a real asshole when you get hurt.  But to top that off, whenever my fibromyalgia does a flareup, my trigeminal neuralgia does a flare up!

Well today, while sorting rams, I got smacked in the nose.  Fortunately by a hand and not a ram, but still, it was a good thwack.  I went and put cold water on it (the best we could do out on farm) and promptly had a meltdown.

The injury is on my face.  The injury is, specifically, on my nose.  The inflammation will put pressure on the second branch of both trigeminal nerves, and that’s likely to set off my trigeminal neuralgia which I had only just settled down after a volcano pimple on my jaw decided to set the whole thing off (why, oh why, does my face do this to me?).

So I had an anxiety attack, which is kind of understandable.  I don’t want my fibromyalgia to flare up.  I don’t want my trigeminal neuralgia to flare up.  I don’t want to be in pain.

But I don’t really get much of an option, and not doing the things that I love to keep myself safe from injury is also not an option … so I have to be kind to myself when I am injured.  And reduce inflammation as much as possible!

For now it is definitely setting off both trigeminal nerves, but it’s only set off the third branch of one side and mildly set off all three branches on the other.  Here’s hoping fibro doesn’t kick in tomorrow and make all the joints in my upper body stiff and achy!  I’ve got stuff to do!

How to Survive the Festive Season with Chronic Illness

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Now that I am through the festive season, I would like to extend my best wishes to all readers – whether you be transient or regular – for the holiday season, and my heartiest congratulations for coming out the other end.

If you could hear my hysterical laughter you’d understand that ‘surviving’ is about the only thing I can lay claim to for this past holiday season.  I managed to not yell at anyone.  I did politely snap a couple of times – when mum told me not to do a thing with the laptop that had to be done (I do know what I’m doing), and when my amazing human got salty about where we had coffee because we could have had coffee at the coffee place up the road (yes we could have, but we are not, because we are having coffee here, because you said you didn’t care where three times before as we went past cafes and I shoved us all into this one because you were getting grumpy).  But overall I managed.

Which is a fucking feat of perseverance if I ever did see one.  I went into it burnt out from the impromtu therapy session with mum wherein I was the therapist and helped her unpick and reframe a narrative that has been with her since she was two.  The good news is, she’s looking a lot happier, and she’s going to start looking into a therapist.  The bad news is it took so much out of me.

Throw me straight into two very long drives back-to-back (only one of which I had to do), my amazing human’s family arriving for two weeks, and the act of ‘running interference’ to ensure my amazing human doesn’t become overwhelmed by his parents, and you have a very stressed out and exhausted lady at the end of it all.

I rarely had time to myself to plug in my headphones and listen to anything.  I didn’t have time to do any of my self soothing routines.  I was out and about constantly, pushing myself to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible.  I was mediator, decider, herder of cats, support … the works.  My role in my family has always been as mediator and keeper of the peace.  My role in my amazing human’s family is apparently the same, with making decisions (because no one else does) and herding cats on top of that.

I failed miserably at implementing any kind of self care over the holiday period.  It’s hard to say ‘no’ when you’re trying to keep everyone else happy – and that’s a holdover from my childhood.  If I keep everyone else happy, no one will be grumpy, and I won’t be grumped at.  Well it only partly worked.  I still got grumped at.

But, in my rambling way, I survived.  I made it through.  The only incident was the dog eating a part-empty tube of cat laxative and having to clean that off the carpet (she’s fine).

And next year hopefully we won’t have two families combining over the holiday period.

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

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Well.  What a decade this has been.

I moved country.  Twice.  With a lot of animals.  I was married.  I was separated.  I am not yet divorced, but hey that’s coming this year.  I got more animals.  I moved city to pursue the career of my dreams.  I gained a weird older brother in my flatmate.  I met some truly amazing humans through my university course.  I met one of my truest and best friends to date through fandoms.  I met, and fell in love with, my amazing human bean.

I had a breakdown.  I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  I built myself back up.  I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia.  I built myself back up.  I got rid of more narcissists on the way.

All throughout I was supported by the most amazing, kind, generous, loving and supportive humans I could ever have been blessed with.  My parents, for whom without which I could not have even begun my journey into my new career, let alone continued on it.  My nearest and dearest friends who have shouted me road trips and meals and yarn, who have given me hugs and cuddles and lent me their ears to vent and rage and cry.  My amazing human being who has stood beside me through ironing out my quirks, my panic attacks, my depression, my medication trials, my descent into physical disability, who has cooked me nutritious meals, has made spiced hot chocolates when things get tough (“I can’t fix it, but I can make hot chocolate!”), has enthused over anything I have shown interest in …

And then there are my amazing animals, three of which I will not get another decade with, who I cherish more than I can say and who have provided me with company, love, fur, poop, barf, and so many laughs.

This decade has, without a doubt, been the toughest I have lived through yet.  The physical, emotional, and mental toll of fibromyalgia and trigeminal neuralgia can not be understated.  It is brutal and it is every damn day.  And yet I feel very fortunate.  I have learned that the people I am surrounded by have more love than I could ever have imagined, and I feel truly honoured.

I am relieved this decade has, at last, passed.  There are many things I look forward to leaving behind.  While I do not ascribe to this ‘new year, new me’ (or ‘new decade, new me’) thing, I do find it is important to identify a ‘turning point’ so to speak, a point at which you can say ‘this situation did not go past that, and it is done’.  For me, the shift from 2019 to 2020 is that, in terms of freeing myself from narcissists (both romantically, and platonically), and the start of my journey into chronic illness.

Now bring me that horizon.