Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

7 October is Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) Awareness  Day. Few people know anything about this condition. I didn’t until a friend was diagnosed with it almost 20 years ago. It sounded horrific.  Some years later, I developed shooting nerve pains in my face. Once again, I was lucky with my GP and my dentist. Both suspected it might be TN and I was saved the months or sometimes years of multiple tooth extractions and struggles to find a diagnosis that other sufferers have endured. It has since changed its form to what is called TN2, and now manifests with a constant burning. That change, too, was diagnosed quickly.

The condition can go into remission for days, weeks, months or years. But it is a progressive condition, and flares (or attacks) become more frequent, and for some, constant. They can be triggered by touch, wind on the face, weather, stress, brushing teeth, eating, or talking.

Even after diagnosis, TN patients struggle to find adequate pain relief, are accused of being drug seekers, or of exaggerating the pain by medical practitioners who know little about the condition. One woman reports of being told by a psychologist that she had “two arms and two legs” and should “get out and live.”

I have joined an online group of New Zealand sufferers. It is a supportive group, but shows the devastation this condition wreaks, as it is filled with people who have had to give up working, who live constantly with pain, who struggle to care for their children or elderly parents, or live anything close to a normal life, and who feel isolated and lonely. Yet they are able to joke online, climb ladders to paint their houses, travel overseas, and keep connections, even while their family and friends distance themselves, because they struggle to deal with someone who is constantly in pain.

So far I have been lucky, and I know it. So I’m torn between balancing the need to make more people aware of this condition and my desire not to make this a big deal – because for the moment, for me at least, it is manageable. So I’m talking about it today because there are many who are not as lucky as I am. And having TN makes me more aware of others in pain too. I now know how chronic pain or severe pain can be extremely debilitating, whatever the condition that causes it. It can be exhausting and restrictive and isolating. You never know when it will hit. And although someone might look fine, that doesn’t mean they are not screaming inside.

So I choose to use TN Awareness Day to implore you to reach out to anyone you know who suffers pain and let them know you care.

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I woke up on Saturday morning with a feeling of dread; an article I had been interviewed for was due out in the newspaper’s weekend magazine, complete with photographs and a video. My husband received a text early complimenting me on my comments, and so with that I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep for an extra hour, and went online to see the article.

The article is about the stigma society still places on women without children, and indicative of this is the fact that I was the only childless woman (rather than an academic or counsellor) who agreed not to be anonymous, and to be photographed for the article. My part of the article comes at the end, where I talk about how stressful holidays like Christmas (fortunately I didn’t get started on Mother’s Day) can be for women without children. There are so many clichés people roll out around Christmas/holidays that can be painful and dismissive, or nosy and judgemental, that I hope one or two who read the article might think before they speak around those who don’t and won’t have children.

In the interview, I stressed too that the isolation women without children might feel makes us much more aware of the many other people in society who might feel alone at this time of year, but it didn’t make the edit. So I want to mention it here, to remind us all to try and include, and be thoughtful around, those who might be feeling alone or left out or just plain sad this year. Being Merry isn’t compulsory, but being kind definitely should be.

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I have just cancelled my gym membership. I became a member at this chain of gyms in 2004, after my former personal trainer and physiotherapist, along with one of his colleagues (and one or two former clients as investors) set up their first gym. I’ve watched his company expand and achieve success, and have worked out at three of his gyms, each with a very different character and clientele, but each with high quality staff and facilities. Their own excellent physiotherapist clinics attached to the gym facilities have treated me with injured wrists, calves, knees, and a broken ankle. And every year I have enjoyed a free birthday massage, sometimes the only massages I get these days.

But I’m not driving into the city now on a daily basis, the only suburban gym in the group – the one with the amazing views and the wonderful drive around the bays to get there – is no longer working for me, given its distance from home, and the fact that other businesses are taking up all the available (and free) parking.

I need to change my workout routine, get into swimming, and have a cheaper gym membership nearby that I can visit regularly without taking up half of my day. But right now I’m mourning the loss of my lovely gym, the friendly people staff and the other members I have chatted to over the years, the views across Evans Bay, the scenic drive I took to get there, and the cafes where I would stop for a delicious coffee on the way home.


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I used to think that someone had “just” broken their ankle, perhaps because it seemed reasonably common and I’d never had cause to think about it seriously. Now, unfortunately, I know that broken ankles involve complicated joints, that internal swelling might last for up to a year and prevent a full range of movement, and that as a result, healing can take a long time – and that is completely normal. This is a good lesson to show compassion to anyone who suffers an injury I have never experienced.

Why do people tell someone who has suffered an accident that they will never heal fully, and/or that their injured part will “never be the same again?” Three people have unhelpfully said this to me about my broken ankle, either unthinkingly or deliberately ruining my day.

First, it is the expectation of my medical advisors that I will rehabilitate and get back to normal again, as long as I do all my physiotherapy, so unless you are a surgeon, sports doctor or physiotherapist, how would you actually know? Secondly, what does this statement achieve, other than ruining my day, and reminding me never to seek empathy from them in the future?

I guess that’s why I haven’t told quite so many people about my ruined knee … well, until now.

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It’s been over two and a half months since I’ve been to this cafe. It’s my first Monday back at the gym, taking it gently, only 15 minutes on the bike, to get my ankle and knee moving, followed by some free weights and my ankle/knee physiotherapy exercises. It’s nice to get back to some normality, to get back to a routine, but it will be nicer still when I can go down the stairs alternate feet first, and don’t wake up to pain in my knee every hour or two.

When I was working out the sun was blinding, reflecting off the sea and the polished concrete floor, but now the clouds have covered over, and the sea is softly choppy, as the wind is gentle, and the temperature outside ridiculously mild for the day before the shortest day of the winter. Across the harbour, as I wait for my flat white, I can see the container transporters working on the wharf, multi-coloured containers piled high in office block proportions, looking like Lego blocks, or several complicated Rubik’s cubes, though perhaps not so complicated after all, as at least one cube has been solved on the side facing me, smugly monotone white and complete. The Eastbourne ferry crosses in front of me, reminding me that even after all these years I’ve never taken it, and wondering if my 13-year old nephew* would like a trip on it when he comes to stay in a few weeks.

The simple act of moving, the people I got to know at the gym, going to my regular coffee shops, seeing the recovery of my favourite coffee shop (after a fire), being outside, enjoying the harbour – all these little things I used to take for granted mean so much more after an extended break.**

*okay, great-nephew, but I think we’ve reached an understanding where he calls me his great aunt (ie. aunt who is great, because I am) and he will be my nephew who is great because he is.

** pun not intended.

Update: I am pleased to report that two weeks later taking stairs is easier, and my knee is less painful.


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After six weeks, my cast came off today, and I’m allowed to put weight on my ankle, though I will confess that these first hours are scary, and my crutches are still my best friends. I learned some lessons over these last six weeks:

  • Maintaining leg, shoulder and arm strength is important for all of us. We never know when we will need it, and I’m pleased that prior to my accident I had increased the weight exercises at the gym.
  • Time actually goes really fast, and I didn’t really have time to read all the books, watch all the TV programmes, or learn all the Spanish that I thought I would six weeks ago.
  • I need to lose weight, and I missed cooking, and I’m not sure if the two are linked.
  • It is hard to ask for help, but we will all have to do it at some stage, and we need to learn that

a) there is no shame in it, and
b) if you don’t ask, you often don’t get, and
c) in asking, we’ll learn how to better help others.

  • We should appreciate how lucky we are to be able to do things like walking, or using our hands and arms, or other basic functions that we take for granted, but shouldn’t.

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Studies regularly point out that loneliness can be deadlier than obesity or smoking, especially in your old age. Just do a search, and you’ll find many references. Clearly, friendships and other relationships nurture us in ways that are more than merely emotional. Whilst it is sad enough that elderly folks are lonely (or that anyone is lonely, to be honest), it is beyond sad that their loneliness may shorten their lives and bring them physical ailments that limit their lives, and isolate them even further.

It made me think about my life. Right now, I’m spending weeks stuck inside, on my own. My husband is working hard and of course has been looking after his parents over the last few weeks. I joked – sort of – to him that it was okay, I clearly knew that I was ranked at least third in his life, behind his parents and work, right now at least. My friends were busy at work, or travelling, or busy with kids during school holidays. So I’ve been feeling a bit lonely really. I know that this will pass, though, and I’m counting the days till I will more easily be able to navigate the steep driveway and road to my car, and will once again get the freedom to travel independently and spend time with other people!

My old age might be different, though. We don’t have children, so won’t have them popping in to visit – now or when I’m old. (I’m presuming I’ll be lucky enough to grow old, of course, which is not guaranteed at all!) I look at my in-laws, and whilst I’m glad that they still have each other against the odds, I am sad that they don’t really have friends, and increasingly, only have my husband and me. I think that’s a danger of being part of a couple, whether or not you have children. It is easy to focus inwards, rather than to nurture outside relationships as well. It is also easy to assume that your children will be there for you, that they’re your insurance against loneliness when the evidence is that this often isn’t the case. And by the time you’ve lost some of your independence, it’s too late to build that support network you didn’t realise you needed.

Ultimately, I realise that in preparing for my old age, I’m going to have to build friendships and other relationships. More relationships than I currently have, probably. There are many ways to do this, of course. But most importantly, I think simply preparing for my old age, being aware of the fact that I have to create and nurture my relationships, rather than rely on blood or familial relationships, will hopefully help ensure that I won’t be lonely. Internet relationships are good, but they can’t pop in when you’re hungry for the sound of another voice, for the feel of someone’s hand on your shoulder, or need practical help.

Which is why I’m feeling grateful for my friends this week, popping in with ANZAC biscuits, or staying over last night – as Peony did – to chat (or perhaps, listen to me rant), and cook me a delicious pumpkin risotto. I don’t take these relationships for granted, and I hope I never will.

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