Tuesday 12th May is M.E. awareness day, and so I thought I'd do my bit for awareness by writing a blog post about the chronic illnesses I have and answer any questions about chronic illness. For those of you who don't know, I have M.E. (chronic fatigue syndrome), anxiety, chronic headaches and suspected endometriosis (undiagnosed). I first experienced my symptoms of M.E, anxiety and endo at age 14, so have been dealing with this a while, as I'm now 21. Most of the questions I got asked on my Q&A on instagram was about my personal experience with my chronic illness and the symptoms and details, so I thought I'd do a small introduction about each chronic illness for those who don't know what they are/ what they involve.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated illness, but is categorised by general exhaustion, amongst other symptoms such as constant pain, headaches, cognitive confusion, and various others. For me, M.E. means that I live in a constant state of exhaustion, despite sleeping for 11+ hours every night, and I never manage to find a way to find relief from this exhaustion, and I get confused very easily during 'brain fog' moments. M.E. usually happens when an 'activating event' triggers the onset of the illness. The M.E. association has more information on symptoms, management and useful resources. There currently is no cure for M.E., but research is progressing, the main way for those who have it at the moment are good lifestyle habits and a consistent routine.

Anxiety is sort of an umbrella term to generally describe a number of conditions defined by a general feeling of unease or worry, that does not go away, and is difficult to control. I am lucky that my anxiety is mild, and is mostly stress and work related. I do struggle with pressure, specifically for university work, which normally causes me to throw up repeatedly or have panic attacks during exams. I manage my anxiety through medication during exam times, and effective lifestyle habits the rest of the year. My chronic headaches also result from stress. I suffer from constant tension headaches at the back of the head, and have done for over a year. As someone who is allergic to ibuprofen and co-codamol, I find pain relief from these headaches difficult. I am thankful that I have a really great GP, who prescribed me propranolol, and these not only stop my headaches and occasional migraines, but relieve my anxiety symptoms too.

Endometriosis is a condition which involves the build up cells that should be found in the womb (uterus) in other parts of the body, when the blood that should be released every month cannot be from these other parts of the body, it can cause inflammation, resulting in a lot of pain and the formation of scar tissue. The classic symptoms of endo are painful and heavy periods, pain during or after sex, and painful bowel movements. Endometriosis UK is a good resource for more information. As I mentioned above, I do not have a diagnosis with endo, but have suffered from extremely painful periods, along other symptoms, since the age of 12. I have discussed my symptoms with a GP, who agreed I have the classic symptoms and that further investigation needs to be carried out, but that has obviously come to a halt in the current situation.

What were your early symptoms?
For my M.E., my early symptoms were mostly complete exhaustion no matter how much I slept, and a lot of brain fog and confusion, especially when I was more tired than usual. M.E. My symptoms were initially dismissed as teenage growing and work level tiredness, and it took a long time for it to be taken seriously, by which point I'd also started experiencing the joint pains and headaches that also come with the illness.

For endo, my early symptoms were excruciating period pains, bad enough to make me throw up, whilst on my period, and all through the month. I've taken some form of contraception for my periods since I was 13, and all of them worked to some extent, but I still dealt with the pains despite having no periods at all. It took me a good number of years to realise these weren't just bad period pains, but that something was wrong.

Anything for knee pains and body aches?
For me, heat works best, and a hot water bottle is my best friend for my aches and pains!

How to deal with suspected endo when you feel like you're just waiting around?
I honestly can't help with this that much, because I'm stuck in the waiting around stage. But, I think my tips would be to have faith in yourself and your knowledge of your own body when things take a long time and you're questioned by doctor after doctor. Educating yourself, and keeping track of your symptoms is a great way to make sure you know what you need to, and have the information you need when you see doctors.

Do you find yourself constantly thinking about your illness out of fear?
I find that I do think about it a lot, but more out of annoyance and inconvenience than anything. It does impact my day-to-day life unfortunately, and it's hard not to get annoyed about not being able to do all the things your friends do.

How do you cure your anxiety? Do you get professional help?
As I mentioned above, my anxiety is mostly work and academic related, and so I take prescribed tablets when I feel particularly stressed, and I'm looking into getting therapy to try and develop my coping tactics for day-to-day stresses.

How does this affect your social life?
The main way it affects my social life is that I don't cope very well with changes to my routine, including early mornings or late nights. I don't go out clubbing very often (despite my love for a boogie!), or stay out late at the cinema or eating very often either. I also find social interactions with new people exhausting, so things like meeting new flatmates or new course-mates or being around extended family can be extremely tiring. I'm really thankful that my family, my boyfriend and his family, and my friends are all really understanding and accommodating.

Do you struggle to attend class sometimes?
Yes, definitely. I find that my routine works best when I sleep until around 10 o'clock, and that I struggle changing my routine to get up much earlier, mainly because I'm more of a night time person generally. I unfortunately often miss my 9am lectures, which is annoying, but I'm thankful that all of my lectures are recorded, and I don't have many contact hours, so I can catch up on any lectures I miss quite easily.

Have you read any books that have helped in general/ helped explore your chronic illness?
I haven't! 'Self-help' books have never really been my thing, but I'd definitely be open to reading some now, if anyone has any recommendations!

How can I support my friend with a chronic illness?
The main thing I would say, is to check in on them and ask how they're really doing, especially at the moment. Other than that, just being there for them is really important, and making them feel like they have someone to talk to when things aren't great. Being accommodating of their chronic illness is also important, and obviously it's perfectly okay for you to still go out and do what you like, but making someone feel included in your plans, or doing things that are more suitable for them always goes a long way.

And that's a chronic illness round up. I hope to those of you who asked questions, these responses answer them adequately. To anyone who has any remains questions or concerns about your own chronic illness, please do not be afraid to message me, I'm here for anyone who wants more information or just someone to talk to.

All my love,

Em x