IAnyone suffering from a chronic illness will at some point or other have asked the question 'why me?'. I am no different, indeed in the last few months I have been thinking this on a regular basis. The other one is 'what on earth did I do to deserve this?'. Of course there are no answers to either, it's just a case of how the dice rolled. In my case the odds were awful.
As I sit here, writing this I now have CRPS in both lower legs, eyes, upper arms and mouth. CRPS is a condition that I wouldn't wish on anybody. Cruel, sadistic almost, it can strike anywhere, and in my case it feels like I'm under siege. Not content to stay where it started, in my right foot, it just keeps on coming, always getting worse. No remission for me, that would be too much to ask. It does what it wants, when it wants. It is so hard to keep going, let alone stay positive when you are trapped in a broken body that constantly makes doing anything harder or even impossible. What do I have to look forward to? What does the future hold? What state am I going to be in, say, 2 years? Or 5? I learnt long ago that it's better to stay in the moment. Get through each day and move on to the next. Sadly it isn't that easy, especially when you feel the limited quality of life you have is slowly but surely being dragged from under you.
When it struck in December 2005, CRPS stripped me of everything that defined me. Within six months my life bore absolutely no resemblance to the active and busy life I had before. I didn't set foot in a classroom again. Ironically I'd just gained promotion at a new school that September. I couldn't play golf, go swimming or even drive my car. Instead I became completely dependent on my husband for anything and everything. The independence I had taken for granted gone forever. I can't even remember what life was like back then. There was no point dwelling on the past so I moved on and tried to build a new life for myself.
So what is my life like? Well, I can't go anywhere on my own, can't even get out of the chair that I live (and sleep) in. Can't look after myself, let alone Eric and our dogs. I rely on ordering the things we need online because going shopping is simply too difficult. On balance it, like so many mundane activities I used to take for granted, are frankly not worth the pain and struggle to do anymore. Let alone the inevitable escalation of pain, swelling, exhaustion and everything else that follows in the days that follow. Spontaneity is a concept that no longer has any meaning for me. Everything is a military exercise, from getting dressed, sitting on the commode, dragging myself upstairs to have a bath to somehow getting from the house to the car if we go out. Everything is an ordeal and takes ages because of the help I need. Frustrating doesn't come close! Of course, going out means I have to get dressed and sit on the commode before even thinking of trying to get out to the car. It is sheer bloody-mindedness and a determination not to be beaten that results in me doing anything at all.
There aren't many things I can do these days being confined to my chair all day every day. I play video games whilst my husband walks the dogs. I read, watch television, knit and potter about on my iPad and MacBook. Then of course there are the two real passions in my 'new' life, speedway and archery (which I can do sitting in my electric wheelchair with the elevating leg rests up).
I'd never been to a live speedway meeting before I got CRPS. One trip and I was hooked. There's nothing better than hearing the roar of the bikes, the characteristic smell of methanol, and watching four men zooming around a track riding bikes with no brakes at speeds up to 80 mph. A heat typically lasts about a minute depending on the size of the track. Not long, but boy can a lot happen during those four laps. Incredible skill, daring, you find yourself shouting as loud as you can for your team's riders, totally engrossed in the spectacle in front of you. I looked forward to every meeting even though it took a hefty toll, the pain both at the time and for days afterwards was so much worse. I'd lose several days to sleep and then have to do nothing until the next meeting so I was 'at my best'. But I'd be there every meeting come what may. Eric, bless him, never refused to take me even when he knew it was utter madness. There's that bloody mindedness again. CRPS wasn't going to stop me.
I love archery, the only sport we could find that could replace the sports I'd lost. I'd always been sporty, playing badminton, tennis, hockey, golf for club or county (or both) pre CRPS. To not be able to take part in a sport was unthinkable. Exercise when you can't walk but can't shove your legs out of the way (like those who are paralysed can) is extremely difficult. Archery fits the bill perfectly, and I was surprised to find that I was pretty good at it too. A wonderful bonus was that archery also seemed to help my arms. Not for long but it did. The competitive me that had laid dormant so long returned, I entered a few local competitions and won some medals. Again the price I paid for shooting was brutal and lasted days after I'd shot but CRPS wasn't going to stop me doing this either.
Except CRPS has stopped me or it's doing it's best. It feels like I'm slowly being stripped of my life all over again. I can't go to speedway meetings anymore, I can only watch it on television or YouTube. The decision to stop going was so tough. But I had no choice, I simply couldn't cope with the pain during the meeting nor the crushing payback that followed. I'd kept going longer than was sensible, but, me being me, I had to keep going until I simply couldn't anymore. That must be at least seven years ago if not longer. I now watch as much speedway as I can, having even had Polish satellite television installed so I could watch that. It's not the same, but it's better than nothing. Well, sort of, but it's all I've got.
If I read a book or use my tablet/MacBook too long or try to play my video game just that little bit longer CRPS puts the boot in. I sweat profusely, my eyes become incredibly painful, I feel sick and the only thing I can do is stop and rest. Sleep is inevitable, stripping me of part of each day. Sometimes I'll lose and entire day to sleep. I can't get that back. The only good thing about the amount of time I now sleep is it means I'm not in pain. Until it breaks through again and wakes me up. I regularly wake up with blurred vision, payback for my 'crimes' either earlier that day or the day before. The length of time I can do things has got ever shorter as time has gone on. I leave it to you to imagine what I went through filling in the horrendous forms the DWP send you to fill in to prove you're disabled enough to deserve benefits. Not helped by a GP who took five months or more to get a medical form back. Result? I now have the stress of getting to an assessment somewhere which will be stressful, painful and exhausting.
Archery doesn't escape the tendrils of CRPS. It remains an ongoing battle. For a while I was more likely to hit the wall than the target as my arms refused to get into a good position. I had to gradually rebuild my draw but by bit, which was a challenge. I found a slightly different way which improved things and started to shoot better. I used to be able to reach a 80 yard target. I can't raise my left arm high enough. Now I'm focussing on just 20 yards. I've only been over to the club's field twice this year. Says it all really. What does the future hold archery wise? Will CRPS take that from me too? I don't think I could bear that.
Disaster struck. A massive flare in my right arm back in June left me unable to move it at all. Oramorph on top of the 55mg of Morphine MST constantly flowing round my body , plus 14 others, didn't touch it. I struggled to do anything with it, needed even more help with everything like dressing. Eric even had to pass me a cup of tea from my table. I couldn't shoot, my arms had no chance of getting close to the position I'd need. I was distraught. Couldn't knit. Even holding a book was too difficult. I had to just sit in my chair covered with my blanket with my arm placed as comfortably as I could get it. Over the next few weeks I fought to get some movement back, managed to shoot a few arrows. Then a few more. I haven't got it back to where it was, which of course means my quality of life is that little bit worse. Yet again CRPS has taken a little bit more away.
It has brought my future uncomfortably into focus. I always knew the affected areas are only going to get worse as the years go on. Spread even further perhaps? But so soon? Not being able to do even the simplest of things now? Not only is that scary, it's totally overwhelming. I admit that I've had some very dark thoughts in recent weeks. What next? Where is it going to end? If I can't shoot, knit, hold onto a video controller long enough to play more than ten minutes before I have to stop? Can't use my MacBook usefully, or my iPad?
It's taken me so long to write this because I can do so little at a time. Many times I've thought about not finishing it. But then again that's another concession, a bit more ground given. Which brings me right back to the title of this blog post. When is a life no longer worth living? How much does CRPS have to take away before your quality of life just isnt worth the mental and physical battle just to get through one day. Forgetting the next, and the one after that and onwards month after month, year after year? I don't thing anyone knows the answer to that until you reach that point. Let that not be some time to come.....
Postscript: Yesterday I had another massive flare in my right arm. Back to not being able to move it, trying to find a comfortable position where none exists. Here we go again.
Apologies for errors, spelling mistakes. I've not checked it.