Are my symptoms all in my head?

I’ve had background aching in most of my joints for a few weeks now and it’s exhausting. The fatigue is awful and just seems to steal joy at the moment. And that nagging self-doubt which likes to rear its head is back again.

There’s something about pain that just doesn’t go away that erodes your self confidence. I sometimes have the thought, “Maybe I’ve been feeling like this so long that I’m now ‘thinking my way into it’.” There’s a lot of talk around at the moment about the power of the mind in overcoming chronic conditions. And while mind-based approaches undoubtedly work for some people, the thought of it just makes me feel rubbish. Like this crippling fatigue is all in my head. (By the way, I know that’s not the aim of this research/these methods, just an unhelpful side-effect if you’re living with chronic illness)

I’m an expert at projecting onto people how I think they will view me, which usually involves, “Stop making such a fuss” or “I wish she’d talk about something else.”

All of these thoughts leave me wondering whether I ought to pull my socks up and just push on through. Maybe the tiredness is ‘normal tired’, like normal people get.

But when I have tried to ‘just push through’ recently, the results have not been good. I have been on the school run wondering how we will get home as my body was just so tired.

I am by no means an expert at how to overcome the feeling that maybe I’m just not trying hard enough to be well. But here are some things that have helped me to realise that my symptoms are very real:

  • Someone else’s opinion. I’m very lucky to have such an helpful husband. He reminds me of times when I have been much better and have wanted to do things. He tells me how he sees the symptoms playing out in daily life. He tells me I am not choosing this. Somehow, this feels more real if it comes from someone else’s mouth.
  • What I want to do. I normally want to take the kids out. I want to have them climb on me for a hug. At the moment, the thought of them jumping on me makes me wince. That makes me feel mean – but if I can catch that thought, I can use it to demonstrate that the pain is very real. Heck, I would usually rather do housework than sit and blob, but at the moment, I just can’t bring myself to hoover or scrub.
  • The facts. I have RA, Type 1 Diabetes and coeliac disease. My body is under a fair amount of strain, and that’s just a fact. It’s almost easier when I have visible swelling as I feel I have ‘proof’. But the underlying processes are still going on even when you can’t see them. I guess that’s why people call them ‘invisible illnesses’.
  • A professional opinion. I have an appointment with my rheumatologist in about 6 weeks. I’m going to try and bring it forward. When I have been like this before, a steroid shot has made the world of difference to how I function. Once I’m feeling better and want to do all the things I love again, I can see that the tricky patch was not something I was keeping myself in.

Sitting writing this, I can feel that my shoulder and wrists are not thanking me for typing. My wonderful family have taken the children out this morning, so I really should be watching a period drama with a cup of tea rather than writing a blog post! Time to remedy that situation…

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