I hope you’ll forgive my play on words. I like a snappy title, and a spoonie’s got to have some fun 😀 . The (excellent) Spoon Theory itself is particularly relevant to this post.
I have an appointment with my (fairly new to me) GP tomorrow afternoon to discuss the results of recent tests – blood, urine and E.C.G. They were ordered because I’ve been experiencing palpitations and episodes of breathlessness, among other new symptoms, and because my GP also found my blood pressure to be high.
In the last week alone, my skin has continued to flare, although much less dramatically thank goodness. I’ve been having joint pains (Fibromyalgia produces widespread pain but it’s felt in the soft tissues of the body), headaches and further episodes of blurry vision. This weekend I have mouth ulcers. This is on top of my usual spoonieness!
I’ve twice been referred to a specialist – rheumatologist – ten years ago and again around five years ago. I was living in different cities and so went to different hospitals. The first specialist was not especially thorough. He said the results were inconclusive but that I probably have Fibromyalgia. He told me to look it up on the Internet and that was that.
Fibromyalgia and Bile Acid Malabsorption – my primary (physical) diagnoses are not progressive conditions and yet my symptoms have progressed. In the last five years alone – I have been diagnosed with Alopecia (hair loss) and Rosacea, both by a dermatologist who considered Lupus, but decided against the diagnosis on balance; Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, test results (bloods and two ultrasounds) were inconclusive but my then GP said … “it probably is that,” and so endeth the investigations; and finally I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Disease. The (new to me) female GP who diagnosed it printed an information leaflet for me and, as we looked through it, we quickly realised that I met the criteria for secondary Raynaud’s (that’s Raynaud’s secondary to an underlying condition that’s causing the Raynaud’s) rather than primary Raynaud’s (Raynaud’s in isolation). Are you still with me?!
This prompted my second referral, with the GP querying Lupus (there’s that word again) or mixed connective tissue disorder. This experience of the rheumatology specialism was far more thorough. I spent several hours at the hospital undergoing numerous tests. Again the results were deemed inconclusive, and no ‘unifying’ diagnosis was made or follow up required.
I’ve been concerned for some years that a single underlying condition may link my symptoms but have accepted the various findings and got on with things as they stood.
I appear to be in active ‘flare’ at the moment, with some new symptoms, some not, and some apparent worsening (progression) of existing symptoms. A referral to a specialist generally means spending time on a waiting list. Perhaps at previous points of testing I was not ‘actively flaring’ and so the results were inconclusive. I am hoping that this time, if there is something to be found, that it will be found. Am I going ‘loopy’? In other words, do I have Lupus?
I should note that I’m not angling to have Lupus. Who would? It’s an serious auto-immune (where the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy tissue) disease. It can be experienced relatively mildly but can affect the major organs of the body – including the skin, and also the heart, lungs and kidneys. Like a lot of the conditions that fall into the spoonie/chronic illness category, it is experienced differently from person to person. Again, like other spoonie conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. I know that something is going on with my body and I’m concerned that if correct diagnosis hasn’t been made, that irreparable damage may be occurring unchecked.
I eat healthily (outside of the two episodes I’ve had of diagnosed eating disorder), I very rarely drink, I’ve never smoked and (outside of being incapacitated by mental illness) I am as active as possible and enjoy exercise. My symptoms began occurring in my late twenties. I won’t bore you by listing them all but they and their onset are commensurate with connective tissue disorder BUT could also be otherwise explained; that is the nature of the beast.
My status as a trauma and abuse survivor has impeded diagnosis of my physical health problems. For a decade my symptoms were put down to my then depression and anxiety. It’s true that mental illness can certainly impact on the body, but there was enough to suggest that more was going on for me. It has often been ‘a fight’ to be taken seriously, and that in itself took its toll. I know that this a problem in mental illness care at least here in the UK, and that physical illness is often missed or ignored. It’s reported anecdotally and mental health charities have also taken up the issue.
Increasingly, I’ve noticed that GPs, pushed for time and with limited resources at their disposal, are tending towards doing the minimum and ‘fobbing off patients’ where possible. The service appears to have become more reactive, with preventative measures taking a back seat in our underfunded, over-stretched National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. This is not an attack on GPs or the NHS. I very much value the NHS. I believe that we are incredibly lucky to have such a service and should fight not only to protect it but to ensure that it’s in the best possible health, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As a result of my experiences of abuse, my ability to be assertive and to advocate for myself has been impeded. That is changing, slowly but surely. Christine who devised The Spoon Theory and helped to create an international community of people trying to live well with chronic illness, has Lupus as her primary diagnosis. Spoonies are likely to tell you that it is very important to be your own best advocate. I hope I can be mine. I’ll let you know the outcome of tomorrow’s appointment.
Thank you for reading. Comments, chat and tweets are welcome as ever, particularly in this case from other spoonies who may have some thoughts on this.