Yesterday I attended a 2 hour Paintballing Fun Run in aid of the cancer charity MacMillan. Some of my friends and family were taking part and I went along to take some photos. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere was brilliant. Everyone was in a great mood, the children were all dressed up and as I camped out at the finish line I had a fab time feeling the emotions of the runners even though I obviously couldn’t take part myself.
As I stood there, camera in hand, I looked as fit as a Mallee Bull. Yes I was wearing an SI belt,a wrist brace and 2 knee braces but other than that I looked just like everyone else. And while I was there I felt just like everyone else. If I got down on one knee to take a picture I struggled to get back up again and I had to keep shaking and rubbing my arms because they were aching and cramping with holding the camera up to my face, but other than that I was tickety boo. The consequences came later.
On the drive home I started to feel nauseous and more than a bit dizzy. My ears were ringing from sound overload and my head felt buzzy like it was filled with insects. My legs were aching and my back was cramping. I was starting to feel intense exhaustion, like I’d spent the afternoon rock climbing. I couldn’t wait to get into bed.
I lay there trying to rest but it was impossible. My brain was way overstimulated – I might as well have taken Speed. My thoughts tumbled and churned and it was impossible to switch them off. I sat back up again, put on my computer and had a look through the images from the afternoon. My head started to pound and my throat felt sore and swollen, like I was coming down with some kind of lurgie. Of course I wasn’t, my throat always hurts when I overdo it, it’s one of my warning signs.
My legs ached, twitched and burned. The tops of my arms throbbed – you’d think I’d spent the afternoon lifting 50lb weights not a tiny little mirror-less camera! By 6.30pm I knew I should probably eat something but the thought of food made me want to throw up. I was drinking water, cordial and cups of peppermint tea like it was going out of fashion though because I had a raging thirst, which of course made me pee every half an hour.
I usually settle down around 9pm, watch TV for an hour and go to sleep around 10.30pm but last night I was buzzing so carried on working on my images. At 10.15pm I started to yawn, so even though my brain was still as high as a kite I switched off my laptop and settled down to watch my favourite programmes. Concentration was nigh on impossible and I know I’m going to have to watch them all over again later in the week because this morning I can’t tell you a thing that happened. The bedside lamp was finally turned off at 1pm where I lay with my brain exploding flashing coloured lights, my arms and legs aching and on fire and trying to swallow past my tonsils which felt quadruple their usual size. When I eventually fell asleep it was peppered with sweaty, thrashing dreams.
This morning I feel like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards. The soles of my feet are so painful just walking to the loo on my hardwood floors was tortuous. My brain feels bruised and battered and my throat is so sore if I didn’t know better I’d swear I was coming down with Strep throat. As I’m typing this my right hand is shaking with the effort and the muscles in the tops of my arms are aching like a son-of-a-bitch. My legs are on fire, my ankles have seized up and my brain is both fuzzy and buzzy.
But the worst is yet to come. I won’t sleep again tonight and tomorrow I’ll feel like I’ve been in a car crash, my whole body bruised and aching. On top of that I’ll feel like I’m coming down with the flu, my throat will be killing me, I’ll be freezing or boiling or both, my whole body will feel like it’s got toothache, my joints will have stiffened and I won’t be able to string a sentence together. My “post-exertional malaise”, a hallmark symptom of M.E., usually reaches its peak 48 hours after activity and I’ll probably feel crap for the rest of the week.
This is the part of my life which people don’t see. They see the 2 hours I spent looking to all intents and purposes like a normal human being, but they don’t see the consequences. I actually have nightmares about being secretly filmed by the Department for Work & Pensions who take me to court to say I’m not sick at all – look here’s the proof! But they’re not in my bedroom for the next 4 days as the consequences of activity kick in. Those 2 little hours of normality cost me 4 days of pain, nausea, weakness, dizziness, brain fog and insomnia. And during those 4 days I don’t have the energy to cook so I don’t eat. I don’t have the resources to do anything for my parents so they go without. My jobs in the house pile up, my post goes unread and by the time the weekend arrives I will feel overwhelmed by life.
Were the 2 hours of normality worth a week’s worth of suffering? Absolutely. My mental and emotional health need days like yesterday but by necessity they have to be few and far between.