amber rahim

Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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Happy Mandalas and broken hands

I love colouring. I always joined in when F was little and probably did more colouring than she did. I definitely do more than S.

Recenty my sister in law bought me a Mandala colouring book and I’m hooked. I have thin pens and thick pens and have reserved a couple of pages for the girls to colour (because of course if I am colouring, they want to).

i love using the thin pens the most. It takes more concentration and the colours just seem to be more sharp, jewel like.

its very soothing and this daily practice has been like a kind of meditation for me: it builds my reserves of resilience.

But today as I colour I feel restless. Some words need to be spoken. Yet I feel that my life while be forever changed and I’m not sure I am ready for that. But I don’t the know how much longer I can hold them in.

But these words I can say: we took S to the hospital today. She fell and hurt her hand. No amounts of bruises and scrapes stop her, and she reminds me of my sister Y, fearless and ever on an adventure. But today she cried so. She fell asleep in my arms and on waking, cried some more.

It was a quick visit and it looks like she bruised it. No broken bones they said. Let’s hope that’s true.

I caught myself comparing this visit to all our other visits with F. Those visits are always so complex but today I don’t want to compare. I am going to try and enjoy that whole process took under an hour, including the 20 min drive each way.

It was a breeze. So thank you God for the ease and speed today.


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What’s different about chronic illness No.5: always sicker

Soemtimes it feels like the only reason we have school holidays is so that F can fit in her “get sick” time and not miss school.

Every holiday contains some days of sickness. Every one.

This December was no exception, except that it started with S. She got 5th disease, otherwise known as slapped cheek syndrome.

S was a bit itchy, achy, cried more easily but otherwise was actually kind of okay. I would describe her as being a bit off for a few days.

Then F got it. It just hid her harder. Because she is actually ill almost all the time, any other illness can really put her out of action.

She had to take to her bed, couldn’t keep on playing.

THEN she got impetigo on top. How cruddy is that? (pun intended).

My heart ached and I didn’t know what to say as she cried in bed, not understanding why S only got a bit of a rash but she, F, was sick in bed, with painful, itchy, sores all over her face.

You see, she knows. She sees the difference. She does always get sicker than her little sister. Than anyone else.

And she knows that it means that she has to miss out on fun, playing and parties. Not her brother, Not her sister. Only she misses out.

My heart still aches and I still don’t know what to say to that.

Do you?

holding-hands-mother-and-child2

p.s. she didn’t scratch her impetigo sores, not once. She had them all over her lip and chin, really like a beard. And she didn’t scratch them once. She is my hero.

 


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How I realised that “Because I said so” is a life skill

Back in May I wrote a story and shared it with about a dozen people at a Storytelling Night. It’s longer than my normal posts so I kept telling myself that this isn’t the place to share it. Well, I want to share it anyway. If you’ve got a few minutes, read on.

How I realized that “Because I said so” is a life skill

When I saw the post on Facebook about this event I loved it and my first thought was “I’m going to go! As a spectator”. A few seconds later this thought followed “go and read” and before I knew it, I was signing up on eventbrite. There was no reason or explanation. I have never done this before. Just a voice in my head saying: “do it”.

Then I saw the theme. Because I said so. I write about living with chronic illness. I write about self development and how you can get yourself unstuck. What’s that got to do with Because I said so?

I spent the next 2 weeks being completely blank. What story can I tell? And yes, the rules aren’t rigid or strict and I could write about whatever I wanted but….. there is something inside of me that always tries to do what I have been asked.

My default association with this phrase is that is negative. How many times have I yelled this at my kids?

Yes, I patiently explain the logic behind my instructions or involve my kids in the thinking process in how to come up with a conclusive course of action. I want them to be independent, self-sufficient. Leaders, at least of themselves.

Not sheep. Not blind followers of others. Because I want them to choose their lives. And a tiny, terrified part of me that has watched too many episodes of Criminal Minds and that doesn’t watch the news anymore because of all the terrible things that happen, wants them to fight like mad if anyone tries to grab them or do things to them.

I want fighters.

Ok, here’s a confession. I don’t always do that patiently. The explanation. Sometimes I’m having a bad day or they are behaving little brats and pushing all my buttons and the conversation is more like this:

“Put your nickers on.

Come on, move it! How many times do we have to have this conversation?

Stop prancing about and put your bloody nickers on! Now!”

I kind of understand the running around completely naked thing but putting your vest and t-shirt on, even your socks and yet your butt is still bare? What the hell is that?

I have often thought of this tactic, because I said so, as being the last resort of a tired parent. Probably because I only use it when I am tired.

So while I was thinking about what on earth I was doing, signing up for this, I realized something. I had no reason, no explanation. I just listened to a voice in my head that said just do it.

That started me thinking: where else in my life do I do things, just because someone else has said so?

When I was a teenager my mum used to tell me to just get up and dressed by 8am on a Saturday, even if I was going to read in bed all day. Just get up and get dressed first. I never understood it (and fought it a lot) but I get it now. Sorry mum.

It happened at work too. Stopping that project half way through because someone at the top didn’t like it. There was always a lot of blah blah blah around it: “new direction”, “maximize synergies” etc but it always came down to someone new at the top saying no.

And at home. My husband telling me to eat. In my pregnancy with S, I was really sick. At 4 weeks, the vomiting started and didn’t really stop until about a week before she was born.

Within the first trimester I was admitted into hospital 4 times due to dehydration and lack of nutrition. And a kidney stone. I was extremely nauseous and on bed rest. I didn’t feel hunger and didn’t want to eat so I didn’t. So my husband made me snacks and I ate them when he told me to. If he left the food with me, then more often than not, I would stop eating after a couple of bites. So he started staying and I ate. Because he said so.

Then one day he looked at me and told me he was taking me to the hospital. Okay I said. We didn’t have an appointment but he said he was worried so we went.

You see I was vomiting so much that I was on antiemetics. There is one that is safe to use during pregnancy. However a possible side effect is depression and I had sunk so deeply, so quickly. I knew that if I didn’t eat more I could die and I didn’t care. My apathy was complete and I had no desire to change anything. I wasn’t eating, it was dangerous and it was ok.

When he looked at me he saw that in my eyes and he didn’t like it. He told me to put my shoes on and I followed.

They admitted me. I talked to a shrink. I chose to stop taking the medicine and within a couple of days the fog had lifted. The world, which had become hazy, had sharp edges again.

I was still extremely nauseous, but I was ok.

For me there is a power in these words “because I said so”. In that moment, it was the power of protection: you are hurting yourself and I am telling you to stop. No debate. No time wasting. Just stop.

There is also the power of liberation. Take the birth of S. The doctor told me when to push and not push. I was induced and it took quickly. Within an hour I was having contractions less than a minute apart and I was puffing like Thomas the tank engine on speed, trying so hard not to push. I didn’t have time to think and I didn’t know what to do. My first, F, was born via cesarean so I hadn’t done this before.

So I did as I was told: “don’t push, don’t push, don’t push. Ok push”.

I didn’t need to figure it out or make decisions. I could let go of all responsibility and just focus on doing puffing and pushing. What a relief.

I have changed my view on “because I said so” and I have found these 3 things to be true:

ONE

There are times in your life when you just have to listen to someone else. We do not always get to choose: like all those projects that got cancelled. We need to accept and with acceptance, frustration disappears. This is important for the happiness of our children. It’s a skill that they need to learn.

TWO

It is liberation and an act of kindness. How many of you been stumped by this deeply philosophical question: what should we have for dinner today? Some nights, it kills me.

“What? I need to decide everything? Just tell me what you want and I will make it.”

Sometimes we need to be free of the responsibility of making decisions and just have someone else do it.

So it is an act of kindness to my children when I tell them:

“We’re eating spaghetti for dinner today. No discussion”. Or “Time for bed”.

THREE

It is the last resort of a tired parent. Maybe there are times that I need to start the conversation that way.

Because I said so is a life skill.


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Bonding

They say that the first few hours after the birth of your child are critical for bonding.

If that’s true, I’m fucked. And F has a really great connection with some NICU doctors and nurses whose names I can’t even remember.

At 29 weeks my labour started and they managed to halt it after 30 hours.  My birth plan, which I hand only just started thinking about, became this: keep my legs crossed for as long as possible. Her lungs aren’t ready yet.

A week later you came into the world just before midnight, by ceasarean. 5 eager doctors waiting to whisk you away.

Before they dashed off I got a glimpse of you in the incubator about a meter and a half away. These doctors were greedy to have you to themselves, their reluctance to take those 30 seconde so that I could get a glimpse of you were clear (ok, let’s be fair, they needed to take action quickly to save your life so they couldn’t hang around).

That was the last I saw of you for 24 hours. You were a tricky little lady, with your tiny veins and losing fluids so quickly. They have never had such a challenge to keep a baby hydrated before (and I hope it never happens again).

I did not recognise you that second day. You were so tiny, and so different than the baby I had seen the day before. Wrinkled. Where had all the softness gone?

It took two of them to pick you up, hold your limbs in place and keep all those tubes and wires in place, and place you on my chest. I don’t think you could have found two happier people in the world at that time than us.

We didn’t get long, kangarooing is very tiring for premature babies, and you had to go back in to your incubator,your new womb.

Over the next 5 weeks we didn’t get t spend much time together and I didn’t get to hold you much. You were really ill and sometimes I wasn’t even allowed to touch you at all.

The next few years were a roller coaster where I felt that I never gave you the attention that you deserve because there was so much to do to keep you out of hospital, to get you feeling well.

I always thought that we only started bonding when you were about two and a half. This week you turned 7 and I realise that I was wrong.

We have been connected, bonded since the moment you existed.

I did not have a “big moment” or rush of feelings when I looked at you the first time. There was no sudden falling in love. I was in love with you already.


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“I’m going to runaway!”

Sometimes I let circumstances get the better of me. It happened this week. The details contributing to my mini meltdown are not relevant – could anything justify me exclaiming “that’s it, Im running away!”?

This post is about about what happened next.

run_away

The other day I was feeling pretty lost, tired and steadily being driven nuts by F’s constant interfering in everything I was doing (J, the irony is not lost on me. Taste of my own medicine? Absolutley).

I snapped. I told her I was going to run away. She replied “go on then” (small side note, I am incredibly proud of her response to me).

So that was the start of our role reversal and then this happened…

“If you stop being cross and say sorry then I want you to stay” said F.

…and the role reversal was complete.

My little F, not yet 7, is more mature than I am.

I don’t know what got into me (but there is a definite yearning for some peace, as in, alone time) yet I am grateful that F is so wise, compassionate and willing to stand up to her mum and call me on my silly behaviour.

My conclusion? Our children are better than us.

Yet I don’t feel better than my parents. What’s that about? Am I just at that stage in life where I am stuck in the middle, looking at the greatness that surrounds me? Feeling inadequate, hoping that I am not doing too much damage. Holding on to the idea that “what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger”. (be grateful kids, you’re going to be superheros when you grow up!)

Then we had the most wonderful conversation. We heard each other, we made agreements. We hugged.

Maybe F realises that I am only human. Actually, I think she always knew and loves me anyway. It is I who keeps forgetting my own humanity. Now to start loving myself anyway.

 


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3 important lessons for happiness in 2014

Happy New Year everyone!  A sincere and heartfelt wish for good health to you all.

I did not expect to write a “new years” themed post but life is full of surprises.

It wasn’t a good start to the year.  By last Thursday (only the 2nd day of the year) it had already become too much for me.

Normally I don’t like to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve.  I’m tired most of the time anyway and it just takes me too long to recover these days.  Plus, there’s something about having to stay up that I rebel against.

I stayed up this year as we were with family (it was a lovely evening) but by Thursday morning I was still recovering.  My daughter woke up around 9am feeling ill.  With terrible stomach pains, she was crying and throwing up.  As I tried to comfort her my mind ran through all the things it could be:

  • Stomach bug
  • Bleeding ulcers
  • All that Piri Piri sauce she ate yesterday
  • Bleeding ulcers!
  • Gastritis …. and bleeding ulcers!!!

I have a bit of a paranoia about bleeding ulcers.  You see, she is on a combination of meds that can cause ulcers.  She has already had severe gastritis because of her meds (age 6 months) and she is on an NSAID that is only for short term use (read weeks) because it causes ulcers and she has been on it for 6 years.  Yikes!

It’s a calculated and managed risk.  It saved her life in the early months, kept her out of hospital in the first couple of years and allows her to have a good quality of life now.

However, it is a ticking bomb that may or may not go off.  If she gets an ulcer she won’t be able to take this or any other NSAID for the rest of her life.  Muscle pain and need Ibuprofen?  No can do.  Quality of life?  Seriously affected.

So while all this is going on in my crazy, tired head, and I am trying to comfort her, my poor little girl is crying and asking for Dad (who was temporarily unavailable).

Brimming with frustration and impatience I just wanted to tell her to “stop it, just be quiet”.  (Well, I wanted to shout it actually and there were quite a few exclamations marks in my head too).

I took a breath, explained that her dad would be back in 2 minutes and that I needed to go to the toilet.  Then I left the room.

I stayed in the bathroom for a long time, much longer than necessary.  I put myself in timeout.  Her dad was brilliant with her; kind, patient, loving.  Just what she needed. I am so grateful to him because last Thursday I just couldn’t do it.

So these are my 3 important lessons for happiness in 2014

  1. It’s good to share the load.
  2. It’s better to walk away than say something you would regret
  3. Accept that Mummy time is never at a civilised time of the day (like 9am on a Thursday).  Kids want their mums at stupid o’clock times like 4am on Friday morning.  That’s when they want you to sit with them and hold their hand.  So I did.


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What’s different about chronic illness? No.1: Sickness scale

It’s coming up to Christmas and I am taking 2 weeks off from everything.  My next post will be in January so with heartfelt gratitude I thank you for reading my blog and sharing this with me.

I invite you read my first blog https://amberrahim.com/2013/08/28/finding-my-daughter-behind-the-illness/ and with that spirit, enjoy the beauty of those in your life.  See them for who they are and cherish them.

Enjoy these last 2 weeks of the year and wishing you good health.

Sickness Scale.

My mother once gave me some advice for when your child is ill.  “Sometimes you just need to sit up all night with your children and hold them”.

I have found it to be true.  Sometimes your children are so ill that it comforts you both to do this: your child finally sleeps in your warm embrace and as a parent you are soothed by being able to give comfort.

But how long can you keep this up? One day, two?  Maybe even a week, if you take turns with your partner.  But what if they are sick for weeks, months and you just don’t know how long it will be before they are better?  You want to keep on holding them for as long as they need but when chronic illness is involved, your children are really ill, really often.  Their need for comfort is high and our desire to provide it is strong.

So you try to keep it up, you get tired and eventually a shift starts to happen.  They need to be more sick before you stay up all night.  It gets easier to go back to bed.

Your assessment scale for illness adjusts.

In the beginning they need to be on a 7-8 on the sickness scale to warrant an all nighter.  With a chronically ill child you will do the same.  Sickness level is 7-8?  Ok, stay up all night with them.  It’s the definition of that 7-8 on the sickness scale that changes, not the number.

If they normally throw up about 4 times a day, you notice when they do it 6 times a day and start to get worried at 8.  When they stop playing you know it’s really bad and maybe it’s time to go to the hospital.

(side note: yes, kids can throw up regularly and still carry on playing and having fun. My little champ has been doing it for years.  Well you can’t spend your entire childhood not playing!  Seriously though, I do not know how she does it.)

Your whole view of the world changes.  What’s normal?  What’s worth worrying about?  What’s serious?

From the outside we can seem callous.  “What, your daughter has just been sick and you don’t ask her how she is and give her a hug?”.  No, but I do teach her how to keep it out of her hair and off her clothes and shoes.   This is normal for her.  Do you pick up your toddler every time she stumbles? Or is that just normal?

When people don’t understand, and it is really easy of them to misunderstand, it can isolate you.  I don’t blame them.  When it comes to illness, there is little common ground between you.  With parents who also have a child with a chronic illness or people who themselves are ill, it is different.  It’s why we get on so well, even when we live on other sides of the world.  We share something that many of those around us don’t even know about.  We have a different sickness scale.

So next time you wonder “don’t they care?” or hear me say “she’s doing well”, remember: yes we do care and she is doing well, for her.

Our world is just a little bit different and you need to understand the context: our normal is not the same as your normal.  Take time to see us, really see.  You will see someone who says they are ok but is in pain.  That’s because they are ALWAYS in pain like this.  So yes, they are ok, but they are still in pain.

Take time to understand and let us in.  We want to connect with you.  We want to be understood.  We want to be seen.

So my mother is right.   Yes, I have just admitted that to the world, will I ever hear the end of it? (actually, I am proud to do so).  Sometimes you just need to sit up all night with your children and hold them.