Sophie Etheridge

@setheridge1 | contributor
Hi, Im Sophie! I suffer with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Hypermobility, Epilepsy, Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder, Anxiety, Depression and Complex PTSD. Life with so many conditions can be tough and complicated and when I first discovered TheMighty and read through some of the thoughts and stories it made me realise that I wasn't alone. I enjoy writing but was never very good at it, so, I hope that some of the stories that I write are able to comfort someone that is struggling and help them realise that they aren't alone.
Sophie Etheridge

Practical Self-Care to Improve Mental Health During COVID-19

There are millions of people that live every day with mental health conditions. Despite this, many people with mental health conditions feel constantly alone and try to hide their issues. I believe that we all need to look out for each other, support each other and be kind to each other. If you know someone with mental health issues or have them yourself, here are 10 things that you can do to try and improve your situation or their own. 1. Take action. Taking the first step toward doing something positive will help to reduce anxiety and improve motivation. It doesn’t need to be a huge step and can be something as simple as finally ordering a book that you have fancied reading for a while. Once you have taken that first small step, the next one won’t seem as big and before you know it, you will have achieved what you wanted to. 2. List positive achievements. Everybody has a list of achievements and events that they are proud of in their lives. Many peoples’ lists only exist in their minds and they never have written it down. Now is your chance to write it down, list the things you are proud of completing and remember this list is for your eyes only, so you can write absolutely anything. My list starts like this: I have kept going no matter what life has thrown at me. Graduated from university. Despite being disabled and needing help, I still manage to live independently. Even though I struggle I still manage to help others. I have finally begun to overcome my fear of making phone calls. 3. Listen to a podcast about a topic you are interested in. Personally, I am pretty new to podcasts but I know lots of people that love them. There are podcasts about pretty much everything and anything you could want to know. Do you have a passion for a particular sport? An interest in a certain area of science? Or simply need something to help you sleep? If so, give podcasts a go! Listening and learning can not only distract you but it can also introduce you to new passions, help to increase your motivation and give you something to focus on. 4. Take five minutes. Not many people actually take five minutes out of their daily lives for themselves. Five minutes of nothing but sitting, relaxing and allowing yourself to completely rest can be a huge help, especially if you have anxiety as it calms the mind and can help to clear your head. Five minutes to yourself can help you refocus and reenergize. 5. Be in the present. This is one that I find difficult myself, I have a lot of trauma in my past and struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) so have recurring flashbacks and nightmares which, obviously, makes staying in the present tricky sometimes. However, I do know that staying in the present and looking forwards and not back is the only way that you will be able to achieve the things that you want to in life and that it is the only way that you can move on from things. 6. Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude has endless amounts of benefits. It makes you take time to notice and reflect on positive things both in the present and the past. One way to practice gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal, by taking time to notice all the small things that you are thankful for and the end of each day, noting them down so that you can go back to them and remind yourself of those moments. 7. Do 15 minutes of exercise. Exercise is obviously important; it is something we are advised to do for both our physical and mental health. When you exercise, it releases endorphins which can help to improve mood and trigger the “feel-good” factor. 8. Put yourself first. Something that many people struggle with is putting themselves first, but it is really important that you do. It is so easy when everyone is rushing around, trying to do everything and help everyone else to forget about yourself, and neglect your own needs. Remember that you need enough energy for others as well as yourself. 9. Make time for family and friends. Family and friends are key in life. They are pillars of help and support through difficult times so having a strong support network of friends and family is key for good mental well-being. They do not only comfort us through the difficult times but also through the wonderful and joyful moments of our lives too. The connections that family and friends give tie us to the world and give us a purpose and reason to live. 10. Relive positive memories. Take a moment to relive one of your best memories. Think about what happened and how it made you feel, relive the experience and revel in it. Doing this can especially help if you struggle with flashbacks or nightmares. It helps you go to your happy place and a moment that can help to ground you and bring you out of the nightmare. All of the above things are simple, easy and free. There are, of course, many other things that you can do to support others or to help yourself and others. It is all about finding what works best for you or the individual. Remember we are all different, so different things will help different people! I hope that the above suggestions give you some ideas to try at home in your own time.

Sophie Etheridge

How It Feels to See Pictures From Before I Became Disabled

Facebook is an amazing social media platform and it helps many people with chronic illness a great deal. There are hundreds of groups and pages about pretty much everything, including medical conditions. When I was first diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and fibromyalgia, one of the first things I did was research the conditions and learn as much as I could about them so I could be my own advocate. At first I tried Dr. Google — bad idea. It was either negative things about the condition or medical journals full of things I didn’t understand. So, I went to Facebook and searched for groups about chronic illness and CRPS and joined them instead. The help I have received through those Facebook groups has been invaluable. Instead of learning information from a textbook, you get to learn from real people so you know what to expect and are more prepared for things if they go wrong. Plus, you have a support network to turn to when you need it. I’ve also made many friends through the groups. Some I have met in real life and some are online friends, but they all understand what it’s like to have the same conditions as me. When you have a chronic illness, friends can be difficult to come by and even more difficult to keep because they simply don’t understand your conditions and they get so fed up of you canceling meetups. Some also get bored of hearing about your pain and health issues, despite the fact it is such a huge part of your life. I think what people without pain don’t realize or understand is that chronic pain is there 24/7; there is no break from it. Sometimes it’s worse than other times, but it’s never not there so it’s constantly in our minds; we can’t separate ourselves from it. It is a part of us and for some reason, other people sometimes can’t accept that. Despite how helpful Facebook and other social media platforms are, they can also make you feel worse. Facebook has a “memories” function where you are notified of what you posted and what you were doing this time a few years ago. It can sometimes be great looking back at what you have done and achieved, however for someone with a chronic illness, it can also be upsetting. Some memories on Facebook can be of your “old” life before you got ill. They can be images of things you wish you could still do but can’t any longer. They may also be images of happy times in your life and remind you of what life was like when you didn’t have chronic health issues. Last week Facebook decided to show me a memory from 2011 when I was studying at university. It was an image from before my cycling accident that resulted in CRPS, and it reminded me what a huge change it has been going from athlete to wheelchair user. It took me several years to accept my conditions and accept I would never get better. However, after a few years of feeling sorry for myself, I learned how to deal with my conditions and realized I could still participate in most things, I just had to do so in a slightly different way.   The specific image Facebook showed me was of me participating in a cycling sportive event; I was cycling 100 miles in aid of charity. It brought everything back — all I used to do, how fit and healthy I was, and how much weight I have put on since. It showed me one of the happiest times in my life. It made me realize how things can change drastically in just a few seconds, and it reminded me of how much I have lost and changed due to my health issues. It was a difficult image for me to see and even more difficult when a friend told me it looks absolutely nothing like me. I am a completely different shape, I look fit, healthy and happy, and the biggest thing for me was that I wasn’t in a wheelchair. Instead, I was cycling up a steep hill on a racing bike. Seeing that particular image put me back in the place I was in before I was disabled. At first, it was upsetting and made me cry, but then I did a picture comparison of then to now. I realized how much I have had to deal with, how hard I have fought to stay independent and get the help I need, but most of all it showed how much I have overcome. I try my best to not let my disabilities define me, I push myself to do the things I want to do and I push myself even harder to do activities even an able-bodied athlete may find difficult.   After seeing the picture, I realized I am now a better person and remembered how much I have overcome in recent years. Going from triathlete to wheelchair user was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. My life has changed in so many ways, but each time I fought and overcame the challenges I faced. So ultimately, I want to say thank you to Facebook for showing me that I am now a better, stronger, kinder and more understanding individual.

Sophie Etheridge

How It Feels to See Pictures From Before I Became Disabled

Facebook is an amazing social media platform and it helps many people with chronic illness a great deal. There are hundreds of groups and pages about pretty much everything, including medical conditions. When I was first diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and fibromyalgia, one of the first things I did was research the conditions and learn as much as I could about them so I could be my own advocate. At first I tried Dr. Google — bad idea. It was either negative things about the condition or medical journals full of things I didn’t understand. So, I went to Facebook and searched for groups about chronic illness and CRPS and joined them instead. The help I have received through those Facebook groups has been invaluable. Instead of learning information from a textbook, you get to learn from real people so you know what to expect and are more prepared for things if they go wrong. Plus, you have a support network to turn to when you need it. I’ve also made many friends through the groups. Some I have met in real life and some are online friends, but they all understand what it’s like to have the same conditions as me. When you have a chronic illness, friends can be difficult to come by and even more difficult to keep because they simply don’t understand your conditions and they get so fed up of you canceling meetups. Some also get bored of hearing about your pain and health issues, despite the fact it is such a huge part of your life. I think what people without pain don’t realize or understand is that chronic pain is there 24/7; there is no break from it. Sometimes it’s worse than other times, but it’s never not there so it’s constantly in our minds; we can’t separate ourselves from it. It is a part of us and for some reason, other people sometimes can’t accept that. Despite how helpful Facebook and other social media platforms are, they can also make you feel worse. Facebook has a “memories” function where you are notified of what you posted and what you were doing this time a few years ago. It can sometimes be great looking back at what you have done and achieved, however for someone with a chronic illness, it can also be upsetting. Some memories on Facebook can be of your “old” life before you got ill. They can be images of things you wish you could still do but can’t any longer. They may also be images of happy times in your life and remind you of what life was like when you didn’t have chronic health issues. Last week Facebook decided to show me a memory from 2011 when I was studying at university. It was an image from before my cycling accident that resulted in CRPS, and it reminded me what a huge change it has been going from athlete to wheelchair user. It took me several years to accept my conditions and accept I would never get better. However, after a few years of feeling sorry for myself, I learned how to deal with my conditions and realized I could still participate in most things, I just had to do so in a slightly different way.   The specific image Facebook showed me was of me participating in a cycling sportive event; I was cycling 100 miles in aid of charity. It brought everything back — all I used to do, how fit and healthy I was, and how much weight I have put on since. It showed me one of the happiest times in my life. It made me realize how things can change drastically in just a few seconds, and it reminded me of how much I have lost and changed due to my health issues. It was a difficult image for me to see and even more difficult when a friend told me it looks absolutely nothing like me. I am a completely different shape, I look fit, healthy and happy, and the biggest thing for me was that I wasn’t in a wheelchair. Instead, I was cycling up a steep hill on a racing bike. Seeing that particular image put me back in the place I was in before I was disabled. At first, it was upsetting and made me cry, but then I did a picture comparison of then to now. I realized how much I have had to deal with, how hard I have fought to stay independent and get the help I need, but most of all it showed how much I have overcome. I try my best to not let my disabilities define me, I push myself to do the things I want to do and I push myself even harder to do activities even an able-bodied athlete may find difficult.   After seeing the picture, I realized I am now a better person and remembered how much I have overcome in recent years. Going from triathlete to wheelchair user was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. My life has changed in so many ways, but each time I fought and overcame the challenges I faced. So ultimately, I want to say thank you to Facebook for showing me that I am now a better, stronger, kinder and more understanding individual.

Sophie Etheridge

The Good and Bad Sides of Navigating Life in a Wheelchair

When you’re a wheelchair user, you tend to see the world differently. Simple, everyday tasks become challenging, not because of your disability, but because the world is not accessible. People like to think that in this day and age people with disabilities can go about their everyday business with no obstacles, but it’s simply not the case. Something as small as there being a curb cut or not can hugely impact how a wheelchair user’s day goes, or how it doesn’t. Being in a wheelchair isn’t all bad, though. I believe we have to try and focus on the good bits rather than the bad and negative ways in which wheelchair users are often portrayed. The Bad 1. People don’t talk to or direct questions at you; they are directed at the people around you. One thing that really annoys me when I am out with friends is that people never talk directly to me and seem shocked when I ask an intelligent question. I’m not the most beautiful person in the world, but would it kill you to look at my face when you’re talking to me? 2. Wheelchair users are not a piece of furniture. I absolutely hate being treated like an object. If someone in a wheelchair is blocking your path, simply say “excuse me” and they will move for you, just like anyone else would. It is completely unacceptable to ever move someone in a wheelchair out of your way. You wouldn’t like it if someone came up to you and pushed you to the side so they could get past you. We don’t like it either. 3. When someone says “Eating (insert healthy/disgusting food) will cure you and mean you can walk again.” Quite simply, it won’t. A lot of part-time wheelchair users get frustrated at being in a wheelchair. People don’t seem to realize that we have tried everything to help our walking. I have several chronic illnesses and I have tried many different treatments, both natural and medicinal. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Feel free to give me advice, but please don’t tell me that I am making things worse for myself, and don’t try to force magical “cures” such as eating celery on me. 4. Don’t ask me if I know someone you know because they also use a wheelchair. The world is a big place, there are lots of people in it and many of them are wheelchair users or disabled in some way. Just because I am disabled it doesn’t mean I know everyone else who is disabled. It’s like me asking if you know Fred Smith because he has brown hair like you. 5. Don’t judge me if I stand up. There are many different reasons why someone may use a wheelchair. Some may have a spinal cord injury, some may use it as a precaution in case their joints dislocate when out and about and others may use it because walking causes them agonizing pain. We all do the best for ourselves and if that means using a wheelchair to reduce pain, so be it. The Good It may sound odd saying there are good things that come with being in a wheelchair, but there are and I believe you have to make the most of them, because the majority of the time being a wheelchair user is hard work due to the inaccessible world we live in. 1. Great seats and a free carer’s ticket at concerts/events. This is a pretty big one for me. As a musician, I love going to concerts and shows. Often they are inaccessible, so when they are accessible I jump at the chance. There are normally special areas or seats for those in a wheelchair and the majority of the time the seats are some of the best in the venue. Whenever I attend a big event or concert, I always have someone with me to help me if I encounter any accessibility issues on my journey to/from the venue. Thankfully carers normally get a free ticket where I live, meaning that if I need someone to come with me, I only have to pay their transport costs, not the cost of a second ticket. 2. You always have a seat. This is pretty obvious, but everywhere you go, you always have a seat with you. People complaining that there are no chairs or they are uncomfortable makes me grateful for having my own very comfortable chair! 3. Shoes last ages. When you do a lot of walking shoes wear out pretty quickly, they become damaged and often end up looking old, tired and grubby. Well, when you’re in a wheelchair you aren’t doing the walking so shoes can last years. I have had my favorite pair of flip-flops for eight years… so far! 4. You can become a good judge of character and very understanding if problems arise. When you use a wheelchair, you may get used to being treated differently and get used to people’s attitudes. You soon learn the sort of people you can trust and those you can’t. You understand people’s struggles and can sympathize with someone if something goes wrong. Being in a wheelchair has taught me that everyone has their own struggles, even if you can’t see them, so you should always be kind. Simply being kind can sometimes make someone’s day. 5. You may quickly develop a thick skin. When in a wheelchair you get many clueless comments and remarks that people don’t realize are totally inappropriate. As a result, you tend to quickly develop a thick skin so you can brush all those comments off and carry on. One thing I hate people saying to me is that people like me are a “drain on society.” There are obviously many more good and bad things about being a wheelchair user, but the list would go on forever if I included them all. I just hope this helps people realize it’s not all bad when you’re a wheelchair user!

Sophie Etheridge

5 Misconceptions About Wheelchair Users

There are a lot of different kinds of wheelchair users. Some people are born needing a wheelchair and others have an accident or illness resulting in them needing a wheelchair. There are those with spinal cord injuries who are paralyzed and unable to walk at all, those who can walk most of the time but need a wheelchair for long days out, and those like me, who use a wheelchair 90 percent of the time but can walk short distances using crutches some days. People like me who have an accident or illness that results in needing a wheelchair go through a difficult transition. You have to re-learn how to do things, learn what you can and can’t do and adapt to living life in a wheelchair. I remember when I first starting using a wheelchair, I felt vulnerable and didn’t like going out on my own in case something happened or I got stuck somewhere. I also experienced bullying and was judged for using one when I could still walk short distances, which made it even harder. One of my biggest issues was that I believed what a lot of others do — that being a wheelchair user means you need a lot of help and can’t do things for yourself. Of course, I now know that is a load of rubbish for most people, so I just want to clear up some other misconceptions about what wheelchair users can and can’t do. 1. Wheelchair users can’t live independently. When I realized I was going to need to use a wheelchair more and more, I feared I would never be able to live independently. As I was new to using a wheelchair I foolishly believed what everyone around me was saying — that I “would never be able to live on my own because I wouldn’t be able to do things for myself.” In reality, saying someone in a wheelchair can’t live independently is codswallop. It took me a long time but eventually I realized I could live independently; I would just need a bit of support to do so. Having some help in the home has helped me to stay independent. It means I can focus on the important things in life rather than the everyday meaningless tasks, such as washing up, cleaning and cooking. 2. You can’t do any job apart from working in an office. Again, a load of rubbish! If you have a dream job, all you have to do is fight for it. It may take you slightly longer to get any qualifications or the experience you need, but if you are determined then you’ll get there! There are obviously some jobs you won’t be able to do, but there are services in place to help people find work, and most jobs are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to work. 3. You’ll have to stop all sports and activities. This one was a big deal for me; I have been sporty all my life and one of the first questions I asked at the hospital was if I would be able to swim again. It took about four years out of exercise and training before it clicked that it didn’t matter what people said or thought; if I wanted to swim then I could, I just might have to make a few adjustments to my stroke (like not kicking my legs). I then discovered a local disability sport charity and they pointed me in the direction of wheelchair racing and adaptive rowing. As a result, I now do more sports than before I was in a wheelchair! I might not be doing what are considered “normal sports” but it’s still sports and most importantly, I still love it! 4. You won’t ever have a relationship or children. To be honest, only part of this has affected me. At the time of my diagnosis, I was in a long-term relationship and he made me feel like if I left him, I would never be with another person, so I should stay as his partner. Eventually I decided he was wrong and it would just be a case of finding the right person, and the relationship ended. In terms of never having children, unless there is a medical reason for you not to be able to, of course you can have children. If there is one thing kids are good at, it is adapting, and if they grow up with a parent in a wheelchair, they won’t know any different anyway! 5. You can’t live a “normal life.” First of all, what is a normal life? Everyone’s lives are different depending on how they grew up, where they lived, any friends they had and any outside influences. At first it seemed like this statement was correct. I was rubbish at steering and couldn’t get up curbs without help! As I developed my wheelchair skills, I managed to gradually gain back the majority of my independence. Now I socialize, volunteer, play in a concert band, participate in sports and live on my own. To me, that is my normal life. So when you next see someone in a wheelchair, just remember they are the same as you, apart from using wheels to get around rather than legs!

Sophie Etheridge

10 Tips to Help You Survive Winter With a Chronic Illness

Winter can be tough for everyone. The light fades quicker, the weather gets worse and the cold restricts what you can do. When you have a chronic illness winter isn’t just tough, it can be miserable. Most conditions are affected by the weather, and bad weather can stop someone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aid from going out to do the most simple of tasks. With complex regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia I always find that pressure changes and colder weather increase my pain, making winter particularly uncomfortable for me. However, there are a few things that help me that I would like to share with you: 1. Layers. Wearing several layers is great, but can sometimes be tricky with a chronic illness. It can be difficult for some people to get several layers of clothing on and off and can also be awkward with certain clothing if you are in a wheelchair or are reliant on TPN. But if you can wear lots of layers, do. As an athlete, I often used to wear thermal base layers under my t-shirt during training in the winter, but now I just wear them in the winter to keep me warm and cozy. I know many people who also wear thermal leggings and thermal socks, but due to my conditions, I am unable to do so. 2. Instant hand warmers/heat packs. As a manual wheelchair user, cold, wet weather is particularly unpleasant. It is easy to get cold very quickly and without even realizing. To help with this, I always make sure I have some automatic hand warmers with me. These can be used anywhere — hands, feet, legs, back, wherever they are needed. Hand warmers can help to reduce cramping and tension caused by the cold weather. 3. Electric blanket. I have complex regional pain syndrome; this results in my legs and feet all being different temperatures. To help keep my legs roughly the same temperature and stop them from cramping, I use my favorite piece of “winter kit” — my electric blanket! This is a very soft blanket which I can use simply as a blanket or to try and ease the pain in my legs by keeping them both at the same temperature. The warm feeling on an ice-cold limb as the result of CRPS can provide a huge relief to people. My other favorite use for my electric blanket is putting it on my bed 20 minutes before I plan on going to sleep, so I have a nice cozy and warm bed to get into! 4. Bedding/PJs. Many people with chronic illnesses spend a lot of time in bed, so staying warm and comfortable is important! During the winter I suggest most people switch to a thick winter duvet and wear long PJs, however, not everyone can do that. Due to my complex regional pain syndrome, I have hypersensitive legs, meaning I can’t wear trousers or have the weight of a heavy duvet on them! For this reason, I use a brushed cotton bed sheet which is nice and soft and warm, a bed cage to keep my summer duvet off my legs and lots of blankets. The reason I use lots of blankets rather than a thick winter duvet is so I can add or get rid of them quickly and easily if I am having issues regulating my body temperature. 5. Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Everyone has lower Vitamin D levels during the winter due to there being less sunlight but for people with chronic illnesses who are often stuck in bed for several days in a row, it can become an issue. Lack of vitamin D can increase pain, cause muscle weakness, increase fatigue and several studies have proven it can also cause and increase the symptoms of depression. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and recommend a supplement if needed. 6. Organize and get extra medication. Most people with a chronic illness take a large array of medication and it can be confusing to organize it all. During the winter it is vital to ensure you have plenty of your prescription medications available to you, so if the weather goes downhill and your condition worsens, you don’t need to worry about trying to go out. It’s also a good idea to have the number of the pharmacy just in case you have any issues or need to arrange for someone else to pick up your prescription for you. 7. Ask for help. During the winter months when your condition flares up and you are struggling a lot, don’t be afraid to ask for extra help. Someone doing something as simple as picking up some milk at the local shop can help you conserve energy, and means you can stay inside and stay warm so you don’t increase any symptoms caused by your particular illness. 8. Stay active. Staying active doesn’t mean doing lots of intense sports, it can be as simple as doing gentle movements such as Yoga or Tai Chi. This can help to stretch and soothe any muscle tension as a result of the cold weather. It is important to talk to your doctor first, and be careful if you do engage in any physical activity, as it can cause overexertion, resulting in excessive pain and fatigue. 9. Ensure you don’t overheat. This may sound strange since the majority of this article is about keeping warm, but it is important. If possible, try not to go from one extreme to the other, for example in a car with the heater on full to going straight into freezing cold wind. The sudden change in temperature is likely to increase the symptoms/pain from any neuropathic pain condition. Instead, try having the heater in the car set to a lower temperature, so the difference between inside and out isn’t as big. 10. Stay safe. It can be frustrating and boring being stuck inside for several days in a row, but your safety is more important. If you feel it may be unsafe to go out due to how the cold affects you or because it’s icy and you’re unsteady on your feet, stay in. Listen to your gut instinct when deciding if venturing into the cold is worth the risk.

Sophie Etheridge

10 Tips to Help You Survive Winter With a Chronic Illness

Winter can be tough for everyone. The light fades quicker, the weather gets worse and the cold restricts what you can do. When you have a chronic illness winter isn’t just tough, it can be miserable. Most conditions are affected by the weather, and bad weather can stop someone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aid from going out to do the most simple of tasks. With complex regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia I always find that pressure changes and colder weather increase my pain, making winter particularly uncomfortable for me. However, there are a few things that help me that I would like to share with you: 1. Layers. Wearing several layers is great, but can sometimes be tricky with a chronic illness. It can be difficult for some people to get several layers of clothing on and off and can also be awkward with certain clothing if you are in a wheelchair or are reliant on TPN. But if you can wear lots of layers, do. As an athlete, I often used to wear thermal base layers under my t-shirt during training in the winter, but now I just wear them in the winter to keep me warm and cozy. I know many people who also wear thermal leggings and thermal socks, but due to my conditions, I am unable to do so. 2. Instant hand warmers/heat packs. As a manual wheelchair user, cold, wet weather is particularly unpleasant. It is easy to get cold very quickly and without even realizing. To help with this, I always make sure I have some automatic hand warmers with me. These can be used anywhere — hands, feet, legs, back, wherever they are needed. Hand warmers can help to reduce cramping and tension caused by the cold weather. 3. Electric blanket. I have complex regional pain syndrome; this results in my legs and feet all being different temperatures. To help keep my legs roughly the same temperature and stop them from cramping, I use my favorite piece of “winter kit” — my electric blanket! This is a very soft blanket which I can use simply as a blanket or to try and ease the pain in my legs by keeping them both at the same temperature. The warm feeling on an ice-cold limb as the result of CRPS can provide a huge relief to people. My other favorite use for my electric blanket is putting it on my bed 20 minutes before I plan on going to sleep, so I have a nice cozy and warm bed to get into! 4. Bedding/PJs. Many people with chronic illnesses spend a lot of time in bed, so staying warm and comfortable is important! During the winter I suggest most people switch to a thick winter duvet and wear long PJs, however, not everyone can do that. Due to my complex regional pain syndrome, I have hypersensitive legs, meaning I can’t wear trousers or have the weight of a heavy duvet on them! For this reason, I use a brushed cotton bed sheet which is nice and soft and warm, a bed cage to keep my summer duvet off my legs and lots of blankets. The reason I use lots of blankets rather than a thick winter duvet is so I can add or get rid of them quickly and easily if I am having issues regulating my body temperature. 5. Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Everyone has lower Vitamin D levels during the winter due to there being less sunlight but for people with chronic illnesses who are often stuck in bed for several days in a row, it can become an issue. Lack of vitamin D can increase pain, cause muscle weakness, increase fatigue and several studies have proven it can also cause and increase the symptoms of depression. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and recommend a supplement if needed. 6. Organize and get extra medication. Most people with a chronic illness take a large array of medication and it can be confusing to organize it all. During the winter it is vital to ensure you have plenty of your prescription medications available to you, so if the weather goes downhill and your condition worsens, you don’t need to worry about trying to go out. It’s also a good idea to have the number of the pharmacy just in case you have any issues or need to arrange for someone else to pick up your prescription for you. 7. Ask for help. During the winter months when your condition flares up and you are struggling a lot, don’t be afraid to ask for extra help. Someone doing something as simple as picking up some milk at the local shop can help you conserve energy, and means you can stay inside and stay warm so you don’t increase any symptoms caused by your particular illness. 8. Stay active. Staying active doesn’t mean doing lots of intense sports, it can be as simple as doing gentle movements such as Yoga or Tai Chi. This can help to stretch and soothe any muscle tension as a result of the cold weather. It is important to talk to your doctor first, and be careful if you do engage in any physical activity, as it can cause overexertion, resulting in excessive pain and fatigue. 9. Ensure you don’t overheat. This may sound strange since the majority of this article is about keeping warm, but it is important. If possible, try not to go from one extreme to the other, for example in a car with the heater on full to going straight into freezing cold wind. The sudden change in temperature is likely to increase the symptoms/pain from any neuropathic pain condition. Instead, try having the heater in the car set to a lower temperature, so the difference between inside and out isn’t as big. 10. Stay safe. It can be frustrating and boring being stuck inside for several days in a row, but your safety is more important. If you feel it may be unsafe to go out due to how the cold affects you or because it’s icy and you’re unsteady on your feet, stay in. Listen to your gut instinct when deciding if venturing into the cold is worth the risk.

Sophie Etheridge

10 Tips to Help You Survive Winter With a Chronic Illness

Winter can be tough for everyone. The light fades quicker, the weather gets worse and the cold restricts what you can do. When you have a chronic illness winter isn’t just tough, it can be miserable. Most conditions are affected by the weather, and bad weather can stop someone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aid from going out to do the most simple of tasks. With complex regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia I always find that pressure changes and colder weather increase my pain, making winter particularly uncomfortable for me. However, there are a few things that help me that I would like to share with you: 1. Layers. Wearing several layers is great, but can sometimes be tricky with a chronic illness. It can be difficult for some people to get several layers of clothing on and off and can also be awkward with certain clothing if you are in a wheelchair or are reliant on TPN. But if you can wear lots of layers, do. As an athlete, I often used to wear thermal base layers under my t-shirt during training in the winter, but now I just wear them in the winter to keep me warm and cozy. I know many people who also wear thermal leggings and thermal socks, but due to my conditions, I am unable to do so. 2. Instant hand warmers/heat packs. As a manual wheelchair user, cold, wet weather is particularly unpleasant. It is easy to get cold very quickly and without even realizing. To help with this, I always make sure I have some automatic hand warmers with me. These can be used anywhere — hands, feet, legs, back, wherever they are needed. Hand warmers can help to reduce cramping and tension caused by the cold weather. 3. Electric blanket. I have complex regional pain syndrome; this results in my legs and feet all being different temperatures. To help keep my legs roughly the same temperature and stop them from cramping, I use my favorite piece of “winter kit” — my electric blanket! This is a very soft blanket which I can use simply as a blanket or to try and ease the pain in my legs by keeping them both at the same temperature. The warm feeling on an ice-cold limb as the result of CRPS can provide a huge relief to people. My other favorite use for my electric blanket is putting it on my bed 20 minutes before I plan on going to sleep, so I have a nice cozy and warm bed to get into! 4. Bedding/PJs. Many people with chronic illnesses spend a lot of time in bed, so staying warm and comfortable is important! During the winter I suggest most people switch to a thick winter duvet and wear long PJs, however, not everyone can do that. Due to my complex regional pain syndrome, I have hypersensitive legs, meaning I can’t wear trousers or have the weight of a heavy duvet on them! For this reason, I use a brushed cotton bed sheet which is nice and soft and warm, a bed cage to keep my summer duvet off my legs and lots of blankets. The reason I use lots of blankets rather than a thick winter duvet is so I can add or get rid of them quickly and easily if I am having issues regulating my body temperature. 5. Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Everyone has lower Vitamin D levels during the winter due to there being less sunlight but for people with chronic illnesses who are often stuck in bed for several days in a row, it can become an issue. Lack of vitamin D can increase pain, cause muscle weakness, increase fatigue and several studies have proven it can also cause and increase the symptoms of depression. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and recommend a supplement if needed. 6. Organize and get extra medication. Most people with a chronic illness take a large array of medication and it can be confusing to organize it all. During the winter it is vital to ensure you have plenty of your prescription medications available to you, so if the weather goes downhill and your condition worsens, you don’t need to worry about trying to go out. It’s also a good idea to have the number of the pharmacy just in case you have any issues or need to arrange for someone else to pick up your prescription for you. 7. Ask for help. During the winter months when your condition flares up and you are struggling a lot, don’t be afraid to ask for extra help. Someone doing something as simple as picking up some milk at the local shop can help you conserve energy, and means you can stay inside and stay warm so you don’t increase any symptoms caused by your particular illness. 8. Stay active. Staying active doesn’t mean doing lots of intense sports, it can be as simple as doing gentle movements such as Yoga or Tai Chi. This can help to stretch and soothe any muscle tension as a result of the cold weather. It is important to talk to your doctor first, and be careful if you do engage in any physical activity, as it can cause overexertion, resulting in excessive pain and fatigue. 9. Ensure you don’t overheat. This may sound strange since the majority of this article is about keeping warm, but it is important. If possible, try not to go from one extreme to the other, for example in a car with the heater on full to going straight into freezing cold wind. The sudden change in temperature is likely to increase the symptoms/pain from any neuropathic pain condition. Instead, try having the heater in the car set to a lower temperature, so the difference between inside and out isn’t as big. 10. Stay safe. It can be frustrating and boring being stuck inside for several days in a row, but your safety is more important. If you feel it may be unsafe to go out due to how the cold affects you or because it’s icy and you’re unsteady on your feet, stay in. Listen to your gut instinct when deciding if venturing into the cold is worth the risk.

Sophie Etheridge

10 Tips to Help You Survive Winter With a Chronic Illness

Winter can be tough for everyone. The light fades quicker, the weather gets worse and the cold restricts what you can do. When you have a chronic illness winter isn’t just tough, it can be miserable. Most conditions are affected by the weather, and bad weather can stop someone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aid from going out to do the most simple of tasks. With complex regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia I always find that pressure changes and colder weather increase my pain, making winter particularly uncomfortable for me. However, there are a few things that help me that I would like to share with you: 1. Layers. Wearing several layers is great, but can sometimes be tricky with a chronic illness. It can be difficult for some people to get several layers of clothing on and off and can also be awkward with certain clothing if you are in a wheelchair or are reliant on TPN. But if you can wear lots of layers, do. As an athlete, I often used to wear thermal base layers under my t-shirt during training in the winter, but now I just wear them in the winter to keep me warm and cozy. I know many people who also wear thermal leggings and thermal socks, but due to my conditions, I am unable to do so. 2. Instant hand warmers/heat packs. As a manual wheelchair user, cold, wet weather is particularly unpleasant. It is easy to get cold very quickly and without even realizing. To help with this, I always make sure I have some automatic hand warmers with me. These can be used anywhere — hands, feet, legs, back, wherever they are needed. Hand warmers can help to reduce cramping and tension caused by the cold weather. 3. Electric blanket. I have complex regional pain syndrome; this results in my legs and feet all being different temperatures. To help keep my legs roughly the same temperature and stop them from cramping, I use my favorite piece of “winter kit” — my electric blanket! This is a very soft blanket which I can use simply as a blanket or to try and ease the pain in my legs by keeping them both at the same temperature. The warm feeling on an ice-cold limb as the result of CRPS can provide a huge relief to people. My other favorite use for my electric blanket is putting it on my bed 20 minutes before I plan on going to sleep, so I have a nice cozy and warm bed to get into! 4. Bedding/PJs. Many people with chronic illnesses spend a lot of time in bed, so staying warm and comfortable is important! During the winter I suggest most people switch to a thick winter duvet and wear long PJs, however, not everyone can do that. Due to my complex regional pain syndrome, I have hypersensitive legs, meaning I can’t wear trousers or have the weight of a heavy duvet on them! For this reason, I use a brushed cotton bed sheet which is nice and soft and warm, a bed cage to keep my summer duvet off my legs and lots of blankets. The reason I use lots of blankets rather than a thick winter duvet is so I can add or get rid of them quickly and easily if I am having issues regulating my body temperature. 5. Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Everyone has lower Vitamin D levels during the winter due to there being less sunlight but for people with chronic illnesses who are often stuck in bed for several days in a row, it can become an issue. Lack of vitamin D can increase pain, cause muscle weakness, increase fatigue and several studies have proven it can also cause and increase the symptoms of depression. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and recommend a supplement if needed. 6. Organize and get extra medication. Most people with a chronic illness take a large array of medication and it can be confusing to organize it all. During the winter it is vital to ensure you have plenty of your prescription medications available to you, so if the weather goes downhill and your condition worsens, you don’t need to worry about trying to go out. It’s also a good idea to have the number of the pharmacy just in case you have any issues or need to arrange for someone else to pick up your prescription for you. 7. Ask for help. During the winter months when your condition flares up and you are struggling a lot, don’t be afraid to ask for extra help. Someone doing something as simple as picking up some milk at the local shop can help you conserve energy, and means you can stay inside and stay warm so you don’t increase any symptoms caused by your particular illness. 8. Stay active. Staying active doesn’t mean doing lots of intense sports, it can be as simple as doing gentle movements such as Yoga or Tai Chi. This can help to stretch and soothe any muscle tension as a result of the cold weather. It is important to talk to your doctor first, and be careful if you do engage in any physical activity, as it can cause overexertion, resulting in excessive pain and fatigue. 9. Ensure you don’t overheat. This may sound strange since the majority of this article is about keeping warm, but it is important. If possible, try not to go from one extreme to the other, for example in a car with the heater on full to going straight into freezing cold wind. The sudden change in temperature is likely to increase the symptoms/pain from any neuropathic pain condition. Instead, try having the heater in the car set to a lower temperature, so the difference between inside and out isn’t as big. 10. Stay safe. It can be frustrating and boring being stuck inside for several days in a row, but your safety is more important. If you feel it may be unsafe to go out due to how the cold affects you or because it’s icy and you’re unsteady on your feet, stay in. Listen to your gut instinct when deciding if venturing into the cold is worth the risk.

Sophie Etheridge

Supporting a Loved One With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they often think only military veterans can have the condition, which is simply not true. Anyone can get PTSD; it’s a mental health disorder that can be triggered by any kind of traumatic experience. This could be physical assault, domestic abuse, a robbery or even the sudden death of a loved one. Symptoms of PTSD often include vivid nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance of anything related the trauma. People also have issues sleeping, become irritable and can feel numb. One of the most important things for someone with PTSD is to have a strong support system. Going through counseling for PTSD can be traumatic in itself, having to experience and then process the trauma in a different way. It can make your loved one feel vulnerable and afraid. So if you’re supporting someone with PTSD, here are a few things you can do to help them, as well as some things for you to remember. 1. We don’t want you to fix us; we want you to listen and accept us as we are. When friends find out a loved one has PTSD, a lot of them may want to try to fix them. It’s not what we want or what we need from you. We have therapists and support from professionals to deal with and help us live with the condition. From friends we want some understanding and for you to listen when we need to talk. 2. Don’t tell us to “get over it.” Post-traumatic stress disorder is like any other health condition and should be treated as such. By telling us to “get over it” you make us feel like our feelings, symptoms and issues around our PTSD are not valid. It makes things harder for us. Try saying “I’ve got you” instead. 3. Be patient. PTSD is a complex condition that can be caused by many different things. Although people can work on recovering from the condition, it will take time and patience. There is no official cure for the condition, and one never knows what may trigger the PTSD in the future. Finally, remember this is about the person living with PTSD, so make sure you go at their pace and not yours. 4. Recognize and try to understand our fears rather than making them out to be irrational and excessive. One of the biggest parts of PTSD is fear, which can be debilitating. It can make your loved one scared to be around certain people or to leave the house, along with avoiding certain situations. Don’t try to talk them out of their fears, which are ingrained in the person’s mind and may make them feel worse. Instead try talking to them, listen to their fears and feelings, sympathize with them and find out the best way to help them. 5. Ask how you can help us to feel safe. People with PTSD are afraid a lot of the time, especially if they have a flashback. It can be scary, and sometimes all they want is to feel a sense of security and safety. You can simply ask what helps them feel safe. For some it might be a hug, others it might be using distractions like watching a film. By doing this you aren’t trying to fix them, you are letting the person know you are there for them in both the good times and bad. 6. Remember everyone has a different way of coping. Everyone, no matter if they have PTSD or not, has different coping mechanisms. These vary depending on the personality of the person. Some coping mechanisms may involve reading a book, while others may include self-harm, drugs or alcohol. No matter what a person’s coping mechanism is, please try not to judge them for it. Just try to support them as best you can. 7. Remember appearances can lie. Many who live with a mental health condition know what it is like to ‘”wear a mask” — the fake smile, the half laugh and the engaged, slightly vacant expression. It is now even easier for a person to pretend they are fine because of social media. People may only show their best side on social media, and those with mental health issues may seem to “be fine.” However, one person noticing a loved one isn’t fine and saying something or checking up on them can mean the world to someone with PTSD. 8. As frustrating as it is for you that we aren’t the person we were before our trauma, it frustrates us more. Trauma changes a person, and the journey to move past or live with PTSD is a long and difficult one. Your loved one may lose themselves, be confused and feel more alone than they have ever felt in their life. Not knowing who one is anymore adds to the fear of the trauma and also increases all of the anxiety around it. Don’t try to force them to be the person they were before their trauma, as they will get there in their own time. 9. When we are having a bad day, remember it’s not your fault. There are days when things seem worse than others and when symptoms are less controlled. This isn’t your fault, it’s just part of the condition. We never want you to feel like any of this is your fault. 10. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. When you are supporting someone through processing their trauma, it can be exhausting. If the person with PTSD decides to talk through their trauma with you, it can be overwhelming and upsetting thinking of what your loved one has experienced. It’s not always easy, but remember it’s OK to say to your loved one that you need a break from talking about it; you need to take care of yourself too.