Being Scottish the festive period is not about Santa, presents or the Baby Jesus. It’s about the one night a year where us Scots can do what we are best at, drink! That night my friends is the 31st of December more commonly know as New Years Eve or if you’re in my neck of the woods, Hogmanay. My theory for Hogmanay has always been: How you bring in the New Year foretells how you spend the rest of that year. For example if you spend the bells sitting in the corner, crying over your ex boyfriend and his new girlfriend that looks like Megan Fox, then you will spend the rest of your year doing exactly the same thing. Now if this theory of mine were correct I would have spent 2010 dancing about in the snow to bagpipes with my good friend Courtney; who has a love of alcohol, cigarettes and fun times. And a crazy Australian named Elle, that Courtney befriended in our local sandwich shop. This may seem slightly random but to those who know Courtney the bringing along of randoms to various events is a common occurrence. I once turned up to meet her at a gig only to get there to find her with a middle aged depressed divorce who she met on the bus and felt that the perfect thing to do was to invite her along to join us in the mosh pit.
Needless to say, this is not how I spent my year.
At the end of 2010 I was starting to feel, well let’s put this technically – shit. What I failed to mention is that during this time I was also an addict. A Lucozade addict. We all know that one of the main symptoms of M.E is severe exhaustion. So to combat this I used to drink 6 250ml bottles of that sunshine yellow stuff every day (another few years of that and I think I may actually have turned sunshine-yellow). I loved it. I loved the first fizz of the bottle when you opened it, I loved the smell of it first thing in the morning, but most of all, I loved the taste. The taste, which is unlike anything else in existence. To me the makers of Lucozade, GlaxoSmithKline, are sheer geniuses who deserve some kind of Nobel Prize for creating this marvellous and unique drink (And no, I haven’t been paid by them to say that). The worrying thing is though, even after drinking 6 bottles of “The Zade” and was still exhausted, I never thought anything was wrong.
At the start of 2010 the feeling of shittyness continued to get worse no matter how much Lucozade I drank. Still I ignored it. That was until May, when the shit literally hit the fan. Well not literally but you know what I mean. Things got so bad that walking down the street made me feel as if I was going to pass out. I would avoid walking up stairs, as by the time I got to the top of them I had no energy left to do anything the rest of the day. During this time the soundtrack of my life became “Running on Empty”. I could regularly be seen pottering about the shop singing it under my breath like a mental patient who’d just lost his wife and believed that singing their wedding song every minuet of everyday would bring her back. My head was so sore that I couldn’t concentrate on anything for longer than a couple of seconds, my speech was slurred and I sounded like I had been drinking 4 bottles of vodka a day for the past 6 months (I hadn’t). At points I sounded like I had a speech impediment, I just couldn’t seem to be able to get the right words out. I remember serving a customer who wanted directions to the coat department, I just stood for approximately 5 minuets trying to speak but nothing came out. The women looked at me with those sympathetic eyes as if to say, “oh how cute these big shop folk have hired a poor girl with a bad stutter to make up their disability quota”. I just wanted to shout in her face “I CAN SPEAK!!! I AM JUST SO TIRED MY BRAIN WONT LET ME”. As I couldn’t, in the end I just gave up and pointed in the general direction of the outerwear department. My whole body ached as if I had been severely beaten in some kind of gang initiation the night before and for an entire month I had constant pins and needles up and down my arms and legs but the final straw that made me realise this was not right for a normal 22 year old, was when my face went numb for 2 weeks. I finally booked myself an appointment with a doctor.
My own doctor had no appointments left, so I booked in with another one of the Doctors in the surgery so I could be seen sooner and in hope that the hot student doctor I seen two years previous was now qualified and back in the surgery and I could redeem myself. Unfortunately not, my appointment was with a man I have now Christened Dr WTF. My first appointment with him actually went well. Dr WTF said that I was totally right; this was no way for a normal 22-year-old girl to be feeling. He said he would run some tests and told me to come back and see him in a week. But over the next week I started to feel even worse. I couldn’t get out of bed, my muscle aches increased tenfold, even moving position in my bed left me in agony. My sore head had became unbearable and I was so tired I felt like I hadn’t slept for 40 days and nights. I was actually looking forward to going back to the doctors to finally get some help.
Oh, if only I knew then what I know now perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. When I returned he said that all the tests came back negative (which I already expected since I they have all been done like 40 times in the past year to no avail) but I thought well maybe now he can do something else or refer me to specialist, someone who could give me some answers as to why I am feeling like this. Obviously I was being too optimistic. Here is how our conversation went:
Dr WTF: Tell me Miss McInnes do you get sad?
Me: (caught off guard) Well, everyone gets sad at some point don’t they? But I wouldn’t say that I am the kind of person who gets sad unless there is a reason behind it. I mean I am not breaking down and crying on the kitchen floor over there being no Pasta for my dinner.
Dr WTF: Hmm. Do you tend to be moody or have mood swings?
Me: (slightly confused) Eh, not really. I get grumpy sometimes when I’m tired but that’s nothing new. In fact I think it’s possibly a family trait because if my mum is on nightshift and you flush the toilet and wake her up, you may as well emigrate.
Dr WTF: Tell me do you feel exploited by your work place?
Me: (laughing) No, I’m not a child labourer. DO YOU?
Dr WTF: Miss McInnes what I think is wrong with you is that you are depressed and stressed. What I think you need is to be signed off work for a couple of weeks and take these weeks to do things you don’t normally get the chance to do such as see friends, go to a movie. Perhaps even go for a run.
Me: (pause) A run? A run? You want me to go for a RUN? I am struggling to walk from my bedroom to the fucking toilet and you want me to go a run? My theme tune to life is “Running on Empty” and you what me to stick on my running shoes and go for a LEISURLEY JOG? What kind of medical school did you go to? Or did you just buy your medical license on eBay along with a signed copy of Cliff Richard’s Millennium FUCKING Prayer?
(As an avid Cliff Richard despiser it made sense to me as this doctor was being a massive prick, he had to love the Cliff.)
But as a good woman with manners raised me, I never actually said that last part. I wanted to but I didn’t. Instead, I said:
Me: I really don’t think you understand. I am not depressed, in fact apart from feeling like crap most of the time I am a really happy, positive person. I am also not stressed. I really have nothing to be stressed about. And if I was depressed how the hell does that explain why I haven’t been able to feel my arms, legs and face for the past month?
Despite my protestations, there was no convincing this man otherwise. He had decided that was what was wrong with me and he was writing it on my sick note. I grabbed that bit of paper and I got out of there as soon as was physically possible for someone whose energy levels were practically non-existent and when every movement caused great pain. So it took me about 20 minuets.
When I got home I burst into tears. I was furious and upset that this so called doctor was basically saying there was nothing wrong with me and it was all in my head. Not that there is anything wrong with having a mental illness like depression but I knew people who were actually depressed and compared to them I was bloody Reece Witherspoon (now, I don’t know if Reece Witherspoon is actually a genuinely happy person but to me she always seems to be, so for this purpose she is thee happiest person in the world). I knew for certain what Dr WTF was saying wasn’t the case and was annoyed that he was unwilling to do anything to make me feel normal again.
Ironically, the trip to the doctors actually had a negative effect on my health. It threw me further into Darth Vader mode by doing nothing at all to help me. It wasn’t just me that this was hard on, it was hard my mum as well. She had watched her lively fun-loving daughter, who never used to home as she was always out doing something turn into a drained and weak shadow of her former self. Yet according to an “expert” there was no explanation for it, it was all in her head. There are many things that my mum is: crazy, a chocoholic and blunt are to name just a few, but she also doesn’t like being wrong. And a few weeks previous she to this she had mentioned something called M.E and was pretty confident that I had it. She said, “Samantha, take the time off Dr WTF has given you, and if after that time you are still not feeling right we will go back and see Doctor Gregory again. I’ll come with you, we’ll explain everything that’s happened and make sure he knows this isn’t right and it’s not some kind of depression.”
For the next couple of weeks I spent most of my time resting in my bed and attempting to watching seasons 1 to 7 of The West Wing, which I have now done on more than one occasion. This is firstly, because when I tried to watch them the first time I was slightly zombiefied so don’t remember much of it and secondly, because it’s AWESOME!! During this time my mum also changed my diet, including cutting out my beloved Lucozade. I am not going to lie – it has been hard. I miss it everyday but I know I could never go back that way of life, unless I was willing to live life being sunshine-yellow or you know, diabetic.
A few weeks passed and although I was feeling slightly better due to resting all this time I still wasn’t 100%. In fact, I probably wasn’t even 50%. Demi and I (That’s what we will be calling my mother from now on) headed on up to the doctors again, not to see Dr WTF but to see doctor Dr Gregory. We explained everything and he agreed that it didn’t seem like some kind of depression. He concluded that it most probably related back to a few years ago when my blood’s “ingredients” were all a bit rubbish and Demi was right, it probably was ME. However he referred me to another doctor at the hospital, just to make sure.
The hospital appointment couldn’t come quick enough. The doctor there told me that the blood episode a few years back was most probably a virus and this Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or M.E was the aftermath of it. He didn’t know how long it would last, some people get over it in 2 -3 years, and others it takes 15 and some never recover. He also stated they didn’t know what caused it and so in turn didn’t know how to treat it, what works for one person may not work for another. What is important he said is a healthy diet (Demi had already sorted that one) and that the only thing that there was evidence of helping M.E suffers was something called Graded Exercise (although he never properly explained what graded exercise actually was).
I left the hospital that day and I was ecstatic, which seems like a very odd response for someone one who has just been told that they have a chronic illness, which could make them feel like shit by doing the smallest thing, and there was nothing that could really be done about it. But none of that crossed my mind. I was happy because there was now a name for what I had and no one could ever again say it was all in my head.
There are however still some small-minded people out there who still think M.E is a mental illness. To those people I say in 1992 The World Health Organisation changed the classification of M.E to a disease of the nervous system. So if you still think it’s all in my head then you are either a complete idiot or still stuck in the 80’s when people thought you could get aids by being in the same room as someone who has it. Choose which one you want to be?
Mostly I was happy because even though I knew it all along, Dr WTF was wrong.