A Dublin woman who suffers from multiple medical conditions today shared how a ‘toolbox’ of coping strategies transformed her life.
Athy Carroll of Glasnevin was in her 20s and working as a teacher, a job she loved when she contracted the first of a series of chronic illnesses.
“I was a healthy person in my 20s when my life changed drastically,” she told the gathering at the annual St Luke’s Symposium, organized today by the Royal College of Physicians.
“I’ve gone from normal energy to debilitating fatigue and a lot of problems. I felt like something was off and wrong.
“I was initially diagnosed with pernicious anemia and thought I could take shots and iron. But it kept getting worse. Then I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid.
“It’s like car sickness. I was still teaching but caught every infection and after that I got myalgia, a post-viral syndrome.
“My immune system became less and less reconciled. I’ve been back and forth to various specialists and then been diagnosed with other conditions including MSD and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I was later diagnosed with microscopic colitis, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), and Lyme disease.”
She added: “It’s been a difficult time. The doctors suggested working part-time, but I wanted to continue, but I would need to sleep all weekend.
“Unfortunately, my body made the decision for me. I haven’t been very kind to myself. I don’t know how I actually managed. I quit almost four years ago.
“I loved teaching. It was a very difficult decision.”
Ms Carroll said it’s quite common for autoimmune diseases to occur in clusters.
She pointed out that she has neurological damage in her legs and hips and these weakest areas are usually hit first.
To make matters worse, she then contracted Covid-19 and developed Long-Covid.
“I struggled with my identity and wondered who I am anymore. These conditions are invisible and if you have a broken arm or a broken leg, people can react to it.”
She said: “I could have a good day and terrible weeks. I found that very difficult. I really felt trapped in the wrong body. I had to cancel plans, which wasn’t me, and I really struggled with that.
We were asked to challenge our negative thoughts
She said, “I didn’t want to accept my body compared to before.”
The “aha” moment, however, came when she discovered the HSE’s free Living Well programme.
Ms Carroll, speaking in a session about living with a long-term condition, said it was a life-changing moment. “I was online and on screen in a virtual space with others living with chronic conditions,” she added.
She said her focus has shifted from “all the things I can’t do to what I can do,” adding that the revelation had “a huge impact on the way I think.”
Ms Carroll said she gradually shifted the focus of the internal criticism. “One of the things we did was action planning. Each week you chose a task and something you wanted to achieve. There were certain tasks I couldn’t do,” she said.
“It could be something like a walk in the garden. This is a small soundbite of the program. “
There are 12 tools in the self-management toolbox. You are asked to try them out for two weeks before deciding what you like.
“We learned things like communication – letting people know your needs or communicating better with your healthcare team. Also how we communicate with ourselves. I wasn’t very nice to myself,” she added.
“We were asked to question our negative thoughts.”
Mrs. Carroll is now the presenter of the programme. It is important that someone who is a facilitator has suffered from a chronic illness.
“It’s given me purpose and it’s very fulfilling to help others,” she said.
Visit hse.ie for details of the Living Well programme
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/dublin-woman-with-multiple-health-conditions-says-tool-box-of-coping-strategies-has-changed-her-life-42062228.html Dublin woman with multiple health conditions says ‘toolbox’ of coping skills has changed her life