Why I choose to be open about my illness

Health is viewed as something that should remain private, something between yourself and your doctor. I understand why people are taken aback by how open I am about my illness. After all, writing about the intricate details of your illness for anyone in the world to read is almost unheard of.

At first, being open wasn’t an option, everything was to remain private, with the exception of family and close friends. My father, who has the same illnesses, is notoriously private about his health. In fact, he only started to talk about his health with me, when I was facing the same fate. Not hearing him speak of his illnesses became normal to me, I thought that was how you were to handle having a chronic illness. And, that is partly why I decided remaining private was the best decision.

At the start, there was nothing to indicate that I was poorly, only a bright red rash on my right cheek. But as the months went on, I grew pale and I looked exhausted. A picture of my cousin and I was taken, it was my first experience of using make-up to hide my illness. I thought I made myself look how I wanted: well. Later that night, I saw my mum looking at the picture and she had a sad expression on her face. She looked up at me and said “you look poorly, it’s your eyes”. I brushed it off, thinking I did a good job at hiding how I felt, but I recently looked at the picture and she was right, I looked poorly. It was all in my eyes, they looked glazed, almost like I wasn’t there. I guess the saying ‘eyes don’t lie’ is true. The picture, for those who don’t know me, I’m in the pink cardigan.

People had started to realise something was amiss, I was no longer seen out and about. For months, I was shrouded in the same four walls in a zombie like state. But, when I was seen people would ask “are you OK?” and all I could reply was “I’m being tested for Lupus”. I could see the confusion in their faces and I was already being asked “what’s that?” at that stage. My GP told me to prepare myself for a Lupus diagnosis, and at first, I didn’t. For a time, I would lay in bed and think “like hell I have an incurable illness”…that’s something people call denial. Due to my acute denial, I didn’t research it, so I didn’t have a solid answer to give.

The consultant turned to me, looking serious and said “you have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus”. I didn’t have an “oh shit, it IS Lupus” moment, I reacted like someone had told me I had a cold. People still asked how I was doing, but I could no longer say I was being tested for Lupus. Plus, I wanted to keep it private so I just said “I’m getting there” when I wasn’t ‘getting there’ at all.

The questioning was a regular occurrence, so I did something that started a domino effect that would eventually lead to this blog. I wrote on Facebook that I had been undergoing testing for Lupus and I had received a diagnosis. The “how’re you?” questions were replaced with “what is Lupus?”. By this time, I had researched it and I could give a clear answer. My explanation became a monologue, it sounded as if I had stood in front of a mirror, rehearsing it over and over. I would find myself explaining it to the same person multiple times.

I’d wonder why nobody could understand it and why they were so fascinated by it. Then it dawned on me, I’m describing a serious illness but I look healthy, they couldn’t fathom it. I decided it was out of the ordinary and that’s why it was so fascinating. It’s a fascinating illness, you could research it for several hours and still be uncovering the layers of it.

The idea of a blog would surface in my mind numerous times but fear stopped me. I was petrified of being judged for something beyond my control. I’ve realised people become very judgemental when it comes to topics they know very little about. However, I realised that if I wrote about it, would people learn? Would they understand my illness? I asked myself, do you really want to share your journey with Lupus? My instant thought was no, but if I did, it could make a difference. I downloaded WordPress but the app remained untouched for a couple of weeks.

Whilst watching TV, I spontaneously opened the app and tapped the sign up button. It asked what I’d like to call my blog, it took me less that 2 minutes to decide a name. I went with the first one that came into my mind: Me, Myself and Lupus. I didn’t take my blog seriously at first, after all, I was only treading the waters of blogging to see if I’d take a liking to it. I started writing my first blog post: My Diagnosis Story. It’s a post I regret, I don’t regret sharing it, it’s a post I would have wrote regardless. My diagnosis was a pivotal moment in my life, it’s a story that I could and should have put more effort into, but I didn’t and that’s what I regret. I published it and shared it on Twitter. I wasn’t ready to share with my Facebook friends.

I realised I liked writing, it proved to be threaputic to me. I started to take my blog seriously. I logged on and picked a theme, I chose a font, added a profile picture and chose a colour scheme. I learnt how to make banners and logos, I spent a few hours on the appearance. I wrote a few more posts, still only sharing to Twitter. During Lupus Awareness Month, I decided it was time to share my blog to Facebook. I was nervous, it’s easier to share the details of your illness with strangers, they don’t know you and they will never see you. I was blown away by the response and the amount of support I received regarding it. It propelled me into writing more.

Writing is now a big part of my life, a love I didn’t know I had. I love my corner of the internet, it’s my space to freely write what I like. Not every aspect of my illness is documented here, there’s some parts I keep private. Making my journey with Lupus a public one wasn’t an easy decision but it’s one I don’t regret.

The people who asked are no longer asking and they have a basic understanding. I have had thank you messages, it has made other sufferers realise they aren’t alone. I’ve had thank you messages from people who just wanted to learn. My blog has been shared by Lupus UK. It has helped and that’s exactly what it was set up for. Lupus still has very little awareness and it’s for that reason, I won’t stop sharing my journey. It’s a helter skelter of a journey, and you’re more than welcome to join me.

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Rheumatology Appointment: 14-06-18.

I’m sat writing this post and wondering if I should even write it at all. It was a mundane appointment, I’m not saying that past appointments have been a joyous afternoon outing. But, so much had happened between my last appointment and this one. To recap: Azathioprine temporarily stopped due to low white cells, steroids, crippling anxiety due to steroids…you can see why I thought it would be at least a little bit interesting.

I sat in the little waiting room, an elderly lady looked at me in confusion. Then another lady entered and she also started looking at me. It happens a lot, they aren’t used to seeing a 23-year-old in a department typically used by older people. I can see them studying me, trying to figure out why I’m there. I could tell them why I’m there but seeing the confusion humours me whilst I wait.

The regular checks of weight and blood pressure were fine. However, my urine flagged up again, it did at my previous appointment. My consultant remembered this and asked if my water works were okay, I told him they were fine and he wrote something in my file (I can’t read his writing so I couldn’t tell you what). But, as he wrote he said “we need to keep an eye on you”. It was just a urine infection for which I have antibiotics for. I know urine infections are common in Lupus but it made me wonder (with him asking if my water works were the same) if frequent infections are an early symptom of kidney involvement. Just for the record: my kidneys are fine and performing perfectly well.

On this particular appointment, I felt awful. I was exhausted and sore in most of my joints, I told him but he didn’t say much but then again there isn’t much he could say. He’s very matter of fact that I have an illness that causes fatigue and pain. I also informed him that I recently had a butterfly rash, which he put down to the warmer weather we’ve recently had.

I asked “did my white cells drop because my body couldn’t handle the higher dose of Azathioprine?”. Interestingly, he nodded but also revealed that someone of my age should be able to handle 200mg of Azathioprine (my dose was 150mg). He also told me that when Lupus is active white blood cells tend to drop, so he believes it’s a mixture of the two. I’ve been curious if he would eventually try and increase the dose again but when I asked he said no and reminded me that we have to test different doses out to find the best one for me.

If everything remains stable for 6 weeks, my fortnightly blood tests can be moved to monthly. I next see my consultant in August, a little bit early but he’s going to Canada for a conference. He said he didn’t want to wait until he’s back because it would be too long in between appointments.

Anxiety: the side affects of steroids they don’t tell you about.

Steroids are a miracle medication but 3 weeks into taking them, I now realise why people despise being on them. They come with unwanted and unpleasant side affects, and side affects can appear at random times – even if you have been taking them for weeks to months. Over the weekend, I was plunged into the side affect nobody talks or warns you about: anxiety.

Before I go on, because this is important to note – a couple of years before being diagnosed with Lupus, I was diagnosed with anxiety. This is usually controlled by slow release medication (propranolol).

I lowered my dose from 15mg to 10mg on Friday 18th May. I thought of this as a happy occasion. To me, it meant my time on steroids was decreasing. The weekend was quickly passing but my anxiety levels were quickly heightening. At this point, I could handle it by distracting myself with various activities.

However, Monday ran an entirely different course than the weekend. My heart was racing, I had butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of impending doom. My breathing would become heavy at random points throughout the day. During these attacks, I couldn’t sit still, I paced the living room with my racing heart and I began to get hot and clammy. I guess you could say these were panic attacks and they happened regularly throughout the day. When I wasn’t in a panic attack, I sat with the churning feeling and thoughts that something terrible was going to happen. At night, these feelings and attacks increased. I would lay in bed to fall asleep and it would start again, I’d sit up like it was an involuntary action. I started to feel mentally tormented and at some point in an attack, I bit the inside of my cheek and drew blood.

Realising this wasn’t normal for me, I put 2+2 together. I grabbed my phone and asked on Twitter if anyone had experiences of anxiety whilst taking steroids. 14 people replied to me and each person had experienced it, some saying they can’t take steroids anymore because of it. Someone told me if you have a history of anxiety, you’re more than likely to experience this side affect. I laid back down and I could hear the faint mumbling of my brothers TV. I turned my fan off so I could hear it better, hearing and knowing my brother was in the next room made me feel safe enough to sleep.

Tuesday went the same as the previous day. But by now, I was almost hugging myself. Hearing the cars outside put me on edge and I jumped at the door being knocked on. I looked at my steroids and walked away, I couldn’t bare the thought of taking them, knowing they were the cause of intense anxiety. Mum came home from work and I finally told her how I felt, she remarked how I looked on edge and anxious. I hadn’t eaten a thing all day but I knew in a few hours I’ll be taking my usual meds so I needed food. I had to force the meal down. As my bath was running, I held my hand out and it was trembling. Whilst in the bath I decided it was best that I saw the doctor the next day. I went to bed, this time bringing my dog for comfort. He must of sensed something was amiss because he slowly crept up to me, gave me a shower of kisses and slept by my side all night. I don’t care what anyone says, dogs bring a level of comfort and calm that’s hard to replicate. Knowing I had to take the steroids at some point, I took them right before I fell asleep.

I went to the doctor and told him everything. He said, because of the timing of reducing the dose and the anxiety starting, it’s most likely the steroids. He explained that steroids can cause mental disturbances. I asked, because the dose being only 10mg, if I could just stop them that day. He said if I stopped them without weaning, I’d end up in hospital. He emailed my consultant for advice on what to do, listing everything I had said and also stating I have a history of anxiety. I had to leave and wait for the GP to call me with what my consultant replied. I came home and tried to distract myself with various activities but not a lot worked.

I received the call today with what my consultant suggests. The weaning process has been sped up, I have to continue taking 10mg for the rest of the week. I will then reduce down to 5mg for a further week and then I’ll be free of the wretched things. My consultant is positive I’ll return to my normal self after the weaning process.

Everyone knows how steroids can physically affect you, weight gain and puffy face etc. But, it’s almost like you have to discover these hidden side affects for yourself. Nobody talks or warns you about this side of steroids, which is what prompted this post. If someone is on steroids and going through this, I hope they stumble across this post and realise it’s common but hardly spoken about.

In previous posts, I remarked how I didn’t think steroids were bad. However, I would now describe them as mental poison. I have felt nothing but dread and fear. This experience has restored my fear in steroids, there’s not a chance in hell that I would take them again.

New Year, New Update.

I firstly would like to apologise for my lack of writing but Christmas, New Year and flares got in the way. And, if I’m honest I’ve suffered a bit of writing block, I have attempted at least 4 posts but failed to finish and post them. I would read them back and think “no, that’s too boring” or “that’s too long” and even “that’s just poorly written”, maybe I’m too self critical.

My last post was December, it covered my Rheumatology appointment and my dose of Azathioprine being increased from 100mg to 150mg. My blood tests had been moved from 3 monthly to 2 weekly. The results have all been fine and my body seems to be accepting the higher dose and as of the end of January, the blood tests have moved to once a month. I haven’t noticed a difference, I haven’t had any side affects but I also don’t feel better. However, and I have covered this before, Azathioprine can affect teeth and in January I had another wisdom tooth pulled out and 2 fillings…so I say I haven’t had any side affects but I can’t be too sure that the dental work needed was a result of the increased dose.

Although I say I don’t feel better, the dose was increased at a rather busy period of time…Christmas and New Year. I do like Christmas, I really do but the run up to it is quite literally exhausting and painful. There’s the shopping, which resulted in carrying multiple heavy bags that pulled on my joints – thinking back, I had to take naps after every shopping trip, they all floored me. Then there’s the wrapping, which seized my back and fingers up, just sitting at a table on a wooden chair caused mayhem to my body. And, finally getting out and visiting people with their gifts…an enjoyable time but exhausting. I spent New Year with my boyfriend and his family which was lovely but unfortunately by New Years day, the whole month had officially caught up with me and I was at the point of pain and exhaustion that I just wanted to curl up and cry. I had started flaring on Boxing Day, so to make it to New Years Day before feeling like that was quite the triumph. Despite the flaring, I had a lovely festive period with my nearest and dearest.

I haven’t got any expectations for 2018, I’m just taking it as it comes, which I’ve realised is the best thing to do when you have a chronic illness. I haven’t set any New Years resolutions, I never stick to them but I have made some slight changes. My first change is writing the symptoms I’ve had that day in a diary, I’m hoping it helps me to see a pattern in symptoms – which I can then tell my Rheumatologist, which in turn might help future treatment plans. Other recent changes include taking the supplement Evening Primrose and increasing my dose of Vitamin D. It was last year that my GP had told me to take it, but whilst in Boots, I found a higher strength of it and to my research, during winter you need a higher dose. Although, I will more than likely keep myself on this higher dose all year round.

I have recently had some new symptoms. In recent months I have a dull pain almost daily in my shoulder, usually my right but it often spreads to the left. I recently had a bout of what I presume was vertigo, I was sat eating and all of a sudden my hearing went, the room was spinning and I felt so hot…it honestly ruined my meal and I bloody love chilli. I had to go and lay down and that’s when I noticed my hands were trembling and I started to feel nauseous. The next new symptom prompted some worry (95% of the worry stemmed from my mother) but it’s pain in my back that can sometimes spread to my abdomen. When I pointed the location of the pain my mum said “that’s the kidney area, that’s concerning me!” and she even mentioned going to A&E when it was making me walk hunched over…but I refused due to my blood tests for kidney function being fine, I also tested my urine and it came back fine. I still get the pain daily, and since nothing is flagging up in tests, I think it’s just another Lupus thing that I’m just getting accustomed to. I can see why she worried though, kidney complications are rife with Lupus patients.

This past Sunday was hard for me, I found a new dog walk for my boyfriend and I, it was a woodland walk but I didn’t research it enough and it turned out to be rather long and quite hilly in places. We turned back when my left hip started to hurt and on the way back my knees and elbows started to hurt. I began to feel as if I was going to faint, a sensation that frightened me, it felt like my legs wouldn’t carry me further and that I would just keel over at any given point…away from home. That night I sat and held back tears because I took my mind back to when I was healthy and thought “Once upon a time, I would have finished that walk, we didn’t even make it to the half way point. I’m still paying for it now, my joints have sharp pain radiating through them, I ache all over and my head is pounding…not to mention the fatigue.

I shall leave this update here before it gets far too long and you lose interest. I will be putting my brain to use and thinking of new posts in the mean time.

 

Hidden Illness, Hidden Judgement.

I’ve been told “everyone is judged” multiple times since being diagnosed with Lupus and it’s a statement that will always get on my last nerve. I agree, everyone is judged at some point in their lives, but it’s usually over things they can control and have the power to change. We are judged for every little thing we do or do not do, unless you have been judged for something beyond your control, left to feel like you are worthless, useless and at the bottom on society, do not tell me “everyone is judged”. I will not accept it and I will not accept it from a person who has never experienced life with a debilitating illness or disability.

In a bittersweet way, I have experienced life being both healthy and sick. I say bittersweet because I can take my mind back to how easy life was and how I used to be able to work long hours and do task after task. It wasn’t until I became sick that I realised that the world is catered for able bodied people and that society is judgemental. Earlier this year, I went to pick my prescription up, an abnormally large bag of pills for a 22 year old. I got on the empty bus with 3 other people, with my prescriptions in hand and sat on the seats that are dedicated to the elderly and disabled, to which a woman loudly said “I always save those seats for those who need them” to another passenger. That was my first experience of being judged by a stranger in public, the only reason I used those seats on that day was because I was in sheer agony, agony that cannot be seen. If I was in a wheelchair, would she have said the same thing? If I had crutches, would she have said it? I have heard many stories from others who suffer invisible illnesses, stories about how they are harassed and embarrassed by strangers when they use a disabled parking space despite being a blue badge holder, because the stranger can’t see anything wrong.

Judgement sticks with us, like it has for me with the woman on the bus, it doesn’t matter how much pain I’m in, I will now no longer use the seats for disabled people even though my illness is covered by the Disability Act and I have a right to use them. It imprints fear into us, there’s thousands, probably millions of invisible illnesses sufferers that choose not to leave their house for the fear of being judged, harassed and embarrassed by people who they’ve never met, by people that could never fathom the enormity of their health issues. The woman on the bus looked at me as a healthy but lazy 22 year old woman who couldn’t be bothered to walk to the seats for able-bodied people.

I’m tired of it, sick and tired of people being judged because they are different. People have lost the ability to have compassion, we are a self-centred, unsympathetic and judgemental society. I was watching a day-time programme and they had a woman on with one arm, she stated parents shy their children away from her in case they find it scary. Why aren’t parents teaching their children that no two people are the same? Why are they not teaching their children about disabilities? Why as a society are we tolerating this behaviour to the sick and disabled?

The title of this post says ‘hidden judgement’ because, unless you’ve been through it or have a close friend or family go through it, it is hidden. Able-bodied people are oblivious to it, why wouldn’t they be? They aren’t sick or disabled, the world is an easy place for them. They don’t have to strategically plan days out or holidays, making sure the establishment has disabled access and if the transport is sufficient for their needs. Their lives don’t revolve around countless hospital appointments, medication and never ending pain. They can leave the house without fear of being embarrassed by strangers. But, it is an issue to them and an issue that can be helped if they just opened their narrow minds. It isn’t the able-bodied people, the wealthy or those who claim to be understanding that I see offering a helping hand to those in need, it’s the people with nothing but the clothes on their backs or the people who are at breaking point with their own issues that offer that helping hand or shoulder to cry on.

I don’t understand how people shy away from disabilities or illness, is it because their scared and don’t know how to confront it? There’s nothing to confront, you treat the disabled or sick person how you would anyone else. How difficult is it to not judge a person? What happened to equality? All they want is to be treated the same, to not feel like their at the bottom in society and to not live in fear.

I now understand that it’s not healthy, able-bodied people that make sacrifices but those who suffer illness or disability. Frightened to cancel plans with their own family or friends for the fear of upsetting them, forcing themselves through social events or activities when all they want to do is be within their home comforts with painkillers. I have seen people get frustrated and angry with me for cancelling plans, because they cannot see the reason I have given for cancelling.

Living with illness or disability is isolating and often dark enough without the added judgement from strangers or even people close to us. As a society we need to embrace and celebrate what makes each individual different, to not judge people for their differences and to treat the ill and disabled how you would treat anyone else.

 

No sleep for a week…

I think it’s still a crazy concept to some people that someone with crippling fatigue does struggle (all to often, might I add) with insomnia. Sleep issues are a running issue with Lupus sufferers, we either sleep incomprehensible hours or not at all. Last week, I was on the not at all scale – I have never experienced insomnia that bad before. Insomnia is highly irritating for anyone but, for someone with a chronic illness and chronic fatigue, insomnia doesn’t half do some damage.

There’s no psychological issue for my insomnia; I’m not stressed, upset or overthinking. Sometimes, there is a physical reason and that of course is pain. Insomnia by pain is something I can usually help – strong pain killers will usually numb the pain enough to be able to sleep. Other times, I just cannot sleep which is how last week started out but towards the end of the week, it was a combination of both pain and just not being able to fall asleep.

It takes just one night of inadequate or no sleep to cause me to flare. My joints became painful and by the weekend, I was walking around on a swollen knee and applying Tiger Balm on my joints so now I have stained PJs and owe my dad some Tiger Balm. I had exhaustion induced headaches, my whole body ached like I’d just ran the London Marathon, my appetite vanished into thin air and was replaced by nausea. My usually chilled out personality was replaced by a short tempered monster, which I think is fairly acceptable given the circumstances around it. By Friday my rule of ‘don’t cry over Lupus or what it does or causes’ went out the window – I sat and cried for sleep from Friday to Sunday. I probably looked like a crazy woman curled in a ball on the sofa at 4am crying and saying “please just let me sleep” to the air.

I tried everything; reading, warm drinks, not looking at my phone or the time, counting sheep, counting back from 100, cleaning (which was ended quickly by feeling like I was going to faint), over the counter sleeping tablets (usually effective on me), I tried codeine and tramadol and for a second of desperation I even thought of mixing the two opiates to knock myself out (I didn’t try this in the end in case I actually went into an eternal sleep). Towards the end of the week and this isn’t a joke, but I was debating asking my brother to just punch me so hard it knocks me out. I even found myself saying “it’s a good job they took the bridges down because I would of jumped off the f*cker by now” and that’s what pure sleep deprivation does to you.

By some miracle, I lasted a week…7 whole bloody days…that’s 168 hours on no more than 10 hours sleep. I spent most nights looking at the living room wall, tracing the pattern with my stinging eyes, wishing my dog was downstairs to cuddle, watching the seconds tick by, crying and cursing myself in anger. 3am on Sunday, well the small hours of Monday, I decided I couldn’t take anymore and was going to see the doctor. In a mad rush, I was looking for money because I had none on me for bus fare and ironing clothes, I’m still surprised I didn’t run the iron over my fingers in my exhausted state. Once the receptionists opened the doors and everyone was clambering in to get on the doctors list first (it’s a walk in system) a very kind lady stopped and looked at me, probably taking pity that I genuinely looked beyond exhausted and pointed at the door and said “you go first”, so thanks to her, I was lucky to be 3rd on the list.

“How can I help you?” he asked me and all I could say was “I haven’t slept for a week” he was probably looking at me thinking ‘no shit’. I explained how it was making me flare badly and told him “I think I’m losing my mind over it”. He gave me sleep exercises for the future and prescribed me Zopiclone and he said he can guarantee tonight I’d sleep soundly. As I was gathering my things and saying thank you he showed me a lovely little injection, so I was also stabbed with this years flu jab as well…two birds with one stone and all that.

He was right, I did sleep solidly. I took the tablet and before I knew it, I was waking up this morning. I didn’t even use the pillows and the duvet was only on my legs but yet, it was the best night sleep I’ve ever had. The flare is on-going but it has got a little bit better with sleeping last night, it will take me a good few days to recover from it. The Zopiclone left me quite tired today, especially this morning but I expected that because I used to administer it at work and the patients would sleep on and off during the day that followed the pill being taken. I didn’t mind though, it was an excuse to get more sleep.

I never want to experience insomnia that bad again, and the next person that tells me their suffering badly with insomnia will get the biggest sympathetic hug from me. Sleep is not for the weak, it is a wonderful thing that I love and missed so much. Zopiclone, you bloody beauty, thank you for knocking me out so my brother didn’t have too.

A final update on Azathioprine

It’s nearly been a year since I was prescribed this medication so I thought it was time to do a final update and for all my fellow sufferers, let you know my thoughts on this immune suppressant medication.

Immune suppressants are a serious thing, more serious than I originally thought. I first realised this when the packaging came with a warning label, reading ‘cyto toxic‘, I had no idea what a cyto toxic drug was which prompted me to research it. A cyto toxic medication means the drug contains chemicals that are toxic to certain cells. The next thing which made me realise that this isn’t a simple medication was the amount of blood tests you have to have. You even have to have your blood tested before you start the medication, the test is called TPMT – I later figured out this was to show how well your liver would tolerate and filter the drug. Mine was slightly low so my dose of Azathioprine will not go beyond 100mg.

At first, the blood tests were extremely tedious, they were initially every week for 6 weeks. Then they moved to fortnightly for 6 weeks and then to monthly for 6 months. I have now reached the end of the tunnel and my blood tests are once every 3 months, if I remain stable on the medication they may be moved to once every 6 months. I didn’t mind the monthly blood tests and luckily they fell on the same day my prescriptions were ready to be picked up. I believe the blood tests are for: full blood count, liver function test (as this medication can cause liver problems) and urea and electrolytes.

My consultant gave me a two-sided information sheet on Azathioprine when I firstly commenced the treatment. One side is more or less for my GP, a lot of medical jargon that I can’t understand but it did tell me how much blood work was needed and when. It was great to have a clear idea of how long each stage of the blood tests could potentially last. I was on my monthly stage for longer than expected, it was nearing 9 months, there wasn’t an issue or I would have been alerted – I just think they forgot to move me up to the 3 monthly stage until I subtlety asked “do you know when I’ll move to 3 monthly tests?”.  The sheet also educated me on vaccines and that live vaccines are not recommended on this medication – a reason unbeknown to me, but that I also needed the flu vaccination along with the pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccination. I was also told to try and avoid people with mild ailments such as coughs/colds/sickness bugs etc, because my immune system would be lower than normal and I would pick the bugs up easily and struggle to fight them off.

Did I find this a miracle medication? Initially this medication helped with one symptom that I’m plagued by: headaches. However, this didn’t last long and I started suffering daily headaches again. I still suffer pain in my joints daily some days better than others but at some point in the day whether it lasts 5 minutes or 5 hours, I will have joint pain. I still suffer aches usually my back, arms, shoulders and legs – I suffer achiness more so in the mornings and evenings. I still suffer greatly with fatigue and it’s made worse by doing things or going places but I cannot fault the medication for not improving fatigue as I don’t believe any medication will help.

It doesn’t sound like Azathioprine has helped a great deal, but when I think back to when I was solely on Hydroxychloroquine, I am better and this medication has slightly helped. I can do just that little bit more on ‘good days’, however if I overstep the mark on a so called good day, I still pay for it on the days that follow.

Considering I was told I would pick up bugs and virus’ easily I have suffered from very few one being a cough at the start of the year that lingered for months. And more recently, a virus that spiralled me into a flare I couldn’t control and needed medical intervention. I have suffered very minor bugs but they seemed to be 24-hour bugs that I managed to fight off. I made a conscious effort to avoid friends and family with bugs, my friends have been greatly understanding of this and they cancel any plans if they or their children come down with a cold/bug. Of course, it’s harder to avoid with immediate family, especially when we are in the same house but they also make an effort to not spread their germs, they do this by not getting too close to me or touching me. I also keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my handbag for whilst I’m out and I also have bottles in the house.

Have I suffered any side affects? Oddly enough, I have suffered none. I say ‘oddly’ because when I started Hydroxychloroquine (very tame in comparison to Azathioprine) I suffered horrendously with nausea and could barley eat. However, I have noticed a difference in my teeth, yes I just said my teeth…go with me on this one. I’m on a few online support groups for Lupus and I was alerted that immune-suppressants can cause dental problems. I asked my dentist this and she confirmed that they can indeed cause many issues. I have noticed that I can no longer use toothpaste that has a whitening agent in because it causes horrific sensitivity. And since I’ve mentioned I suffer many auto-immune diseases and take immune-suppressants, my dentist has started to put a fluoride gel on my teeth and gums at every visit, the first time she used it she told me “this lowers your risk of tooth decay”. I’ve also been told numerous times to use Sensodyne toothpaste and I did but that toothpaste is truly vile. It’s safe to say that I no longer put off going to the dentist and when I get my reminder letter, I’m straight on the phone booking in.

Would I change my treatment plan? At the moment, I would be very reluctant to change my treatment plan. It’s not a little change, it’s a whole new medication that I’d have to look into, potential awful side affects, possibly going through all those blood tests again and not to mention…learning how to spell it, seriously why are they so difficult to spell?! I honestly believe if I changed medication, a year later I would be writing about how I feel exactly the same. At the end of the day, the medication is there to control Lupus and I think Azathioprine is controlling mine, despite still suffering flare up, I have suffered no tissue or organ damage *touch wood this continues*. There is no medication that can eradicate the symptoms of Lupus. I once told my consultant “I think this is as good as it’s going to get” he didn’t verbally reply but gave me a nod as if to confirm what I just said was true. I will always feel Lupus because it demands to be felt. If my consultant was to propose a change in medication because he thought it would be best for me, then I would. But, for now I think I’ll stick to Azathioprine because like I said, I think this is as good as it gets…unless my teeth start falling out, then I’ll change my meds faster than a speeding bullet.