This is a guest blog from an anonymous writer. Let me know what you think.
September 2003, I started my Manufacturing Engineering Apprenticeship. I also started to worry. How would I keep up with everyone else? Out of 50 of us, 48 were boys. Surely, they would already know far more than me about stripping engines, or making things out of the machine that could rip your arm off. Had I made the wrong choice?
I settled in, and turns out I was quite good at it. In May I turned 17. I needed to be driving by September. That was when I would get sent out to my first job placement. 1st test..failed. 2nd test…failed. 3rd test…December, finally I passed after 3 months of very long days consisting of various bus journeys, lifts and driving lessons to get to and from work. I caught every bug going, and following another bout of tonsillitis that I’d had over New year, I collapsed in. 5 weeks on I tried to return to work, after 1 day I was wrecked.
For almost 3 years I stayed ill. Unable to complete the smallest of task, and having to use a wheelchair should I need to walk more than a few minutes at a time. Nights spent crying, Days spent trying to get out of bed.
Test after test. Doctor after Doctor. Eventually, I had a diagnosis. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or ME).
I tried prescription medicine, alternative medicine, diets, machines, potions…. Nothing worked and as time went on the doctors telling me it was unlikely I would improve.
I didn’t see how counselling could help me, but hey I’d try anything. It revealed the potential triggers of my illness were different emotional stresses I had been under. Starting from discovering that a family member wasn’t who I thought they were, to me being in a “secretive” relationship, and to the constant pressure I put myself under to succeed. These were all problems I didn’t know I had, because I hadn’t talked about my feelings as they were happening. The biggest lesson I learnt was to never bottle things up.
I was convinced that my diagnosis was wrong, but the doctor told me that the treatment would be the same, so it didn’t matter.
Against all odds, I got better. I was told to take things slowly as I could relapse if I didn’t. I was 20 years old and desperate to get on with my life. Surely, I could relapse either way, so it would be better to make the most of every pain free day?
I spent a year integrating myself back into the real world by working and socialising in the village pub. By then I was working full time and felt ready to think about the next step. I didn’t want to go back to college, so re applying for the apprenticeship was a no go. I got a job (after pressure from a family member to apply) at a food retailer.
In August I started work as a store assistant, I planned to work there for a year while I figured out what I wanted to do (9 years later and I’m still there!!)
4 months in I relapsed. The job was very physically demanding, so I cut my hours down and made it through. After a year I was promoted after proving I could work the Fruit and veg delivery fast enough. I couldn’t even lift some of the crates! But I was determined, and eventually became one of the fastest.
18 months later, providing I was willing to move to a different store, the next promotion was mine. It was a horrible drive, I was working 50 hour weeks, and the new store took less money, which meant less staff. If I was on an early shift, I had to work almost all stock single handedly. It started to take its toll. I tore a muscle in my ribs from lifting a heavy box to a shelf I couldn’t reach. I had a couple of weeks off but then back to it.
After 7 months I got to go back to my “home” store. Targets were tight so one Saturday afternoon the store manager came to tell me that he was cutting some hours. This left me as the only manager. Trying to get everything done double speed, I was racing to get the stock on the shelves. I twisted around the customers with a crate of potatoes to try get it on the shelf, and I felt my back go. It had happened before and would surely feel better in a few days. I had no choice but to carry on working through the pain.
It didn’t get better. In fact, it has never got better. Almost 2 years on I thought I had a solution as some steroid injections helped me. I wasn’t allowed to have them repeated when they wore off and any other treatments, failed to provide relief. Another 2 years and by this time I was struggling from head to toe. Constant pain, lack of sleep and all the other nasty symptoms I suffered with all those years ago returned. I finally got a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. I had been misdiagnosed before. The physical pressure of my job, and injuring my back had triggered it back off.
It’s now almost 2 years since I got my diagnosis. Life is tough. I am in pain every day. Some days I cope, others I don’t, and it takes all my might not to just lie in bed screaming.
Having been in pain on and off for so long I’ve learnt to put a brave face on when I’m with people. This and makeup mean that I don’t look sick and unfortunately, in a society where all books are judged by their cover, means people look no further than that and assume I am fine.
I have a daughter now…my biggest achievement.
I barely sleep, my ears and eyes are sensitive, my skin feels bruised, my back and hip pain is often off the scale. My feet hurt so much I can barely stand when I first get up….the list goes on…and on… But when my daughter cries out for me, my instincts take over, and I do it… I get out of bed, I pick her up, and I make her happy again. The best medicine.
3 months ago, I went back to work after maternity leave. I cut my hours some time back, I couldn’t manage full time. I don’t do lifting or till work anymore, but store life is still tough, and having been moved to a challenging store, further from home now, it’s even harder.
Since returning, things have flared up so bad that some days I haven’t been able to move. I beat myself up. How selfish of me to have a baby! Luckily, my family are amazing, so she is always ok, and that need to be there for her makes me push harder to get back to her as soon as I can.
I will always be grateful to her. Not only for being the amazing, beautiful baby girl that she is, but for giving me a reason to NEVER stop fighting.
I am determined to try and keep on working, but trying to do so and then come home and carry on, is so tough. So, what to do? Has my time in retail come to an end? I think so…but what next? Who is going to want to employ me? What job could I do that would make going to work worthwhile? What job could I do where I’llstill be well enough to come home and be a good Mom? If I could stay at home all day I would…but then where would the money come from to build a future for my daughter? My partner already works 6/7 days most weeks so how could I put that pressure on him?
All I must do is work out what I want to/can do and work towards it. Wish me luck!!
Written by Noodles