A (Fairly) New Development: Chronic Pain

This post feels like it has been a long time coming but I didn’t want to post anything before I had more to say than ‘I’m in pain’ and, at long last, I do. But first, context: I started struggling with chronic pain about halfway through the first UK lockdown, early last year, and it’s been really, really tough. But recently I finally got some answers and started to get some support. And while it’s not a journey that’s over – if that’s even a possibility – I’ve come far enough that I feel like I can talk about it with a certain level of knowledge and emotional distance. So, here we go…


It started out as sporadic pain in my left hand and arm. I’ve experienced this on and off before, due to my extensive writing and my compulsive hair pulling, so I wasn’t overly concerned. Waking up to my hand being numb and tingly was unusual and a bit unnerving but given how much I was writing and how much hair I was pulling out – both of them being outlets for stress – during that first lockdown, I figured that I was just straining that arm a bit more than usual and that it would probably go back to normal as my anxiety decreased.

But then I started developing an ache in my left leg. I don’t really know how to explain it but it felt like it was coming from somewhere deeper than the centre of my leg, deeper than was physically possible. And then what started out as a painful but sporadic ache turned into attacks of debilitating pain, like electric shocks shooting through my leg at random. They were (and are when they still happen) excruciating and had me collapsing on the floor every time, sobbing or even screaming. There were a few so bad that I ended up hyperventilating so hard and long that I nearly passed out. And if that wasn’t bad enough, both the ache and random electric shock attacks spread up to my lower back. None of the common painkillers did anything and I was living in constant fear of the pain hitting me with no warning.

Eventually I was prescribed painkillers but I could only take them for a few days at a time to avoid their addictive nature. They actually – FINALLY – helped; it was such a relief. But the days in between were miserable and the painkillers I was taking in between was barely making a dent. I was also referred to Rheumatology at the hospital.

That was in May (of 2020) and I had to wait until December for an appointment. While, objectively, I can completely understand that, given how overworked hospitals are due to the pandemic, the waiting was also horrendous: I was in constant pain and desperate for help. It was hard to be patient, especially when it was affecting my education because the pain was so bad that I could barely play any of my instruments. It was a really hard time, and that was without all of the COVID-19 and other life stuff.

Eventually the appointment arrived. We didn’t learn much but it got things moving. The hypermobility diagnosis was confirmed and the possible diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was dismissed. I was referred to various departments, including Occupational Therapy, Hydrotherapy (although the consultant wasn’t sure when it would be available due to the pandemic), and, after discussing multiple different medications (many of which I’ve already taken and had negative reactions to), Pain Management. The consultant recommended I have an ECG every five years or so as heart problems can occur with connective tissue disorders and booked my first one for me, as well as an MRI, just to double check my back. She said we’d have another appointment in three months, after the ECG and MRI (it’s been more than three months at this point but I’m hopeful it will be soon since I’m still in a lot of pain).

After the wait for that appointment, I was expecting to wait for ages but we received a call about the MRI less than a week later. The woman who arranged it for us was really thorough and really aware of what might be helpful for me as an autistic individual, suggesting and putting in place so many things to reduce any of my anxiety; for example, I could have Mum in the room with me, I could play music, I could hear the sounds the MRI made before getting in it, she suggested taking Diazepam first, and so on. So that was really helpful. Surprising (I don’t think that’s ever happened before an appointment or procedure before) but very helpful.

The MRI itself was actually a really interesting experience. It was completely manageable and I actually found it quite soothing in a weird way. And, of course, my musician brain couldn’t help but wish I could sample the different sounds the MRI made to use in various tracks. It was over pretty quickly and the whole process was super efficient. I really want to see the images; I don’t know if she’ll bring it up but I’m gonna ask the consultant if I can see them at the next appointment. I’m weirdly intrigued. I mean, I’ve always been kind of fascinated by how my body works specifically (seeing my brainwaves was super cool, for example, and one day I’d love to see images of my brain) so I’m just really curious about what my spine looks like. Like every other spine, I’m sure, but I’m still curious.

(Throughout this time I had been swimming where possible – according to what felt safe and as lockdown allowed – and I’d started incorporating the basic hydrotherapy exercises that the hypermobility specialist had recommended.)

I was prescribed a new daily pain medication but I didn’t really feel like it helped (and I’m still not convinced that it’s actually doing anything helpful). The only thing that helped – and still the only thing that helps is the painkiller that I can only take for a few days at a time; it’s the only thing that has consistently given me pain free periods of time. But, as I said, I can only take it for a few days at a time and the other days are pretty awful.

Around New Year (2020-21), I noticed that the pain was spreading and by the end of January 2021, I was struggling with pain from my toes all the way up to my neck. I rarely experienced pain in my whole body all at once but it had reached a point where there was practically no area of my body that didn’t experience this specific type of pain and often for extended periods of time. My hands, arms, lower back, and lower legs were the worst.

I began Occupational Therapy in February for the pain in my hands. The therapist gave me compression gloves (I have tiny, skinny hands and so they turned out to be too big and I had to buy a smaller pair) and a series of ‘gentle’ exercises that would supposedly allow me to control the hyperextension in my fingers. Right from the start they were painful and I had to drop one of them straight away; it just hurt too much. But I worked hard at the others, whilst simultaneously trying not to work too hard and accidentally regress.

The therapist also discovered that the Pain Management referral hadn’t gone through and put a rush on it – apparently, because the pain is directly affecting my education, I should move me up the waiting list more quickly than if I wasn’t currently doing my Masters. So I guess that’s good news. Hopefully it makes up for the time lost with the referral not going through. She also had some suggestions around swimming during lockdowns, which unfortunately didn’t come to anything but it gave me hope and it was something to work on. That was better than just waiting.

In the following OT session, we talked about the pain caused by the exercises and she reduced them to every other day, which has been better, but I’m still in pretty much constant pain to some degree. But she was pleased with the progress I’d made. Unfortunately though, she thinks I’m probably in the group of people that take the longest to see real change. That’s not massively surprising to me – I’ve been in similar positions before – but it’s still frustrating. Like, out of all of this stuff, couldn’t one thing not be super hard? Couldn’t one thing have the best possible outcome? Anyway. It’s pointless to speculate about that stuff; it’s not like I can change it.

I’d been doing some research on hypermobility but as far as I can tell, it’s a symptom rather than a condition or disorder, like Joint Hypermobility Syndrome or Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. And since only ‘hypermobility’ had been mentioned up to that point, I asked what my actual diagnosis was and after some conferring between the various people involved, they agrred on a Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which explains both the chronic pain and the chronic fatigue (I don’t know what this means for the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis – at some point, we’re all going to have to sit down and work out which diagnoses are still relevant and which are now out of date), as well as multiple other problems. So there was this huge rush of relief and that lasted several days before I just felt overwhelmed. It’s an experience I’ve had before: finally knowing is amazing but then the reality of it all sinks in and it’s just a lot to process. Life is suddenly different. It’s not what you thought it was. So, yeah, it’s a lot. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about if you’ve been through a similar experience. But I’m getting there. The dust is starting to settle.

We’re still waiting on some of the other things, like the Pain Management referral and the second appointment with the Rheumatologist. And I’m continuing with the OT; I’ll be graduating to a new set of exercises soon. I’m also super excited to swim again when it becomes possible. We’ve already got several slots booked at our favourite pool. Plus, I’m due to get my first COVID vaccine soon, which will make me feel safer about swimming, even at this pool that takes the safety precautions so seriously.


So this is where we are. As I said, I didn’t want to write this post until there was a natural stopping point in the writing of it. And this seemed to be that moment: we have the beginning, the diagnosis (or diagnoses), and now we have the treatment. Obviously that’s ongoing and there are still different areas to pursue for support. So, I guess, all we can do now is see how things go and hope the pain improves.

One Year of Self Isolating

As of today, I have been self isolating for a whole year. 365 days. In that time, I’ve probably left the house no more than twenty times: for one morning of work (that had to be done out while the rest I’ve been able to do from home), for medical appointments, for swimming/hydrotherapy. And a haircut (when my Trichotillomania was particularly bad) during a period when it was considered safe to have one. But other than that, as a vulnerable person, I’ve stayed home. I worked out the numbers and that means I’ve spent 95% of the last year in my house. I look at that number and it kind of blows my mind. I’ve always been a homebody but this is so not the same thing.

So, to acknowledge the occasion, I thought I’d make a post about it. I thought about doing a list of good things and bad things, but given that the year has been dominated by the pandemic, that just felt wrong. Like, in general, it feels like the bad things carry so much more weight; a list like that just didn’t feel like an appropriate way to look at the last year. So, instead I thought I’d make a list of some of the things I’ve learned this year. There have been so many new experiences, new approaches to everyday tasks, new thoughts, new emotions, and so on. So I thought that might be a better way of looking at things. I doubt I’ll remember everything but I’ll give it a go.


  • ADJUSTMENT TAKES TIME – Going from normal life, the same lives we’d been living for considerable periods of time that rarely changed dramatically, to suddenly spending all of our time inside, missing our friends and family, and dealing with all of the fears and unknowns around COVID-19 was a big deal. A really big deal. And as someone who really struggles with change and uncertainty, this was a nightmare for me. I was barely functional for the first few weeks, if not months, because I was so overwhelmed. Eventually I managed to do the bare minimum but I continued to really struggle with anxiety. And things that had once been normal suddenly felt hard: I couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything; my songwriting felt blocked by my fear around the pandemic; cowriting sessions had to take place over Zoom, which felt awkward and made being creative more difficult; doing therapy via Zoom felt weird and the conversations felt limited and stuck because COVID was obviously the biggest thing going on but I really didn’t want to talk about it because it felt so upsetting. All of these things have gotten better over time (the reading is still a struggle though). At the time, the stagnation was unbearable but slowly I adjusted to each new version of normal and each time, I adjusted more quickly and with less difficulty. It’s all had a cumulative impact on my mental health and it’s gonna take a lot of work to get back to where I was pre-pandemic but I’m coping better than I was earlier on in the pandemic.
  • I HATE HAND SANITISER – I really hate it. I will 100% use it without complaint because I know how important it is in the effort to keep us all safe but oh my god, it feels (and smells) disgusting. As someone so sensitive to sensory stuff, I have really struggled with it but if it’s helpful, if it’s the right thing to do, I will willingly put up with it. I get the impression that it’s going to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future so I’m going to make it a priority to find one that I don’t hate, just to make the experience less gross.
  • I NEED STRUCTURE BUT I CAN’T DEAL WITH EXACTLY THE SAME THING EVERY DAY – Knowing what is going to happen in my day is a really important part of managing my ASD and my mental health; having structure and certainty helps me to avoid anxiety and be more productive. So planning and a certain amount of routine are massively helpful but having such a strict routine that I do exactly the same thing at the same time everyday isn’t helpful. It just makes me feel trapped and anxious and suffocated.
  • PRE-PANDEMIC, I WAS SO LUCKY TO SEE MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS MUCH AS I DID (AND I HOPE THAT THIS WILL CONTINUE ONCE AGAIN WHEN IT’S SAFE) – There’s not much to expand on here. I feel so lucky to be so close to my family, to have always seen them so often before the pandemic. Having to go without seeing so many of them (in person) for so long has been really, really hard. I also feel really lucky because I know that, as soon as it’s safe to do so, this will continue. I can’t wait.
  • I’VE LEARNED WHAT I REALLY NEED IN A FRIENDSHIP – This isn’t related to the pandemic directly (so many of us have been struggling socially so it would be unfair to judge someone on whether they’re a good or bad friend based on this period of time) but it’s something I’d been thinking about before the pandemic and I continued to reflect on it during the lockdowns. I thought about the friendships that have lasted and the friendships that haven’t and had a bit of a revelation about the few fundamental things I need to be getting out of a friendship in order for them to be positive and fulfilling and, in addition, what makes a friendship draining and detrimental. That’s where it turns from a friendship into something unhealthy. But I think I’ll expand on all of this in another post.
  • I’M REALLY LUCKY TO HAVE THE FRIENDS I DO – My friends have been my lifeline to reality over the last year, a year of feeling like I’m trapped in a box (a feeling I’m sure, many, many people can relate to). I haven’t been as good at staying in contact with some as with others but it’s because of them that I’m pretty sure that I haven’t completely fallen apart. I feel really lucky to have a handful of friends from each ‘era’ of my life so far (school, college, university, and now post grad) that I’ve stayed close to but I feel like we’ve become even closer this year, even though we haven’t been spending time actually together. I’m really grateful to have these incredible people in my life and I just hope they know how much they mean to me.
  • SWIMMING MAKES ME FEEL REALLY GOOD, IN MYSELF AND ABOUT MYSELF – Swimming is the only form of exercise that I can do without pain but due to the constantly varying pandemic restrictions around gyms and pools, I haven’t had many chances to swim. But the times I have managed to swim have felt fantastic. It makes me feel almost giddy with joy and it also makes me feel strong and in control of my body, all things that I rarely ever feel. I can’t wait to swim as much as possible (and is sensible) as soon as it’s safe.
  • IT CAN BE SO EMPOWERING TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST/MUSICIAN – That’s not to say that it’s not hard, or even impossible sometimes, that it’s not utterly terrifying. Because it is. A lot of the time. For me, at least. I can’t speak for anyone else. It is very scary to be the one ultimately in charge of your artistic career because every decision and every consequence comes back to you. And oh my god, it’s incredibly expensive. But putting all of that (and more) aside for a minute, it has felt very empowering over the last year to be that person in charge: no one knows what’s happening, no one knows what’s going to be happening in three months time, so you just have to go with your gut and hope it’s the right choice. If it isn’t, it isn’t and that’s disappointing but being a new, independent artist in a pandemic is hard and possibly the worst time to be starting out so I think we all, at the very least, deserve some credit for even trying. And then there are the choices that do work out and they really make you stop and think because that came down to you or you and the small team you work with and it actually worked. It was actually successful. And that’s pretty mind blowing, especially so in these completely unknown times.
  • ONLINE LEARNING IS HARD, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN SOME BENEFITS – I can’t talk about online learning without recognising that I’m in a very fortunate position compared to many other students: I was and still am living at home, my university and my course are relatively small, my course can be completed remotely (although, of course, I’d much rather be doing it in person) even if it is much more difficult, the available technology has made it possible to continue creating and creating collaboratively, I have a good mental health (and now physical health) support system and so on. I’m very lucky. It’s been painful and difficult at times but less so than it could’ve been, not that I would’ve said so during the painful and difficult times, of course. But I feel closer to my coursemates than I’d have thought possible, given the fact that we’re only ever together via a screen. But we’re all going through this big, unknown, scary, frustrating, upsetting experience together and I think that’s created a unique bond. I can’t say whether or not we’ll all still be in touch in, say, ten years time – I hope so – but if we aren’t, I know I’m going to look back and think, “Those were some of the people that got me through the terrifying experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and for that, they will always be special to me.”
  • ALL OF MY DIAGNOSES ARE CONNECTED – Again, this isn’t pandemic related but I don’t know if it would’ve happened (or, at least, happened now) if not for the pandemic. After years of researching, endless doctors appointments, SO MANY referrals, and talking to various different consultants, we finally struck gold and found a superhero in the form of a hypermobility specialist. She was able to make things happen, move various processes along, and just get people to listen to me. Since meeting her, I’ve had various tests and appointments and a couple of diagnoses that seem to have finally pulled all of my apparently unrelated problems together, which is both overwhelming and… good. I kind of haven’t processed beyond that. Again, I want to go into this in more detail in another post, when I’ve processed it more deeply and where I can go into much more detail. But it’s a big deal. A really big deal.
  • AS PART OF A SOCIETY, WE ARE PART OF SOMETHING SO MUCH BIGGER – I obviously knew this already but that knowledge has felt different since the pandemic began, when it became clear that we were going to have to act as a collective to reduce the effect of the virus and return to something that at least vaguely resembled normal. And in some ways, that’s been a very powerful and emotional experience with people stepping up and helping each other simply because they could and because it was the right thing to do it. Although, having said that, it’s also been hugely frustrating to watch people not do their part when so many people are making such sacrifices. But on the whole, it’s been an honour to be a part of a group doing all they can to end the pandemic. What I personally can do, of course, is not on the same level as the frontline and essential workers – my god, not even close – but if the most I can do is obsessively follow the safety instructions and stay at home unless absolutely necessary, then that’s what I’ll do and I will do it without hesitation. I have such incredible respect for these people who have helped so many, who have made such sacrifices, and who have gone through so much during the pandemic that I will do (or not do) whatever is asked of me to make their lives and their jobs even the slightest bit more manageable. I will never forget what they’ve done for us during this time, not for as long as I live.

As I said, I’m sure there are more things that I’ve learned during this time but I think that these are all of the big ones, the big, personal ones. I’m included in the group currently being vaccinated (although I’ve yet to hear anything) so maybe I will be heading out a little more often once that happens, if only to get some more exercise. But to be honest, given how this last year has affected my mental health, I don’t think I’m going to be exactly quick to adjust to the idea that things are somewhat safer (the government certainly seems to think so, what with their plan to come out of lockdown). As desperate as I am to see my friends and family again and get back to swimming again, I don’t think I’m going to feel safe again for a long time: as I said, I don’t cope well with change.