My emergency box of tricks for managing pain.

Living with Ehlers Danlos is never really easy, for me it involves a lot of different aches and pains. This can be anything from stomach pain, to joint pain, to non specific widespread chronic pain and anything in between. I try to avoid heavy opioid painkillers like tramadol and morphine as best I can for a few reasons. Firstly they make me terribly drowsy and unable to concentrate, preventing me being able to drive and taking away some of my independence. Secondly they slow down my bowel even more than usual and can increase my nausea. Last but not least they are addictive, my body gets used to them and after a while they don’t work anymore but my body is convinced they’re still doing something. This is not me saying don’t take them or passing any judgement, it’s just what I’ve found in my own case. Plus I still use them if I dislocate a joint or in any other short term extreme pain cases. This means I’ve had to find alternative treatments, therapies and remedies to get me through.

Heat pads etc
My main lifesaver recently has been using a variety of different heat pads, wraps and water bottles depending on the location of the pain.
I have two different heat wraps; a shorter one that can either cover my lower back or stomach and then a full back one that goes right up to my neck. They plug into the wall which unfortunately means you can’t walk around in them, however they do stay warm for a long time and you can just velcro yourself in and out when you need to move. The full back one I got in Lidl for £14.99 which was quite a bargain. I find it a bit more uncomfortable to sit around in than the smaller one, but if my whole backs aching it’s much more effective.
As I can’t really go to bed plugged into the wall I have a standard hot water bottle I use on my stomach when things are bad. It’s in a tigger teddy cover to prevent me burning myself, though most of the time I feel like I’d be better just boiling my stomach alive the pain is that severe.

Heat pads and water bottle

Lotions and potions
I think I’ve pretty much tried every single pain relief cream and gel that is out there, everyone is different and reacts differently to them, but these I’ve found are the most effective for me personally.
1. Tiger Balm – available from most pharmacies and some super markets. There are a few varieties but I use the red ointment. It is a natural pain relief remedy made up of camphor, menthol and other ingredients used to help treat muscle aches and pains. Not a miracle worker but I find it works a lot better than the other natural, over the counter balms out there.
2. Biofreeze or deep freeze. Alternating between hot and cold treatments for pain is supposed to be more effective than just using one alone. In combination with applying heat, this gel works to cool and soothe aches.
3. Deep Heat spray – the opposite of the biofreeze. It warms up the painful area, however, it really stings my skin after a few applications. If you have sensitive skin it might not be for you.
4. Volterol – I find this only really works well on my shoulder. It comes in different strengths so I always ask the pharmacist for the higher one.
5. Nurofen medicated plasters – these are ibuprofen containing pain patches. As my stomach can’t handle NSAID’s such as ibuprofen, I find these a stomach safer alternative. Only downside is that they can only be worn for a few days at a time. They also can’t be used in combination with the volterol so I tend to alternate.

Collection of lotions and potions

Box of braces
Depending on the joint that is in pain, I can be 90% sure I have a brace to hold it in place and help it heal without me hurting it every time I move. From ankle to shoulder I’m pretty much covered. If I don’t have a brace for it there’s always kinesiology tape to strap it up, this is usually saved for back and hip pain/injuries.

Wrist and fingers
Back and shoulders
To knee and ankle

Tens machine
The tens machine is a small battery operated device that sends electrical impulses through small sticky pads (electrodes) that you attach to your skin in the painful area. You can increase and decrease the frequency to different amounts to find what works for you. The tens machine can vary with the number of sticky pads, mine has four. I’m not 100% sure how they work but according to the internet they interupt and reduce the pain signals travelling to the brain and spinal cord, reducing the amount of pain you feel. It does tingle and feel funny on your skin but it definitely does something to reduce pain levels in me.

Tens machine

I wouldn’t say any of these items work miracles, but if they can each reduce my pains by 5% that’s 5-25% less pain. This may not sound like a massive amount but with a combination of all the above I can really get on with my day so much better. If it saves me from having to take my morphine and be a zombie, I’m pretty happy.

My invisible illness and disability are just as valid as a visible one… so why do I feel as though I have constantly validate it to complete strangers?

Since being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges and massive lifestyle changes. It’s been really hard for me to go from the girl who works/studies full time, runs several times a week and goes skiing, to needing assistance with day to day life and requiring the use of mobility aids. It’s taken me a long time to adjust to needing crutches to get around and a wheelchair for longer distances, but as it turns out, self acceptance is only half the battle.

I’ve recently got back from a holiday to Kefalonia in Greece, flying from Manchester Airport. I received an invisible disability lanyard on arrival, this signaled to staff that I needed extra help. Personally because of my hip pains and my PoTS I struggle standing in queues, I get really dizzy and have previously had to sit on the floor so I don’t risk falling or even fainting. The lanyard also meant that I could get a wheelchair to get me to the gate as some of them are a long distance away from the lobby hall and shops. This was amazing, the staff were so on the ball and I would recommend one to anyone with an illness/disability.

Me in my sunflower lanyard waiting for the plane

As I’ve said previously I couldn’t fault the staff at either airport, other passengers however are a different matter entirely. Being pushed through the airport by my Dad while carrying my smart crutch, people showed complete disregard and awareness for me sitting there. Barging in front of me with prams and cases, at one point I almost took a handbag to the face. Like hello, human being down here. Apparently some people have clearly never seen an ambulatory wheelchair user, as I got shot a few looks as I got out of it and dared to walk a few feet with my crutch. News flash: I’m not faking I only need a certain level of assistance. This was all nothing in comparison to the trouble I had waiting for my return flight.

Kefalonia airport is only small and so upon check in I put my lanyard on and walked with my crutch into the terminal. The rep seen me and took me to one side to the assistance desk to get checked in. On arriving to the assistance area, all the seats were occupied and I was clearly struggling standing. The rep asked who was there for assistance and half of them obviously were not. On being asked to move to some different seats outside, one man gave both her and us a glare and said it was too hot outside and he’d rather sit in there. Eventually he moved after some grumbling and groaning and looking at me like I’d threatened his family or something. Such an inconvenience to have to move for someone with a disability, when maybe your common decency should already be hinting for you to do that.

As usual people in the queue are not happy when our bags get checked in first. As the airport is so small and crowded, I thought I’d leave getting a wheelchair, find a seat in the departure lounge and just walk with my crutch. My Dad was going to get us some food from the cafe while me and my Mum waited, not one single person had the common decency to offer me a seat. My crutch isn’t small, it’s big, bulky and near impossible to miss. To add insult to injury a seat in front of me became available, as I hobbled over a woman about my age ran in front of me and took it just turning the other way. Now while I may not look that sick, I am and constantly in pain, surely having a crutch is an obvious symbol that I might need to sit down more than you. My Dad did make a comment, but she just couldn’t care less.

Finally boarding the plane, anyone with pushchairs or needing assistance to board is called first. I go over and join a queue of wheelchairs/walking sticks, as I get to the front, a woman shouts the queue is over here. She’s signalling to a sea of fully abled bodied passengers in a line. She half laughs sarcastically, at which point I start panicking and questioning myself as to whether or not I need to be in that queue. Do people think I’m faking and pushing in? I start showing her my crutch, but really why is any of this anyone else’s business?

I’ve had people make comments and question me previously if I actually need my crutch because I’m young or don’t look sick enough, but this genuinely made me feel the most uncomfortable I had in a while. It was to the point I wanted to leave the queue. You wouldn’t question someone who was older, so why do you find it acceptable to question me? Just because I don’t look like the image of a sick/disabled person you incorrectly have in your mind. Disability comes in all shapes and forms, we all require different levels of assistance, please stop making us feel like we have to justify ourselves to you.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been asked what I’ve done to myself to injure my legs. It’s frustrating being asked by the same person on more than one occasion when you’ve explained to them you have a medical condition. Different days require different aids, I have bad and better days, I’m not any less sick for not needing my chair, maybe my pain levels are just a bit more manageable. No it’s not miraculously going away, so will you please stop asking me when I’ll be well again. I’m not too young to have this condition, it didn’t ask me for ID. I am happy to discuss my medical ailments with people to some extent, I’m always trying to raise awareness for Ehlers Danlos, but at the same time it’s my body and my business. Especially when it comes to how much I’m willing to share with you. I shouldn’t need to talk in depth to strangers, discussing my issues to get your help, understanding, a bit of compassion and human decency.