I don’t know where I stand…

About 7 months ago, after years many years of knee pain & a limp that had become almost permanent I had an X-ray that revealed arthritis. After even more pain & increasingly frequent falls my Dr recommend a walking stick. 

I had been experiencing pain in my right knee for years. When I first mentioned it to a Gp he put it down to a small accident I had whilst playing with my niece. I had plenty going on health wise & at the time it wasn’t a constant or severe pain, so I left it at that. The knee got progressively worse & I mentioned it a few times to various gp’s but no one was worried & it got sidelined by more immediately pressing health issues. By the time I really couldn’t ignore it anymore I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The knee pain was attributed to fibro & that was pretty much that. The pain however continued to get worse. It hurt all the time, standing or sitting. It even  woke me in the night. Then came the swelling, then the limp shortly followed by the knee giving way & me falling on my arse more than once. Back to my Gp I went, but only to seek advice on what might help my knee; I believed it was fibro related. Finally, over four years later I was sent for an x-ray, which revealed significant erosion in my knee joint. I didn’t expect to have a condition like arthritis at 37 & I certainly never envisioned myself with a walking stick, but here I am.

Foot & walking stick

There are so many things I could say about the difficulties of getting a diagnosis or even investigations when you have chronic conditions. So often when medical professionals see things like fibro in your notes they will just link everything to that. When you have multiple chronic conditions  multiply the difficulty. Add to that mental health issues, being a woman, being fat, the drs who think everyone with chronic pain is drug seeking & honestly, I’m just exhausted. Yes, it could have been spotted sooner. Yes, I would probably have a better prognosis if it had, but at this stage I’m just too tired to even think about that. There isn’t anything that can done about it anyway. It is what it is. 

Unfortunately what it is is pretty shit. On a number of levels. I hate to admit it, but there’s been a real mental adjustment along with the physical. I find it really hard when people see me with the stick for the first time. I worry that they’re thinking, oh god, she has another thing wrong with her. I worry that they’re embarrassed. I worry that I’m just too much of an inconvenience. 

I hate it, but a walking stick is a blow to the self esteem. I don’t feel particularly sexy as I hobble along, so obviously I question if others will view me differently. Intellectually I know there is no weakness in disability, but emotionally I feel weaker. I feel less useful.

Less fun.

Less appealing. 

All the while I’m telling myself what nonsense that is. That I know better than to indulge in such ableist thinking. Then I think if I, a disabled person am having these thoughts, then others certainly are & that’s not a productive thought process. I’ve already experienced how ignorant the world can be. How many people will still push past me or not offer me a seat. I’ve learned that places who bill themselves as accessible, just aren’t (and my mobility is still so much better than a lot of people’s). The weird thing is, I think the kind folk are almost harder to take. Every time someone offers to let me skip them in a long queue or asks if I need help, I feel utterly exposed. I’m grateful for the seats & the consideration, but I still feel very vulnerable about needing them. I’ve put so much stock in the power of being independent & capable that another level of disability is a struggle to accept. Yet, writing those words feel very indulgent. How dare I ‘woe is me’ when things could be a millions times harder, as I know they are for millions more if people. I know some of this linked to my mental health issues. There are familiar themes here; shame, guilt & a big helping of get over it. I suspect though, that maybe these feelings are pretty common for those dealing with disability. Thoughts & feelings aside, life is just a bit harder. For me & I’m sure for those around me. I’m slower & more limited. I can’t go anywhere without checking a dozen things beforehand. I’m grumpier & less reliable. Spontaneity is out, relentless checking is in. I hurt more. I need more rest & assistance. I find everything exhausting. I sound like an absolute joy to be around, right?


Finally, there is the stress. All of the above is stressful. Everyday tasks, trying to do something fun, the future are stressful. Attempting to manage all the stress, is stressful! 

I realise this is all sounding very negative & I don’t want to be that person, but I do want to talk about it. I’d like there to more of a conversation about chronic illness & disability. I’m sure some of this will get easier. Some of it won’t & I’ll have to adjust. Spoonie life is nothing if not challenging. The opportunity to spill my guts definitely makes it a little bit easier. 

Comforts in my bones…

Chronic pain is hard af. Trying to live a full life whilst always hurting is even tougher. Pain relief medications are great, but they have limitations & complications. Hence the need for back up. There are a million products claiming to relieve pain. So, if you don’t know where to start here’s a few options that make my life a little less painful. 


Let’s start with a cheap & easy product. Epsom Salts are available in every chemist for a couple of pounds & super simple. Just pour some into a hot bath, get in & relax. Epsom salts don’t offer any long term relief, but on a day when my body really aches all over they help. Sometimes even that soothing half hours soak can help me deal with a day of pain.

For more sustained relief I love my tens machine. I find it particularly helpful when I have to be on the move. Often even short journeys or everyday errands can leave me tormented. A tens works by sending electrical pulses across the skin & nerve strands. These pulses help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain & can also stimulate production of endorphins. I swear by mine, wearing my tens definitely prolongs how long I can be ‘active’. You can attach the sticky pads of the tens directly onto your painful areas & the machine is smaller than a phone. Meaning it can be worn discretely under your clothes & is totally mobile. It is possible to borrow a tens from the NHS, but they are also pretty affordable to buy. I bought mine from Argos for around £20, there are of course much more expensive ones if you want something really fancy. 


Heat is another humble, but effective analgesic. I find heat works particularly well for stomach cramps/spasms & achey pains. I use a range of products that provide targeted heat. Adhesive heated pads are great for when you have be mobile. You can pick them up in mutli packs from poundshops & they will retain their heat for 6-12hrs. When I’m at home I favour a good old hot water bottle & heat packs. My very thoughtful little sister gave me an amazing microwaveable heat pack that is filled with wheat & lavender. The smell is divine & it stays warm for hours. You can find a similar one here.


If like me you have stomach issues NSAIDs will be off limits to you. This can be frustrating as ibroprofen in particular is recommended for so many pain types. Which is my I love ibroprofen gels. Again this won’t eliminate severe pain, but it can make you a little more comfortable. I find it very helpful for my fibro knee & shoulder. It is also fantastic for back pain. Ibroprofen gel is available OTC in any chemist, but at around £6 a tube for the strongest formula that can add up. If you qualify for free prescriptions it is worth asking your GP to prescribe it. 

Bringing heat & gels together is Tiger Balm. The balm can be rubbed onto the body & has a bit of heat, but also has anti inflammatory properties. The aroma is a love it or loathe it affair, but I’m firmly the former. Bizarrely I also found this product really good when I had a chest infection. Perhaps it was just the toy boy rubbing it on my chest that felt good, but hey, whatever works! I recently discovered that a similar formula is also available in stick on patches, so you can also use the herbal remedy on the go. I know there can be ethical worries about Chinese medicine, but fear not, dragon & tiger balm are entirely cruelty free. Both products are widely available in places like Holland & Barratt. Again if you are on a budget keep an eye out in pound shops as they sporadically stock them. 


My final suggestion is swimming. I love to swim. My body rarely allows to me do much in the way of exercise, so swimming is a boon. Since the water supports the body stress is lifted from weight bearing areas, which can relieve pain. I find can stretch my body whilst swimming in ways I simply cannot outside of the pool. Swimming is also a great low impact form of aerobic exercise, meaning you can stick two fingers up to the notion of ‘ no pain, no gain’. Even if you aren’t a strong swimmer or can’t manage actual laps, getting into a swimming pool can still be beneficial. Just treading water, holding onto wall/float & kicking your legs or simply walking in the water can really help. Best of all, you can finish your session with a soak in the hot tub or a sauna! 

Obviously you should consult your Dr before trying anything new. I’d also like to be clear that I suggest these to compliment medications & traditional treatments. I take a cornucopia of medications plus physio & other treatments. I could not function without them. I would never advocate ignoring medical advice.