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Rebecca Barnard

2017-01-26 10:38

Frankie's Story

The hedgehog stirred in her litter-lined nest, built against the cold and the hard times. Her spines shook and rattled for a moment, and then she settled down again, to dream of worms and warmer days…

No, you haven't gone mad! Yes, you are reading the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain newsletter! It's just that this is how I have felt for most of the years of my life. From the earliest times, my mum said I told her I wanted to be a hedgehog. My birthday falls on, or next to, the autumn equinox and as it approaches I feel my world turn upside down. From then on the days run inexorably down towards damp, dismal, dark winter.

In the last nine years, I have had both of my hips and both knees replaced. I expected to feel like bionic woman, but I don't! I still get pain, stiffness and heat at the joint sites, along with very painful hands, neck, back and ankles. I have also been diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica - it's a pain (haha). I do try to keep moving but find that I get increasingly stiff.

As I have grown older, and pain has arrived with arthritis, hurt has followed me down that winter spiral. Damp, cold and darkness have always afflicted me, but now the pain plays its part as well, making me want to hibernate until the world feels fit to live in again! I just crave the sun…

I read about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) many moons ago and realised that this was what was “wrong" with me, it wasn't that I really wanted to be a hedgehog! I also understood that my pain pattern matched up with the equinox cycle quite closely. So, a yearly descent and ascent into and out of the doldrums was much better understood, if not better tolerated!

I know that my pain and SAD can be alleviated somewhat by the weather, because I went through a period of getting away to warmer climes in September and again in January, after meeting a man whose family lived in the Canary Islands. During that time, the winter sun breaks did me a power of good, chasing away much of my pain and “blues". We parted company though, and I haven't been able to do that anymore.

Finally, we have 2016. A horrible year of such mixed weather and little sunshine to speak of. Prolonged periods of sun are needed to lighten my mood and, I believe, to make my pain feel more bearable. Last year was so changeable. With pressure rising and falling, my pain hardly gave me any respite. I am a very creative person, and I love to make jewellery, unfortunately though, pain stops me from doing that. This was more frequent in 2016. As I began to keep a diary and fill in the app, I realised just how close the correlation is between my pain, the weather and my SAD.

It is my belief that more light, and in particular, prolonged sunshine, really helps me combat pain. It's easier to move, my mood is lifted and life feels better. I also think that the effect of a lack of sunshine is exacerbated by the constant changes in atmospheric pressure.

I just crave the sun. So come on 2017, give us a break! Shine on us, and let's not be too cloudy with a chance of rain!

Do you have a pain story to share with the Cloudy community? if so, email cloudypain@manchester.ac.uk and we will help you to pull your experiences together. Stories can be completely anonymous if preferred.