Living on a knife-edge

Chronic illness is a constant weigh-up between looking after your body, giving it the best chance at wellness, and still allowing yourself to live a life and have a bit of fun.

I’m leaving my job of 4 1/2 years this week to begin a PhD. Last night I went out with my wonderful team of colleagues as a ‘farewell’, and needless to say I had several glasses of wine too many. I drink fairly infrequently these days, so my tolerance for it is pretty low and I am fully regretting my choice this morning!

For most people it seems that, although a hangover might feel like death at the time, a day or two later it becomes a source of humour; a light-hearted “oh silly me” and then it’s all forgotten about, until the next time they want a drink and the cycle begins again. But when you have chronic illness, something as seemingly mundane as a couple of drinks too many can be the difference between being well, and having a major flare of sickness that, for me, can potentially last days or even weeks.

Luckily for me, it is rare that one single event triggers a serious flare. It tends to be more of a cumulative effect – if I’m stressed, and I’ve had a bad nights sleep, and I have a few drinks, then that is likely to lead to a flare. Lots of people with chronic illness are even more sensitive than me and an alcoholic drink or two can be enough to push them over the edge. Nonetheless, alcohol absolutely has an effect on my general health and wellbeing, and on my body’s ability to cope with the inevitable stresses, physical and emotional, of life in the 21st century.

Chronic illness is a constant weigh-up between looking after your body, giving it the best chance at wellness, and still allowing yourself to live a life and have a bit of fun. Getting that balance right is one of the things I find hardest. It is difficult to know at what point sensible becomes obsessive, but equally when does letting your hair down become stupid and irresponsible? I guess these daily decisions are not unique to those with chronic illness, they’re decisions we all have to make. But with chronic illness, the consequences of those decisions can be huge, and therefore the stakes of each decision feel much higher.

I try my best to look after myself in all the ways I think make a significant difference. Mainly – I don’t eat gluten or dairy, I aim for 8 hours of sleep a night, I get moderate and regular exercise, I take time out for yoga and meditation, I try to remain calm as much as possible and avoid getting into unnecessary arguments with anyone, and I avoid sugar (this, I confess, is the hardest of all and the one I slip up with most often). The words ‘aim’ and ‘try’ are key here. I do my best. But I am human, and these things are hard. So therefore when I have a night like last night where I very clearly overdo it, I feel like a bit of a twat. What is the point of trying so hard, day in day out, to make careful and difficult decisions for the sake of my health, and then ruin it all by getting drunk? And the really stupid thing is, I don’t even like alcohol that much. Don’t get me wrong, an occasional glass of wine goes down a treat, but the feeling of getting drunk really doesn’t do it for me anymore, and the hangover is just horrendous. How on earth did I ever do this so often in my youth?!

Last year I gave up alcohol entirely for nearly 12 months and honestly, I didn’t even miss it. But at Christmas I decided I wanted one small glass of wine, and over the course of a few months that gradually crept up to where I’m at now. To be fair, I really don’t drink a lot by most people’s standards, but nights like last night just can’t happen anymore.

So, I officially announce to the world that I am giving up alcohol once more. This is one of those few sensible/fun decisions that is actually quite easy – my health is frankly more important than getting pissed.

2 thoughts on “Living on a knife-edge

  1. Although not suffering with chronic illness myself, I share some of the thoughts and feelings you have about the impact of drinking one too many and finding yourself landed with a fat hangover that completely ruins your day/week. Particularly now that I’m slightly older and have two small children to run around after, a hangover is particularly unwelcome and I’ve basically shunned most opportunities to drink since having kids that my husband/friends will gladly indulge in and look slightly sideways at me for not joining in, just because it is NEVER worth it (I challenge anyone to hang out in a soft play ball pit for the afternoon checking the time every 5 seconds wondering if it’s bed time yet, while wanting to die). Or is it?
    I had an experience a couple of weeks ago where we went to a friend’s birthday party on a farm in the middle of nowhere that was nothing short of a completely mental rave. The kids were back home having a sleepover and I had no reason not to completely let go and enjoy- and I did! Beloved husband said he saw a spark in me that he’d not seen for years (pre-children, I think) and that I came alive. I definitely felt alive for the first time in too long, dancing and singing like a maniac (but not looking too much like a maniac as everyone else was the same/worse!!).
    The bill came in the next day with the biggest hangover since University (10 years ago now). My heart would not stop racing and I had to keep bolt still to stop from puking. It literally lasted all week, propping my head up during meetings and going to bed at 8.30pm and being continually grumpy with the girls (poor things) until the following weekend. But I still smile now when I think of that night, as it was a break from reality- I was free. In a life where I want to get off the crazy merry go round every single day, but can’t, it was a memory i will treasure. Silly, isn’t it?
    I fully appreciate that my world is a total picnic compared to those struggling with their health as intensely as you do, but in relative terms, if you’ve had a blast with your mates and felt happy for a short while, you don’t need to feel like a twat for landing yourself in that situation. You are human (-and a lovely human at that!) and you are well aware of your limits, which is shows such insight and strength.
    Hope you’re feeling better now and sorry I couldn’t make it out- I probably would have been a bad influence 😳


    • Thanks for the comment Emily. It’s interesting about your experiences with children – one of my friends once said, changing a dirty nappy hungover is enough to put anyone off alcohol for life! 😄

      I completely agree, there is a sense of freedom that comes with letting your hair down and somehow feeling ‘alive’, and i think it’s important that we all let ourselves feel that way, however we achieve it.

      I recently experienced this when I was on holiday in Cornwall and I went swimming in the sea. I’d been feeling sick all week, really struggled to do all the things I wanted to do on holiday but we went to a beautiful cove one day and I jumped in for a swim. I felt so alive, a pure joy deep in my soul and I forgot about feeling sick for 10 mins, it was amazing.

      And while theoretically we shouldn’t need alcohol to have a good time, there’s no doubt that it removes a bit of the conscious, overthinking brain and, for me at least, helps me to switch off from my worries and cares.

      I guess as with all these things it’s a cost/benefit analysis and what feels like the right choice one day might not be the right one the next day. Thanks for reading and commenting 😊 Xx


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