It’s time to meet my next guest, the wonderful Jennifer Purrvis!
Introduce Yourself and tell us a bit about you….
My name is Jen. I grew up in the Houston area but live in Wellington, New Zealand. I moved to New Zealand when I was 19 and have lived in various areas in NZ but have kicked around in the capital city for 11 years. I have one daughter who will be 14 and 4 cats. I am single but formerly married. I’m a terrible cook but enjoy baking. I’m currently studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and hope to get admitted into a Masters of Forensic Psychology programme once I complete my undergraduate. I run Chronic Illness Cat, mostly on Facebook, but you’ll have seen us on other platforms too. Muffin is a real cat, who lives in France, but her dad is from Nelson in New Zealand. He sometimes comes back for a visit but we’ve never met up, though we should.
Chronic Illnesses/Disabilities I have…
I grew up a child of anxiety and depression. After I had my daughter I became severely agoraphobic and was diagnosed with a mood disorder, not otherwise specified. This would finally be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder in 2018. I also have PMDD. In 2007, I nearly lost my life after a doctor bagged an IV of an antibiotic I was orange banded as allergic to. I saw a huge white light. I felt a shock hit my body and felt fire ants start biting all over my body. That’s really all I remember. When I woke up I couldn’t unfold my arms or bear weight on my body. It would take years to regain my independence, my tolerance, my sanity. I was so, so angry about the disability attacking me, the pain I was constantly fighting and everything I was losing. It’s been nearly 12 years and things are so much better. I’m so much happier and freer and independent. However, in the last year, I’ve been diagnosed with Autoimmune Urticaria and I’m now on higher dose Cyclosporine. I’ve started to feel those dark shadows creeping in again. The pain is returning, so is the tiredness, reliance on drugs for pain, and I worry about stepping so far back.
My symptoms conditions began…
As a kid. I think I’ve always had an autoimmune disease. I first started getting fevers when I was 2 weeks old. I was just always sick. Always tired. I caught mono twice as a teen. I had chicken pox so severe as a kid I had them down my throat. I know I was severely depressed at 12. I had sleeping issues as a teen. I had coping methods that were not safe or would be suggested. I had a devastating eating disorder.
The night I got so sick back in 2007 was a normal night. I felt slightly off and started feeling worse and worse. I asked to go to the Emergency Department. I expected to have an infection but I didn’t expect to find myself fighting for my life. It turns out I had suspected sepsis. The bag of antibiotics was important, but so was understanding the importance of orange banding of patient allergies.
Fast Forward to the present and the first few days of realising I was getting sick again were terrifying. I knew something was wrong, but I never expected it to be something so full on. The first symptom I started experiencing was itching when sweating. Whenever and wherever the sweat would touch, I would feel like a jellyfish sting and hideous itching. I put it down to being ‘dirty’. The second major symptom that developed was a reaction to showering. Wherever the water hit, another jellyfish-like sting would develop, with burning and itching. But following the itching and burning came nausea, a feeling of being overwhelmed in the head and vomiting.
I started taking antihistamines, antihistamines and h-blockers, more antihistamines and finally saw a specialist who told me that due to my previous history of trialling drugs, I was to start Cyclosporine. At first, I was really optimistic because I had 2 weeks of showering with very little symptoms. But then, as soon as it had arrived, the optimism left. All the symptoms were back.
My diagnosis process has been…
Confusing. When I was first sick in 2007, no one knew what was wrong with me. I saw specialists and doctors all the time. People had opinions from Lupus to Still’s Disease to MS to ‘just experiencing a shock’. To get better care, we sold our home and moved. I saw another specialist who told me I had Lupus and “was just being a woman about it”. I was put on every drug you could find. Nothing helped. Nothing improved.
I saw just about every rheumatologist in the capital city. No one had answers for me. In the end, I just stopped going. It wasn’t worth the money. When I started getting sick again, and the blood tests were all fine, it started feeling like deja vu all over again.
However, this time, the specialist knew that this was Autoimmune Urticaria and that I had some dermagraphica which made him feel more confident. It felt unusual that I actually had symptoms someone was familiar with. Though, he did feel there was more autoimmune going on and asked if I wanted to begin looking for that and I told him I didn’t. I just couldn’t face doing it all again.
The hardest part of living with my disability/illness is…
Not knowing if I’m ever going to live normally as other people do. Will I be able to work? Will I finish my studies? Will I ever be independent? It scares the hell out of me. What if the medicines just get worse? I can’t nap through life. These questions just go around and around my mind sometimes. Fears for my future feel almost disabling at times.
A typical day for me involves…
Waking at 6:30. If it’s my week with my daughter then I get up with her and help her get ready for school. Once she’s left for the bus, I head back to bed. If I’m not with her, I go back to sleep. I try to wake up at 6:30 regardless so as to keep a regular rhythm. Sleep is so crucial for the maintenance and care of the Bipolar person. When I wake up I have a cup of tea and run errands or study, depending on the day. It’s really important for me to keep my grades up, so studying is important.
I’ve gotten it into my head that I need to do some sort of exercise, even though I’m not supposed to change my body temperature and/or sweat. I have some hand weights and I’m looking into belly dancing on youtube. I want to stay active for my brain and I want to stay mobile. But gosh, I know I’ve lost a lot of dexterity and put on weight since I stopped going to the gym. Swimming is out, maybe yoga? Am I that cliche? Just do some yoga?
I try to eat normally but I’ve got some problems with eating and I take Seroquel at night, so that makes up for any lost calories I haven’t eaten during the day. Right now Married at First Sight Australia is on, so I’m pretty addicted to that. Otherwise, I just try to rest and study. Glamorous, right?
One thing I cannot live without is…
Hot tea. I’m thoroughly addicted to caffeine and classic Bell Tea with milk gets me through my day. I probably go through 6 to 8 tea bags a day. It’s probably the reason I actually can move. Also, probably why I don’t sleep much.
Being ill taught me…
To take nothing for granted and to be amazingly grateful for the gifts that I have. Being able to walk is tremendous. I spent 9 months on the couch. Slowly I learned to crawl, then scoot and then walk again. Amazing. Getting the energy to work in cat rescue and change litter pans and chase after cats made me forever grateful for the second chance I was given. Now I’m studying to become independent. I’ve got my brain back. I will never not be angry and horrendously filled with rage at what happened to me, but I will also never not be amazed and filled with gratitude that I am where I am today. I’m a survivor.
The advice I’d given someone newly diagnosed…
Is that life goes on. It’s different but it goes on. It’s like when the brand of your favourite chip alters things and it’s never the same but you just go on buying it all the same. You can’t pretend nothing has changed, but at the same time, you still enjoy it enough to keep buying it. Some days are going to be horrific. And you’ll cry. You’re entitled to cry. And get mad. And kick at things. But some days will be not so bad too. And hopefully, you’ll get more of those not so bad days soon enough. That’s all you can ask for. And hugs. Ask for hugs. No one will think less of you for doing so.
My support system is…
Really small. I have a really truly, true-blood ride or die best friend on the net but-not-imaginary friend who gets me and loves me and would do anything for me named Alice. She’s also on the Page. I hope one day to be able to explain to her how much she means to me. And to thank her for lifting me up on those really shitty days.
I have my ex who does a lot of practical things for me. I have my daughter who shouldn’t have to grow up so quickly. And myself. I lean on my GP, Simon, a lot. And that’s it. I do a lot of the emotional stuff myself. I’ve become a lot quieter and controlled. Well, the Abilify has made me that way. I could do with a therapist. And a boyfriend. But we’ll see.
If I had one symptom-free day…
Gosh, I’d just sleep. Nothing would hurt. I’d shower too. Wash my hair and not throw up. Go lay in the sun. And sweat. Imagine!
One positive of having a chronic illness is…
That it gives me an amazing sense of humour and fantastic charm. I can joke around with just about anyone and I relate to a large number of people going through many things. It’s given me a sense of empathy that’s lead me to psychology and wanting to care for others. I’ve always been sort of activist-y anyways, but being sick has really pushed that envelope in fighting for others to get the same rights and access, which has been super useful having a daughter with extra needs.
Thanks so much for having me. You can find me and Muffin at the links below. And me and my kitties on my personals.
My Social Media links:
The Cat Tree: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thecattree/
Personal Twitter: https://twitter.com/kittypajama