Growing Pains

Me myself and I

Monday 4 January 1993

Dear Diary,

Thoroughly depressing day. I was on such a downer. I didn’t go out. I would have been very bad company. I just watched Eldorado and went to bed.

This entry concerns me for a couple of reasons. It certainly explains why I didn’t do as well as expected in my English exam, if this is an indicator of my story-telling skills. Why was it a depressing day? Why was I on a downer? Was I just upset by the bad acting in Eldorado?

It also bothers me because if you’d asked me when I first started with depression I would have said, quite confidently, January 1994. Yet my journal from the year prior suggests otherwise. Was I really depressed though or was I just being sixteen? Who knows. There’s not much scope to read between the lines. And if I thought I was suffering then, I had no idea what was about to come…

My diary continues in the same scintillating fashion. I ‘chuck’ my boyfriend. I fancy a lot of other boys. A 21 year old asks me on a date. I’m dead worried that he’ll decide I’m too young for him. What if he does? I’ll die and I mean that (well maybe not). It would be awful though! I do a lot of ten-pin bowling. I fall in love for the first time (with the afore-mentioned ‘older man’.) Go on a German exchange, learn to drive, draw a picture. I drew a fabulous picture today of Mr (Mr! What am I writing Mr for? I mean Prince) Charles. Well it’s not fabulous but I am really pleased with it. 

Just your usual teenage stuff until towards the latter part of the year when I start complaining about a cough.

I coughed and I coughed. I coughed so much I blew the house down broke a rib. ‘It’s asthma,’ the docs said. ‘I’m not convinced it’s just asthma,’ my mum said.

I went out dancing one night. My legs were in agony the next day. Then the next, Christmas Eve, they were covered in bruises. I went to the doctor. She gave me the wrong diagnosis of Lupus and told me to have a good Christmas. We drove down to England to see the family that afternoon.

I was worse on Christmas Day. Couldn’t face the turkey dinner. Had a yoghurt instead. Was too weak to participate in the family tradition of joining hands and dancing to the Pogues, Fairytale of New York. It had started looking like it could be serious. We drove back to Scotland. The doctor was called out. I showed him my new party piece – coughing up blood. Pure blood. I was admitted to hospital.

They wanted to know if I’ve taken any drugs. Asked me a few times. I laughed at the irony considering I was known as a ‘square’ at school that had never even tried a cigarette.

It was decided the next day I need to move hospital for more specialised care. I was transferred to Glasgow Royal by ambulance!! How exciting!!!  Mum and Dad were told not to worry because the ward I was in was next to intensive care. They realised that the fact they were being told that meant there probably was something to worry about.

A few days of prodding and poking followed. Was given a bed-bath by two nurses that didn’t seem much older than me. Mor-ti-fy-ing. There was talk of doing a kidney biopsy. I couldn’t breathe unaided lying down so it didn’t happen. I was glad. I was finally allowed out of bed to go to the toilet on my own. What a treat. There were conditions though. They wanted to monitor my bowel movements so I had to shit into one of those cardboard hats. I was too shy to ask what to do with it after. Didn’t fancy walking back onto the ward brandishing it. ‘Look what I made earlier!’ I left it in the bathroom covered up with toilet roll and prayed that wouldn’t affect the results.

I celebrated the arrival of 1994 laid up in bed.

Finally a diagnosis. The consultant came to tell me it was “Churg Strauss Syndrome. An auto-immune disease. It’s where the body declares war on itself and your blood vessels have been expanding, bursting and bleeding into your lungs. It’s incredibly rare. Sometimes only diagnosed at post-mortem stage,” he said. “We got you just in time,” he added.

“Meh,” I said. Or I would have if the word had been invented then. All very great that it’s rare, making me a bit special (no run-of-the-mill-ills for me), but it didn’t mean anything. It was before the internet so I couldn’t Google it. It was just words.

Naively oblivious to the battle I was about to face, I went home to get back to living my life. Others had the same plan for me.

“What’s this nonsense about Churg Strauss Syndrome?” my friend Dougie asked. “More like Jug Stress Syndrome. You just need to wear a bigger bra.”

I went to the Doctors n’ guess what he told me?
Guess what he told me?
He said girl you better try to have fun
No matter what you do
Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U

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