PAIN-LESS is the remarkable and inspiring story of Anne Welsh, an author, entrepreneur and health advocate who lives with sickle-cell anaemia, a painful and incurable 'invisible illness'.
I was particularly interested to review Anne's book as I too live with chronic 'invisible illness' in the form of cyclic neutropenia, M.E and fibromyalgia. Although our illnesses are different, Anne's book resonated with me intensely and will touch the heart of anyone suffering from chronic pain and illness. She provides not only a fascinating insight into her own life, but gives advice and suggestions to others struggling with the many commonalities of living with a lifelong debilitating condition.
Sickle-cell disease is the most common genetic disease in the world. Between 300,000 and 500,000 babies are born with it worldwide each year and up to 50% will die before the age of 5. The illness affects the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood and red blood cells take on the shape of a sickle, which affects their ability to carry oxygen around the body. This means that the cells can get stuck in smaller blood vessels which causes severe pain to the sufferer and a lack of oxygen to their vital organs - also known as a sickle-cell crisis.
The day-to-day problems of sickle-cell anaemia are centred around lack of oxygen in the blood, anaemia and pain, although the intensity and frequency of the pain and crisis can vary. Anne describes the pain as, "like someone using a hammer to knock on your bones again and again" and "like arrows shooting through your entire body".
Sickle-cell sufferers are also at risk of future complications as they get older and the disease carries reduced life expectancy. There is no cure, except to manage the symptoms with painkillers, blood transfusions and psychological therapy to combat the mental-health effects of living with such a devastating condition.
Anne was born with sickle-cell anaemia and explains the difficulties of a childhood growing up between Nigeria and the UK with this condition. Although the story is both arduous and harrowing, Anne writes in a matter-of-fact style, without self-pity and drama. As a reader, the overriding emotions I felt whilst navigating this heart-wrenching tale were admiration, empathy and respect for a child who always tried her best, but grew up feeling useless and like she wouldn't amount to much.
But Anne was not a person who intended to give up and succumb to the terrible circumstances she found herself in. Despite the daily struggles of living with sickle-cell, she pushed herself to attend college and got her A-Levels (some of which were taken in hospital with an invigilator by her bed) and then with the help of a disability support officer, graduated from Hertfordshire University. Her degree is just one of her many inspirational achievements and examples of triumph over her illness.
Anne then goes on to share many other personal successes, such as gaining a Master's Degree, getting a job, finding a husband and having two children, alongside the frequent interruptions, pain and inconvenience of managing her illness. The book is full of pertinent and powerful quotes; Anne encourages us to, "Never let your illness define who you are and make you afraid."
She ends each chapter with advice, suggestions and techniques on how to deal with each stage of life as someone with with a chronic health condition such as sickle-cell disease. Although some of the examples are specific to sickle-cell, there are many which could apply to anyone struggling with chronic illness. She also includes helpful advice for parents of a sickle-cell child.
The book concludes with advice and help on all aspects of managing an illness, such as good diet, mindset and mental health techniques, plus exercise and lifestyle recommendations.
I found the book to be an incredibly positive read, considering the difficult subject matter. Anne is relatable, down-to-earth and unwavering in her desire to achieve her goals. Her advice is friendly, not prescriptive and she has helped me to feel less alone in my own suffering.
As someone who has lived with chronic 'invisible illness' for over twenty years now, I feel that my approach to life has mirrored Anne's in some ways. I've always tried to achieve my dreams and not let the limitations of my illness and my mindset hold me back. Some of her techniques to foster a better quality of life are strategies that I have also figured out and have been using with great success. But I was interested to see if I would learn anything new from reading PAIN-LESS that I could incorporate into my life.
Surprisingly, it was the basics and early lessons Anne described which highlighted areas I needed to work on most. These included respecting the limits your illness puts on your life and asking for help. Rather than learning anything new, I realised that there were some things I already knew I SHOULD do, but wasn't doing. It was a painful acknowledgement that after twenty years, I am still pushing myself too hard and making myself more ill than I needed to. Sometimes, it's hard to see your own situation objectively, but reading about all the times Anne pushed herself too far was a real 'lighbulb moment'. Her quote about asking for help was also poignant and resonant,
"Finally, I had come to understand that to become a better me, I had to accept help as well as not be afraid to ask for it. This is a realisation that all of us with chronic illness need to come to. We cannot do it on our own"
This is one area that I'm extremely bad at, but of course, help would improve my quality of life massively and I'm going to take a long hard look at why I've found this so difficult.
To conclude, I can highly recommend this book not only as an inspirational tale of triumph over adversity, but also as a self-help guide for anyone suffering with chronic illness. It would have been extremely helpful to have had a book like this when I was first diagnosed with neutropenia twenty years ago. If you are someone struggling with pain or disease, I feel it would be a very useful tool in managing your condition and finding ways to improve the quality of your life.
I can verify that it's hard enough trying to stay alive, not get fired from your job and manage some semblance of meaningful existence without adding writing and publishing a book into the mix. So I have the utmost respect and admiration for Anne in releasing PAIN-LESS and can only imagine how much hard work and tenacity she employed to see it through to publication and beyond.
I'm looking forward to seeing what Anne achieves next and would like to personally thank her for inspiring me to look at my own life and health challenges in a more helpful way.
DISCLAIMER: The book PAIN-LESS was gifted to me in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own and completely honest.