This time last year Jamie and I were setting off for our trip to the US staying in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. How circumstances have changed, I guess being in lockdown is a bit like being in Vegas, we’re losing money by the minute, alcohol is acceptable at any time of the day and no one knows what day or time it is!
My hair dye experiment has now taken place. At the beginning of quarantine, I saw a funny Tweet that read “in 8 weeks 88% of blondes will disappear from earth”. Well I am proud to report that I continue to be in the remaining 12%. I was somewhat nervous as, on my last attempt many years ago, my hair went orange and I had to put up with it until could afford to go to the hairdressers to have it corrected. My DIY efforts are not always successful either. I managed to shave off half my eyebrow 3 months ago whilst trying to eliminate the little hairs in between, clearly, I should have used my tweezers; it has only just grown back!
On a more serious note, with all the focus on coronavirus, it’s easy to forget that people are fighting other diseases. I recently read that autoimmune conditions are on the increase. Scientists know of over 80 and examples include type 1 diabetes, crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis. I often hear people say they have arthritis, but it’s mostly osteoarthritis they suffer with. Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical wear and tear on joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s joints and is extremely painful.
It is estimated that over four million people in the UK are living with an autoimmune condition which is more than 6% of the population and for different autoimmune conditions, incidence is increasing at ranges between 3% and 9% year on year which is worrying. However, its actually worse than that as people affected often live with more than one autoimmune condition. This can lead to health needs that are far more complex and lives that are more challenging. I know this from my own experience as I have 3.
In general, autoimmune conditions are still poorly understood. In some cases, experts know that certain genes or being exposed to particular environmental factors can make some autoimmune conditions more likely. For example, people with ankylosing spondylitis carry a particular gene known as human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27) which, getting a positive test, was part of my diagnosis.
But that’s not the whole story – something is going wrong with the immune system and currently experts don’t know why. At present, autoimmune conditions cannot be cured. This means that for most people who develop one or more, “a lifetime” of daily management and potential health complications and pain lies ahead which I can certainly vouch for too.
There is also a significant increased risk of mental health challenges. NAAS, the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society points out that when people are first diagnosed with AS they try to pretend it’s not there, to try and carry on with life as normal. This was certainly true in my case and whilst this can work for a while it has a habit of catching you out, like the time I ended up in A&E as I had no idea how to manage my pain during a flare up.
After time, with diagnosis and treatment it is possible to develop a positive approach to managing your condition which I am much better at now. I make sure I get extensive exercise, do my stretches and take my medication BUT, it’s also important to pay attention to how you manage life as a whole.
Studies show that depression is much more common among people with ankylosing spondylitis than in the general population, with about a third of patients experiencing depressive symptoms. I see this a lot on my Instagram. When I first started to write my blog, I set up an account which is separate from my personal account aimed at sharing my life with ankylosing spondylitis. I provide tips, diet and exercise plans that help to improve my life in the hope it may help others. Most of my connections are people with autoimmune disease and I have been saddened by the number of people who also suffer severe mental health challenges and struggle so much with their daily life in accute pain.
The relationship between physical and mental health is complex and interconnected, with each having a real and measurable influence on the other. Living in pain every day takes its toll. There is lots of research ongoing to understand the prevalence of mental health problems among people with non-psychiatric illnesses so that the best possible patient-oriented healthcare can be provided. Everyday medical professionals and researchers are learning more, and increased knowledge can only mean better help and support.
Finally, as readers of my blog will know our business, like many others, is slow but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. During my career in the City I mostly focused on selling technology into the financial services sector and I can see so much opportunity for technology companies after lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic will have highlighted many faults in a company’s applications, architecture, data, cloud, infrastructure and network. Hopefully this will lead to more work for us when technology companies increase their sales and marketing teams to meet demand. When we started Mead Partners 12 years ago, we were able to take advantage of the new technology available at the time and all our applications are in the Cloud so we can access our whole business from anywhere in the world.
The pandemic has also taken its toll on consumers, as well as businesses, by changing the way people work, shop and spend their free time. Digital solutions, such as delivery applications, contactless payments and mobile banking, have become a go-to option for consumers in need of a way to efficiently manage their daily tasks, yet remain as safe as possible during the COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19 might be testing all our resilience and its getting increasingly difficult not seeing our family. However, it’s also helping us to build new ways of working and allowing us to develop new and innovative technology solutions.
In a post-COVID-19 world, hopefully we can take some of the behaviours and lessons learned dealing with the virus and make our world a better place with technology leading the way!