The issue with being chronically ill is that when a new complication arises it can be hard to know whether it has been caused by a preexisting condition, and if so which one, or if a new condition has popped into the question. Over the last few weeks I’ve had increasing amounts of pain in my knees, calf’s and feet. I tried to brush this off but slowly and surely my feet and legs have started spasming. So now I find myself trying to work out if this is due to a spread of Dystonia or a relapse of Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease.
I had a long chat with my neurologist on Tuesday, he’s of the thought that my Dystonia has progressed as I’m still within the 5 year time frame for a spread of symptoms. Personally I’m hoping it’s Lyme related, as whilst still hard to treat, the possibility of remission again is real.
The idea that it could be Dystonia scares me due to the painful nature of the spasms; but I know I can get through it. I just have to take it one wobbly step at a time. I never thought I’d see the day when I would have to strap my leg splints on again but they’re worth the discomfort.
So here’s to crossing my fingers and seeing where the next 12 weeks takes us, by which point we will have a better idea to the cause and therefore treatment options.
It’s currently the 2017 Dystonia Awareness Week in the United Kingdom. Usually I would have kicked off awareness week on time (yesterday) with a blog post, and as has become tradition, would have been sporting some lovely green streaks in my hair. Instead I’m currently in the hospital due to a flare up of my Dystonia; at least the timing is appropriate and they’ve given me some sexy green slipper socks (so I’m squeezing the go green awareness campaign in).
Currently The Dystonia Society UK estimates that around 70,000 people are affected by the condition, making it the third most common movement disorder in the UK, however it’s thought that the affected number of people affected may be far higher due to a lack of knowledge within the profession affecting levels of correct diagnosis. Dystonia presents in a vast amount of varying ways across all age groups which adds to the complications when it comes to diagnosing patients.
Only a few decades ago it was thought that Dystonia was caused by psychogenic roots, thankfully through giant leaps forwards in research we now know that this isn’t the case; many people will never know what triggered their condition, whilst others now know that their Dystonia is caused by either a genetic mutation or brain trauma. Sadly despite the leaps in understanding of the condition many medical professionals still mistake this as psychogenic condition and therefore do not treat the patient appropriately.
This is one of the reasons that awareness week is so vital, without awareness and fund rasing events research into causes and treatment options comes to a halt. At this moment in time there is no known cure for Dystonia, but treatment can have a significant impact in a sufferers quality of life.
Though out awareness week I’m aiming to blog daily, however this may alter depending on how well I am.
Every now and then I receive wonderful comments/emails/tweets from people expressing how reassuring it is to see me post pictures of my spasms. These messages often include phrasing such as “I don’t know how you do it, it’s very brave” and “I wish I had your confidence”. I don’t talk about this much, but when it comes to my spasms my normal confident self generally disappears. The stares in the streets, the whispers of “look at her face!” and people’s general ignorant remarks “Could you please stop or do it elsewhere” (usually in reference to my arm spasms) have caused me countless hours of upset. I don’t believe in wasting hours on being tearful over something I have no control over though, I hope the pictures below show that while hard, life as a spoonie can be fun.
Does this splint blend in?Laughter; the key to making the most of the spasm free moments!
In many ways I’m your stereotypical 23 year old, I take way to many selfies, own far too many shoes and grew up head over heels in love with books; a passion that has resulted in me wondering where to put them all now I’ve run out of shelves! I have all the insecurities that is normal of somebody my age: I am overweight, I do not care enough about fashion as I’d rather be comfy, and don’t even get me started on my complexion. It’s tiny insecurities that are perfectly normal but when combined with my spasms often results in self-deprecation. There are days when I can walk about not particularly worried about some of the smaller spasms I experience, and then there are days when I’m hyper aware and embarrassed when in public, not just because I need an aid such as my wheelchair or stick, but because my eyes are spasming causing functional blindness, and my jaw is contorting to the point of dislocation; this is all whilst my left arm is casually attacking anything in range.
Teaching myself to accept the alien
When confronted by people asking me to refrain from spasms, I try to politely explain that it’s nothing I can control and apologize. But why should I. Should you apologize for shivering when cold? It’s a natural reaction that you would never dream of uttering apologies for. So why then should I issue out apologies for something that is just as natural. Sure, everybody and their friend may not experience it, but it’s my brain firing off incorrect signals that are just as natural as your shiver or yawn.
I live in pain every day and never know what to expect from my body. Yet people judge me for this. If all I manage to accomplish that day is a shower and pulling on a clean pair of pyjamas then who cares, all that matters is that I achieved it, other days I am capable of so much more. But just because I have had the energy and ability to carry out a task at that point in time, does not mean I will be capable of performing the same task five minutes later, let alone the next day.
I try to live every day ignoring the sideways glances and stage whispers, enjoying everything I am fortunate enough to experience. These days I try to capture my spasms on camera, as after all they are just as much a part of me as the functioning parts of my body. So when you are say I’m brave and ask how I cope the answer is quite simple. I’m not brave, I am stubborn, Dystonia and my host of other conditions will not stop me from living life. Coping is a different matter altogether. Some days it’s as easy as breathing, and laughing feels like the answer to everything. Other days curling up in my bed escaping into books where the words provide comfort and distraction is all I can do.
I’m currently on week seven of my Botox cycle. My injections are not being administered for another week due to a mistake (lets presume it’s a mistake and not my new neurologist being devious, because being frank I would not put it past him). I should be in bed asleep right now. Normally I would currently either be asleep or out with friends. Instead I am medicated to the extreme, I have lavender wheat bags heated up wrapped round my neck, and resting along my jaw and heat packs stuck along my back. To say I’m in agony would be an understatement.
I have resorted to taking Oramorph, a medication I try my best to avoid, however I would much rather give in and take it than have a seizure (click here to read what a seizure is like), and right now I’m concerned that with the amount of pain I am in that I will have one. My brain is not staying connected to my mouth tonight, functional paralysis is something I have suffered from for a few years now, but it has never ceased to terrify me. I understand that it is simply my brain being unable to cope with the amount of pain I am in, so it disconnects from the affected part but it is an unnatural experience that no matter how much I attempt to laugh off unnerves me.
Tonight my jaw is particularly bad, and is frequently being functionally paralysed leaving me unable to verbally communicate. It may seem like a small thing to some, but when you are trying to desperately to get any part of your mouth; whether that be your lips, tongue, just anything, to move and they won’t, apart from when they spasm, its horrendous. I cannot yell for help if I need it, I cannot cry in frustration or call someone to talk too to distract myself. I am stuck with my jaw spasming, distorting itself in ways that should not be possible, threatening to dislocate, and all I can do is cry silent tears, pray that I do not have a seizure and use this blog as an outlet for my pent-up frustration with this crushing condition.
I have a 9am lecture tomorrow morning. Which I am determined to attend, most likely in a wheelchair for my own safety, one of my close friends has agreed to take me there which has helped put my mind at rest. For now it is back to attempt sleep and hope that my little Dystonia Alien allows me some rest
When I received my miracle unconditional offer from Oxford Brookes this year my mother and I ended up have numerous discussions on how I would manage on my own at uni. These talks mainly focused around the idea of having carers, 3 or 4 times a week, to help me with basic household tasks that some days are just too much for me to manage. At the time I was insistent on doings myself and put my foot down. I was determined to be an independent, strong, young woman who could manage all aspects of life without any help. Numerous other adults alongside my mother, pointed out that my mum would be right, university would be a reality shock, not only with an increase in work load but also with a huge increase in social life.
Needless to say I listened to what everyone had to say, I took it on board, and promptly carried on with my own plans. Not only did I want to be independent but I was also worried about the judgement I may face from my peers at needing care. My bedroom is rather large, which is great for days when I rely on my wheelchair, but I can easily overdo it by cleaning without realising it. I tried for two weeks before I resorted to carers. Giving in and saying “Yes, I need help!” was honestly the best decision I have made since being here. My fears of being judged and avoided like the plague where unfounded. There have been no drawbacks, just pure relief. I have more time and energy to put towards tasks that need doing for uni without having to worry about little things like hoovering.
My next task to tackle is pacing. For 3 years I have listened to my neurologist tell me to pace my life and stress the importance of it; and for three years I have simply nodded my head and carried on charging on. I have always been focused on the next achievement. It’s not taken me long to realise that tactic will not work for me here. Running on full steam will leave me having a flare-up frequently, which I simply cannot afford to be doing. It’s time to get my act together and learn the mysterious art of pacing…
We recently got back from a beautiful family holiday on the coast. The weather was fantastic, and there is something relaxing about waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against sand. Going on holiday with Dystonia requires a fair amount of preparation. Every medication I’m currently prescribed has to be brought with us, just in case of an emergency, so that we can try to ‘contain’ the amount of spasms and deviation my body endures. Even though I can walk, both my walking sticks and my wheelchair were also packed. In all honesty I thought that packing the wheelchair was overkill, but then I have never enjoyed being it, I used to quite literally bum shuffle around the house rather than use my chair.
As many of you will be aware I have recently had a change in neurologist. At my first consultation with him he declared that he would not be following my old injection routine and that we would be switching from 6 weekly to 10 weekly injections. My objections to this change fell on stubborn, deaf ears. Due to his determination I spent my holiday, and the weeks either side of it, unable to consume solid food. Smoothies and soup were my saving grace. Chewing led to rather painful jaw spasms. It made sense to switch to soft/liquid foods in order to trigger the spasms less.
I spent several hours on a couple of separate occasions functionally blind whilst we were away. My eyes had spasmed shut. This was a complete shock to the system, my condition has been incredibly well managed for so long. It is my arm and jaw that I am used to contending with; not my eyes. I don’t think I’ve felt as thankful for my wheelchair as I had in that moment. For once I did not begrudgingly sit in it, I clambered in thankful that it enabled me to still be out with my family whilst lessening the risk of injuring myself. My family were fantastic, describing the sights in front of them to me so I could conjure up in my mind’s eye my own version. My brother amused us all by whizzing around the aquarium with me clutching on to the wheelchair with fear and hilarity.
I would much rather have not had to fight my Dystonia whilst I was away, but in hindsight I’m glad I had no option but to do so. Not only did it create some great memories, but it gave me the strength to not back down when I visited my new neurologist this past Wednesday. I stood my ground and managed to get him to agree to seven weekly injections and back at my normal dosage. This has left me feeling optimistic and far more relaxed about my upcoming move to university.
When ill with any condition it can become very easy to allow yourself to be wrapped up in the negativity of it all. Recently I slipped, I fell off the positivity bandwagon if you will. I don’t think this slip is necessarily a bad thing. After all it is only natural that in life we have our highs and lows. Ironically it was Dystonia that reminded me to try and see the positive that does exist within and around the condition again.
My left arm and shoulder spasms/twitches rather violently, flinging itself out to the side. I always hope silently whenever this happens that nobody is within hitting range. I have had one to many awkward apology conversations following such a spasm. It was following a rather forceful one in a hospital Costa last week that I found myself out of my chair and on the floor, slightly stunned, sore and in a complete fit of giggles. A small part of me knew that one flailing arm had tried to grab the table, in a useless uncoordinated attempt to stabilise myself.
This incident was exactly what I needed to break the haze of negativity that I had cocooned myself up in since my Complex Regional Pain Syndrome diagnosis. I had forgotten to tackle this condition with the same approach I had the others. I was frankly too scared, I know how bad the pain can get and even though I am not at the same pain score I was in 09, mentally I jumped ship. Embarrassing myself by ending up on a busy Costa shop floor was the exact laughter filled wake-up call I needed. As much I crave a life without chronic illness, my Dystonia never fails to provide laughter, I’ll give it that much.
I’m not sure where to begin. There is so much pain and if I am quite honest it is making everything extremely cloudy. After months and months of being seizure free I think today I had one, the memory loss that I seem to be experiencing confirms it. The devastation this causes is hard to put into words. I’m scared to leave the safety of my bed in case I have another, as one fall will be all it takes to pretty much guarantee an ambulance trip to the local hospital. After spending the last two days there (one planned trip, one unplanned), I don’t particularly fancy going back again so soon.
One of my Dystonia symptoms is a strong twitch/jerk, in my left arm. It flings my arm out rather violently to the side, it is completely out of my out of my control. This has been controlled by 3600mg of Gabapentin for the last two years but this no longer seems to be enough. It started off with just my shoulders jerking, I should have gone to the Drs then but instead I ignored this symptom. It’s got to the point now where my arm is flinging itself out to the side every few minutes with such a force that it causes horrendous pain when it collides with something, which it often does. I have had to resort to wearing a splint on my wrist to protect it as it had become rather swollen from the several times it has hit door frames, walls, hospital beds, etc.
My GP has decided to up the amount of Topiramate I take, which is an old antiepileptic medication to see if that will help. I take Topiramate to control my migraines but as my GP pointed out old antiepileptic medications such as Topiramate and Gabapentin often have many uses. So fingers crossed it works as I’m really struggling to cope. In all simple truth I just want someone to hug me but as I told my mother earlier I’m to scared to let her do so incase I hurt her.
I’m scared of my arm, the pain its causing and how my body irrationally responds to pain. This situation is impacting my life already – I daren’t walk into a shop now I’d break their stock – and I refuse for my life to be put on hold yet again! I really hope my little Dystonia Alien can hear me. I hope he is trembling in his tiny boots. As eventually my fear will give into rage, and I sincerely hope that the Alien has the sense to uproot and leave than do battle with me yet again.
Last Friday I attended an outpatient Hand Therapy appointment. I thought this would be a simple check up on how my finger is healing, splint it back up and send me on my way home. What I forgot to factor in is that with my body being rather dysfunctional that would all be a bit too simple! I saw a lovely woman who after assessing my hand decided that my previous diagnosis of Mallet Finger was incorrect and the Dystonia is in-fact in my whole left hand. After questioning and examining my hand for a while she came to the conclusion to that the Hand Dystonia was pre-existing and was most likely covered up by the Neurological Lyme Spasms I had been experiencing previously in my hands.
I was rather thankful that I did not go alone to the hospital appointment as the diagnosis came as a bit of a blow. Being accompanied to appointments no matter what your age is something I think is rather important. An appointment may seem like a routine check up but you never know what conversation you will have to have and support is vital. Sometimes just having someone else to listen to the conversation so they can make a note of anything you miss is a huge help. For me having someone I trust listen to me panic afterwards and help calm me was exactly what I needed. Being a Reflexologist, obviously using my hands is vital, however the hospital have advised me to be on hand rest till the end of February when they will assess the splint need again, I will have been on hand rest for almost 3 months by then.
Thankfully in the meantime I am seeing my lovely Neurologist at the end of this month for my Botox injections and to get his opinion on my hand. I am on countdown to seeing my neuro as my Botox last month did not take and I have been in agony since. My GP yesterday gave me some new muscle relaxants to try so im keeping my fingers crossed that these will offer me some relief until then.
Yesterday marked two years since I became ill with Dystonia and had my whole life turned upside down. I went from first year student midwife having the time of my life to struggling to do simple tasks like putting jeans on or getting around the house. Life has not been the same. I must admit that despite my best efforts I was rather emotional yesterday and found it extremely difficult to be cheery. However I must slap myself on the wrists and wipe away the tears because despite all that life has thrown at me I have not and shall not give up. Yesterday may have been the two-year mark, but today is the day I found out I have qualified as a Reflexologist and tomorrow is full of possibilities!
I could focus on the negatives, for example the many ambulance trips to hospital, but there is simply no point in that. Where would it get me? Over the last two years I have achieved so much, met the most inspiring people and had opportunities to do things I would not have been able to do if I were not ill. I may not be exactly where I thought I would be now, yet I have achieved more than I thought I would be able to whilst living with Dystonia. Life is unpredictable and is a bag full of mixed emotions, but what you are given is what you have to deal with. I do not see the point in letting it get me down. So I’m cherishing the memories I have, riding whatever dystonic spasm that gets thrown at me, and celebrating the wonderful opportunities that I am fortunate enough to have had and to be receiving!