Today you published the article ‘Matt Dawson: I had to have heart surgery after a tick bite’. At first I was thrilled, it is always uplifting to see articles highlighting this condition being shared by the mainstream media. However as I eagerly absorbed each sentence , I could feel my heart sinking further in my chest. In fact I’m pretty sure it dropped straight out of me and into the flat below under the weight of my disappointment! You could have taken this opportunity to really highlight the world wide issue when it comes to diagnosing and treating Lyme and Chronic Lyme Disease. The fact that you didn’t leap at this opportunity is beyond me. What happened to the BBC being at the forefront of reporting, challenging the establishment, pushing boundaries?
You even went as far as mentioning that if Lyme goes untreated it can go on to attack and cause ‘debilitating neurological problems’. This was your perfect opening to delve into the devastating condition that is Chronic Lyme; you could have examined how the tests for Lyme disease are extremely inaccurate and false negatives are a frequent occurrence; you could have investigated how NICE guidelines have left the few doctors who are up to date enough with the research in the area to believe in Chronic Lyme, unable to treat their patients without risking their medical licence. You could have mentioned how, if you are in the unfortunate situation of having to fundraise money to pay for your treatment, you are looking at a minimum of £10,000 for private medical bills and that there is no guarantee that you will be cured. You could have investigated how many people that are given the early treatment are actually, years later, successfully cured.
I was bitten by a tick at the age of 6, at the age of 22 I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. Almost 3 years on and I am still fighting. Last year I was informed by neurologists that they were 99% certain I had MS, but then my MRI came back clean, when I brought up Lyme my case was swept under the carpet. Sufferers are abandoned, left to battle their own way through the system, made to feel like a fraud whilst their lives and their health fall apart. Unlike your report suggests, it’s not as easy as walking into a hospital and stating you have Lyme and hoping for treatment. It feels like a life sentence.
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.
Today is Rare Disease/Disorder Day 2017; it’s focusing on bringing much needed attention to complex conditions that are sorely in need of more research. I’m not going to to go into much detail about each of my individual conditions as each of their awareness weeks are just around the corner, what I’d like to discuss instead is my experience of day to day life when you have a rare condition.
When you read the words mobility aids I’m going to bet that the majority of you instantly conjured up an image of a wheelchair, crutch or walking stick. You’re not wrong all three of these are part of my day to day life depending on the condition of my body that day; and just because I perhaps didn’t need a wheelchair first thing that morning, doesn’t guarantee I won’t be completely reliant on it an hour later. In my daily life I have to use compression gloves, splints for my thumbs, wrists, arms and knees, neck brace and ankle stabiliser to try and keep my body in a somewhat functioning capacity. Now that doesn’t mean that I wear them all 24/7, but at any given time I’ll have the majority of them on.
A selection of my day to day living aids
I’ve had to come off the majority of my medication due to pregnancy, but I’ll admit I’m counting down to being able to have my botox injections and anti-inflammatory meds again. Just 5 minutes standing at the moment is enough for my feet, ankles and knees to swell up like balloons and takes a good hour to go back down. If my body is really playing up then just standing up wrong results in a knee slipping out of place. Between the spasms, the subluxations/dislocations and seizures, medication has become a vital part of my everyday routine. This involves being aware of when in the day I have taken them, remembering which ones it’s important to eat beforehand with and which ones I need to avoiding eating before taking, it involves planning in advance to make sure I never go out without my medication on me plus bringing along some spares because you never know just what may happen.
It’s been almost 5 years and I’m still not used to the looks and comments I receive. I’ve heard it all, that if I drink enough green tea, lose weight and seek therapy then I’ll be cured. People don’t seem to realise that every suggestion they can throw at me I’ve most likely tried, and that living with a chronic rare condition isn’t like getting over a bad cold. My brain literally doesn’t work in the manner it should, my genetic makeup is faulty which has resulted in a connective tissue disorder that will only get worse, and don’t even get me started on having a treatable chronic infection that the NHS won’t treat as A) They don’t like to admit that Chronic Lyme Disease exists and B) They’ll treat me if I get a positive lumbar puncture but because I have a movement disorder I can’t have a lumbar puncture. Honestly it’s all a bit of a joke.
It can be difficult dealing with general society and medical professionals refusing to accept your explanations. To a degree I don’t blame them, half of my symptoms are crazy and, as they are rare, people aren’t familiar with them and like to brush them under the rug. But doing that doesn’t make it any better, the symptoms don’t magically resolve themselves, if anything they get worse as I’m not receiving the treatment I need.
My Health Varies From Minute to Minute
There’s not much rhyme or reason to my symptoms, which makes it hard to predict what to expect and when, which in turn makes it difficult to manage. One day I may be perfectly capable of getting up, dressed, and having a generally active day. The following morning I may wake up unable to even roll over in bed. The unpredictable nature means planning in advance is key but also difficult. More often than not plans are cancelled at the last minute due to ill health.
The Reality of Knowing I’ll Never Get Better
This is something that I’ve known since 2012, but with every new diagnosis of yet another rare condition that cannot be cured it gets harder to deal with. I find it hard to picture anything ahead of time simply because I know these illnesses aren’t going anywhere, that pain is always going to be a prominent feature in my life. How do you cope with knowing that? It’s been 5 years and I’m still working on acceptance. What I find hardest is when people say in a well meaning manner “I hope you get better soon”. It’s an automatic social nicety but it brings out the jealous monster in me. I want to be well more than anything, it’s just not a reality for me, and knowing that the one condition I live with that can be cured is unlikely to ever be sufficiently treated due to sheer stupidity inflicted on sufferers by NICE guidelines, well that just takes the biscuit.
Yesterday was a hard day physically & emotionally. I was struggling to sit up without my heart rate shooting through the roof, experiencing extreme dizziness, fatigue and high pain levels. This is my new normal though, and it’s exhausting. Late morning I had a phone meeting with my university disability advisor. She enquired about my symptoms and their impact on day to day life, along with what advice I had been given from the Drs; this was so that a plan could be put in place for me to safely complete the next semester of my degree. Admitting that I was fainting 20-30 times a day on average, had been advised to be on bed rest and use my wheelchair if I had to go out (which results in dislocations if I self-propel) was not something I found easy to vocalise. The little stubborn voice in the back of my head was protesting that I was perfectly well enough to physically attend my lectures. However not being able to guarantee I’ll remain conscious, being unable to eat without fainting, and with tachycardia developing just by sitting up a decision was made that I could not safely attend uni without putting myself at risk. Normally I’d argue against this, and I wanted to, but I have to remember that it’s not just myself I would be putting at risk. Now this doesn’t mean I’ll be putting off the semester till next year, it just means I’ll have to complete it from home which is perfectly doable.
Despite the fact that I know this plan of action is reasonable and realistic I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I know I’m not well enough to attend class, but to me that’s not acceptable I feel as if I should be trying harder; it’s a ridiculous attitude to have, but it’s there nonetheless.
Late last night I found myself feeling deflated and quite sorry for myself. I know this is pain related, I haven’t had so many bad pain days in a row for some time, so when periods of pain flare ups occur it impacts my view of things. Normally I’d just increase my meds, count down till my botox injections, knowing that in a matter of days I’ll be enjoying a good spell again. The fact that (unless an emergency spasm occurs ) there is no botox, no muscle relaxants, and limited pain relief options available until after the baby is here is hard. This is mainly due to having to accept my limitations once again.
Talking through how your feeling is something that I feel is undeniably important in enabling a person to help themselves. It’s the main reason I’m composing this post, so that I’ve expressed myself and can start focusing on being proactive rather than moping about. I spent a good chunk of time talking to my mum about this turn of events yesterday afternoon. Looking back now I can already laugh at the number of times I uttered the phrase “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know what to do”. The reality is I understand perfectly well why I’m not able to go to class, I have a crystal-clear understanding of the fact all of my chronic illnesses can get worse during pregnancy (and the majority of them have) however this is a temporary change, I also understand it’s okay to feel this way.
There’s really not a whole lot I can do to change the situation, unless anyone can point me in the direction of a fairy godmother? I can manage my pain the best I can but other than that focusing on the positives that surround me is the best way to keep smiling; when I look at what’s already happening this year (moving to a new flat, expecting our son, still being able to complete the academic year, and a publisher agreeing to take on my novel) I have to admit I have more than enough to be smiling about.
Can you believe that today is the fourth birthday of Dystonia and Me? It is astounding just how much difference another year makes. My battle with Dystonia and my other conditions is one that for a long time I have felt I was drowning in. It has seemed like a constant tug of war, desperately trying to stay on top of my symptoms. For many years it seemed to me as if my little alien was always ten points ahead of me, and I was treading water trying to regain my lost control and catch up. Today I can quiet firmly say I am miles ahead of my alien, I am now basking in the peace of coping.
I’m not saying that I don’t have my down days, there are plenty of days when my spasms, seizures and dislocations just seem too much. However, what I am achieving makes those days worth while. In the last year I’ve completed my first year of uni, managed to live a life so full that it’s been beyond my wildest expectations for myself, I have been nominated for an award, interviewed several times by the BBC Three Counties, and I have had a blog post censored (which is why if you’ve been looking for the last one you have been unable to find it). I’ll let you guess as to which one of those I am most proud of.
When I started blogging it was to raise awareness of Dystonia, in a short period of time it has grown to encompass a whole host of conditions that I live with. In 2012 when I created Dystonia and Me, I had hoped a handful of people may read this site and learn something new that could have the potential to help others. I never expected this blog to become the lifeline that it is for myself. Blogging my experiences, good and bad, has enabled me to accept my complications and learn to love myself again. Through this blog I have come into contact with incredible people who I admire greatly.
If you had told me a year ago I would be writing this, I would have laughed. I was so caught up in my worries and excitement about starting uni that I never thought to think what could possibly lie ahead. Who knows what will happen in the next year!
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.
Yes that’s right Dr, at the tender age of six I was bitten by a mythological creature. Within six months of this terrifying beast having a chew on my thigh you diagnosed me with M.E. You had exhausted all other diagnostic criteria. Not once did you consider that something so dramatic as a dragon bite may have occurred. Had you have taken a thorough medical history maybe right from the start you would have suspected Lyme Disease, perhaps you would have treated me and cured me of this hideous illness straight away. But how silly of me. You are a Dr, you do not deal in the likes of maybes, possibilities and mythological creatures; only cold hard facts, ones that fit nicely into your tick boxes.
Over the last 17 years do you know how many times your kind have uttered the words “It would appear you have X, but I am unsure because you just don’t fit into any of these boxes exactly!” Since when did the boxes become so rigid and unadaptable, are we not all unique individuals with our own mix of conditions that affects us all in varying ways? If as people we are so unpredictable in the way a condition may manifest, why then are your boxes so unforgiving. Only Monday of this week the Dr sat there trying to decide whether to diagnose me with inflammation of the optic nerve in both eyes or inflamed retinas in both eyes. Frankly the lovely woman was lost, I had her quiet confounded. She could see plainly that I was rather ill, her barrage of tests confirmed that, but not one of them could put their finger on as to why. I sat there quietly next to my mother, both of us whispering “The dragon bit me 17 years ago, but you don’t believe in Chronic Lyme Disease.”
Now replace the word dragon with a tick. This small seemingly insignificant creature is known to carry, in many cases, Lyme Disease. A disease that more often than not will report a false negative during testing due to the lack of accurate testing methods available. Oh but a lumbar puncture would pick it up you say? Yes, it sometimes does, but my neurologist swears me away from it for fear of making my Dystonia worse. One hospital says we will give you IV antibiotics that you need to cure you but we will only do this if you have an L.P, another admits they are 100% certain I have chronic Lyme but their hands are tied due to regulations that are out of date and blinded with inaccuracies.
Chronic Lyme is often hailed as the Great Pretender. You only have to look at me to see why. Here I am in another flare up of symptoms, attempting to treat each one as it appears. Its distressing really, knowing that IV antibiotics would cure but regulations prevent this as I’ve had both positive and negative results. So in the meantime it’s a guessing game of what will subdue the next round of symptoms for now.
If only Drs believed in mythological beasts like Dragons and Lyme Disease.
When I saw my personal trainer Beckie the other day she pointed out to me that she had trained with me for a year now. Reflecting together on the progress I’ve made in the last year was a real eye opener. I think sometimes I forget just how much I have improved, I allow myself to become absorbed in the pain and the spasms. I focus on fighting constantly against the Dystonia. When I met Beckie I could barely stand for even twenty seconds without my legs spasming, my whole body out of control, I was completely reliant on a wheelchair. Lyme disease was eating away at my life and I was fighting what felt like a losing battle.
I remember the first time Beckie came round; it was a meeting between herself, my mother and I, to discuss what exercises I could do without setting a seizure off. Although our aim has always been to not trigger a spasm, I’ve always made it clear that if I spasm, I don’t mind. Let’s pause, wait for it to pass and then carry on. I’ve carried on with my mind-set that my brain will learn (I understand that this is unlikely but a girl can hope)! When we began it was completely baby steps, learning what my body would cope with and what would cause it to throw a complete fit.
Now, after being on Lyme treatment for a year, and finding a regular Botox regime that works for my Dystonia, I am capable of so much more in our sessions. Some exercises still cause my body to go into spasm, but I apply the same method as I did a year ago, pause, wait and then continue. It works every time. Beckie has helped me strengthen my joints after my body successfully caused a lot of damage to them. I will never forget the look on my physiotherapist face when she first assessed my legs and realized the damage the spasms had done to the ligaments. I’ve gone from not being able to stand for more than twenty seconds to being able to walk. I admit I need knee and ankle splints to be able to do so, and sometimes I need walking sticks, and if I’m having an awful day I rely on my wheelchair. BUT I have made so much progress. I don’t reflect often enough. Looking back on this time last year I cannot believe how far I’ve come. I look forward to the progress I can make in the months to come. Learning to manage these conditions one step at a time.
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.
I haven’t posted anything in almost a month as I have been bursting with such amazing news that I wanted to share around Christmas. As many of you know each year since I got ill in 2012 my goal has been to be able to walk by Christmas. It never mattered to me whether that was with the use of splints, walking sticks etc., as long as I was up and out of my wheelchair and back in control of my legs. Thanks to the private hospital I am under who are treating me for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease I now know how much of my body is Lyme and how much is Dystonia. I am absolutely thrilled to say that my jaw, neck and my arm twitches/jerk spasms are all of me that is Dystonia; I could cry with happiness just writing that as I am extremely lucky that these three are controlled well by injections and medication.
I’m still having a lot of physiotherapy to help me learn to walk, and due to my EDS type 3 I have to wear a number of splints on my legs to help support my joints. I even have funky pink polka dot walking sticks. I’ve got a lot to learn still as due to my damaged ankle ligaments I fall over a lot, this recently resulted in a dislocated finger and broken tendon. However that is minor in comparison to the joy I feel. The private hospital I am under have decided to prescribe me another 3 months of medication, along with running several new tests, but that’s a separate blog post for the New Year.
My neurologist has been so supportive, when he first met me I was unable to walk and even attempting to stand was rather risky. It is great to be able to go for my injections and see how thrilled he is for me. He is pretty sure that the Chronic Lyme is what caused my Dystonia due to damage it can do to the brain. Although the spasms I am left with are painful, and my Oromandibular Dystonia can cause my jaw to dislocate, my symptoms are much more manageable now than what they were!
On that positive note I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Fantastic New Year! I shall be back to my regular blogging self in the new year.