Can you believe it’s been 5 years of blogging already? I can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly this has come around. It feels like just last week, I searched for a webhost desperate to spread awareness of Dystonia after feeling like I was floundering in a sea of uncertainty with little resources to pursue in my quest for answers. Now I confidently tackle my condition head on and happily refer people to resources I have come to know and trust.
When I started blogging it was completely in the mindset that it would be purely to raise awareness. Over the last 5 years this has evolved to be a space where I can openly and honestly express myself without fear, safe in the knowledge that someone out in the vast vacuum of the web will be able to relate to what I am going through. My blog has become a site for awareness, expression and connection; I cannot get over how many online friends I have made. Whilst I am sad that so many of you have to live with this life altering condition, I am thankful for each one of you that has become a vital part of my day to day support network.
Over the last few years this blog has been nominated on several occasions for awards, won one, and even become a resource that several neurologists hand out when diagnosing new patients (this still flatters, astounds and thrills me). I’ve had other sufferers pounce on me with hugs and their stories at hospitals; I love this, it shows me that I am doing something right.
Just a few years ago, reaching this milestone seemed ridiculous. I didn’t know how to live each day let alone 5 years with this hideous condition. Now, several diagnoses later, I have learned to find joy and laughter in my spasms, to treasure every moment that puts a smile on my face and be thankful that drs like my neurologist exist, for without my neuro my world would be darker (literally). So instead of being disheartened that 5 years on I’m still battling, I’m lifting my chin, defying my alien and celebrating each little success.
Summer has arrived without a doubt, beautiful cloudless sky, sweltering heat and wonderful days out whilst I’m on my uni holidays. However, the arrival of summer also means that my body is working extra hard to compensate which has resulted in periods of tachycardia, eye and other spasms and an increase in pain. Sunglasses are now a permanent feature to try and relieve a bit of pressure on my eyes, but short of sitting in the freezer there’s not too much that can be done.
When I first became ill I found my focus was entirely on all the things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. Over the years I have conquered all the hurdles I was facing or found ways around them. Going to university was a huge deal and quiet the achievement for me. I’d been so reliant on others for years that living on my own and only having care for a little while a day was a nerve wracking decision to make. As you can imagine the idea of juggling a baby and uni has been a bit daunting.
At first, I didn’t know how I would manage both, but last week we ventured up to my university so I could sit my last exam of my second year. I was extremely lucky that my lecturer was willing to look after Stefan whilst I sat the exam. This has given me the confidence that I can do both, and that I’ll find ways to cope, for example little things like strapping the pram to my wrist so that if I have a seizure or have an extreme spasm he’s perfectly safe and can’t go anywhere. Small things like this put my mind at ease and reassure me that despite my conditions I can manage life as a student and mum.
It’s been over a month since I last posted here, thank you for all the lovely comments and emails checking that I am okay. I’m absolutely great, on the 14th May at 22.15pm I gave birth to our little boy Stefan Elijah. I have spent the time since adjusting to life as a new parent and learning how to respond to my conditions postnatally.
I was extremely lucky during labour as my body behaved far better than I expected it to and my seizures never reared their ugly head. Despite my original concerns about an epidural I requested one, my labour was induced via a hormone drip which meant my contractions were rather literally constant which I didn’t cope well with. Whilst the epidural didn’t work fully (I could still move my legs and feel a lot of pain despite several top ups) it took the edge off and between it and gas and air I was able to cope far better. I went from saying I couldn’t cope anymore to having my inner geek come out and compare labour to an Orc trying to get through a hobbit hole! I have no idea how long my labour lasted, at 6.30ish pm I was only 3cm, so I was not classed as being in established labour, yet less than 4 hours later our little boy was here.
Since the birth my pain levels have dropped dramatically, I think mainly due the fact that he is no longer able to dislocate my ribs! Whilst I’m counting down to my botox injections, I’m thrilled knowing the appointment is in the post, I’m managing my jaw and other spasms rather well. I no longer push myself to get through any plans I had for the day if my spasms are on the more painful side, as it’s not worth risking having a seizure. Doing this has meant that I’m not wearing my body out and am needing less medication.
My Ehlers Danlos is causing a few issues at the moment. During birth I obtained a 2nd degree tear. Despite being stitched up at the time my body isn’t healing, so almost a month on I still have an open wound. Whilst I wait for a plan of action to resolve this I’m resting and on regular antibiotics to help.
All in all I am extremely thankful that the birth was so straightforward and I am loving life as a new mum. My partner is a fantastic dad and is great at helping me out and letting me grab some more sleep. I’m aiming to get back to blogging more frequently over the next few weeks, so check back for updates.
Its been a few weeks since I last posted, and it’s mainly because I don’t have a clue where to begin. My body has been doing what it does best and excelling at being complicated resulting in very confused Doctors trying to figure out what to do with me; I’ll let you know if they ever figure that one out!
Functional is how I would describe myself at the moment. In that I can get up and dressed but it’s causing a lot of pain, and then that’s my spoons used up for the day. I’m pretty sure sleep would make me feel a thousand times better, but between my iron tablets (I’m extremely anaemic) causing severe sickness morning and evening, spasms, palpations and generalised pain, I have found that I am lucky to get three hours of sleep a night. As most people with chronic illness know being fatigued makes everything harder and it all seems a lot worse than it probably is. This has resulted in tears quite regularly recently simply because I don’t quite know what to do to help myself.
I’m currently 33 week pregnant, so there’s not long left to go. It reassures me to know that once baby is here I can go back on my Botox injections and safely take stronger painkillers and muscle relaxants again. Whilst I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ll be able to avoid going back on high doses of these, it’s comforting to know that I will be able to manage my pain far better.
I’ve been in bed for three hours now, tossing and turning. My left shoulder is agony, and I have horrific nerve pain in that arm and over my right rib. I feel rather emotional, and wishing for the ever-elusive magic wand to be waved to take the pain away. I know that this flare up in the long run will be worth it, and once the baby is here I’ll forget about it. But right now, coping with a flare up of my current conditions and a flare up of my new symptoms is making things feel pretty tough.
I’m hoping that whacking my TENS unit on full and using my heat packs will help me get enough sleep tonight that tomorrow is better.
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.
When you’re chronically ill you rather quickly get a feeling for the attitudes/how well informed the Drs in charge of you are on your conditions. IF you’re lucky you get a wonderful open minded Dr who takes the time to listen to you, my neurologist is a perfect example of this and has always fought for me. However, and sadly it seems more frequently, you come across Drs who are either simply not up to date (with everything they have to know this is understandable), or they just seem to enjoy being ignorant on the matter.
In 2012 I was admitted with worsening Dystonia to a nearby hospital, during my inpatient stay I developed pain triggered non-epileptic seizures. They completely dismissed my Dystonia and told me that it and my seizures were completely psychogenic and that the only treatment I would benefit from would be psychotherapy and that the seizures could not cause me any harm. This diagnosis was based on the fact that in my early teens I’d been physically abused, it didn’t matter in their eyes that I had sought years of counselling, and had put that section of my life far behind me. Months later I met my wonderful neurologist who confirmed my original diagnosis of Dystonia and informed me that my seizures had absolutely nothing to do with my past, but were caused by my body’s inability to cope with the significant levels of pain that I experience.
I have over the last few years been told repeatedly that my seizures cannot cause me any harm. It’s always fun to point out to the Dr at this point that this isn’t true when it happens on the stairs, or from standing, or crossing a road…the list is endless. In recent months, my POTS & EDS consultant has queried whether my seizures are in fact related to my POTS and autonomic dysfunction, but again this falls on deaf ears amongst my current local Drs.
It’s coming up to 5 years since my first run in with this particular hospital and their attitudes have not changed in the slightest. Last night I was taken by ambulance to hospital after having a seizure, I collapsed from standing and gave my head a rather good whack on the loo as I fell. Normally I wouldn’t go to hospital straight away for this, but due to hitting my head and being pregnant the hospital advised me to call an ambulance. This turned out to be a good call as halfway there I had another seizure which negatively impacted my breathing.
I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital recently due to my faulty body, so have got to know the staff in the wards relevant to me quite well. This also means I now dread every single visit. When the Dr came this morning for the ward round I felt like holding a hand up and saying chill I’ll leave now. He leaves me doubting my own sanity each time. However, I held my tongue and heard him out, just in case he’d actually done some research over night; he had not. Instead he gave me the usual lecture and then threw in that after discussing my case with a consultant, that has never met me before, they were going to refer me for psychotherapy for my seizures.
I’m beyond angry. At the back of my notes, and I inform the staff of this every time I am admitted, there is a letter from my neurologist explaining my seizures, explaining that it’s not just in my head and as clear as day states I need IV muscle relaxants and painkillers during one, and that there is no psychological deeper issue that needs dealing with. However, it’s become apparent that turning to the back of my notes and reading this letter is a far too complicated process.
Having to go through the same frustrating and time wasting process every single time I visit this hospital is exhausting and frankly disheartening. I know that I did need to go yesterday and get checked over, but coming up against the same walls over and over again leaves me feeling like I would be better off avoiding this hospital at all costs and I can at least self-treat at home to a degree. It’s sad that 5 years on from my first encounter at this hospital, the same issue has yet to be dealt with.
Pain at the moment is my constant companion. After weeks of agonising, seizure inducing pain, and more hospital visits than I care for, I was informed I’d dislocated two ribs. I normally handle dislocation rather well; if my thumbs have popped out, it’s no big deal, I can pop them back in with ease, my jaw causes a fair bit of pain and in some cases I need help relocating it, but the majority of the time I can manipulate it back into place myself. My ribs however are a completely different story, there’s not a lot that can be done about it. I’ve had several medical professionals try and get them as close to where they should be as possible, a tear-jerking process might I add, and every time within hours they are back out of place. Sometime it’s simply because I twisted too fast or I sneezed or, if I’m a real dare devil, I tried to get out of bed. Everyday basic activities cause enough pain for me to be on regular codeine four times a day, and tramadol if I start seizing. The hospital doesn’t know what to do with me at first, they admitted me to: rule out anything more serious such as gallbladder problems; keep a close eye on the baby (who’s coping miraculously well with my faulty body) and keep me on regular doses of paracetamol, codeine and oramorph. Whilst they thankfully didn’t find anything on the scans that needed surgery, they did notice that both my kidneys are distended which won’t be helping my pain.
Now I’m back at home and it’s hard to know what to do with myself. There are some brief moments in the day when my pain feels manageable, like earlier today. Foolishly this afternoon, I decided to take advantage of feeling okay and fold some baby whilst clothes sitting on the floor. You would think that this is a job that shouldn’t take too long and isn’t exactly taxing, right? Wrong. The pain quickly got extreme enough, despite codeine, for me to realise if I didn’t lie down flat on the floor asap I was going to risk hurting myself as I knew my ability to stay conscious was fading. Whilst being on the floor was enough to keep me conscious for the majority of the time (I’m pretty sure I had 2 or 3 seizures), it wasn’t enough to stop my brain from going into functional paralysis mode. I spent just over an hour unable to move any part of my body, struggling to get my eyelids to flicker and completely unable to make a sound. I knew I needed help and that my partner was in the next room, but I had zero ways of indicating to him that I was in trouble.
It’s like having your mouth gagged, your eyes taped shut, and your entire body rolled up and bound tightly in a weighted blanket; the entire time even your thought processes become sluggish and it takes effort just to think. There’s so much temptation to just give in to unconsciousness, I can feel it on the horizon, creeping closer and there’s not a lot I can do to keep it at bay. Some days I admit I welcome it; being functionally paralysed terrifies me, I can’t bare being aware of how helpless I am at the moment in time. Other days simply managing to remain conscious feels like the biggest victory I could ever ask for and achieving it is my way of fighting back.
After about an hour on the floor I had regained enough control of my body to make small noises and through the blessing that is voice technology instruct my phone to call my partner. Eventually we got tramadol into me and managed to move me to our bed. I’m exhausted, it sounds bizarre but having your brain cut off from the rest of your body is shattering. I’m now curled up, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, relishing in the slightly duller pain. I’m admittedly scared to even consider moving but the pain killers have enabled me to feel my body and I’m in a safe place which is all I can ask for.
Over the last few weeks several of my consultants have advised me to stick to bedrest and insisted I use my wheelchair if I choose to go out. With most of my recent trips out mainly being hospital appointments, this wasn’t too hard, and so I didn’t get too worked up about it. I will always be the first to admit that I’m not great at being in a wheelchair, it’s not the lack of independence that bothers me (as the whole point of the chair is countering how dependent on others I am), no my issue comes from trusting no-one, including myself, of being in charge of a wheelchair
These issues come from within, and anyone who has paid witness to my attempts to push myself will agree, I am awful. Spatial awareness and coordination are key components when nailing the art of wheelchair driving; skills I am lacking in. I am surprised shopkeepers don’t barricade the doors when they see me coming so as to preserve their stock. The most impressive incident was in New Look around 3 years ago, the domino’s effect I caused in the sale aisles was comedy gold. Due to my interesting wheelchair skills, I tend to presume that those pushing me will be just as awful as myself, resulting in many ‘please don’t kill me’ panicked expressions whenever they dare to venture near a curb! In my opinion wheelchair driving lessons should be part of the deal when being prescribed one.
Yesterday Damon and I moved into our first home together, so decided to take a trip into town this afternoon to pick up the odd household supply. We’re very lucky that the area we live in is rather flat, it couldn’t be more perfect, this means that I’ll be able to get out and about even when my conditions are severe, which is something that previously would have been impossible. Damon’s quite adept with the wheelchair (we’ve yet to crash in to anything), but that didn’t stop me from pulling hilarious terrified expressions repeatedly whilst we were out today.
Out and about, no curbs insight
Reenactment of approaching a curb
Happily away from any curbs…reenactment of curb fears
When I was first prescribed my chair, although it provided me with freedom, I found accepting that I needed it hard. In my eyes, it was a reminder of what I was unable to do. Now when I look at it I automatically smile, my fear of it always provides so much laughter, and it enables me to do every day activities, something that I’m extremely grateful for.
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.
I have spent the majority of this week at varying hospital appointments, today is my rest day before heading back to the hospital for more testing tomorrow. Frustration and disappointment has been my main response so far to these visits. Part of this is most likely because I am under the care of several different specialists who are experts in their respective fields and generally wonderful. I’m quite lucky to have them as my doctors. However, every now and then I meet a new Dr and have to fight the same misconceptions and preconceived ideas from scratch; it’s exhausting, emotionally draining and depressing.
I’m quite good at finding the positives in being chronically ill, I’ve been known to be in agony, hospitalised with spasms and dislocations and still be giggling away at whatever ridiculous manifestation my symptoms have appeared in this time. That being said I’m aware of how important it is to be completely honest with my care providers about how I’m managing and asking for help when I need it.
I had been counting down to yesterday’s appointment to see the local obstetric consultant as I am really at a loss with what to do to help myself. The advice so far has been plenty of bed rest and to use my wheelchair if I have to go out. This makes sense and I’ll admit I was unreasonable hoping the Dr yesterday would wave a magic wand, but university restarts at the end of the month, my fingers dislocate when I push myself and I’m pretty sure turning up to uni doesn’t count as bed rest. So I sat in front of the consultant asking if there was anything, even the smallest suggestion, that he could think of to help me help myself. “Just stay positive” was his advice. It was also the last thing I wanted to hear. 5 minutes later he admitted he didn’t have a clue about any of my conditions, so I walked him through them briefly. His advice changed to just come to hospital every time you have a fainting episode so we’re aware of you; my episodes are at the moment generally occurring over 10-20 times a day, so I’ll just move in shall I?
This whole appointment got me thinking about my array of conditions, which are confusing and do overlap, so for those of you who are curious here’s a brief introduction.
Generalised Dystonia – this trickly little brain alien causes painful and often debilitating spasms in my eyes, jaw, neck, left arm and torso. It’s not curable, and every patient presents slightly differently. It’s currently playing up as I’m off treatment for the rest of my pregnancy.
2) Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3 – Unlike my Dystonia, unless I have dislocated or subluxed you cannot tell I have this condition. It causes fatigue, brain fog, pain, dislocations, allergies amongst many other symptoms.
3) Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Dysautonomia- This is a relatively new diagnosis for me. Currently this means I can’t even sit up without my heart rate shooting through the roof and my blood pressure plummeting. It’s pretty bad at the moment, due to blood pooling when I eat I pass out during meals. I also pass out if I get too hot, move too quickly etc. My autonomic nervous system is basically a bit temperamental and therefore many different automatic functions can malfunction.
4) Non Epileptic Seizures – Previously my care providers thought these were pain related but now they think my PoTS may have something to do with it. Often Drs misunderstand these seizures and presume they are either psychogenic or part of drug seeking behaviour. 5) Endometriosis – I fought for years to have this investigated, constantly being told that it was simply bad period pains. Many drs ignored the fact that they were every 2 weeks, extremely painful, and very heavy. By the time a diagnostic laparoscopy and treatment was carried out extensive damage had been done and I was told that my chances of unassisted conception were very low. This make me all the more grateful for our little miracle.
6) Chronic Lyme Disease – Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that if caught early can be treated easily. When it becomes chronic, like in my case, it is extremely hard to cure. It affects multiple systems and therefore is frequently misdiagnosed.