Botox for me is life changing. Without it I would be hospitalised on an NG tube, unable to talk, swallow, eat, or drink. I’ve ended up in that exact situation previously. It’s unpleasant to say the least. I’m fortunate enough to receive Botox from my neurologist every twelve weeks and then a top up at the six week mark in the cycle from my maxofacial team to keep my jaw going.
I am extremely fortunate to experience very little in the way of side effects. Generally speaking I get ‘botox flu’ for a few days after and a flare in my complex regional pain Syndrome symptoms in my arm. This time though my mouth has been weakened slightly by the Botox. It’s not physically painful in anyway at all, it simply means the corners of my mouth are dropping.
At first I didn’t notice it to much, then I was hyper aware. I found myself wanting to be in pictures as little as possible as I knew I’d fixate on the turned down corners of my mouth despite the focused effort to smile. I was finding myself deleting photos of myself and the kids, myself on days out etc, over something as ridiculous as an altered smile.
It’s not as obvious in both photos above, but the fact I’ve kept these picture is a big step forward. I started to think about the example I was setting my children. It was not a healthy one. I do not want them to grow up thinking that we should scrutinize photos for imperfections. Photos have always been for us a treasure trove of memories, to help remind us of the many memories we have made together. Both my kids love getting our photo albums out to look at and this something I hope long continues.
My altered smile, is not permanent, however it is a reminder that I am one of the lucky ones who receives treatment and responds to it. That is something to celebrate not to fixate on. Whether it stays droopy or returns to normal I’ll keep snapping photos of our days out making memories. After all it wasn’t long ago I thought Dystonia meant the life I have now would be impossible. Forever thankful for Botox injections and medication.
I had really debated whether or not I would post this blog. As you will know over the last 7 years I have strived to share the ups and downs of my journey with you all in a brutally honest fashion. However what I am experiencing right now is something I am finding to be increadibly difficult to deal with and awfully humiliating at times. However as I have found in the past that ripping the metaphorical band aid off and sharing bluntly with you all to be rather helpful I figured I may as well start at the beginning.
I shall try to keep it brief. About three weeks ago after several days struggling with a dislocated jaw and severe spasms to the point I couldnt eat or drink I collapsed in the kitchen. The resulting head injury leading to an ambulance needing to be phoned. Several seizures later I was whisked off to resus. I dont remember much of the first four or so days in the hospital. Luckily despite being severly ill I had the sense to keep notes of my concerns, for example being denied antisickness and painkillers following several hours of vomitting and seizures.
For some unknown reason that was never communicated to me all of my medications were stopped the whole time I was in the hospital which led to uncontrolled seizures, spasms and pain. My kidneys were found to be damaged, there are changes to my spine and in my brain matter, I have been diagnosed with epilepsy. Twice whilst I was in there I had an NG tube placed and failed. Unfortunately the second time round it took the drs 6 hours to view the xray showing it misplaced. In this time I was quite distressed due to the fact I was violently vomitting blood due to a tear from the ng in the lower eosphaoghes for the better part of the 6 hours all with a dislocated jaw. A rather agonizing experience.
Throughout my 6 days in hospital I was on IV fluids 24 7 due to the fact I currently am having extreme difficulty swallowing and can go days at a time unable to do so. At the point of discharge I had managed a few sips in a 3 hour period and was discharged with no plan of action. Its been a hurrondous time since then with me only getting worse. However I am now also completely bowl incontinent which has left me terrified to leave the house. But being the mum of a 2year old means fear cant win.
Hopefully I’ll have a more optimistic update soon.
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.
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.
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.
As some of you may remember, a couple of months ago I blogged that I was off all my medications and was learning to cope without them. Many of you noticed that I was very vague with my answers as to why myself and my neurologist had made the decision to do such a thing. After all, I’m normally complaining about my treatment being administered late. At the end of the summer I had the biggest surprise when we found out that we are expecting our little boy! Whilst very exciting, this meant a frank discussion with my neurologist about the available treatment options now open to pregnant me. There have been very limited studies done on the medications that I take for my varying conditions in relation to the safety of them in pregnancy, so a decision was made for me to come off of all my treatments and we would judge where to go from there.
I am extremely lucky to have a wonderful neuro who doesn’t mind me/my local hospital inundating him with emails and phone calls as my body plays its usual tricks. Although my body has been misbehaving with varying spasms and dislocations, the pregnancy itself has been progressing well. Due to having a whole host of conditions that are on the rare side of things, I have been under the care of a specialist maternity unit. It’s been fascinating seeing how they respond and their treatment suggestions; and very positive, as for a change they understand one or two of my medical conditions.
Despite weeks of horrendous 24/7 sickness, a spell in the hospital due to my Dystonia going on the rampage and a whirlwind of further hospital appointments as my body learns new tricks, I have continued with my university studies and plan on continuing into my 3rd and final year after the baby makes his appearance.(Thank Goodness for a uni with a fabulous disability team and amazingly supportive lecturers).
I’m looking forward to blogging about Dystonia and Me’s, and bumps adventures.
I cannot believe how quickly this year has flown by, it feels like just the other month I was curled up writing my usual Happy Christmas blog post. Looking back at my blog posts from the last year it has been a rather hectic emotional roller-coaster. My blog was set up to raise awareness in 2012, but rather accidentally for me it developed into a rather useful therapeutic outlet. For you guys that means whilst I do post the happy stuff, the negative is slightly more frequent. This is simply because life is unpredictable and the good, bad and the ugly don’t come in equal measures.
So to help end the year on a positive spin here are just a handful of things that have kept me smiling this year that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t chronically ill.
January 2016 – After BBC 3 Counties found my Cosmo Articles and my blog I took part in a quick phone interview to discuss disabled dating and ‘The Undateables’. Having been approached by ‘The Undateables’ before I took advantage of this opportunity to express how labels such as the shows title really are not helpful when tackling social stigmas.
February 2016 – I was invited down to the BBC 3 Counties studio to participate in a valentine’s day segment on dating and disability. I was extremely nervous but the humour I manage to find in my conditions meant that I had several great stories to tell. It was a surreal experience that received great feedback and really boosted my confidence.
March 2016 – Finally I realised the importance of not apologising for being the way I am. My genetic makeup makes me who I am. So what if I am a bit of an oddball with misbehaving limbs? If you feel uncomfortable around me then take a look at yourself and your views first, because my genetic make-up isn’t something that can be fixed and I no longer feel like I have to apologise for it.
April 2016 – After waiting just over a year I finally was admitted to The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore for a 3 week inpatient pain management program. I’d been extremely nervous about this, and if I’m being honest didn’t see how they could help me short of waving a magic wand. 8 months later and I’m still putting my pacing lessons into practice (I slip up now and then but on the hole I manage much better), and I have a flare up plan that works!
May 2016 – this had been a hard month, between being assaulted and the Drs telling me they were pretty certain I had MS (turns out I don’t but that was a scary few weeks). I was pretty much at my lowest point here. Then at the end of May I was offered a preliminary contract with Britain’s Next Bestseller. Now sure I may not have reached publication due to not hitting the pre-order requirements but hell that was a confidence boost and a half. I had a publisher believing in my work and that’s good enough for me.
June 2016 – I was still being investigated for MS, but with a wonderful man by my side I was managing to take it all in my stride. I was starting to see the funny moments in being ill again rather than allowing myself to be swamped in fear.
July 2016 – This marked 4 years since I had had to leave my midwifery training. Usually I would mope about and be quite tearful. This year whilst the sadness is still there I can smile when reflecting on it. For if I had never become ill all the wonderful opportunities I’ve had over the last 4 years would never have happened.
August 2016 – my partner gave me a key. I think I just grinned for the rest of this month.
September 2016 – I started my 2nd year at university. I’d survived my first year and am fortunate to be studying at a university that goes above and beyond to help meet my needs!
October 2016 – I was pretty ill and hibernated for most of this month. The fact that I recognised this and took care of myself was a huge leap forwards for me.
November 2016- I ended up back in the hospital for awhile. Nothing out of the ordinary in that respect other than the fact I have a huge fear of this particular hospitals neurology team. After being misdiagnosed by them before it was no surprise when I found them to be as pigheaded and ignorant as previous. The difference this time around was that I had the confidence in myself, and enough knowledge of my conditions to advocate for myself rather than allowing them to treat me incorrectly.
Everything that’s happened throughout the year whether big or small has been impacted by my health. Previously I would have told you that was awful, I wish I could be ‘normal’; whilst yes I’d love to be healthy, I cannot deny I have an exciting fun filled life that if I wasn’t a spoonie would have been drastically different.
Recently after seeing my neurologist a decision was made for me come off of the majority of my medications. It is not a decision that either of us made lightly but there was little choice in the matter. For the last four years, I have been completely reliant on a cocktail of medications and injections to simply make my day to day life manageable. It has taken years to find the right combination of medication and injection frequency, so taking a step away from all of this had been extremely frightening; I had no idea how my body would react or how I would cope. Whilst there was every possibility that in actual fact I would manage perfectly well, I was also painful aware of my medical history, of the years spent with weekly ambulance trips to the resus department. This is not something I ever want to repeat.
At first I was managing fine, the emotional ups and down that come with weaning yourself off of medication was nowhere near as bad as I had expected, and I had managed longer than 6 weeks without botox; which is frankly a miracle. However, over the last two weeks or so I started to worry, I put my symptoms down to an ongoing cold I’ve had for the last month. There was a familiar tugging sensation in my jaw, my eyes were slightly more aggravated than usual, and I was experiencing ‘violent shivers’. Before I was diagnosed in 2012, I always called my arm twitches ‘violent shivers’, it was my way of convincing myself there was nothing wrong. It’s funny how easy it is to fall back into bad habits.
This weekend my jaw has been particularly bad; it was deviating dramatically and starting to tremor. My only medication option was codeine, which left me feeling slightly spaced out but did nothing for the pain I was in. Since then my body has gone dramatically downhill. Last night my jaw spasmed, violent tremors followed, dislocations occurred and then my arm spasms joined in. I had forgotten how much pain all of this can inflict.
After very little sleep and being no better this morning I arrived at my emergency doctors in the hope they could suggest anything to help. I generally judge how bad I am by the Drs reaction; she was appalled I had ended up in the state I am in and was lost as what to do. So now on her instructions I am curled up in bed encase I have a seizure, I have emailed my neurologist in the hope he may contact me sooner rather than later, and I’m waiting for her to phone me back with an action plan. She had been debating trying to admit me in to hospital, and as much as I have my concerns with my local hospital due to previous experiences, I cannot help but feel that this is this best place for me as I can no longer eat and I haven’t successful managed a sip of water since early this morning.
Five years ago I was ordering every midwifery textbook and journal listed on my degree reading list; excitedly absorbing every word each page had to offer. Through that next year I lived and breathed for the job. I am immensely proud and blessed to have had that opportunity and experience.
That year, however was blighted by ill health. I had operation after operation and frequent trips to the local A&E. Reflecting back on that time I can track the dramatic decline in my health before my Dystonia took root at the end of July 2012 and Benedict my Dystonia Alien became part of daily life.
For the first year I honestly did not cope. People would tell me how well I was doing and silently I would disagree. I was spending the majority of my time holed up in my room desperately searching for any other answer, any other curable illness that could explain my symptoms. I had no idea how to be me anymore. I had built my whole identity around midwifery, the reality that I was, and still am, to ill to practice had me in denial for many years.
Since 2013 I’ve rediscovered how to live and enjoy life no matter the severity of my symptoms. It does not matter if I am reliant on a wheelchair/stick/splint or if my body is spasming to the point of distortion and dislocation, there is always something positive to latch on to.
Now that’s not to say down days don’t occur, they do but on a far less frequent basis than previously. Generally these are only after baffling drs or a new diagnosis being added to the growing list.
Living life with a goal oriented focus has been a huge help for me. It doesn’t matter how big or small the aim in mind, the motivation it provides is key. This mindset has enabled me to qualify as a Reflexologist, complete an AS in creative writing, start a new degree that I adore and now focus on getting my novel to publication.
Aiming and achieving my goals enables me to feel as if I am defeating Benedict. I know he’s never going away but it makes living with him easier. When I first got diagnosed I could barely imagine the next week let alone year. The idea of living with my conditions for any length of time was to painful and deeply upsetting. Four years on I can look to the future with the knowledge that my body will never function as it should but excited as to what new milestones I can achieve next.
After receiving several messages across various social media platforms regarding the pictures I’ve been posting, I figured it was time I addressed them. The quick answer to your questions is I found a really great guy.
Who is he?
Meet Damon, my ridiculously wonderful boyfriend. He’s rather fantastic, and sees my chronic illness as just part of me being ‘unique’. Whether I’m twitching and hitting him, panicking about new symptoms, or worrying about hitting my preorder requirements he’s supportive and helps to keep me grounded and calm. He has an ability to make me giggle no matter my pain levels, and understands that I would always much rather laugh at my conditions than make a big deal out of it.
Is he Coffee shop guy?
Nope he isn’t. However, our first date did start off in Costa Coffee. We sat across from each other and had a fab laugh before heading down to the local museum where I promptly spilt the remainder of my coffee down the front of my jeans. He had to spend the next few hours walking around with me looking like I had had an accident. Luckily Damon is equally as clumsy as myself, so laughing off incidents like this is a frequent occurrence.
How come you haven’t blogged about him?
Well I have mentioned him briefly in a blog a couple of weeks back. But I decided to hold off on blogging about him whilst our relationship developed. I’m blessed that not only does he understand that I don’t want my illness to hinder my life but that I also need to pace myself (which as you all know I am rather terrible at). He is really good at reminding me not to use my spoons up, and checking that I am physically up to whatever we have planned that day.