Posted in Archive, June 2022

Neurological Comfort Blanket

*Professor Wonderful has been my neurologist for a little over a decade. When I first became ill at 19 my symptoms broke me. I went from being a confident but accident prone 19 year old, who loved every second of her degree to a spasming, wheelchair bound young adult whose carefully planned out career was slipping through her misshapen fingers. The day my mum collected me from uni I cried the whole way home. I was on sick leave but I knew I wasn’t coming back. There was a twisting pit in my stomach that knew it.

Over the next few months we would clasp at every hope offered that I would get better. Meanwhile I continued to deteriorate. Every road we took was slightly different but each one mentioned Prof Wonderful name as the expert in my symptoms. My mum being the force of love that she is found his contact details and emailed. A few weeks later we sat in his office.

After months of seeing consultant after consultant, each previous appointment more crushing than the last I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was used to being told I could stop my eyes from spasming if I wanted to, being told by multiple consultants that my symptoms were the result of the abuse I’d gone through in my teens, or being left with the results failed operations (a mouthful of broken wires ) with the spasms broke the wires being used to try to control and he ghosted me rather than fix the mess. My expectations were low. Yet my preconceived judgement vanished when he shook my hand and immediately noticed my hypermobility, he referred me to a specialist that day which resulted in my EDS diagnosis. I can remember crying in the lift after the appointment. They were tears of hope.

He did so much more than provide injections. He listened. When I got ahead of myself when my symptoms improved and thought I could go back to midwifery he gently disagreed. He was right. When I’ve needed my team’s to communicate he has fought to ensure they all do to help ensure I’m getting the right care. When he left his post at the hospital I was first under him at I was reassigned to a different consultant. He refused to give me injections at my usual frequency or dose. I went downhill fast, so contacted my original neuro who immediately had me transferred back to his care.

When he informed me on Tuesday he was leaving and no longer would have a patient facing role it was all I could do not to be cry like the last time. I knew it would happen one day. I’d just hoped it would be a long way off. After all these years he is essentially a comfort blanket of sorts, a safe place amongst the god complexes and arrogance that I’ve come against time and time again. I’m nervous about this new chapter. Here we go.

Posted in Archive, February 2020, march 2022, november

Baseline Pain

The start of last week I found myself stood in front of the walk-ins reception desk, politely frustrated. The receptionist, with her raised in exasperation eyebrows, questioning loudly my reason for being there. Yes it did sound ridiculous. Who attends a hospital for a dislocated jaw, then loses consciousness while inhaling penthrox and comes too no longer on the a&e trolley but face first on the floor with two nurses helping your brain fogged self back to bed; before swiftly relocating you and discharging you despite protests of I think I’m hurt. Then presents at the unit 3 days later complaining of pain. I get it I sound mad. In one final attempt to be taken seriously I lift my top up, lowering the left side of leggings and underwear, revealing the deep purple bruising that consumes the left side of my body.

I feel embarrassed and humiliated. To have had to expose my body in a packed waiting room so as to be taken seriously is maddening. However this is isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. In that same visit I was criticized by drs and told my pain threshold must be low as my walking wasn’t bad enough for serious damage He soon ate those words. People forget that I live every day in pain, this happens even in situations like this where we’ve just discussed my conditions and the professional has glossed over my issues rather than accepting my offer to explain further. I wake up and relocate the joints that came out over night every morning. My baseline of daily pain is that of most healthy person’s A& E trip level.

Between my hip/leg damage, general nerve damage and nerve flare from my Botox I’m doing my best to pace and get through the day slowly. It’s tiring but worth it. So much awareness is still needed in this world.

Posted in April 2018, Archive, September

Wonky But Happy

“Hmmm that’ a nasty dislocation to have long term, take some morphine.”

“When you next see your neurologist, if I were you I would discuss having your botox more regularly. This degree of deviation, pain and dislocation on a regular basis is not good for you.”

“Wow. Ehlers-Danlos, and Dystonia. You couldn’t have asked for a worse combination of conditions there.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to go the hospital? I’m sure the A&E department will listen to you this time. I’ll even write you a note.”

These four word-for-word quotes from different health professionals give you an insight into the last week and a half of my life. My botox has worn off a couple of weeks ahead of schedule around my jaw, the rest is still working well, so overall I’m pretty happy. However this does mean I’ve been experiencing regular extreme spasms and dislocations in my jaw again, which in turn has an impact on my ability to talk, eat and drink.

Whilst my ability to communicate using British Sign Language is steadily improving, I took a trip to the doctors to get a prescription for some painkillers and muscle relaxants, as I’d like to eat, drink and talk in as little pain as possible. Whilst I have access to oramorph this is my last resort medication, and not something I am willing to take around my son unless it is an emergency. The doctor couldn’t quite believe the predicament I was in, let alone get his head around the fact that I did not fancy sitting for a couple of hours in my local A&E at a hospital that has repeatedly provided the wrong treatment despite direct instruction from my neurologist. I stated to him that as I don’t respond to local anaesthetic I would much rather take the painkillers and muscle relaxants at home and relocate my jaw myself when the spasm eased off. At this point I think he would have dragged me to the hospital if he could have.

We discussed at length (well I scribbled out for him what I was attempting to convey) my botox arrangement with my neurologist. It stunned him that I was willing to put up with these spasms for a further two and a half weeks. The moment was an odd one, with me not really in a great place with my distorted face, twisted neck and dislocated jaw to protest that actually I was doing great, but then he didn’t know me six years ago when I was bed bound, he didn’t even know me a week beforehand when my botox was working well, so I can see where his concern comes from.

At the time the above four quotes drove me nutty. But I know I’m easily wound up when in pain, so I can’t say that I am surprised. In reflection, whilst my jaw still is causing me significant pain from my current dislocation I can see my progress in pain management and self-care; which is an element I am proud to have improved on.

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Posted in Archive, June 2017

Oromandibular Dystonia & Communication

 

In 2012 one of the first symptoms I developed was severe Oromandibular Dystonia. This meant that my jaw, mouth and tongue go into painful, and often extreme spasms. On these occasions I struggle to speak; this can be due to several factors such as: my tongue spasming and making it impossible to talk, the jaw spasm itself, especially when dislocated, making it impossible; or it is simply too painful to do so. I often attempt to try and talk through the spasm but this can aggravate it.

Trying to communicate during these episodes is difficult, even if I manage to successfully make a noise, what I am attempting to say may not be clear. In recent weeks, since the birth of my baby, I had been trying to think of ways around this. Writing it down is one option, however, I find physically writing very painful and often dislocate when doing so. Instead my partner and I have decided to learn British Sign Language; we’re incorporating baby sign language into this too so that Stefan, when old enough, will understand as well.

We’re off to a great start and enjoying this venture. I’m finding that I feel far more settled knowing that I’ll be able to communicate clearly, even on bad days. As someone who is quite the chatterbox, this is important to me.Image result for BSL

Posted in Archive, January 2017

Accepting Limitations

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.

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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.

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Posted in Archive, July 2016

Would You Apologize For Shivering? Didn’t think so!

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.

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.

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Rocking my wheelchair!

Posted in Archive, July 2016

Four Years On

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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted in Archive, June 2016

Finding Benedict

I was up in London today for an appointment with my fantastic neurologist. Whilst I always stress over the little things like timings, how the injections will go and medications, I never stress over seeing him. His manner is so calming that during the appointment I feel as if it doesn’t matter what he says, it’ll be okay as we will always put a plan of action in place to try and make the future as pain free and positive as possible! The hospital I attend has some fabulous Toy Story themed stickers on the wall in the waiting room which I love. As I’ve mentioned before I always picture my Dystonia to be a Toy Story style alien named Benedict. Which is why this picture naturally had to happen today 🙂

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Finding Benedict!

I’m currently coping with Optic Neuritis on top of everything else. The hospital which I’m under for this had decided to leave it up to my neurologists as to whether or not I was treated with steroids. He has decided that he wants me started on steroids and wants an MRI with contrast carried out, as this is my second flare up in six months. I shall be spending Thursday at the eye hospital so hopefully I can talk to them about getting all of this put in to place and moving forwards.

Overall today went extremely well.

Posted in Archive, May 2016

Progress; Laughing Through The Pain

As Dystonia Awareness Week draws to a close it is hard not to draw comparisons to previous years. Today is my beautiful sisters 21st birthday; Happy Birthday Eloise! To celebrate we drove down to Portsmouth, where she is studying, to visit her for the day. This is something we do each year for her birthday, and it’s always a fantastic laughter filled day.

The first year we did this was 2013, my Dystonia was still very much new to me and we had not found a treatment regime that worked yet. Due to this I had sunglasses on and off all day as the sunlight was aggravating my blepharospasm, I was wearing several layers and huddled in blankets as the bite of the wind was increasing the severity of my spasms. At this time, I was completely reliant on a wheelchair. I had major trust issues when it came to people pushing me around, I was terrified they would tip me out, so you can imagine how I felt about this.

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2013

Whereas today I got out the car and strolled to my sister’s house; if I had still been in my wheelchair I would not have been able to get through the front door! I was able to enjoy the sunshine without worrying about my eyes, and it was hot enough to not need to layer up. Even though my Botox is a week late I only had a handful of spasms over lunch, and I simply laughed through the pain. I think my mother may have doubted my sanity at this point as she asked me to recite the alphabet backwards to prove I was completely conscious.

Today has been extremely upbeat, it has shown just how far I have progressed thanks to ongoing treatment.

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2016

 

Posted in Archive, May 2016

Dystonia: Who am I now?

There are many aspects to life with Dystonia; to address them all would take hours. So I’m going to focus on just a few this evening. As with any condition, once you are diagnosed, many sufferers go through a soul searching period. This is simply trying to work out who you are now. Inevitably we all change, for better or worse, once a chronic condition develops. You’re still the same person, just with a few modifications.

At eighteen I was a Student Midwife. There was not a lot else that made me who I was. I was a daughter, girlfriend, and student. I felt fulfilled. If you had told me then that in less than a year I would be unable to practice midwifery I would laughed. Midwifery was my passion, to even entertain the thought of another career seemed ludicrous. I could talk about the subject until I had grossed people out enough that they were begging me to stop! Now at 23 I am a daughter, student, freelance writer, blogger, reflexologist, advocate and Spoonie. Midwifery is but a happy memory that still brings a tear to my eye. I put up with less drama, I have no patience for anyone who only wants to be around during the more upbeat moments of my condition, and I am a hell of a lot stronger than I used to be.

It has taken four years to get to this stage. I have gone through denial: refusing to acknowledge that my illness won’t just disappear. I was so lost in this that I even reapplied and was interviewed to go back to study Midwifery. A small moment of madness in reality. I have grieved for the person I was, and that life that I lost. I have floundered in uncertainty, whilst those around me helped keep me from sinking into waves of despair. Now I finally have accepted who I have become. Despite everything I have been through, and am still going through, I am happy and thriving.

There are still days when I question why I have experienced the things I have. Only last night I was joking that I must have been a dementor in a previous life, for why else would I be sentenced to this path? Melodramatic I know, but it doesn’t make that feeling any less. Despite my illness I have no regrets. I am surrounded by people who love and support me every time I fall. Through my Dystonia I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of individuals who I admire greatly. I have made many new friends. I have contacts around the globe! At the end of the day, I am happy. I cannot ask for anything else.