Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, for the majority of people, stirs up a lot of emotions. Its a process we all go through at different rates, and there is no wrong or right way about it. With illness there is often a sense of loss of normality, for every individual that’s different depending on your condition and what symptoms your experiencing. I really wished I had been given a heads up back when I first got ill about the grief I would feel, for the profound sense of loss I would experience. I fell into a really deep depression and for a long time was in denial thinking that somehow I was just going to wake up one day and be able to return to my Midwifery degree. If you go back to some of the first blog posts I ever wrote on this site it’s really quite easy to pinpoint which part of the Grief cycle I was in.
I turned to a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindful Meditation to help me come to terms with my health and my new reality. This was a good mix and after a fair amount of time had passed I reached acceptance. Now don’t get me wrong I still had blips, a friend would announce they had decided to train as a midwife, or I’d find my old coursework in a clear-out and I’d slip mentally for a few days, but I would always be able to pick myself back up again. However what I didn’t expect, and again I wish I had been warned that this was a possibility, was that with each new diagnosis that got slapped on to me, and with every new symptom that became clear was on a downward path and here to stay; that I would find myself having to repeat the Grief cycle again.
It of course make sense that you would have to. You are after all experiencing a loss of sorts again. Mentally and physically its challenging and draining. It is natural for you to grieve, to be angry, to want to challenge what your going through until you reach some sort of acceptance. I’ve found myself going through this again recently. I’m on my 7th bout of Optic Neuritis, along with loss of all sensation in my right leg; I have next to no use of it currently. My local neuro team suspect MS but are investigating fully for all demylation diseases to ensure nothing is missed. Finding myself once again with more limitations, really sent me spinning. I found myself asking why over and over again. I felt like I needed an explanation because it seemed insane to have yet another condition added to my already extensive list. I’ve not reached acceptance yet, but I’m remembering my mindfulness and I’m defiantly moving through the stages quicker this time.
If I had to give one tip to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic illness it would simply be to kind to yourself and to remember to practice self care. Your allowed to grieve, its natural, don’t beat yourself up. Make sure you don’t bottle your emotions up, confide in someone you trust. you will feel better for it.
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.
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.
When I left university, I didn’t have much hope. I associated my midwifery training, the potential that it held, as a measure of success in life. Being unable to physically do the job anymore because my brain didn’t want to cooperate with my body left me feeling like a failure. For a while I didn’t particularly want to do anything but curl up on my bed and cry. My university was fabulous, they held my place moving it all the time for me, but I think we both knew I was too ill and in denial. I was grieving for a life that I wanted more than anything, I’d had a taste of it and I didn’t want to give up and let go.
After a period of feeling sorry for myself and being angry, I began to realise I had two quite simple choices. I could continue the way I was going, I could be bitter and resent myself for having an illness completely beyond my control. I could allow myself to continue in a downwards spiral, enabling the bleak abyss inside me to take over. Or I could snap out of it. I could pick myself up, slap a smile on my face and fight. I’d never gone down without a fight before why should now be any different?
In all honesty this choice is one I have had to remake several time over. Finally admitting to myself at the beginning of this year that the Dystonia being so generalised was going to prevent my Midwifery dreams was a difficult but positive step. For over two years I have fought in every way I can to continue having a normal life, I have studied, done charity work, attempting to find some way of finding even a glimpse of the fulfilment that I felt on my Midwifery course. Qualifying as a Reflexologist sparked something in me, I enjoy it thoroughly, but I am limited in my practice due to the Dystonia. My creative writing A Level though I love with a passion, reading and writing are two of my favourite activities. Studying them, well that’s just fun for me!
Last Friday (20 February) an article I wrote for Cosmopolitan went up on their website. For the first time in such a long time I felt a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I wanted to yell from the roof tops. I never thought I would see the day I would have an article on Cosmo’s website. I’m rather tempted to frame it. This experience has given me such a boost, it’s shown me that despite having Dystonia tuning life upside down and giving it a good old shake, I can still do whatever I put my mind do. It has been very empowering and a much-needed wake up call. Feeling full to the brim of nervousness, excitement, and joy; showed me that writing can give me every passion filled sense that Midwifery did, I just have to push myself. Dystonia can try to stop me but it won’t manage to.
Today’s blog post shall be brief as I have been up to London for my Neurology appointment and am now very tired. My Neurologist was quiet apologetic and concerned that the last lot of injections had not worked, which left me with my normal extreme spasms. Apparently this sometimes does just happen for whatever reason, but to be on the safe side in the hope that this will work better, he upped the amount he was injecting everywhere. This has reassured me and helped to quell my fears that this batch of my injections may not work. I am now feeling decidedly more positive about it.
He confirmed the Hand Therapy’s diagnosis that the Dystonia is in my hand as well. However my symptoms in my hand are nowhere near as severe as the symptoms in my neck, jaw and eyes which is very positive. He stressed it was important not to aggravate it, I’m guessing this means I really need to learn how to walk without tripping over my own two feet…or my walking stick! This once again throws my Midwifery dreams out the window. I’m starting to realise that until a Neurologist hands me a pill and says this will cure you that I need to find a new dream. Now that’s not to say that I’m giving up on it, it’s more like putting it to bed for a long sleep until/if it becomes a realistic option again. I left university in the summer of 2012 on health grounds and for the last two and a half years I have built my Midwifery hopes and dreams up only to have them go up in flames around me more times than I can count. For my sanity I need to take a break from the emotional rollercoaster ride that that dream has taken me on. My year of training was the best experience of my life and I treasure it and for now that will do.
My reflexology career has now also been put on hold due to the hand Dystonia. Whilst my neurologist said he didn’t mind me doing the odd bit of Reflexology work, I have to be careful not to overdo it. I have always loved reading and writing. I can get lost in books for hours on end and will happily write all day. There are plenty of degrees out there in Creative Writing and Publishing, perhaps I shall discover a new dream down that road. For now though I must put my love of reading into action and brush up on information on another genetic condition I have been diagnosed with. I’ll fill you in on this new diagnosis next time.
Yesterday marked two years since I became ill with Dystonia and had my whole life turned upside down. I went from first year student midwife having the time of my life to struggling to do simple tasks like putting jeans on or getting around the house. Life has not been the same. I must admit that despite my best efforts I was rather emotional yesterday and found it extremely difficult to be cheery. However I must slap myself on the wrists and wipe away the tears because despite all that life has thrown at me I have not and shall not give up. Yesterday may have been the two-year mark, but today is the day I found out I have qualified as a Reflexologist and tomorrow is full of possibilities!
I could focus on the negatives, for example the many ambulance trips to hospital, but there is simply no point in that. Where would it get me? Over the last two years I have achieved so much, met the most inspiring people and had opportunities to do things I would not have been able to do if I were not ill. I may not be exactly where I thought I would be now, yet I have achieved more than I thought I would be able to whilst living with Dystonia. Life is unpredictable and is a bag full of mixed emotions, but what you are given is what you have to deal with. I do not see the point in letting it get me down. So I’m cherishing the memories I have, riding whatever dystonic spasm that gets thrown at me, and celebrating the wonderful opportunities that I am fortunate enough to have had and to be receiving!
My mother posted the photo below on my Facebook wall the other day. The words I find ring so true to me! I dream of being a midwife, and because I have experienced what the life would be like, I dream of it even more. So I will keep on fighting my dystonia, I shall push my body further each day, until my brain understands what it is meant to do! Its going to be hard, and I know that I am going to have good days and bad days, but next September I will return to uni and recommence my midwifery training! It may be hard to get there but that wont stop me!
So today my head it full of things bouncing off each other. I had a theory that I touched on briefly post or two ago that I have now put into action. Today I went to specsavers to get my eyes tested, as I was convinced my last eye prescription was wrong, my thoughts was right. My eyes often feel like there being strained and I find it hard to focus on words or the TV etc. as it really hurts my eyes. This, I think, is why my eyes then spasm upwards and go blind. Therefore today when I purchased my new glasses I also had a tint put on them and anti-glare (the Optician felt it was necessary, and would help my eyes a lot). If my theory is right then this should completely stop my blindness. I am hoping that my theory is right!
I would love to talk to my consultant about this theory and all the amazing improvements I am making at the moment, so that he is kept up to date and could offer his own thoughts and advice. Somehow though I don’t think this will happen any time soon, especially as the urgent email (he told us to email him if we needed him) we sent him 4 weeks ago has still gone unanswered, despite phoning his secretary to chase it each week. This I find slightly odd as when I was not his patient he answered our emails the very next day. I shall just wait/chase them some more and see what happens.
I am still mega excited about the prospect of returning to uni in September! I am still improving a little bit more ever day, which I am taking as a positive sign. Therefore I have completely thrown myself back into studying/revising the topics we did at uni. I just cannot wait to be back there!
Today I had a fantastic conversation with my university, they have decided to give me an extension on my sick leave until next September. They are going to call me again in February to see if my condition has improved.
This has given me so much hope! My dreams of being a midwife are not over! I have just got to continually push my brain/body in an attempt to make a recovery. I am hoping that I shall get there! Time to start revising everything I had already learned as well to refresh my memory!
Today is one of those days where I find myself thinking about everything. The other day I had to inform my university that I would not be able to return to my midwifery training because of my Dystonia. I still have to speak to them a bit more about it in the next few days. Yet sitting here right now, my body is completely behaving, I feel normal. I feel like I am able to just get up and walk about and do what ever I want. Part of me even dares to say you’re fine. However I know I am not fine, yesterday evening I went blind three times, my jaw was in spasm and my body was very jerky. I know that the reality is that I am not fine or ‘normal’, but my body at this very moment in time feels like I am.
A large part of me wants to just get up and walk about and see what happens, I know that there is a huge chance that my right leg shall immediately play up and I will end up on the floor, but then again if I don’t try these sort of things out, how will I ever know what I can and cannot do, or what progress I may have made.
My consultant, when I first met him, gave me the impression he was wonderful and would fix me. The reality of it has finally sunk in, unless you’re sitting in front of a consultant or doctor the chances are that unless you fight them they will do bugger all for you. The way I see it right now is that I have two choices, I could spend my days feeling sorry for myself and waiting until October/ November next year to get treatment or I could start pushing my body a little bit further everyday and start trying to retrain my brain myself.
Over the last few weeks I have tried to push myself, so far it has been successful 98% of the time. I can now use my right hand to hold a spoon, I can stand with my right foot flat for about a minute or two which is a huge step. I am making what I think are huge positive step forwards and that is without the help of doctors or consultants, the people who should be helping me! I have also noticed that I tend to go blind when I feel like my eyes are straining, the obvious solution to this in my mind, is to go to the options and get some new glasses, so my eyes don’t have to strain so much, after all there is no harm in trying and it may stop the blindness.
What irritates me the most is that I am having to struggle through this and try to figure out how to beat Dystonia with very little help from the medical profession. They are the people who should be giving me ideas of how to help myself, or new things to try etc, yet their not doing any of this, I am lucky if they even return my calls or emails. The care the NHS provides shocks me constantly, I feel completely abandoned by them. However I will not settle for this level of care. I plan on doing my best to bringing attention to the failings of the NHS system.
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