The exact cause as to why people develop Dystonia is currently unknown for the majority of people. For a small group of people it occurs due to a gene mutation, brain injury, infection, secondary disorder, or as a result of medication. Pinning down the root of the condition is something that research is currently focusing on.
So far we know that for some unidentified reason there is an issue with a section of the brain called the Basal Ganglia. It is known that this region of the brain enhances activity in the motor cortex which controls the agonist and antagonist muscles. In a healthy person when they make a movement the way the muscles contract and relax is coordinated and harmonious. However with Dystonia there is a deficient inhibition in the antagonist muscles which can result in both sets of muscles contracting simultaneously. It’s not clear why this happens.
The Dystonia Society UK have a fantastic wealth of information on the ins and outs of Dystonia, which I would really recommend reading to find out more information on the condition. For now it seems unlikely that any one particular theory will be proven right in the immediate future, so I shall continue to personify my Dystonia into a cheeky little alien, it’s a far more entertaining cause.
It’s currently the 2017 Dystonia Awareness Week in the United Kingdom. Usually I would have kicked off awareness week on time (yesterday) with a blog post, and as has become tradition, would have been sporting some lovely green streaks in my hair. Instead I’m currently in the hospital due to a flare up of my Dystonia; at least the timing is appropriate and they’ve given me some sexy green slipper socks (so I’m squeezing the go green awareness campaign in).
Currently The Dystonia Society UK estimates that around 70,000 people are affected by the condition, making it the third most common movement disorder in the UK, however it’s thought that the affected number of people affected may be far higher due to a lack of knowledge within the profession affecting levels of correct diagnosis. Dystonia presents in a vast amount of varying ways across all age groups which adds to the complications when it comes to diagnosing patients.
Only a few decades ago it was thought that Dystonia was caused by psychogenic roots, thankfully through giant leaps forwards in research we now know that this isn’t the case; many people will never know what triggered their condition, whilst others now know that their Dystonia is caused by either a genetic mutation or brain trauma. Sadly despite the leaps in understanding of the condition many medical professionals still mistake this as psychogenic condition and therefore do not treat the patient appropriately.
This is one of the reasons that awareness week is so vital, without awareness and fund rasing events research into causes and treatment options comes to a halt. At this moment in time there is no known cure for Dystonia, but treatment can have a significant impact in a sufferers quality of life.
Though out awareness week I’m aiming to blog daily, however this may alter depending on how well I am.
Can you believe that today is the fourth birthday of Dystonia and Me? It is astounding just how much difference another year makes. My battle with Dystonia and my other conditions is one that for a long time I have felt I was drowning in. It has seemed like a constant tug of war, desperately trying to stay on top of my symptoms. For many years it seemed to me as if my little alien was always ten points ahead of me, and I was treading water trying to regain my lost control and catch up. Today I can quiet firmly say I am miles ahead of my alien, I am now basking in the peace of coping.
I’m not saying that I don’t have my down days, there are plenty of days when my spasms, seizures and dislocations just seem too much. However, what I am achieving makes those days worth while. In the last year I’ve completed my first year of uni, managed to live a life so full that it’s been beyond my wildest expectations for myself, I have been nominated for an award, interviewed several times by the BBC Three Counties, and I have had a blog post censored (which is why if you’ve been looking for the last one you have been unable to find it). I’ll let you guess as to which one of those I am most proud of.
When I started blogging it was to raise awareness of Dystonia, in a short period of time it has grown to encompass a whole host of conditions that I live with. In 2012 when I created Dystonia and Me, I had hoped a handful of people may read this site and learn something new that could have the potential to help others. I never expected this blog to become the lifeline that it is for myself. Blogging my experiences, good and bad, has enabled me to accept my complications and learn to love myself again. Through this blog I have come into contact with incredible people who I admire greatly.
If you had told me a year ago I would be writing this, I would have laughed. I was so caught up in my worries and excitement about starting uni that I never thought to think what could possibly lie ahead. Who knows what will happen in the next year!
Every now and then I receive wonderful comments/emails/tweets from people expressing how reassuring it is to see me post pictures of my spasms. These messages often include phrasing such as “I don’t know how you do it, it’s very brave” and “I wish I had your confidence”. I don’t talk about this much, but when it comes to my spasms my normal confident self generally disappears. The stares in the streets, the whispers of “look at her face!” and people’s general ignorant remarks “Could you please stop or do it elsewhere” (usually in reference to my arm spasms) have caused me countless hours of upset. I don’t believe in wasting hours on being tearful over something I have no control over though, I hope the pictures below show that while hard, life as a spoonie can be fun.
Does this splint blend in?Laughter; the key to making the most of the spasm free moments!
In many ways I’m your stereotypical 23 year old, I take way to many selfies, own far too many shoes and grew up head over heels in love with books; a passion that has resulted in me wondering where to put them all now I’ve run out of shelves! I have all the insecurities that is normal of somebody my age: I am overweight, I do not care enough about fashion as I’d rather be comfy, and don’t even get me started on my complexion. It’s tiny insecurities that are perfectly normal but when combined with my spasms often results in self-deprecation. There are days when I can walk about not particularly worried about some of the smaller spasms I experience, and then there are days when I’m hyper aware and embarrassed when in public, not just because I need an aid such as my wheelchair or stick, but because my eyes are spasming causing functional blindness, and my jaw is contorting to the point of dislocation; this is all whilst my left arm is casually attacking anything in range.
Teaching myself to accept the alien
When confronted by people asking me to refrain from spasms, I try to politely explain that it’s nothing I can control and apologize. But why should I. Should you apologize for shivering when cold? It’s a natural reaction that you would never dream of uttering apologies for. So why then should I issue out apologies for something that is just as natural. Sure, everybody and their friend may not experience it, but it’s my brain firing off incorrect signals that are just as natural as your shiver or yawn.
I live in pain every day and never know what to expect from my body. Yet people judge me for this. If all I manage to accomplish that day is a shower and pulling on a clean pair of pyjamas then who cares, all that matters is that I achieved it, other days I am capable of so much more. But just because I have had the energy and ability to carry out a task at that point in time, does not mean I will be capable of performing the same task five minutes later, let alone the next day.
I try to live every day ignoring the sideways glances and stage whispers, enjoying everything I am fortunate enough to experience. These days I try to capture my spasms on camera, as after all they are just as much a part of me as the functioning parts of my body. So when you are say I’m brave and ask how I cope the answer is quite simple. I’m not brave, I am stubborn, Dystonia and my host of other conditions will not stop me from living life. Coping is a different matter altogether. Some days it’s as easy as breathing, and laughing feels like the answer to everything. Other days curling up in my bed escaping into books where the words provide comfort and distraction is all I can do.
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.
Yes that’s right Dr, at the tender age of six I was bitten by a mythological creature. Within six months of this terrifying beast having a chew on my thigh you diagnosed me with M.E. You had exhausted all other diagnostic criteria. Not once did you consider that something so dramatic as a dragon bite may have occurred. Had you have taken a thorough medical history maybe right from the start you would have suspected Lyme Disease, perhaps you would have treated me and cured me of this hideous illness straight away. But how silly of me. You are a Dr, you do not deal in the likes of maybes, possibilities and mythological creatures; only cold hard facts, ones that fit nicely into your tick boxes.
Over the last 17 years do you know how many times your kind have uttered the words “It would appear you have X, but I am unsure because you just don’t fit into any of these boxes exactly!” Since when did the boxes become so rigid and unadaptable, are we not all unique individuals with our own mix of conditions that affects us all in varying ways? If as people we are so unpredictable in the way a condition may manifest, why then are your boxes so unforgiving. Only Monday of this week the Dr sat there trying to decide whether to diagnose me with inflammation of the optic nerve in both eyes or inflamed retinas in both eyes. Frankly the lovely woman was lost, I had her quiet confounded. She could see plainly that I was rather ill, her barrage of tests confirmed that, but not one of them could put their finger on as to why. I sat there quietly next to my mother, both of us whispering “The dragon bit me 17 years ago, but you don’t believe in Chronic Lyme Disease.”
Now replace the word dragon with a tick. This small seemingly insignificant creature is known to carry, in many cases, Lyme Disease. A disease that more often than not will report a false negative during testing due to the lack of accurate testing methods available. Oh but a lumbar puncture would pick it up you say? Yes, it sometimes does, but my neurologist swears me away from it for fear of making my Dystonia worse. One hospital says we will give you IV antibiotics that you need to cure you but we will only do this if you have an L.P, another admits they are 100% certain I have chronic Lyme but their hands are tied due to regulations that are out of date and blinded with inaccuracies.
Chronic Lyme is often hailed as the Great Pretender. You only have to look at me to see why. Here I am in another flare up of symptoms, attempting to treat each one as it appears. Its distressing really, knowing that IV antibiotics would cure but regulations prevent this as I’ve had both positive and negative results. So in the meantime it’s a guessing game of what will subdue the next round of symptoms for now.
If only Drs believed in mythological beasts like Dragons and Lyme Disease.
The title says it all. I am filled with relief. I have spent the last week hardly sleeping, overthinking and consumed with dread at today’s hospital appointment. Good news for a change though. I do not have MS! The Dr was uncertain as to whether the issue with my sight is being caused by inflamed optic nerves or inflamed retinas, she’s leaning more towards the problem being with my retinas. Because my left eye, which is my ‘good eye’ also shows signs of being affected I have been prescribed a 3 week course of steroids to help speed up the recovery process.
Emotionally I feel drained, and a lot of sleep needs to be caught up on but I am thrilled to know what’s going on with my body and that it can be sorted! This evening is being spent recuperating with Harry Potter, and dairyfree chocolate. What more can a girl want?!
Since I last blogged things have been hectic. I have spent the majority of my days either at the hospital having various investigations carried out, or on the phone to them chasing down followup appointments. This week I have had more bloods taken and an MRI of my brain, eyes and spine with contrast performed. Tuesdays MRI experience seemed a bit surreal. It took 35 minutes, three medical personnel and 7 attempts before I was successfully cannulated as my veins were up to their usual disappearing act. This time allowed for me to internally become quiet anxious at the thought of being in the MRI machine for a minimum of an hour – in the end it was about one hour twenty. I am generally not a claustrophobic person, but this machine brings that fear out in me, this is most likely exacerbated by the fact that I have to be strapped to the table to ensure my spasms cannot move me around to much and distort the images.
My stress levels have been through the roof this last week. I have fought so hard over the last four years to be put on a medication regime that allows me to have more control over my body again, and live a relatively normal life. The mere thought that my body may become more of an issue again is distressing. However I am lucky that I have a good support system in place, my family help keep me distracted, my boyfriend is great at talking through my concerns with me, and my councilor has been a fantastic space for me to vent and explore my frustrations at my faulty body.
I get the results of my MRI on Monday. So I shall know then whether more investigations need to be carried out or if it is MS.
This week I have had three GP appointments, and visited three different hospitals. It’s been busy to say the least. For the majority of it I have managed to stay relatively calm and think in clear cut clinical terms. Today that went out the window. My GP this morning, unhappy at the treatment I was receiving at another hospital sent me with an urgent referral to my nearest emergency eye unit. It has been an extremely long day of explaining symptoms, examinations and watching the same concerned expression on the nurses and Drs faces, when they realize that yes I really cannot see out of my eye.
Optic Neuritis for the second time in just under six months had the Drs in charge of my care today fairly concerned. Today they presented the fact to me that they had to consider that Multiple Sclerosis was the reason behind my Optic Neuritis. So tomorrow I’m heading back to the hospital for blood tests as there are a few other conditions than cause vision problems that they want to rule out, and at some point in the next two weeks I’ll be having a contrast MRI of my head and spine to give them more of an idea of what is going on. Now I’m doing my best to remain optimistic, my way of thinking so far is that I already have a fair few neurological issues, so surely it’s another part of the bodies turn to be the problem. Not the most logical attitude I know, but it’s working for me.
In the meantime, Disney soundtracks are my distraction.
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