Whilst the multiple national lockdowns have come with there fair share of complications, for example cancelled treatments, the stay at home message has been a blessing in disguise for me. My body has been going through a decline/more frequent dislocations lately, which is less than an ideal. Now prepandemic I would have ignored my bodies pain signals, and ploughed through the day. A bad cycle, and habit that I had formed. Only collapsing in the evening, spoonless, in pain and annoyed at myself. Lockdown has relieved the social pressure to attended multiple groups a week, and be on the go all the time. For my particular lot of chronic illnesses it’s meant I have rested when I have needed to. I’ve had the opportunity to relearn my bodies distress signals.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not literally doing the above meme, though it has its appeals. But it has removed the guilt I felt on slow mornings when we watched a Disney film and had a slow start to the day, rather than rushing about. I still finish the day with no spoons. That is just life with chronic illnesses. However I rarely exhaust myself to the point that I have impacted the next day, which prelockdown was a frequent occurance.
Post-lockdown this is something I need to remember; that it is perfectly fine to acknowledge if my body is saying no not today. We can watch films, craft and bake in the house instead and have a lovely day. Just being kind to my body more often will allow more days out and in the long run that’s what works.
When I was 17 weeks pregnant with my daughter I underwent surgery to remove a mole on the underneath of my right breast that had early cell changes. Due to the fact I was pregnant and it was a relatively short surgery they didn’t want to give me a general anaesthetic, so decided a local would do. Unfortunately my Ehlers-Danlos means I have no response to local anaesthetic and felt every cut, and every stitch. The whole process was rather traumatic and I’ve worked hard at trying to forget it.
I was admitted to my local hospital a couple of days ago due to worsening symptoms in my eye and leg. Due to this it was decided last night to bring my lumbar puncture forward to that evening. I explained that local anaesthetic does not work in the slightest for me. They decided to give me a double dose in the hope it would work; it didn’t, which I expected, maxfax team has tried injecting several times this amount with no effect previously. Now lumbar punctures are known to be painful anyway, so to know I was having one without effective pain relief was nerve wracking to say the least.
It was one of the most agonising experiences I have ever had. It took multiple attempts to place the needle correctly as they found the spaces inbetween the spinal collum to be be extremely narrow. It’s been just over twenty four hours since and I’ve struggled to move. My whole back is in horrondous pain, taking a deep breath or swallowing liquids really seems to agreviate it. I’ve also lost sensation over my waterworks which is concerning. I’ve spoken to the consultant but everyone’s answer over this is that I need an MRI, which apparently is booked but no can tell me a day or time.
I’m missing my kids loads but I know that being here is where I need to be. If this helps put a piece of the medical jigsaw in place and leads to better management that can only be a good thing. Just got to take everything one moment at a time.
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.
Today you published the article ‘Matt Dawson: I had to have heart surgery after a tick bite’. At first I was thrilled, it is always uplifting to see articles highlighting this condition being shared by the mainstream media. However as I eagerly absorbed each sentence , I could feel my heart sinking further in my chest. In fact I’m pretty sure it dropped straight out of me and into the flat below under the weight of my disappointment! You could have taken this opportunity to really highlight the world wide issue when it comes to diagnosing and treating Lyme and Chronic Lyme Disease. The fact that you didn’t leap at this opportunity is beyond me. What happened to the BBC being at the forefront of reporting, challenging the establishment, pushing boundaries?
You even went as far as mentioning that if Lyme goes untreated it can go on to attack and cause ‘debilitating neurological problems’. This was your perfect opening to delve into the devastating condition that is Chronic Lyme; you could have examined how the tests for Lyme disease are extremely inaccurate and false negatives are a frequent occurrence; you could have investigated how NICE guidelines have left the few doctors who are up to date enough with the research in the area to believe in Chronic Lyme, unable to treat their patients without risking their medical licence. You could have mentioned how, if you are in the unfortunate situation of having to fundraise money to pay for your treatment, you are looking at a minimum of £10,000 for private medical bills and that there is no guarantee that you will be cured. You could have investigated how many people that are given the early treatment are actually, years later, successfully cured.
I was bitten by a tick at the age of 6, at the age of 22 I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. Almost 3 years on and I am still fighting. Last year I was informed by neurologists that they were 99% certain I had MS, but then my MRI came back clean, when I brought up Lyme my case was swept under the carpet. Sufferers are abandoned, left to battle their own way through the system, made to feel like a fraud whilst their lives and their health fall apart. Unlike your report suggests, it’s not as easy as walking into a hospital and stating you have Lyme and hoping for treatment. It feels like a life sentence.
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.
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.
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.
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