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.
Today was botox day up in London with my lovely neurologist. He’s happy that the medication we started on a few months back is keeping me far more stable, which is amazing, so we are keeping that in my treatment plan. I’m currently on a medium dose so we have room to play with should we need to come winter when I typically go down hill due to the cold.
I’ve finally gotten the date for my video fleursoscopy which is the middle of next week. I’m a little nervous but it will be good to shed some light on what’s been going on internally and if there is anything specific that we can do/change to tackle it. This is to tackle the chronic aspiration.
Then it’s on to blood tests. Whilst I don’t mind these particularly, my veins are world class players at hide and seek. No matter how much I drink before hand they like to hide or better yet collapse. I often leave blood tests looking somewhat like a pin cushion. These are being done just to double check there’s nothing being missed and causing any issues whilst we wait for Gyny to see me. They were meant to see me almost a year ago. However they keep rearranging and cancelling my appointments, which my lovely GP is chasing. In the meantime I’m left with regular pain flares that leave me doubled up in pain.
I’m hoping now that more people are vaccinated that appointments/refferals may start going back to normal. Specially orthotics is one appointment I’m looking forward to, my knees and wrists need new splints. It’s not an urgent appointment in anyway but it would make day to day life a bit easier and reduce pain a little more.
In the meantime I’m ticking along. I’m looking forward to the schools breaking up and making the most of the summer holidays before my eldest starts primary school full 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.
Can you believe it’s been 5 years of blogging already? I can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly this has come around. It feels like just last week, I searched for a webhost desperate to spread awareness of Dystonia after feeling like I was floundering in a sea of uncertainty with little resources to pursue in my quest for answers. Now I confidently tackle my condition head on and happily refer people to resources I have come to know and trust.
When I started blogging it was completely in the mindset that it would be purely to raise awareness. Over the last 5 years this has evolved to be a space where I can openly and honestly express myself without fear, safe in the knowledge that someone out in the vast vacuum of the web will be able to relate to what I am going through. My blog has become a site for awareness, expression and connection; I cannot get over how many online friends I have made. Whilst I am sad that so many of you have to live with this life altering condition, I am thankful for each one of you that has become a vital part of my day to day support network.
Over the last few years this blog has been nominated on several occasions for awards, won one, and even become a resource that several neurologists hand out when diagnosing new patients (this still flatters, astounds and thrills me). I’ve had other sufferers pounce on me with hugs and their stories at hospitals; I love this, it shows me that I am doing something right.
Just a few years ago, reaching this milestone seemed ridiculous. I didn’t know how to live each day let alone 5 years with this hideous condition. Now, several diagnoses later, I have learned to find joy and laughter in my spasms, to treasure every moment that puts a smile on my face and be thankful that drs like my neurologist exist, for without my neuro my world would be darker (literally). So instead of being disheartened that 5 years on I’m still battling, I’m lifting my chin, defying my alien and celebrating each little success.
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.
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.
My body going wrong is something I have become rather used to over the last four years. Each time something starts functioning abnormally I find myself less and less surprised. Over the Christmas period I lost my sight in my right eye, and had some issues with my left one too. After spending the majority of my time at the hospital for three weeks I was eventually prescribed Doxycyline for a Lyme Disease flare up. This treated the issue, and everything returned to normal. I was discharged and told they would keep an open door policy for me. Foolishly I presumed that I would not need this and promptly went back to living life.
On Saturday I visited my local opticians. I had noticed that my glasses were no longer helping with my sight, my right eye had begun to get painful and was not focusing properly. After repeating over and over again the eye exam, and consulting his colleagues, the optician asked me to come back today. This was so he could redo the test and in case a miracle happened and my sight improved over the weekend.
There is something rather unnerving about watching a professional get more concerned with each passing moment. At the end of today’s exam, he turned around and asked me who would see me sooner, Eye Casualty or my neurologist. This instantly had me on edge. In theory Eye Casualty will see me quicker, as my neuro is not due to see me until the 6th June. The poor man and his colleagues could not comprehend how I had managed to not notice the dramatic deterioration in my sight. I laughed in pure exasperation at this comment, trying to explain that my body functioning abnormally was something I was used to, so it had not struck me as something to worry about. So off they sent me with an urgent referral in hand.
Upon getting through to Eye Casualty the nurse asked if I had been seen by the John Radcliffe yet. I had no idea that I was being referred to them so queried it, only to have her respond with well because of your MRI results. Excuse me? I had been informed that my MRI was clear. This took her by surprise. She has decided to wait till five to try and speak to the consultant who saw me over the Christmas holidays.
So now I’m sat by the phone waiting for her to call back as she hopes to squeeze me in tomorrow. I’ve gone from being relaxed about it all to rather nervous.
We recently got back from a beautiful family holiday on the coast. The weather was fantastic, and there is something relaxing about waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against sand. Going on holiday with Dystonia requires a fair amount of preparation. Every medication I’m currently prescribed has to be brought with us, just in case of an emergency, so that we can try to ‘contain’ the amount of spasms and deviation my body endures. Even though I can walk, both my walking sticks and my wheelchair were also packed. In all honesty I thought that packing the wheelchair was overkill, but then I have never enjoyed being it, I used to quite literally bum shuffle around the house rather than use my chair.
As many of you will be aware I have recently had a change in neurologist. At my first consultation with him he declared that he would not be following my old injection routine and that we would be switching from 6 weekly to 10 weekly injections. My objections to this change fell on stubborn, deaf ears. Due to his determination I spent my holiday, and the weeks either side of it, unable to consume solid food. Smoothies and soup were my saving grace. Chewing led to rather painful jaw spasms. It made sense to switch to soft/liquid foods in order to trigger the spasms less.
I spent several hours on a couple of separate occasions functionally blind whilst we were away. My eyes had spasmed shut. This was a complete shock to the system, my condition has been incredibly well managed for so long. It is my arm and jaw that I am used to contending with; not my eyes. I don’t think I’ve felt as thankful for my wheelchair as I had in that moment. For once I did not begrudgingly sit in it, I clambered in thankful that it enabled me to still be out with my family whilst lessening the risk of injuring myself. My family were fantastic, describing the sights in front of them to me so I could conjure up in my mind’s eye my own version. My brother amused us all by whizzing around the aquarium with me clutching on to the wheelchair with fear and hilarity.
I would much rather have not had to fight my Dystonia whilst I was away, but in hindsight I’m glad I had no option but to do so. Not only did it create some great memories, but it gave me the strength to not back down when I visited my new neurologist this past Wednesday. I stood my ground and managed to get him to agree to seven weekly injections and back at my normal dosage. This has left me feeling optimistic and far more relaxed about my upcoming move to university.
Today, as is usual for my six weekly routine, I went up to London to see my neurologist for my injections. I sat in the waiting room running through my list of questions with my mother “Whats the likely hood of the injections making my CRPS worse again? How likely am I to pass on HLA-DRB1 type Dystonia?” etc. The patient before me stumbled back out towards us all a flutter mumbling to her partner how she could not believe the Dr was leaving. The importance of my questions vanished. My neuro, my glimmer of light in a sea of Drs who drive me to the ends of my wit and leave me wanting to throttle them, leaving? I was vaguely aware of my mum pointing out not to get emotional until he had confirmed what I had overheard.
Sadly my neurologist is moving to another hospital where they do not run a botox clinic. He has asked that I email him regular updates, and has said that if things ever take a turn for a worse I just have to ask for a referral to him and he will see me. All this is extremely sweet and reassuring. I’d like to say I smiled and congratulated him, but if I’m honest I cried…a lot. It may seem like a small thing having to transfer too a new neurologist but when I first became ill I had several absolutely hideous neurologist who dismissed my symptoms. They blamed them on stress and my history of abuse, they refused to listen when I pointed out that I had become ill at a point in my life when I was the happiest I had ever been and had moved on from my past. My neurologist was the first to take me seriously and help me. I’m terrified of being handed over to another heinous consultant.
I have one more appointment with my Dr before he leaves, which will give me an opportunity to thank him (without crying this time) for all that he has done for me. After that it will be the start of a new chapter, hopefully one just as positive.
Since I developed Dystonia in 2012 my past has been dragged up by varying Drs, repeatedly. I was physically and emotionally abused as a young teen for a period of a time, with the support and help of my loving mother and friends I managed to come out of this dark time as a positive, strong person. I had many years of counselling to help me put me put to bed that year of my life.
Unfortunately my GP loves to relive the past and enjoys rehashing old news. He has currently managed to convince himself that my ‘tragic past’ is the cause of my medical conditions, and that they are psychosomatic symptoms. In any other circumstance I would be upset at his words. However I have a lovely letter from my neurologist stating that my history of abuse has nothing to with my current organic symptoms!
I’m not sure why my GP has decided to ignore this letter, perhaps it is just because it makes life easier for him, after all I am a complicated mix of medical conditions but that’s no excuse for his current degrading tone and behavior. I can’t help but be concerned and wonder how many other Dystonia suffers are subjected to this behavior?!
I can only hope that as awareness for the condition spreads the attitude around it changes too.
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