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.
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!
Today is the last day of Dystonia Awareness weeks, which is most likely a relief to all the lovely people who are signed up to receive email alerts when I post a new blog as I’ll be going back to posting a couple of times a week. It has been amazing seeing how many people have joined in with Dystonia Awareness week, Thunderclap was seen by over 6 million people which is incredible!
In many of my blog posts this week I have mentioned treatments such as Botox injections, muscle relaxants and Deep Brain Stimulation, however none of these treatments can guarantee relief and are not always accessible, so I wanted to discuss some alternative ways of coping with symptoms. Heat is great for relieving muscular aches and pains that can result from spasms, wheat packs, back wraps and microwaveable slippers are all great products and I use at least one of these three several times a week. TENS machines are also great, I don’t know what I’d do without these. I never go anywhere without one in my handbag and towards my Botox dates they often help keep my neck spasms bearable.
If you can afford alternative therapies I would highly recommend trying Reflexology. I found before having regular treatments that I could not sleep well at night as the spasms would keep me up. This turned into a vicious cycle as I was then too tired to handle my spasms well in the day. Now I find having regular Reflexology treatments enables me to have several good nights of sleep a week which does me the world of good as it means I can handle whatever my body throws at me in the day better. I also find burning scented candles or essential oils helps me relax (and after putting them out) get to sleep easier.
Everyone finds something different that will help them, for some people touching certain pressure points will relieve spasms to a certain extent, in others hot or cold therapy does. For me as I mentioned above heat, TENS and Reflexology are what keeps me ticking along in between Botox appointments. Its worth experimenting and trying to work out if anything particular helps you.
It never fails to amaze me just how long my body takes to recover from illnesses and accidents these days. Pre-Dystonia I was one of the those people who always had some of thing going on be it sinusitis or a broken bone, but I always bounced back. I fell and ended up in the hospital a week and a bit ago, and yet I still don’t feel back to my usual dysfunctional self.
Many Dystonia sufferers have informed me if they get an infection or have an accident it takes them longer than most to get back to their selves again. So I know I’m not alone, but its irritating. I’m still sore, tired and my spasms and paralysis are being triggered more than usual. I know I sound grumpy! I do not mean to, but lack of sleep and some new sensations in my legs have set my teeth on edge. At least I know I shall sleep tonight after todays Reflexology session.
A couple of days ago this new sensation hit my legs (knee down). It’s extremely hard to put it into words exactly what it feels like. It sort of feels like sharp pins and needles mixed in with a numbing sensation. I try my best to distract myself but the sensation is rather uncomfortable. Part of me wishes that it would hurt enough that my brain would disconnect from my legs so I that I would not be able to feel it just for a little while.
On a far more positive note I would like to thank the lovely people who have nominated my blog and Facebook page for a WEGO health activist award. It is extremely touching and uplifting! I have had a number of people ask me how to go about nominating me, I put it on my twitter and Facebook page, but for those who have not seen it, here is the link http://awards.wegohealth.com/ .
The weather is getting colder and colder each day, and as my little Dystonia alien hates the cold and loves to spasms more I have been investigating different ways to keep myself warm, without looking like a marshmallow. I’m sure many of you know the feeling of when you have so many layers of clothing on, you begin to look less like a human more like a marshmallow. As I know many other Dystonia sufferers find the cold worsens their symptoms I thought I would share with you all my top three products that I have found helpful – and for those of you without Dystonia who are reading this, it may interest you as well, after all everyone likes to keep warm!
1) Tozies – I am one of those people who if my feet are cold the rest of me is cold. My reflexologist recommended I invest in some Tozies. Tozies are slippers which are double fleece layered, and without a hard sole on them. Not having a hard sole means I don’t worry about my spasms bending them out of shape. I have to say these are fantastic, I am actually going to buy a second pair, but this time a microwavable version for the really cold winter nights that leave you shivering. I wear my Tozies constantly, some nights I even sleep in them, as I find if my feet are toasty warm then the rest of me does not feel as cold. If you want to check them out here is the link to where I purchased mine http://coziewarmers.co.uk/ladies-slippers-shoe-size-3-12-22-c.asp
These are my Tozies.
2) Reusable heat pads – are my second favourite method for warming myself up. They are pads with a metal bit in, they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. When you bend the metal an internal chain reaction is set off which warms the pads up and causes them to harden. The warmth lasts for several hours. I have taken to wearing these pads in my shoes under my feet and inside my gloves. To reuse them you simply put them in a pan of hot water for a minute to return them to their original state. It’s a cheap, but effective method.
3) Thermals – Now I know saying wear thermals is an obvious one, but in all honesty how many of you actually remember to put some on under your clothing? I purchased some thermal socks, leggings and vests, and make sure I always have at least one, if not all, of them on. I got my thermals fairly cheaply off marks and spencers (you could probably get them even cheaper if you shopped around). It’s an obvious, but often overlooked, step to keeping warm.
I am always searching for ways to keep warm, to avoid the extra spasms that the winter brings. I hope some of these ideas helps those of you who find the cold causes extra issues.
After Tuesday nights functional paralysis drama, I am pleased to report that my little Dystonia alien has not scared me witless with a repeat episode (so far). In fact other than a light and pain triggered seizure whilst at college yesterday, I have been rather good. I even managed to go riding on Thursday!
I spent Wednesday in bed resting, as I did not want to trigger off any spasms or seizures as I desperately wanted to attend both college and riding on Thursday. Amazingly my Dystonia gave me break from the recent dramatics and I only had to contend with my usual spasms. The normality of the usual spasms were a much-needed breath of fresh air. Both college and riding went fantastically well, with my spasms only acting up right at the end of riding – thankfully that was perfect timing,
Yesterday, for several hours my legs were functionally paralysed, this did not scare me as I am used to this happening several times a week. It turned out that it had been triggered by me strapping my splints to my legs too tightly – but hey its a lesson learnt. I now know to always check the tightness after strapping myself to them. I had a little light and pain triggered seizure whilst I was at college yesterday. I feel very lucky that the college dealt with this calmly and once I regained consciousness they let me carry on as if nothing had ever happened, which is just how I hoped they would react.
Today my body is extremely sore and I am experiencing an on/off functional paralyses to my legs. Therefore I am having a lazy day in bed. I am so happy that I am managing college and riding. I had been worried that the two would be too much for my body to cope with, but so far so good. It is days like the last few that remind me that despite being in a wheelchair and not really having control of my body, I can still make a life for myself and enjoy the things I love. I just have to remember to balance things out… I’ll get the hang of balancing eventually 😉
Happy, on top of the world, ecstatic, over the moon. Put this combination of emotions in to one and that is me now. Today has been a fantastic success. I attended my first day at college and loved every second of it. The lecture today was on Anatomy and Physiology, which was just perfect as I find it an incredibly interesting subject. A lot of what we covered today I had already learned at university so it was a bit like revision, I loved this as I had remembered everything, which enabled me to contribute to the lesson more.
Tomorrow’s lecture is a practical one. This excites me and makes me nervous. I am sure my body shall be fine with it, but as with all things in life you can never be a hundred percent certain especially with Dystonia, hopefully tomorrow’s practical shall put the tiny worries to rest. The four hours tomorrow shall all be practical but from next week onwards the Friday lectures shall be 2 hours practical and 2 hours focusing on business and how to set up your own business. This is fantastic as once qualified I shall be setting up my own business so that I can work from home.
I decided not to attend riding today as my sight has not been great. I have been full of the cold which has caused more spasms. It has particularly been causing an increase in spasms in my eyes. Annoyingly the spasm that has occurred most is the one that causes my eyes to roll up into my head, leaving me blind, the pain of this particular spasm causes me to have a Non Epileptic Seizures most of the time. This happened today at college, thankfully before the lesson started, but reassured me that I was making the right decision not to ride as I would be putting myself and the volunteers at risk. I am looking forward to next weeks session though.
I feel like a ball of positive energy! I am brimming with happiness and full of excitement for tomorrow. Being able to study again is so satisfying and opens many doors for me. In a way I feel normal.
So after a few days of feeling a bit rough due to a viral infection, I am finally feeling more myself. I try to avoid picking up any illness as much as possible as when I get a bug my Dystonia acts up. It is like my little Dystonia alien waits until I’m feeling under whether to kick it up a few notches and go “Haha, so you want to rest? Well I’m going to distort both your legs, try to rest now!”. My alien really is a pain.
I finally feel like I am beginning to find my feet and learn to live life alongside Dystonia. I have accepted that I can’t live life with it in the background because it disrupts things too much, but I can live alongside it, and ignore it as much as I can. I kept my life on hold for a year, and now I’ve taken it off pause and from next Thursday I am shall be studying again.
In life people define themselves by their achievements and what they have done. I was considering this the other day and trying to figure out what I would define myself as/by. My thoughts flicked from Dystonia advocate, fundraiser, Author (My novel is almost finished), and reflexologist (when I qualify). It took awhile before I realised I didn’t have to choose just one, I can choose them all, as each one of them makes me proud. This last year I could have sat at home feeling sorry for myself doing nothing, instead I decided to try to educate the world on Dystonia – an ongoing task, fundraising for The Dystonia Society (I have raised over £1000 so far), started and almost finished my first novel, and found myself a new career path. I am proud of me!
Tomorrow I am attending a craft fair, where half of what is raised will be given to a Dystonia charity. I am rather looking forward to this. I like to Crochet so it shall be interesting to browse whilst helping raise awareness for Dystonia.
I saw this quote below, which has been taken from one of my favourite Disney films. For me it rings true. The path I am now on is by no means easy, and I struggle often, however it will lead me to where I need to be.