Living with Dystonia and my other medical conditions guarantees that no two days are ever the same. I learnt that a long time ago. Yet two years into it it and it can still shock me. The difference in me when you compare last Sunday to today is astounding! Last Sunday feels like a life-time ago, not a mere week. Last week I was confined to my bed all day, so ill that a member of my family was with me all day, today I am pretty much pain free, hardly spasming and enjoying every second of it.
Last week it was as if we had taken me off all my medications. I was blind, every part of me was spasming. My jaw spasmed to the point it eventually dislocated! There are not words to describe the pain I was in, or the pain caused by attempting to swallow pain killers and muscles relaxants whilst in that state. At points the only way I was able to communicate to my mum was by twitching a finger to let her know I was conscious but my body was out of my control. It was hell. I have not had a day that bad in such a very long time.
Today I have no pain medications in me, I am able to move about without setting another part of my body off. The only parts of me that are daring to play up are my neck and jaw. This is not surprising as my Botox injections are due Tuesday. However considering that fact I am feeling extremely happy and lucky that they are not spasming more than they currently are. Its as if Benedict is still recuperating from last weeks attack.
I have started treatment for my Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease now. It shall be extremely interesting to see which of my spasms were due to the Neurological Lyme, and which are caused by the Dystonia. Hopefully over the next few weeks I shall start to see improvements and get an idea of what spasms I shall have to live with and which ones I don’t. I’m extremely excitement but nervous!
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!
I’ve had several appointments with different professionals recently with mixed results. At the moment I feel like I am at a stalemate with my physiotherapists with them determinedly ignoring my Neurologists instructions to see me weekly and me refusing to let them ignore his instructions without putting up a fight (in a calm but firm manner). When I last saw them they gave me exercises to do at home and said they would see me again in two weeks. However if they get their way this will be the last time they see me, as they feel that until I can weight bare there is nothing more they do to help me.
Now I have to bite my tongue every time they tell me this as it was they who told me that I must absolutely not weight bare! As you can imagine this has left me very confused. To add to the confusion, only the other month they informed me the ligaments in my foot were damaged and extremely lax due to my spasms hence why I am not allowed to weight bare, yet now weight baring is all they are focused on! Whenever I ask how my foot is to heal they tell me that is up to my Neurologists plan. The worrying thing is other than more physiotherapy there is no plan of action, when I last saw my neurologist he explained he had limited resources so treatment was limited.
One of my physios big things have been that I need to get myself a new splint made, as they have now decided they are not going to refer me for a second skin one, though it has not been explained to me as to why. I saw my local Orthotics department on Friday, he was a very lovely man and I must admit that I was slightly amused to see he shared my frustration at my physiotherapists as apparently they should have written to him if they were going to make recommendations on splints. He informed me that in his entire career he had not seen such force in spasms and he did not think that splints would be of any use to me. He was concerned that if he made a splint that contained my foot all the way round then I could end up severely hurting myself when I spasm. I can see where his concern is coming from, and he is most likely right, however after much pleading from me he agreed to get his colleague who has dealt with my spasms before to take a look at me and make the splint. Even though I know this splint could result in injury, I am willing to try it. I am willing to try anything that may contain my Dystonia and make my life easier! It holds the possibility of enabling to me to walk if it works, I would happily risk injury for the chance to walk again. He couldn’t believe that my physiotherapists were not helping me more and that my Neurologist was not injecting my foot with Botox simply because I had been told not use it.
I feel like every professional I talk to at the moment contradicts one another! To me surely everyone should be saying right so the spasms have damaged your foot, let’s look at what we can do to prevent it from deteriorating any further than it already has and what we can do improve it. Surely that cannot be that hard to agree to try to do?!
On a brighter note I had a fantastic appointment with Rheumatology this week. I went to have my Hypermobility Syndrome assessed. It turns out I have Hypermobility pretty much throughout my whole body. He has agreed with my Neurologist that I need referred to an inpatient rehabilitation programme due to the pain and weakness in some sections of body. I found it very reassuring to hear him talking about the same inpatient programme despite not knowing it had already been talked about with me. In this regards everything seems to be going in the right direction.
This week has been a complete rollercoaster of emotions. Beginning with excitement, this quickly turned into desperation and turmoil, concluding with frustration and nervousness. On Tuesday I attended a physiotherapy appointment, I was under the impression that this was to be the first of at least weekly appointments. I had been extremely excited for it as I was anticipating news of trialling a second skin splint which I was hopeful would make a difference to my leg spasms.
When I had seen my Neurologist last he had mentioned to me that he had spoken to my physiotherapists the week before to advise them on how best to treat me, and that he was very keen for me to start having intensive physiotherapy locally. He was also happy for me to trial the splint and did not say too much about it. So you can imagine my total shock on Tuesday when my physiotherapists told me that my Neurologist had advised her to discharge me and not to refer me for my splint! She was left with the impression after speaking to my Neurologist, that after I have my IV antibiotics for Lyme Disease and was cured of that then I could have physiotherapy. She was shocked to learn that I have been denied IV antibiotics by the NHS unless I have lumbar puncture, which my Neurologist has recommended I do not have as it puts me at risk of developing more Dystonia.
I left the appointment on Tuesday in a completely state of turmoil. Without IV antibiotics and without physiotherapy what chance of any sort of improvement do I have? I was furious with my Neurologist, how could a person have two completely different conversations within the space of one week. Then, Thursday afternoon, a follow-up letter from my last Neurology appointment arrived reiterating that he wanted me to receive intensive local physiotherapy. I could not be more frustrated, I can only presume that they must have had a rather ridiculous misunderstanding. Yet I question how that can even happen in the first place, the conversations reported are at extremes with each other.
I am seeing my Neurologist on Tuesday for my next lot of injections, so will be able to clear this matter up with him then. It took over a year and a half, with a lot of jumping through hoops just to receive physiotherapy, so to have it taken away after one session is not something I am going to let happen without putting up a fight.
Generalised Dystonia usually occurs in late childhood/early teens, it is unusual for it to start after the mid twenties have been reached. In the majority of cases symptoms will progress for about five years before stabilising. I was 19 when my Generalised Dystonia started, it started in my Jaw and then spread rather quickly. Though I had an episode of Oromandibular Dystonia back when I was 17.
There are several possible reasons why someone may develop Generalised Dystonia. In some cases it is referred to as Primary, this is when there is no identifiable cause other than genetic factors such as a mutation in the DYT1 gene. Secondary Dystonia is when there is an underlying cause for example another medical condition, stroke etc. Dystonia can be inherited, there is a 30% chance of developing the condition if a person has the mutated gene. There are several other genes which can cause Primary Generalised Dystonia.
Treatment of Generalised Dystonia normally involves a combination of Botox injections and medication. I find a combination of muscle relaxants and six weekly injections, extremely helpful. Levodopa is usually trialled for around two months to see if the Dystonia is Dopamine responsive. Deep Brain Stimulation is also used to treat the condition and can make a huge impact to the sufferers quality of life. Selection for this however is done very carefully to make sure that the patient is likely to benefit from the treatment as the surgery obviously carries many risks.
Below is an image of one of full body spasms.
Raising awareness of Dystonia is vital. The Dystonia Society’s website says that an estimated 70,000 people in the United Kingdom have the condition. Considering just how many people this is, it is still such an unknown condition to both the public and the medical society. By raising awareness and funds more research can be done. Dystonia may not be life ending but it is life limiting. Without research there is no improvement in treatments for the condition and there is no cure.
When I became ill with the condition I had never heard of it, I had lived my life blissfully ignorant. Now it’s fast approaching the two-year mark of my being ill. Dystonia may have taken away many things from me but it has also inspired me. The only way change will happen is if we bring it around. We can sit and moan about Doctors not understanding the condition all we like, but what difference will that make? By actually having the condition and experiencing it we can choose to empower ourselves with knowledge and spread awareness.
I spent yesterday sat in my College canteen raising money and awareness for Dystonia. The age range of students at the college is from 16 to mature, yet all no matter how old or young were prepared to listen to what I had to say and asked lots of questions. I went with lots of leaflets that The Dystonia Society had provided me with and every single one of them got taken by people wanting to go away and read more.
Awareness is key to a cure being found and weeks like this one are the perfect time to do it. Tea parties, joining in with campaigns like the Go Green for Dystonia one or getting involved with Thunderclap, are all so easy but so effective!! Dystonia Awareness Week is not over until the 11th May, so if you’ve not joined in yet, why not now, every voice counts! https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/9777-dystonia-awareness-week
Cervical Dystonia is when the spasms are in the neck, this can be quite painful and can result in awkward neck postures.Generally the spasms will cause the head to pull to one side, backwards or forwards. In my case my head pulls down towards my left shoulder but with a forward twist. I also have a no style tremor to my neck. It is the most common form of Dystonia and according to The Dystonia Society is currently estimated to affect around 18,000 people in the UK. Like most forms of Dystonia if it occurs in adulthood then it will hopefully remain in just that part of the body.
The most effective treatment for Cervical Dystonia at the moment is regular Botox injections, though how well this work varies from sufferer to sufferer. I receive regular Botox injections to both sides of my neck and it has had a massive impact and helps me keep my head fairly straight whilst the Botox is working. Medications such as muscles relaxants can provide people with some relief as well. Pressure being applied to specific points around the neck and face in some people is beneficial but this is not the same for everyone.
This image demonstrates some of the positions the spasms can pull the head in to.
Oromandibular Dystonia affects the mouth area, this includes the tongue, jaw and lips. It is part of my Generalised Dystonia and I find it affects both my jaw and my tongue. I have often found myself in situations where I have found myself sounding like I am drunk because I am unable to pronounce my words due to the spasm going on in my tongue.
Oromandibular Dystonia often affects the sufferers ability to chew and speak. When my spasms are bad I find that I can only consume liquified foods and yoghurts, as the spasms that are taking place leave me unable to chew. Some people may just have Oromandibular Dystonia or they may have it with Blepharospasm (Eye Dystonia), or as part of Generalised Dystonia like myself. If it is a focal Dystonia (just on its own) then it normal appears between the ages of 40 and 70.
Oromandibular Dystonia was one of my first symptoms. I was at university, and to be honest I didn’t really think too much of it at first, but then when the spasms became extreme and caused my jaw to dislocate I began to realise just how much pain they could inflict. As there is no cure for Dystonia a combination of Botox injections and medications are used to manage it. I find Botox injections to be particularly effective at managing it. Botox seems to only work for around 5/6 weeks for me, luckily I have a very lovely neurologist who is willing to administer the injections every 6 weeks. This works fantastically well for me, as without this my jaw spasms are extreme. Some people find pressure points or chewing gum helpful in managing their symptoms.
I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to know more on the condition checking either out The Dystonia Society website http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia/mouth-or-tongue-dystonia or The Dystonia Research Foundation http://dystonia-foundation.org/what-is-dystonia/forms-of-dystonia/focal-dystonias/more-on-oromandibular-dystonia .
Last Saturday my family and I went up to London to watch my cousin David and his lovely friend Sam run the Marathon to raise money for the Dystonia Society. It was such an amazing day. We were extremely lucky with the weather, and managed to get a fab viewing spot at the halfway mark. This was perfect as not only did it enable us to have a great view of everyone but it also meant we had a chance to grab David as he ran past and take a quick photo with him.
I’m thrilled to say that David and Sam have achieved their sponsorship target and have raised over £3000 for the Dystonia Society which is just incredible. I had never met Sam before so it was fantastic to finally meet her at the celebratory dinner. Watching them run was so emotional and inspirational and I extremely thankful to them both for taking on such a huge feat.