Fighting Dystonia, Chronic Lyme Disease & EDS Type 3… any questions?

Wheelchair Outings

Over the last few weeks several of my consultants have advised me to stick to bedrest and insisted I use my wheelchair if I choose to go out. With most of my recent trips out mainly being hospital appointments, this wasn’t too hard, and so I didn’t get too worked up about it. I will always be the first to admit that I’m not great at being in a wheelchair, it’s not the lack of independence that bothers me (as the whole point of the chair is countering how dependent on others I am), no my issue comes from trusting no-one, including myself, of being in charge of a wheelchair

These issues come from within, and anyone who has paid witness to my attempts to push myself will agree, I am awful. Spatial awareness and coordination are key components when nailing the art of wheelchair driving; skills I am lacking in. I am surprised shopkeepers don’t barricade the doors when they see me coming so as to preserve their stock. The most impressive incident was in New Look around 3 years ago, the domino’s effect I caused in the sale aisles was comedy gold. Due to my interesting wheelchair skills, I tend to presume that those pushing me will be just as awful as myself, resulting in many ‘please don’t kill me’ panicked expressions whenever they dare to venture near a curb! In my opinion wheelchair driving lessons should be part of the deal when being prescribed one.

Yesterday Damon and I moved into our first home together, so decided to take a trip into town this afternoon to pick up the odd household supply. We’re very lucky that the area we live in is rather flat, it couldn’t be more perfect, this means that I’ll be able to get out and about even when my conditions are severe, which is something that previously would have been impossible. Damon’s quite adept with the wheelchair (we’ve yet to crash in to anything), but that didn’t stop me from pulling hilarious terrified expressions repeatedly whilst we were out today.

 

Happily away from any curbs…reenactment of curb fears

When I was first prescribed my chair, although it provided me with freedom, I found accepting that I needed it hard. In my eyes, it was a reminder of what I was unable to do. Now when I look at it I automatically smile, my fear of it always provides so much laughter, and it enables me to do every day activities, something that I’m extremely grateful for.

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Accepting Limitations

Yesterday was a hard day physically & emotionally. I was struggling to sit up without my heart rate shooting through the roof, experiencing extreme dizziness, fatigue and high pain levels. This is my new normal though, and it’s exhausting. Late morning I had a phone meeting with my university disability advisor. She enquired about my symptoms and their impact on day to day life, along with what advice I had been given from the Drs; this was so that a plan could be put in place for me to safely complete the next semester of my degree. Admitting that I was fainting 20-30 times a day on average, had been advised to be on bed rest and use my wheelchair if I had to go out (which results in dislocations if I self-propel) was not something I found easy to vocalise. The little stubborn voice in the back of my head was protesting that I was perfectly well enough to physically attend my lectures. However not being able to guarantee I’ll remain conscious, being unable to eat without fainting, and with tachycardia developing just by sitting up a decision was made that I could not safely attend uni without putting myself at risk. Normally I’d argue against this, and I wanted to, but I have to remember that it’s not just myself I would be putting at risk. Now this doesn’t mean I’ll be putting off the semester till next year, it just means I’ll have to complete it from home which is perfectly doable.

Despite the fact that I know this plan of action is reasonable and realistic I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I know I’m not well enough to attend class, but to me that’s not acceptable I feel as if I should be trying harder; it’s a ridiculous attitude to have, but it’s there nonetheless.

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Late last night I found myself feeling deflated and quite sorry for myself. I know this is pain related, I haven’t had so many bad pain days in a row for some time, so when periods of pain flare ups occur it impacts my view of things. Normally I’d just increase my meds, count down till my botox injections, knowing that in a matter of days I’ll be enjoying a good spell again. The fact that (unless an emergency spasm occurs ) there is no botox, no muscle relaxants, and limited pain relief options available until after the baby is here is hard. This is mainly due to having to accept my limitations once again.

Talking through how your feeling is something that I feel is undeniably important in enabling a person to help themselves. It’s the main reason I’m composing this post, so that I’ve expressed myself and can start focusing on being proactive rather than moping about.  I spent a good chunk of time talking to my mum about this turn of events yesterday afternoon. Looking back now I can already laugh at the number of times I uttered the phrase “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know what to do”. The reality is I understand perfectly well why I’m not able to go to class, I have a crystal-clear understanding of the fact all of my chronic illnesses can get worse during pregnancy (and the majority of them have) however this is a temporary change, I also understand it’s okay to feel this way.

There’s really not a whole lot I can do to change the situation, unless anyone can point me in the direction of a fairy godmother? I can manage my pain the best I can but other than that focusing on the positives that surround me is the best way to keep smiling; when I look at what’s already happening this year (moving to a new flat, expecting our son, still being able to complete the academic year, and a publisher agreeing to take on my novel) I have to admit I have more than enough to be smiling about.

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“Just Stay Positive”

I have spent the majority of this week at varying hospital appointments, today is my rest day before heading back to the hospital for more testing tomorrow. Frustration and disappointment has been my main response so far to these visits. Part of this is most likely because I am under the care of several different specialists who are experts in their respective fields and generally wonderful. I’m quite lucky to have them as my doctors. However, every now and then I meet a new Dr and have to fight the same misconceptions and preconceived ideas from scratch; it’s exhausting, emotionally draining and depressing.

I’m quite good at finding the positives in being chronically ill,  I’ve been known to be in agony, hospitalised with spasms and dislocations and still be giggling away at whatever ridiculous manifestation my symptoms have appeared in this time. That being said I’m aware of how important it is to be completely honest with my care providers about how I’m managing and asking for help when I need it.

I had been counting down to yesterday’s appointment to see the local obstetric consultant as I am really at a loss with what to do to help myself. The advice so far has been plenty of bed rest and to use my wheelchair if I have to go out. This makes sense and I’ll admit I was unreasonable hoping the Dr yesterday would wave a magic wand, but university restarts at the end of the month, my fingers dislocate when I push myself and I’m pretty sure turning up to uni doesn’t count as bed rest. So I sat in front of the consultant asking if there was anything, even the smallest suggestion, that he could think of to help me help myself. “Just stay positive” was his advice. It was also the last thing I wanted to hear. 5 minutes later he admitted he didn’t have a clue about any of my conditions, so I walked him through them briefly. His advice changed to just come to hospital every time you have a fainting episode so we’re aware of you; my episodes are at the moment generally occurring over 10-20 times a day, so I’ll just move in shall I?587860e5ecea791e83ab995d35b2d52a

This whole appointment got me thinking about my array of conditions, which are confusing and do overlap, so for those of you who are curious here’s a brief introduction.

  1. Generalised Dystonia – this trickly little brain alien causes painful and often debilitating spasms in my eyes, jaw, neck, left arm and torso. It’s not curable, and every patient presents slightly differently. It’s currently playing up as I’m off treatment for the rest of my pregnancy.

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2) Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3 – Unlike my Dystonia, unless I have dislocated or subluxed you cannot tell I have this condition. It causes fatigue, brain fog, pain, dislocations, allergies amongst many other symptoms.

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3) Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Dysautonomia- This is a relatively new diagnosis for me. Currently this means I can’t even sit up without my heart rate shooting through the roof and my blood pressure plummeting. It’s pretty bad at the moment, due to blood pooling when I eat I pass out during meals. I also pass out if I get too hot, move too quickly etc. My autonomic nervous system is basically a bit temperamental and therefore many different automatic functions can malfunction.

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4) Non Epileptic Seizures – Previously my care providers thought these were pain related but now they think my PoTS may have something to do with it. Often Drs misunderstand these seizures and presume they are either psychogenic or part of drug seeking behaviour.nes.jpg 5) Endometriosis – I fought for years to have this investigated, constantly being told that it was simply bad period pains.  Many drs ignored the fact that they were every 2 weeks, extremely painful, and very heavy. By the time a diagnostic laparoscopy and treatment was carried out extensive damage had been done and I was told that my chances of unassisted conception were very low. This make me all the more grateful for our little miracle.

6) Chronic Lyme Disease – Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that if caught early can be treated easily. When it becomes chronic, like in my case, it is extremely hard to cure. It affects multiple systems and therefore is frequently misdiagnosed.

Each of my conditions have reacted differently to my pregnancy and some new complications with my body have also arisen. So I’ve decided to incorporate these experiences into my blog with each condition being addressed in its own post as they are all unique and confusing in their own way.

At four weeks, pregnant my neurologist told me I needed to come off all of my medication due to the risks they presented to the baby as he developed. At that time, I was having six weekly Botox injections to my eyes, jaw, neck, and left shoulder, and I was on a range of oral medications including Gabapentin, Tramadol, Cetirizine, Topiramate, Dantrolene and more. My dosage for each of these medications were not particularly low which meant coming off them was a bit a of worry, luckily only the Gabapentin caused withdrawal symptoms (something I knew to expect after having the dosage adjusted several times over the years). I’m not sure if you’ve experienced withdrawal from Gabapentin, so picture uncontrollable weepiness because a cloud looks so beautiful, paranoia to the point you’re convinced that the shadow of the tree you just walked past is going to murder you and hideous night sweats. It’s not a walk in the park by any means but thankfully these symptoms didn’t last too long.

My main concern was how I would cope without Botox and my muscle relaxant Dantrolene. Over the last four and a half years I have been reliant on my six weekly Botox to keep me resembling an almost functional person, and Dantrolene was the only muscle relaxant that I found effective and can stay awake on for more than 5 minutes at a time. After expressing my concerns to my neuro he reassured me that I may not find these 9 months as terrifying as I expected, as some women reported experiencing an improvement in their symptoms in pregnancy. I wanted to believe him badly, any improvement I would take in a heartbeat, but at the same time I found it extremely hard to believe that something as natural as pregnancy could offer me an improvement that medication was unable to provide. Now I bow down to the wonder that is pregnancy, I’m currently almost 6 months’ pregnant and unbelievably my Dystonia isn’t too bad.

For the first 12ish weeks I only had minor symptoms, which was a relief as my severe morning sickness (I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum) meant that I wasn’t by any means well enough to cope with any severe spasms. By week 14 however I was admitted to hospital after spending 24 hours with my jaw dislocated and in spasm, unable to eat or drink. In the end, I was in the hospital for a week whilst they attempted to figure out what to do with me; without fail several times a day a Dr would look at me and be shocked that my jaw was still dislocated. I think my let’s laugh through the pain attitude confused them further. Eventually, after my midwife got involved and advocated on my behalf (amazing woman!) my neuro agreed to administer botox to my jaw and restart me on a small dose of Gabapentin, which has allowed me to remain fairly normal with the exception of the odd spasm; but I’ll take the odd daily spasm over an agonising spasm that refuses completely to go away.

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Late November, day 5 in the hospital after being moved to maternity high dependency unit

Whilst my Dystonia is without a doubt very much present still, as it likes to remind me by leaving me functionally blind or distorting my jaw, I’m coping far better than I had ever imagined. I had truly expected to spend my pregnancy bed bound in hospital stuck on a feeding tube with irritable limbs, the fact that this hasn’t (touch wood) materialised feels like a miracle, especially as a feeding tube was at the start debated. If it could just stay like this for the remainder of the pregnancy I’ll thank my lucky stars.

So This Is Happening…

So, this is happening…Due May 2017.

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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.

I cannot believe how quickly this year has flown by, it feels like just the other month I was curled up writing my usual Happy Christmas blog post. Looking back at my blog posts from the last year it has been a rather hectic emotional roller-coaster. My blog was set up to raise awareness in 2012, but rather accidentally for me it developed into a rather useful therapeutic outlet. For you guys that means whilst I do post the happy stuff, the negative is slightly more frequent. This is simply because life is unpredictable and the good, bad and the ugly don’t come in equal measures.

So to help end the year on a positive spin here are just a handful of things that have kept me smiling this year that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t chronically ill.

  1. January 2016 – After BBC 3 Counties found my Cosmo Articles and my blog I took part in a quick phone interview to discuss disabled dating and ‘The Undateables’. Having been approached by ‘The Undateables’ before I took advantage of this opportunity to express how labels such as the shows title really are not helpful when tackling social stigmas.12583607_824636114328836_1166901021_n
  2. February 2016 – I was invited down to the BBC 3 Counties studio to participate in a valentine’s day segment on dating and disability. I was extremely nervous but the humour I manage to find in my conditions meant that I had several great stories to tell. It was a surreal experience that received great feedback and really boosted my confidence.12695785_835851056540675_1209977806_n
  3. March 2016 – Finally I realised the importance of not apologising for being the way I am. My genetic makeup makes me who I am. So what if I am a bit of an oddball with misbehaving limbs? If you feel uncomfortable around me then take a look at yourself and your views first, because my genetic make-up isn’t something that can be fixed and I no longer feel like I have to apologise for it.
  4. April 2016 – After waiting just over a year I finally was admitted to The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore for a 3 week inpatient pain management program. I’d been extremely nervous about this, and if I’m being honest didn’t see how they could help me short of waving a magic wand. 8 months later and I’m still putting my pacing lessons into practice (I slip up now and then but on the hole I manage much better), and I have a flare up plan that works!
  5. May 2016 – this had been a hard month, between being assaulted and the Drs telling me they were pretty certain I had MS (turns out I don’t but that was a scary few weeks). I was pretty much at my lowest point here. Then at the end of May I was offered a preliminary contract with Britain’s Next Bestseller. Now sure I may not have reached publication due to not hitting the pre-order requirements but hell that was a confidence boost and a half. I had a publisher believing in my work and that’s good enough for me.thumbnail_Regan Final Cover (2)
  6. June 2016 – I was still being investigated for MS, but with a wonderful man by my side I was managing to take it all in my stride. I was starting to see the funny moments in being ill again rather than allowing myself to be swamped in fear.
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  8. July 2016 – This marked 4 years since I had had to leave my midwifery training. Usually  I would mope about and be quite tearful. This year whilst the sadness is still there I can smile when reflecting on it. For if I had never become ill all the wonderful opportunities I’ve had over the last 4 years would never have happened.
  9. August 2016 – my partner gave me a key. I think I just grinned for the rest of this month.
  10. September 2016 – I started my 2nd year at university. I’d survived my first year and am fortunate to be studying at a university that goes above and beyond to help meet my needs!
  11. October 2016 – I was pretty ill and hibernated for most of this month. The fact that I recognised this and took care of myself was a huge leap forwards for me.deacf0c45b71fe38bc45675bced94b07
  12. November 2016- I ended up back in the hospital for awhile. Nothing out of the ordinary in that respect other than the fact I have a huge fear of this particular hospitals neurology team. After being misdiagnosed by them before it was no surprise when I found them to be as pigheaded and ignorant as previous. The difference this time around was that I had the confidence in myself, and enough knowledge of my conditions to advocate for myself rather than allowing them to treat me incorrectly.15128841_1048302218628890_7420253256398203646_o

Everything that’s happened throughout the year whether big or small has been impacted by my health. Previously I would have told you that was awful, I wish I could be ‘normal’; whilst yes I’d love to be healthy, I cannot deny I have an exciting fun filled life that if I wasn’t a spoonie would have been drastically different.

Time For A Bit Of R&R

After a haywire week I am home from hospital and resting at my mum’s for a little while. My plan at the moment is to catch up on the university work that I have missed and take some time out for myself to reboot; would you believe i’m finally pacing! It only took four years.

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Cuddles with this fluffball are the perfect medicine

During this time I won’t be blogging as catching up and getting back on track with my studies is currently my number one aim. So look out for a new blog post late December/early January.

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Recently after seeing my neurologist a decision was made for me come off of the majority of my medications. It is not a decision that either of us made lightly but there was little choice in the matter. For the last four years, I have been completely reliant on a cocktail of medications and injections to simply make my day to day life manageable. It has taken years to find the right combination of medication and injection frequency, so taking a step away from all of this had been extremely frightening; I had no idea how my body would react or how I would cope. Whilst there was every possibility that in actual fact I would manage perfectly well, I was also painful aware of my medical history, of the years spent with weekly ambulance trips to the resus department. This is not something I ever want to repeat.

At first I was managing fine, the emotional ups and down that come with weaning yourself off of medication was nowhere near as bad as I had expected, and I had managed longer than 6 weeks without botox; which is frankly a miracle. However, over the last two weeks or so I started to worry, I put my symptoms down to an ongoing cold I’ve had for the last month. There was a familiar tugging sensation in my jaw, my eyes were slightly more aggravated than usual, and I was experiencing ‘violent shivers’. Before I was diagnosed in 2012, I always called my arm twitches ‘violent shivers’, it was my way of convincing myself there was nothing wrong. It’s funny how easy it is to fall back into bad habits.

This weekend my jaw has been particularly bad; it was deviating dramatically and starting to tremor. My only medication option was codeine, which left me feeling slightly spaced out but did nothing for the pain I was in. Since then my body has gone dramatically downhill. Last night my jaw spasmed, violent tremors followed, dislocations occurred and then my arm spasms joined in. I had forgotten how much pain all of this can inflict.

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last nights dystonic antics

After very little sleep and being no better this morning I arrived at my emergency doctors in the hope they could suggest anything to help. I generally judge how bad I am by the Drs reaction; she was appalled I had ended up in the state I am in and was lost as what to do.  So now on her instructions I am curled up in bed encase I have a seizure, I have emailed my neurologist in the hope he may contact me sooner rather than later, and I’m waiting for her to phone me back with an action plan. She had been debating trying to admit me in to hospital, and as much as I have my concerns with my local hospital due to previous experiences, I cannot help but feel that this is this best place for me as I can no longer eat and I haven’t successful managed a sip of water since early this morning.

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apparently I don’t need a working face

Fingers crossed things improve soon.

Over recent months’ painkillers and Drs’ willingness to prescribe certain painkillers has been a hot topic in the news and on social media. Every country has different takes on the matter, but patient’s opinions are largely the same: We’re not addicts, so don’t treat us like we are! Now I’m not trying to deny that there are people out there, that for whatever reason, will say and do pretty much anything in order to get their hands-on prescription painkillers; but it’s sad that a handful of people can have such a dramatic influence on the chronic illness society. The majority of us need these medications.

Over the last few years I have had my meds altered significantly. I have met some Drs who didn’t want to prescribe me anything stronger than paracetamol, and whilst I’m always grateful for anything that makes a dent in the pain, I tend to find that paracetamol doesn’t make a huge difference to the agonizing spasms, or dislocated joints. If you have ever dislocated your jaw and then had spasms and tremors aggravate it for hours/days afterwards, you’d know that paracetamol isn’t going to do the job. Throw in pain triggered seizures and you’re in for one heck of a ride…and oh yeah more pain, on top of the existing pain, it’s a vicious cycle. Some Drs I have been under have been more than happy to have an open discussion about my medication, and then offer me a selection of painkillers that they feel are appropriate. I will always choose to start at the less extreme option.

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There is no getting around the fact that painkillers can be addictive, and this is where the problem comes in. I completely understand a medical professional not wanting to provide a long course of pills that have the potential to cause more issues such as addiction and withdrawal. That makes perfect sense. However, there are ways to go about talking through this with patients that are sensitive rather than demeaning. I have lost count of how many times I have been accused of being addicted to pain meds, I’ve had Drs suggest I have counselling for my traumatic past as a replacement for my painkillers. Now correct me if I’m wrong but I fail to see how counselling for previous issues will solve a movement disorder and a genetic connective tissue disorder. I understand that a low mood can cause a patient’s pain tolerance to drop, and that pain in turn can cause low moods, but I still have a major problem with this line of thinking. I’ve given in to Drs on all of these occasions, and have been satisfied in the notes that get sent to them by therapists querying why on earth they thought I needed therapy. Believe it or not I am pretty happy despite being physically flawed.

Patients should not have to worry about admitting to their care provider that they are struggling to handle their pain. They should be sure in the knowledge that their Doctor will examine all the options that are open, be that a change in prescription, a physical therapy referral etc. There are many avenues to dealing with pain that should be explored and there are great patient courses teaching you how to reduce your pain as much as you can without meds. But we shouldn’t be made to feel like criminals for holding our hands up and saying I need help. If I wake up in the morning and I’m in pain then I know that by pacing and with regular breaks in the day that I can minimise the potential exaggeration of pain, however if I wake up with spasms/dislocations or both, then it’s reassuring to know that I can dull that pain to a point where I can function.

There’s no shame in needing help and asking for it.

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This happens too often!

Duvet Days

Today is the last day of Invisible illness week 2016. I had had good intentions all week to blog daily, however readjusting to uni life meant that I was coming home from lectures and going straight to sleep. For this week I had planned to blog about achieving despite illness, and general spoonie hacks for coping with day to day life. Instead I’ve decided to leave these topics for another day and address the reality of what happens to someone with chronic illness when they catch an ‘ordinary’ bug.

I have spent the majority of today curled up under my duvet feeling frankly rather pathetic. Having caught a sicky bug and then developing a kidney infection I’m not feeling overly fantastic. Instead all my joints have been in a constant state of flare up pain, I have struggled to remain sitting upright for any length of time because my back feels like I have Snow White’s 7 dwarfs performing an irish jig on it; to walk the measly few steps from my bed to the bathroom has involved me gripping on to my walking sticks as I don’t trust my dodgy joints not to slip out of place and add to my already elevated pain levels. This is my reality every single time I catch some sort of acute bug. It sucks. Whenever my partner or my housemate has asked me what they can do to help, I’ve asked for a new body. It’s a silly retort and a bittersweet one at that. For a brief moment I’ll smile, as I know how unattainable that is, and then comes the downwards spiral because there are nowhere near enough words in existence for me to express how much I wish I could just have a new glitch free body.

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credit: Pinterest  – Spoonie Awareness

My mental well-being always takes a blow when I feel ‘iller’ than normal. So finding positives in each moment helps. Today I’m celebrating the fact that I recognized I needed a time out from life, I’m thrilled that I actually managed to change into a fresh set of pyjamas, that hell yeah I managed to walk through the pain with my stick, and sure I only managed a wee while but I still managed to accomplish some revision.

Sure I may be moaning and feeling rather sorry for myself, but I’m over the moon that I still managed all these positive moments. Tomorrow I’ll wake up to a new sunrise, and hopefully experience far less pain.

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