I’m currently on week seven of my Botox cycle. My injections are not being administered for another week due to a mistake (lets presume it’s a mistake and not my new neurologist being devious, because being frank I would not put it past him). I should be in bed asleep right now. Normally I would currently either be asleep or out with friends. Instead I am medicated to the extreme, I have lavender wheat bags heated up wrapped round my neck, and resting along my jaw and heat packs stuck along my back. To say I’m in agony would be an understatement.
I have resorted to taking Oramorph, a medication I try my best to avoid, however I would much rather give in and take it than have a seizure (click here to read what a seizure is like), and right now I’m concerned that with the amount of pain I am in that I will have one. My brain is not staying connected to my mouth tonight, functional paralysis is something I have suffered from for a few years now, but it has never ceased to terrify me. I understand that it is simply my brain being unable to cope with the amount of pain I am in, so it disconnects from the affected part but it is an unnatural experience that no matter how much I attempt to laugh off unnerves me.
Tonight my jaw is particularly bad, and is frequently being functionally paralysed leaving me unable to verbally communicate. It may seem like a small thing to some, but when you are trying to desperately to get any part of your mouth; whether that be your lips, tongue, just anything, to move and they won’t, apart from when they spasm, its horrendous. I cannot yell for help if I need it, I cannot cry in frustration or call someone to talk too to distract myself. I am stuck with my jaw spasming, distorting itself in ways that should not be possible, threatening to dislocate, and all I can do is cry silent tears, pray that I do not have a seizure and use this blog as an outlet for my pent-up frustration with this crushing condition.
I have a 9am lecture tomorrow morning. Which I am determined to attend, most likely in a wheelchair for my own safety, one of my close friends has agreed to take me there which has helped put my mind at rest. For now it is back to attempt sleep and hope that my little Dystonia Alien allows me some rest
Today was the first time I have had to give in and use my wheelchair at uni. I had anticipated that today would be harder than usual as I had traveled to London yesterday for my routine injections. My body always reacts badly to them for the first 24 to 48 hours, normally this leaves me in a lot of a pain and with an increase in spasms, which with a mix of painkillers and muscle relaxants I can manage. I therefore had not expected to fall over when getting out of bed this morning. My back and neck had gone into a hideous spasm and my brain had functionally paralysed both legs and my left arm. I spent half an hour lying on the floor like this, debating what to do. I gave myself an hour in which if I managed to get dressed I would venture to uni in my wheelchair and braces, and if I was still on the floor I would ring the Wardens.
I felt extremely proud of myself that it only took half an hour to get dressed this morning despite my brain fighting me, this must be a new personal best. I admit that as I braced the majority of my body I was extremely nervous. My peers are aware that I am ill, but they have never seen me like this, I had no idea how they or my lecturers would react. Within minutes of being in uni my nerves were swept away. Not only did no-one bat an eyelid, but people helped me when I needed it without me even asking.
Part of me had strongly wanted to not go in to uni today. I was worried of what others would think, and how I would physically cope, I had already had several draining days and was concerned that this on top would be too much. I am extremely glad that I took the leap, and forced myself to go. It will help keep my mind at rest the next time my brain decides that a day of alternating between spasms and paralysis would be fun.
Saturday evening, after a drizzly but fantastic day spent at Ascot racecourse, I found myself lying on my side in the living room in a fair degree of pain after my hip gave way. After a quick feel I was certain that it hadn’t dislocated and the fact I had remained conscious and had not slipped straight into one of my seizures reassured me that nothing too untoward was at play. However my hip, when not spasming, has never been the reason for me falling before, so the fact I was not seizing I felt could not be 100% relied upon. Perhaps my brain had functionally paralyzed that part of my body? Even momentarily, would have been enough, after all my hip had caused me increasing amounts of pain all day.
I still don’t know why this happened. After spending a couple of hours on the floor we eventually got me to my room, and I spent the following day, on bed rest, taking plenty of regular painkillers and ant-inflammatory’s. It is only now on Tuesday that I am walking around without as much discomfort, though I’m still taking regular anti-inflammatory’s. One of the issues I often find with my myriad of medical conditions is judging when to get arising issues checked out. With my bones I usually go by whether the complaint is swollen or not, this is on the advice of a plastic consultant, due to my EDS. However when it comes to the rest of my conditions it can be pretty hit or miss.
When I end up in Accident & Emergency, or when I’m at my GP’s, I often feel like I’m wasting their time because of how often I’m there. The best they can do is patch up the new issue; like sticking a fabric plaster on a cut before getting in a bath. It’s almost pointless because you’re just going to have to stick another one on when you get out, but for the mean time it’ll do. The reasonable part of me knows this isn’t the case, that I need their help and I’m extremely thankful for it. But whilst I’m there I can’t deny that’s how I’m feeling, especially when a lot of appointments involve me battling to receive treatment I need.
Judging when to get checked out is a minefield. So often I leave things until they have reached a point where I probably have made it worse for myself. This seems to be a common issue among people with chronic health conditions. Many of us have accepted that we are chronically ill and that we will have falls or spasms etc., we just don’t want to make a nuisance of ourselves or accept another symptom or injury.
The other month I posted a blog on disabled dating. I finally admitted to you all that I had been approached by the Undateables TV show. Being asked to appear on this show knocked my confidence. I felt as if this was perhaps the only way I would be able to meet anybody; that just maybe this was all I was worth. This show is great for some people, I understand that, but for me it was an insult.
Shortly after this I went on a date with a guy who turned out to be a complete sleezebag, and that’s putting it politely. These two incidents combined completely set my confidence back. I felt as if dating was completely out the window, that I really was undateable. Part of me wondered if maybe I was just someone people looked at with repulsion. After all, if I struggle to stay calm with my misbehaving limbs, how could anyone tolerate them or find me attractive?
At the start of May I met my boyfriend Alex, in the local pub. I cannot put into words the satisfaction and joy I feel at having met him in such a normal way. At first I expected listing my many conditions to him would cause him to go running to the hills. Imagine my surprise when he actually knew what some of them were, and better yet, didn’t mind when my arm went flying out violently to the side. He is patient and understanding, and doesn’t mind which of my different aids I’m using to get about that day. What is best is that he allows me to feel normal, not a feeling I’m used to but one that I love. I feel like a normal 22 year old. I don’t think I could ask for more!
So I’m closing the chapter on the Undateables, forgiving them and moving on. I’ve got a brand new wave of confidence and it’s time to write a new page.
Before I became ill I frequently had periods away from home. Whether that was holidays with friends, slumber nights with mates or living in halls at university during term time. Having independence rudely snatched away by Dystonia has been something I have had difficulty adjusting to. To a degree you could say I have refused to adjust to it and have enjoyed pushing my boundaries even if they landed me in hospital.
At times rolling over, bowing down to my alien and declaring its victory, has been tempting. However I’m a stubborn person, a trait that I am rather sure is one of the reasons I have come as far as I have in my battle against my many illnesses. Up until this weekend I had not spent a night away from my family (my mum has always slept at the hospital with me) due to the severity, complexity, and erratic nature of my health. Over the last year we have finally found a combination of medication and regular injections that has helped to manage my symptoms enough to give me a better quality of life. So I decided to embrace this new found stability (though I shall admit I still have some unexpected moments, and have almost hit my boyfriend on a few occasions), and spent the weekend in Manchester visiting two of my old flatmates.
My flatmates Emily and Rachel are very close to my heart. I see Rachel several times a month as we live seconds away from each other still, but Emily I haven’t seen since 2012 though we have kept in touch. They were both there for me in uni when my body started going downhill, and have spent numerous occasions in hospital with me at silly o’clock in the morning. To have my first time spent away from my family be with these two girls meant a lot to me. It was also quite reassuring as they have both done their nursing training, so I was in safe hands!
Today I am shattered, after a full on weekend with the girls, a subtle reminder that although it feels like no time has passed since we last were all together I’m slightly more fragile than I was back then.
The difference between my mental and physical capabilities is vast. Dystonia has meant that my health has changed frequently and I have to constantly remind myself that just because I think I can do something doesn’t necessarily mean I can. Those who know me well, know that I tend to think well I’ll give it a go and if I spasm, then I’ll learn from it. Trouble is, my thought pattern then alters to well body, you may have spasmed last time, but if I do it again perhaps you will learn. It is not a smart way to deal with the condition; my neurologist really is a saint for putting up with me.
Mentally I feel no different to how I did before I became ill. If anything I am more determined to do things, to attempt to try to retrain my brain. It may sound slightly out there, but if you can desensitize nerves, then why not reteach the brain movements? I’m determined to get it through to my Dystonia alien, that twitching and throwing things just isn’t polite.
Over the last two weeks I have been far more active than usual. With my exams over and done with, and no revision needing to be done, I have filled my spare time with constant activities. Part of me is aware of my neuros six weekly reminders to not overdo it. I know that eventually my body will crash and spasm far more than usual, putting me at risk of seizing. It would be far more sensible to pace myself, to do an allotted amount each day. To do this would make my Drs happy, but I doubt it would reassure anyone that I was any safer; friends and family would still be concerned about me. I would still be ‘ill’.
To live my life by allotted sensible slots wouldn’t make me happy. Burning out now and then hurts like mad and I always say that I’ll take more care next time…followed by a laugh because I know I don’t mean this. I love to be as busy as I can. I will never overload myself completely; don’t get me wrong I allow for plenty of down time, chilling with a good DVD, recuperating. But slowing down isn’t for me, I know I’m ill, my body gives me a daily reminder (when the Botox is wearing off) with all the walls I hit, the jaw spasms and mad blinking but I have a lot of living to catch up on. I plan to do just that.
When I was diagnosed with Dystonia in 2012 it took a few days for reality to really sink in. But after allowing myself to accept the diagnosis I launched myself into researching the condition. Something I’m sure many of you sufferers do. The problem with the internet is that you can find just about anything you want to find on it. Researching useful information can be problematic.
I was lucky and stumbled across The Dystonia Society’s Webpage quiet quickly (http://www.dystonia.org.uk/). Their website is packed full of easy to understand information and resources. It helped me come to terms with my condition and understand fully the condition I was dealing with. Previously I had not understood that it was my brain sending incorrect signals to my muscles causing them to go into painful spasms. I had simply thought they were just spasming.
The Dystonia Society over the last couple of years have been a wealth of knowledge and their helpline has been of great comfort. Another fantastic site is The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (https://www.dystonia-foundation.org/). This is the American equivalent of the The Dystonia Society and is another resourceful website, providing fantastic information on the condition and advice. Websites such as these two are a great resource for suffers to use as a tool to educate Doctors, health professionals and family members who don’t understand the condition. They even have a have section for schools. I find myself checking these sites constantly for new material I can use to help advise others and am never let down.
Please also check out today’s awareness VLOG on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEGq26wHwpo&feature=youtu.be
When you become ill with Dystonia there are a lot of changes you have to make to your life. Mentally you often feel like you can still go out for that morning run, or dance the night away with your mates. The reality is extremely different. No two days are the same and spasms can cause simple daily tasks such as getting dressed to take hours upon hours.
Whenever I visit my Neurologist or my GP they both tell me to slow my life down and take things easy so as to give my body a bit of a break. They have been giving me this same piece of advice for over two years now. I know I should take their advice on board. After all they would not repeatedly tell me it if it was not necessary, however I find that I feel so determined/ stubborn to live as normal a life as possible that taking it easy just doesn’t seem to feel right.
I know that realistically my body would most likely thank me if I started taking it easy more often. Pushing the boundaries over and over only results in pain, I know that. However there is some small part of me that each time hopes that this will be the time I will achieve just that bit more. Instead my body goes in to hideous spasms that I have too spend a few days recovering from each time.
I think adjusting your life after diagnosis is one of the hardest parts of the illness. It’s not just your work life, but also your family and social life that are impacted. Having to explain to people that you yet again cannot do something because of Dystonia is incredibly disheartening, it helps if you are surrounded by people who understand and support you. At times it is not the spasms that prevents you from taking part but the fatigue from the treatment. I find the medication leaves me half asleep, which in turn impacts every aspect of life.
I have been living and adapting to the condition for around two and a half years now. I’m not sure if you can ever really adjust to it. I don’t plan on ever slowing down. I enjoy my life too much. I believe the best way to cope with this hideous condition is to take each minute as it comes.
To find out more about how my Dystonia started check out my VLOG https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV_L-9vCGPw&feature=autoshare
Living with chronic illness is never easy. It impacts the majority, if not all, areas of your life. One of these areas is relationships. Whether this is friendships, family, or romantic relationships, chronic illnesses such as Dystonia can have a big impact. It is hard enough for the sufferer to understand what they are dealing with and cope with it, but for people who are not experiencing it themselves it really sums up their characters by how they react.
Personally I think it takes a lot of guts for a sufferer to open to their friends and family and admit that they have been diagnosed with Dystonia. It is not the easiest condition to explain. There is no rash or broken bone that they can see, no medicine that is going to cure you. You are sitting them down and admitting that you are not going to get better, that you may in fact get worse, but that you are hoping that a handful of medication and injections will help control the condition. People will either stand by you or they will turn their back on you.
I can remember when I first announced to those closest to me that I had finally been diagnosed. I was naïve enough to trust that my support system would stay intact. I never expected it to crumble around me. My relationship of two years broke down instantly, and many friends vanished into thin air. At the time I was lost, unable to comprehend how those I had thought would stand with me through thick and thin could just disappear the minute the going got tough. With time though I grow thankful that they did leave, it meant that I was left with a support system I could count on whenever I needed it.
When you live with Dystonia I think having a support system in place is one of the most vital things in enabling you to get by. Emotionally it means I know that I have friends I can count on to listen whenever I am having a bad day and am not sure how to cope anymore. Physically, I can be reassured that whenever I am functionally paralysed for example I know there are people I can rely on to help me. I know of some sufferers whose own family turned their back on them because they simply do not comprehend the condition well enough, I am blessed to have family and friends who are here for me 24/7.
Dystonia can be alienating, in life you do not often meet people with the condition. Surrounding yourself with people who love you despite having a brain that likes to be dysfunctional is important.