Reaching a point of diagnosis in too many cases is a long and hard road to travel down. Despite being the third most common movement disorder there is an astounding lack of knowledge in the medical community. The lucky minority may get a diagnosis in months, but for most it takes years, sometimes decades.
In a way I was lucky that I had heard the word Dystonia once before, though I had no appreciation of its signifinance. Looking back at my medical history I had symptoms long before I realised there was anything potentially wrong. In 2008/2009 I developed severe neck spasms, however this kicked off after a rather spectacular fall from a horse which resulted in me landing on my head, so it was easy to put the spasms down to this. Then in 2010 I experienced for the first time Oromandibular Dystonia. My jaw dramatically deviated for a painful 3 months before we found a maxiofacial consultant surgeon who knew what was wrong. I was informed that a quick operation where my tempromandibular joint (TMJ) would be washed out and botox administered would solve the problem. I never questioned this and presumed that Dystonia must be some sort of infection. This belief was reaffirmed by the fact that the operation was a success. Shortly after this I developed arm and back spasms, but for several years I shook these off as simply violent shivers.
In the summer of 2012 I was coming to an end of my first year of midwifery training. For a couple of days I’d had ear ache and swelling and had planned to visit the GP but was in no rush to do so. I now recognise this as a sign of whenever my jaw is going to play up. That weekend I’d popped home to visit my family, whilst relaxing in the garden with them my jaw started to spasm and once again deviate. My mum offered to drive me to the local hospital which I declined, convinced it was just an infection.
My GP that Monday was horrified. After one look at me I was on the way to the hospital with her convinced I had had a stroke. Countless blood tests and xrays were taken, and eventually a consultant appeared. He was the top bod in his area and had an ego to match. Due to his station I didn’t question his plan to wire my jaw shut. Less than 24 hours after the operation my flatmates were rushing my back to hospital, the spasms had returned with vengeance, breaking every wire in my mouth and dislocating my jaw. From that moment onwards the consultant dodged me. Refusing to see me or remove the wires which were ripping my mouth apart.
It took a further 3 months to find a surgeon willing and able to help me. Sitting in front of the surgeon who had treated me back in 2010 he was apologetic for the state I was in. By this point we had started researching Dystonia as I was now wheelchair bound and unable to brush my hair or feed myself.
I often wonder whether 5 years on I would have received my diagnosis if I had never met my neuro. The Dystonia Society UK have a wealth of information that has been invaluable. It’s enabled me to ask for treatment and referrals appropriate for my conditions and have informed conversations with doctors.
I never expected to still be fighting for correct care. The current hospital I am in would far rather blame my symptoms on past traumas than acknowledge the existence of Dystona. It makes me thankful daily that I have a neurologist willing to my corner.
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.
It’s Dystonia Awareness Week 2015! In a similar way to last year I plan to do a series of blogs explaining the different aspects of Dystonia. Normally my family and I hold a bakesale to help raise funds for The Dystonia Society during the awareness week. However due to the majority of my family having exams this month we have decided to delay this until June. I’ll be posting the date for this soon.
I want to focus today on the road to diagnosis and treatment. This is such a scrambled and boggy area to tread. Many people with Dystonia suffer with the condition for years before getting diagnosed. Often we are made to feel as if it is all in our heads, and end up with referrals for counselling. Trying to get medical professionals to listen and take us seriously can be extremely hard, especially if they have not had any experience with the condition before. I don’t believe they intend to make us doubt our own sanity but it happens.
In 2012, for example, I spent just over a week in a local hospital after the muscles behind my eyes spasmed, forcing my eyes to roll back in the socket and stay there, leaving me functionally blind for 15 hours. Those 15 hours were hideous, I was terrified and in a fair amount of pain. When you looked at me only the whites of my eyes could be seen. I was repeatedly told by doctors during this time to “just roll your eyes down”. Needless to say it became hard not to snap and inform them that if I could do that, I would have done so already. I felt as if no doctor believed me. I was forced to talk to a psychiatrist during my stay.
A couple of months after this I met my wonderful neurologist, who took the time to really listen and examine my symptoms. I was fortunate to get diagnosed in a matter of months. Many others with the condition are misdiagnosed for years, decades in some cases! This is one of the many reasons awareness of this debilitating and life changing condition is necessary. A correct diagnosis leads to treatment that can help improve quality of life. The more awareness that there is the better chance of sufferers being diagnosed in a far more timely manner.
On Wednesday 6th May a Dystonia Awareness message will be sent out Via Thunderclap. The more people that sign up for this the further the reach of the message. So please sign up at the following link https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/24206-dystonia-awareness-week-2015 .
Since Dystonia started affecting me nine months ago, I have often asked what caused it? I have accepted the fact that I have Dystonia, and why it is me that has it is no longer important to me. What does matter to me is what has caused it!!
I understand that Dystonia is caused by a part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia sending out the wrong signals, but what caused it to do that? Is it genetic, do I have a gene mutation, is it due to dopamine, have I fell and landed on my head to many times? It may seem like a trivial thing to dwell on, as after all knowing why/what caused the Dystonia, does not change the fact that I have it, all it may do is change my treatment plan. Yet it remains an important issue to me, I need to know what caused my brain to stop functioning the way it should.
What I cannot understand either is why the Doctors do not want to find out the cause? I had a CT scan done back in August which confirmed that there was nothing structurally wrong with my brain. Knowing that is great, it’s a relief and something that I can strike off as a probable cause. However beyond this scan no other test has been done, so how can they treat me if they do not know the cause? I know in many cases the cause is not always found, however surely the logical thing to do would be to test for gene mutations, trial me on levadopa etc, check that there is no cause which would require a different treatment plan, before trying and the majority of the time failing, to control my symptoms?
I try my best to avoid thinking about what has caused this, as I understand that I am unlikely to get an answer any time soon, but that does not stop me wanting it. All I can do is hope that a doctor will eventually test me for possible causes. Even if an obvious cause can not be found, I would be much happier knowing that they had at least tried!
So for now, I shall cross my fingers and hope that I will one day get the answers that I need. Until then I shall continue to press my doctors to carry out the tests, until they decided to listen to me.