Happy Birthday Dystonia and Me!
Can you believe it’s been 5 years of blogging already? I can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly this has come around. It feels like just last week, I searched for a webhost desperate to spread awareness of Dystonia after feeling like I was floundering in a sea of uncertainty with little resources to pursue in my quest for answers. Now I confidently tackle my condition head on and happily refer people to resources I have come to know and trust.
When I started blogging it was completely in the mindset that it would be purely to raise awareness. Over the last 5 years this has evolved to be a space where I can openly and honestly express myself without fear, safe in the knowledge that someone out in the vast vacuum of the web will be able to relate to what I am going through. My blog has become a site for awareness, expression and connection; I cannot get over how many online friends I have made. Whilst I am sad that so many of you have to live with this life altering condition, I am thankful for each one of you that has become a vital part of my day to day support network.
Over the last few years this blog has been nominated on several occasions for awards, won one, and even become a resource that several neurologists hand out when diagnosing new patients (this still flatters, astounds and thrills me). I’ve had other sufferers pounce on me with hugs and their stories at hospitals; I love this, it shows me that I am doing something right.
Just a few years ago, reaching this milestone seemed ridiculous. I didn’t know how to live each day let alone 5 years with this hideous condition. Now, several diagnoses later, I have learned to find joy and laughter in my spasms, to treasure every moment that puts a smile on my face and be thankful that drs like my neurologist exist, for without my neuro my world would be darker (literally). So instead of being disheartened that 5 years on I’m still battling, I’m lifting my chin, defying my alien and celebrating each little success.
Here’s to another 5 years.
For the last eight months I have been frequenting the same coffee shop several times a week. If the sofa is available, I curl up in the corner of it whip out my notepad and will scrawl away for hours on end quite happily. It’s my routine, and one that I thoroughly enjoy. Spend enough time in places like this and you easily fall into habitual conversations and friendships with other coffee lovers.
The other day whilst lost in my thoughts, one of the regulars, Mr. Latte we shall call him, came over for our usual chat. Towards the end of our talk he asked if I’d be interested in going on a date and getting to know each other better. It was a lovely offer, and normally I would not hesitate, after all what do I have to lose? This time however I did pause. There have been so many occasions in the last year were I have watched my illnesses blow up a date in seconds; which is fine, it means time is not wasted, but it’s emotionally exhausting. Putting my conditions aside, I could not help but wonder how I would handle it. After the events of the other week the idea of being out with someone I only vaguely knew was not a pleasant one.
I find myself rather irritated by my reaction. When did I start to let my health and fears control me? I have always been the person to say yes and jump on board. This momentary new attitude isn’t the person I am, and is one I refuse to allow to become part of me. My stumbled over “I’ll think about it”, is not something I’ll do again. If I want to do something, then great off I go, if I’d rather not then fine, that is also great. Saying either yes or no is okay, but I shall not be this indecisive person any longer.
I don’t talk about my EDS much, though it’s a painful condition it’s symptoms are by far less noticeable than my Dystonia. This has resulted in me being more than happy to allow it to simmer away in the background. Often people think that the condition means I’m simply just ‘a bit bendy’. The reality is slightly more complicated.
EDS Type Three affects multiple parts of the body. In my case my skin is stretchy but tears and bruises very easily, I have multiple allergies, sublux and dislocate at the slightest thing and have chronic pain. When I talk about my subluxations and dislocations people often presume that I have to have fallen over, or injured myself in some way to cause it. This is not the case; this week I woke up on Wednesday morning to discover I had dislocated my thumb in my sleep. I laughed so much at this because it is frankly a ridiculous situation to find yourself in.
Whilst the EDS and Dystonia are two separate conditions they impact each other. My jaw spasms will often result in a dislocation, this happens more and more frequently. Previously the two conditions acting up at the same time would have been enough to set a seizure off. It’s a worry I have in the back of my mind frequently, there is always a chance that the next dislocation will result in me seizing in an ambulance. However, despite a recent increase in dislocations I am currently just coming up to six months’ seizure free; which has me thrilled to bits.
Receiving post is a very everyday aspect of life. Normally it’s not something that I would get over excited about. Every now and then though there is an exception. I received today three different types of support splints that the hospital had decided to order for me. The team I was under in the hospital witnessed several of my dislocations and noticed general issues in my hands and feet that could be improved with ease.
Three of the four splints arrived this afternoon. Two are designed for my wrists and thumbs. Part of the issue with EDS is that the brain does not always know exactly where the joints are. These splints help provide feedback to the brain along with stabilizing the joints.
The third splint is a gel ankle brace. If there was an Olympic medal for ankles giving away and falling over, I would take the gold every single time. My ability to fall down curbs, over thin air, and up the stairs is impeccable. The gel supports on both sides of this will cushion the joint whilst aiding stabilization. My skin breaks very easily due to the EDS so this design should work wonderfully with my skin.
I am hoping that the splints as a way of treating the EDS, and my upcoming Botox injections, should mean I spend less time hugging the floor.
I am currently an inpatient at The Royal National Orthopedic Hospital Stanmore on a rehabilitation and pain management program. I have just started my second week and so far it has been an interesting learning curve. The program has many components to it which all relate back to pacing. It would seem that after four years of my neurologist stressing to me the need to pace my life I may finally be learning – but don’t celebrate yet, it’a slow change but I’m getting there.
Morning Physio Exercises
I have been really impressed with the course so far, the staff are fantastic. My assigned physio is fantastic and happily allows me to laugh my way through our sessions. Hydrotherapy has been my favorite therapy so far. The water provides resistance whilst enabling ease of movement in a relatively pain free environment. We had a session on foiling flare ups today, it’s rather reassuring to know that when I am discharged at the end of next week that I shall leave with a plan that shall help give me the tools to cope with it.
Whilst I am overall thrilled with the program and have been impressed with the therapies provided I cannot help but be tickled with the kitchen. So far everyday I have explained that I am allergic to X, Y and Z, and everyday I have been served food that I’m anaphylatic to. Ironically the hospital won an award last week for their catering…
My blog post earlier in the week sparked conversation on social media which is something I love to see; it also got me thinking. When I inform a date/potential date that I’m ill, I almost always apologise. I don’t quite know why I say sorry. Perhaps it is because I know that I’m not exactly what you see, but who really is, or maybe it is an automatic reaction to help deal with the social awkwardness that I’m feeling and attempting to suppress. I am awful for stuttering out an apology whenever nerves take hold.
This is a quality of myself that I can control. A rather refreshing thought. So after a period of reflection I’ve decided I’m no longer going to apologise for my conditions. They are part of me, good and bad. If I can learn to see the humour in them, then others can too. That’s not to say I won’t profusely apologise if I spasm and hit someone, of course I will – then again I’ll also probably laugh.
I feel quite delighted with my decision. Taking another step, and embracing my alien just that bit more.
This month is full of opportunities that I never expected to experience. Towards the end of the month I’m going to Amsterdam for a few days with the university, followed by three weeks as an inpatient in the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore. It is an exciting time to say the least.
The publishing trip to Amsterdam shall not only be an insightful opportunity for my course, but shall also allow me to explore how my body will react to travelling. Visiting other countries was a luxury, that when I first became ill in 2012, I thought would have to be swept under the carpet and not thought about again. However, in comparison to four years ago my bundle of conditions are extremely well controlled, instilling me with the confidence to explore this opportunity further. To help ensure that I am as safe as can be my neurologist agreed to administer my Botox a week early to knock unwanted spasms on the head.
Back in 2013 this was me; reliant on a wheelchair with monthly ambulance trips to A&E.
Three years on I’m incredibly lucky to have a regime of medication and injections that enables me to live life to the full. I still need my wheelchair every now and then, but it is no longer a necessity for daily life.
Less than a week after I return from the trip it is off to RNOH I go for three weeks of intensive rehabilitation for my EDS Type Three. I have been on the waiting list for this stint for almost a year and a half, so I’m a bag of excitement and nerves in anticipation for my admission. My time there should enable me to carry on life with better habits when it comes to using my joints, hopefully that will mean less over extending, and help strengthen the weaker muscles and ligaments.
During my interview for the treatment we discussed what I would like to focus on strengthening, my first answer out of the several I was allowed to give, was my jaw. The combination of EDS and Dystonia means that my jaw comes out of place extremely easily, which inflicts a severe amount of pain. Knowing that jaw physiotherapy will be possible is huge news for me, as this issue is the main factor behind my seizures. Anything that will decrease the amount of subluxations and dislocations for my jaw has the potential to make an incredible difference to my life.
Needless to say I’m counting down the days to go!
If you had sat opposite me and my friends on the bus yesterday chances are you would not have had a clue there was anything wrong with me. When I shuddered, and my friends asked in hushed tones if I was cold, you would not have paid a second thought to it. In reality that shudder was my body trying desperately to twitch but failing due to the injections, my friends whispered question was simply because they know that the cold aggravates my Dystonia. I currently walk around Oxford like a human marshmallow, swaddled in layers, with my gloves, hat and scarf on. My joints are already painful most days. I compensate for this though, my bedroom generally feels like a sauna.
Winter is coming. For many Dystonia, EDS and other spoonies winter impacts their chronic illness, causing spasms, pain flares etc. Managing your symptoms gets harder and if you’re anything like me and run head first at every challenge your condition presents, then you’ll find that with winter you’ll crash and flare more often. Symptom diaries are a fantastic tool to keep. Learning what you can do to keep on top of your health is the best approach you can take.
I know that in winter If I go out with no gloves and only one pair of socks, I am going to spend the day apologizing to all the people I pass in the street as I’ll accidentally hit them when I twitch. It’s humiliating, and avoidable if I just remember to wrap up. If my room gets to cold I know I shall spend the night in agony with my body spasming. Again this is avoidable. I may not be able to prevent every single spasm, but I can definitely prevent the worst of them by taking sensible measures.
So please all you amazing spoonie warriors, wrap up this winter and don’t put yourself at risk!