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.
In 2012 one of the first symptoms I developed was severe Oromandibular Dystonia. This meant that my jaw, mouth and tongue go into painful, and often extreme spasms. On these occasions I struggle to speak; this can be due to several factors such as: my tongue spasming and making it impossible to talk, the jaw spasm itself, especially when dislocated, making it impossible; or it is simply too painful to do so. I often attempt to try and talk through the spasm but this can aggravate it.
Trying to communicate during these episodes is difficult, even if I manage to successfully make a noise, what I am attempting to say may not be clear. In recent weeks, since the birth of my baby, I had been trying to think of ways around this. Writing it down is one option, however, I find physically writing very painful and often dislocate when doing so. Instead my partner and I have decided to learn British Sign Language; we’re incorporating baby sign language into this too so that Stefan, when old enough, will understand as well.
We’re off to a great start and enjoying this venture. I’m finding that I feel far more settled knowing that I’ll be able to communicate clearly, even on bad days. As someone who is quite the chatterbox, this is important to me.
Summer has arrived without a doubt, beautiful cloudless sky, sweltering heat and wonderful days out whilst I’m on my uni holidays. However, the arrival of summer also means that my body is working extra hard to compensate which has resulted in periods of tachycardia, eye and other spasms and an increase in pain. Sunglasses are now a permanent feature to try and relieve a bit of pressure on my eyes, but short of sitting in the freezer there’s not too much that can be done.
When I first became ill I found my focus was entirely on all the things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. Over the years I have conquered all the hurdles I was facing or found ways around them. Going to university was a huge deal and quiet the achievement for me. I’d been so reliant on others for years that living on my own and only having care for a little while a day was a nerve wracking decision to make. As you can imagine the idea of juggling a baby and uni has been a bit daunting.
Stefan’s first trip to Oxford Brookes University
At first, I didn’t know how I would manage both, but last week we ventured up to my university so I could sit my last exam of my second year. I was extremely lucky that my lecturer was willing to look after Stefan whilst I sat the exam. This has given me the confidence that I can do both, and that I’ll find ways to cope, for example little things like strapping the pram to my wrist so that if I have a seizure or have an extreme spasm he’s perfectly safe and can’t go anywhere. Small things like this put my mind at ease and reassure me that despite my conditions I can manage life as a student and mum.
Keeping the pram attached
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.
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.
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.
Several weeks ago, I had the chance to meet some fantastic women at a fundraising event where I gave a talk about Dystonia and life with it. Two of the women – Beth and Sheila – decided to do some of their own fundraising to enable me to get a special bath lift with chest and pelvis harness.
On Saturday I went over to the last event to meet 12 amazing women, who I must say are impressively creative. The had raised an incredible amount of money which will mean I can now have baths and showers safely. In the summer when we went away thanks to a downstairs wheelchair accessible shower as I was able to shower for the first time in a year, and I have been really missing that since.
It is amazing the mental boost a shower or bath can give you. Obviously being clean gives you a boost, but the natural pain relief and relaxing element of hot water is such a fantastic way to get alternative relief to pain. Currently I use a basin of water, some lovely lavender body wash and a sponge, and whilst I know that I am clean it is not the same cleanliness feeling that a bath or shower gives you. I am so excited to be able to bathe/shower again!
Once I figure out how to get the photos off my phone I shall upload some photos from Saturday. These women were so generous and I feel so privileged to have gotten the chance to meet them! This is one of those moments when in a way I am glad I am ill as I would have never met such kind wonderful people otherwise.
The human body is an amazing thing, it is a complicated being that relies completely on the brain to be able to function.However if there is one tiny glitch in the brain then dramatic abnormal changes occur. I am completely fascinated by my brain, I would love to have electrodes on my head for a few days to monitor it, so I could get a glimpse of what my brain is doing wrong.
Take yesterday for example, I don’t remember the day at all, but my mum found me unconscious due to my Non Epileptic Seizures in a chair, where I remained unconscious for a few more hours. My poor mum had to spend five hours in my room looking after me. Due to my lack of memory we have no clue what exactly caused me to started having seizures, when I came round I apparently complained about my knee a lot, however my knee other than being a bit bruised is fine today. It is times like this that I would just love to know what exactly is going on in my brain. Whilst Dystonia is extremely painful it is also utterly fascinating.
I consider myself to my extremely lucky that Dystonia is not fatal. I may moan and complain about living with it, but in comparison to so many other people on this planet I am considerably better off. I simply have a misbehaving alien bouncing around my brain pulling strings to make different parts of my body react or knock me out.
On the 28th of this month, I am going away to the Cotswolds with my family. I am extremely excited as I have not been on holiday in a few years. Even though my spasming body will still be with us it will be fantastic to have a change of scenery. I plan on relaxing, taking lots of photos and enjoying every single second of our holiday. I am now on a countdown to the 28th!
This week my blog has received well over a thousand views! I would like to say a humongous thank-you to everybody who is reading it. I hope it is raising awareness and helping others!