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

Posts tagged ‘spoonie’

Hard Decisions; Hello Meds

Today I reluctantly restarted several of my medications. This was quiet an emotional decision to make as for the last almost 7 weeks I had fought to preserve with breastfeeding; despite the hospital wanting to give him formula from the moment he was born. But I can’t deny that there has been a slight increase in my jaw and eye spasms, and it makes sense to hit this on the head now.

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We had finally conquered breastfeeding

I know I have done well to get this far, but I still feel rather sad that we are now moving on, especially as over the last two weeks we had really got breastfeeding down to a much calmer event. The down side to having rare conditions is that not everyone who is involved with different aspects of my care has an in-depth understanding of just how my conditions affect me, despite my best efforts to inform them as best as I can. If people don’t want to familiarise themselves with the conditions there is not a lot that can be done about this. This sadly has meant that after a very short, under a minute-long eye spasm which I spoke through, a professional who witnessed the spasm presumed I had had a seizure (but didn’t think to discuss this with me) and contacted another member of my medical team causing a day of unnecessary drama and stress. Whilst this has all been cleared up now, I feel that this has left me with very little choice but to take my medicine again so I can prove I’m doing everything I can to prevent this my spasms.

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I had a long chat with my GP yesterday as the whole thing left me feeling rather needlessly judged, after all people with epilepsy have children, as do people who are permentalty blind. Thankfully she is very familiar with all of my conditions, and although she would rather I continued to breastfeed she understood why I felt there was little other choice in the matter.

My botox appointment has come through for august so I’m looking forward to talking through my future treatment plan with my neurologist.

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Oromandibular Dystonia & Communication

 

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.Image result for BSL

Summer, Spasms & Studies

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.

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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.

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Keeping the pram attached

Welcome To The World

It’s been over a month since I last posted here, thank you for all the lovely comments and emails checking that I am okay. I’m absolutely great, on the 14th May at 22.15pm I gave birth to our little boy Stefan Elijah. I have spent the time since adjusting to life as a new parent and learning how to respond to my conditions postnatally.

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I was extremely lucky during labour as my body behaved far better than I expected it to and my seizures never reared their ugly head. Despite my original concerns about an epidural I requested one, my labour was induced via a hormone drip which meant my contractions were rather literally constant which I didn’t cope well with. Whilst the epidural didn’t work fully (I could still move my legs and feel a lot of pain despite several top ups) it took the edge off and between it and gas and air I was able to cope far better. I went from saying I couldn’t cope anymore to having my inner geek come out and compare labour to an Orc trying to get through a hobbit hole! I have no idea how long my labour lasted, at 6.30ish pm I was only 3cm, so I was not classed as being in established labour, yet less than 4 hours later our little boy was here.

Since the birth my pain levels have dropped dramatically, I think mainly due the fact that he is no longer able to dislocate my ribs! Whilst I’m counting down to my botox injections, I’m thrilled knowing the appointment is in the post, I’m managing my jaw and other spasms rather well. I no longer push myself to get through any plans I had for the day if my spasms are on the more painful side, as it’s not worth risking having a seizure. Doing this has meant that I’m not wearing my body out and am needing less medication.

My Ehlers Danlos is causing a few issues at the moment. During birth I obtained a 2nd degree tear. Despite being stitched up at the time my body isn’t healing, so almost a month on I still have an open wound. Whilst I wait for a plan of action to resolve this I’m resting and on regular antibiotics to help.

All in all I am extremely thankful that the birth was so straightforward and I am loving life as a new mum. My partner is a fantastic dad and is great at helping me out and letting me grab some more sleep. I’m aiming to get back to blogging more frequently over the next few weeks, so check back for updates.

 

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What Causes Dystonia? 

The exact cause as to why people develop Dystonia is currently unknown for the majority of people. For a small group of people it occurs due to a gene mutation, brain injury, infection, secondary disorder, or as a result of medication.  Pinning down the root of the condition is something that research is currently focusing on.

So far we know that for some unidentified reason there is an issue with a section of the brain called the Basal Ganglia. It is known that this region of the brain enhances activity in the motor cortex which controls the agonist and antagonist muscles.  In a healthy person  when they make a movement the way the muscles contract and relax is coordinated and harmonious. However with Dystonia there is a deficient inhibition in the antagonist muscles which can result in both sets of muscles contracting simultaneously. It’s not clear why this happens. 

The Dystonia Society  UK have a fantastic wealth of information on the ins and outs of Dystonia, which I would really recommend reading to find out more information on the condition. For now it seems unlikely that any one particular theory will be proven right in the immediate future,  so I shall continue to personify my Dystonia into a cheeky little alien, it’s a far more entertaining cause.

Functional Paralysis = Quality Floor Time

Pain at the moment is my constant companion. After weeks of agonising, seizure inducing pain, and more hospital visits than I care for, I was informed I’d dislocated two ribs. I normally handle dislocation rather well; if my thumbs have popped out, it’s no big deal, I can pop them back in with ease, my jaw causes a fair bit of pain and in some cases I need help relocating it, but the majority of the time I can manipulate it back into place myself. My ribs however are a completely different story, there’s not a lot that can be done about it. I’ve had several medical professionals try and get them as close to where they should be as possible, a tear-jerking process might I add, and every time within hours they are back out of place. Sometime it’s simply because I twisted too fast or I sneezed or, if I’m a real dare devil, I tried to get out of bed. Everyday basic activities cause enough pain for me to be on regular codeine four times a day, and tramadol if I start seizing. The hospital doesn’t know what to do with me at first, they admitted me to: rule out anything more serious such as gallbladder problems; keep a close eye on the baby (who’s coping miraculously well with my faulty body) and keep me on regular doses of paracetamol, codeine and oramorph. Whilst they thankfully didn’t find anything on the scans that needed surgery, they did notice that both my kidneys are distended which won’t be helping my pain.

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Most days I’m a 6. Currently I’m a 9.

Now I’m back at home and it’s hard to know what to do with myself. There are some brief moments in the day when my pain feels manageable, like earlier today. Foolishly this afternoon, I decided to take advantage of feeling okay and fold some baby whilst clothes sitting on the floor. You would think that this is a job that shouldn’t take too long and isn’t exactly taxing, right? Wrong. The pain quickly got extreme enough, despite codeine, for me to realise if I didn’t lie down flat on the floor asap I was going to risk hurting myself as I knew my ability to stay conscious was fading. Whilst being on the floor was enough to keep me conscious for the majority of the time (I’m pretty sure I had 2 or 3 seizures), it wasn’t enough to stop my brain from going into functional paralysis mode. I spent just over an hour unable to move any part of my body, struggling to get my eyelids to flicker and completely unable to make a sound. I knew I needed help and that my partner was in the next room, but I had zero ways of indicating to him that I was in trouble.

It’s like having your mouth gagged, your eyes taped shut, and your entire body rolled up and bound tightly in a weighted blanket; the entire time even your thought processes become sluggish and it takes effort just to think. There’s so much temptation to just give in to unconsciousness, I can feel it on the horizon, creeping closer and there’s not a lot I can do to keep it at bay. Some days I admit I welcome it; being functionally paralysed terrifies me, I can’t bare being aware of how helpless I am at the moment in time. Other days simply managing to remain conscious feels like the biggest victory I could ever ask for and achieving it is my way of fighting back.

After about an hour on the floor I had regained enough control of my body to make small noises and through the blessing that is voice technology instruct my phone to call my partner. Eventually we got tramadol into me and managed to move me to our bed. I’m exhausted, it sounds bizarre but having your brain cut off from the rest of your body is shattering. I’m now curled up, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, relishing in the slightly duller pain. I’m admittedly scared to even consider moving but the pain killers have enabled me to feel my body and I’m in a safe place which is all I can ask for.

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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Dystonia and Pregnancy So Far

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.

I’m A Spoonie, Not An Addict

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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