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.
Yes that’s right Dr, at the tender age of six I was bitten by a mythological creature. Within six months of this terrifying beast having a chew on my thigh you diagnosed me with M.E. You had exhausted all other diagnostic criteria. Not once did you consider that something so dramatic as a dragon bite may have occurred. Had you have taken a thorough medical history maybe right from the start you would have suspected Lyme Disease, perhaps you would have treated me and cured me of this hideous illness straight away. But how silly of me. You are a Dr, you do not deal in the likes of maybes, possibilities and mythological creatures; only cold hard facts, ones that fit nicely into your tick boxes.
Over the last 17 years do you know how many times your kind have uttered the words “It would appear you have X, but I am unsure because you just don’t fit into any of these boxes exactly!” Since when did the boxes become so rigid and unadaptable, are we not all unique individuals with our own mix of conditions that affects us all in varying ways? If as people we are so unpredictable in the way a condition may manifest, why then are your boxes so unforgiving. Only Monday of this week the Dr sat there trying to decide whether to diagnose me with inflammation of the optic nerve in both eyes or inflamed retinas in both eyes. Frankly the lovely woman was lost, I had her quiet confounded. She could see plainly that I was rather ill, her barrage of tests confirmed that, but not one of them could put their finger on as to why. I sat there quietly next to my mother, both of us whispering “The dragon bit me 17 years ago, but you don’t believe in Chronic Lyme Disease.”
Now replace the word dragon with a tick. This small seemingly insignificant creature is known to carry, in many cases, Lyme Disease. A disease that more often than not will report a false negative during testing due to the lack of accurate testing methods available. Oh but a lumbar puncture would pick it up you say? Yes, it sometimes does, but my neurologist swears me away from it for fear of making my Dystonia worse. One hospital says we will give you IV antibiotics that you need to cure you but we will only do this if you have an L.P, another admits they are 100% certain I have chronic Lyme but their hands are tied due to regulations that are out of date and blinded with inaccuracies.
Chronic Lyme is often hailed as the Great Pretender. You only have to look at me to see why. Here I am in another flare up of symptoms, attempting to treat each one as it appears. Its distressing really, knowing that IV antibiotics would cure but regulations prevent this as I’ve had both positive and negative results. So in the meantime it’s a guessing game of what will subdue the next round of symptoms for now.
If only Drs believed in mythological beasts like Dragons and Lyme Disease.
The title says it all. I am filled with relief. I have spent the last week hardly sleeping, overthinking and consumed with dread at today’s hospital appointment. Good news for a change though. I do not have MS! The Dr was uncertain as to whether the issue with my sight is being caused by inflamed optic nerves or inflamed retinas, she’s leaning more towards the problem being with my retinas. Because my left eye, which is my ‘good eye’ also shows signs of being affected I have been prescribed a 3 week course of steroids to help speed up the recovery process.
Emotionally I feel drained, and a lot of sleep needs to be caught up on but I am thrilled to know what’s going on with my body and that it can be sorted! This evening is being spent recuperating with Harry Potter, and dairyfree chocolate. What more can a girl want?!
I learnt many things from Harry Potter…this was one of them.
Since I last blogged things have been hectic. I have spent the majority of my days either at the hospital having various investigations carried out, or on the phone to them chasing down followup appointments. This week I have had more bloods taken and an MRI of my brain, eyes and spine with contrast performed. Tuesdays MRI experience seemed a bit surreal. It took 35 minutes, three medical personnel and 7 attempts before I was successfully cannulated as my veins were up to their usual disappearing act. This time allowed for me to internally become quiet anxious at the thought of being in the MRI machine for a minimum of an hour – in the end it was about one hour twenty. I am generally not a claustrophobic person, but this machine brings that fear out in me, this is most likely exacerbated by the fact that I have to be strapped to the table to ensure my spasms cannot move me around to much and distort the images.
Taken just after escaping the MRI machine
My stress levels have been through the roof this last week. I have fought so hard over the last four years to be put on a medication regime that allows me to have more control over my body again, and live a relatively normal life. The mere thought that my body may become more of an issue again is distressing. However I am lucky that I have a good support system in place, my family help keep me distracted, my boyfriend is great at talking through my concerns with me, and my councilor has been a fantastic space for me to vent and explore my frustrations at my faulty body.
Relaxing in Costa after a long day of tests at the hospital
I get the results of my MRI on Monday. So I shall know then whether more investigations need to be carried out or if it is MS.
In the United Kingdom it is estimated that at least 70,000 people suffer from Dystonia. Despite being the 3rd most common neurological movement disorder many people have never heard of it. The word Dystonia describes uncontrollable muscle spasms which are caused by the brain firing incorrect signals to the muscles. There are many types of Dystonia however, and no two types present exactly the same. The incorrect signals can cause the body to take on abnormal postures, tremor, contort and more. Many GPs will not see the condition during their practising career which can make knowing when to refer for a diagnosis difficult. Many sufferers go years before diagnosis occurs.
The condition is incurable and a tricky one to treat. Whilst many people manage to live full lives with appropriate treatment, this fact does not lessen the impact of the condition. A task you may be capable of preforming one day you may be unable to perform the next. If the condition appears in adulthood, in the majority of cases, it will remain contained to this area – this is known as focal Dystonia. However typically if the condition appears during childhood it generally will spread across numerous parts of the body -Generalized Dystonia.
Obtaining a diagnosis and receiving treatment can make a huge difference to a person’s quality of life. Without treatment I would be unable to see consistently, I would struggle to communicate due to jaw spasms, my head would be lopsided and my arm would be uncontrollable. Due to lack of awareness reaching the necessary professionals diagnose can be difficult, which is why awareness week is so important; increased awareness will not only help improve diagnosis times but can lead to more funding to find a cure.
Are you doing anything for Awareness Week? If so get in touch and let me know.
Green for Awareness Week
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 .
Today I had my six weekly appointment with my Neurologist in London. As usual he was charming himself. He never fails to listen, which is a breath of fresh air after the experience I often receive at the hands of various other medical professionals. As many of you will know, recently my twitches have been worsening. This has been impacting on my day-to-day life. Some days I struggle just to dress myself and I worry about whether I will hit someone in the street or knock products over in a shop. These factors don’t stop me from going about my life, but they do prove to be rather big hurdles though, as I really would rather not apologise for twitching and hitting someone.
I explained this to my neurologist. Honestly I was expecting, at best, for him to up one of my many medications or add yet another one in to the cocktail. He surprised me however by offering to inject my shoulder to see if this helped bring me some relief. This was a treatment I had debated asking for, but I had wanted to listen to his suggestions first. After all, he’s kept my twitches fairly well controlled for the past two years. He injected my shoulder muscles three times, which in the moment didn’t bother me too much, but I am really feeling it now! I am keeping my fingers crossed that hopefully this will do the trick.
As usual he advised me not to over do it. I can’t help but laugh. I try to take this on board, I really do. Dystonia already holds me back so much though, I don’t plan on taking the easy option. Even if that would mean less pain. I would rather grasp every opportunity that life throw at me and live every second to the full.
Frustration. Worry. Pain. Hope. Joy. A selection of the emotions that over the last few weeks I have experienced. I have improved leaps and bounds since I started new treatment for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease several weeks ago, there is a long way to go but the improvement are more than I could dared to have hoped for. Yet I feel like I am clinging to these improvements, that they might slip away at the slightest wrong move.
I must admit that on some level I am fuming that it has taken 16 years to get diagnosed. I have spent the majority of my life ill, passed from one specialist to the next, having test after test. The result of their continued ignorance is that I shall now have to live my life with Dystonia. I was not born with it, as far as we know it is not genetic, if I had simply been given antibiotics when I was six or in the couple of years after that I would not have to live with (a currently incurable) movement disorder.
I would not have to cope with the agony of my jaw dislocating due to spasms, or my neck twisting hideously. My ligaments throughout my whole body would not have been so stretched due to spasms that it shocks physiotherapists at the extent of the damage. I would not have developed pain triggered Non Epileptic Seizures if not for Chronic Neurological Lyme disease and Dystonia. I would not have spent 10 hours unconscious seizing in A&E on New Year’s Day 2013. I would not have collapsed and seized in the middle of roads, on the stairs, in shops etc. I would not have put my family, my friends, and myself through hell and back.
Although I have always been ill in one form or another it was not until 2012 that it became disabling, right at the end of my first year of Midwifery training. As many of you know, Midwifery is my dream job, and I hope to one day be able to go back to my training. More than Midwifery I dream of life without illness (I except I have to live with Dystonia). A life where my family don’t have to plan their activities around my health. A future where I can live life to the full without worrying about the impact it will have on my health! Without full treatment for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease I won’t get better. I will continue to deteriorate rapidly. Lyme Disease has claimed the lives of too many people already I don’t plan on being its next victim. I need to raise £10,000 to fund vital treatment if you are able to please help or share this page/link! https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/erfg6/ab/04081d
Generalised Dystonia usually occurs in late childhood/early teens, it is unusual for it to start after the mid twenties have been reached. In the majority of cases symptoms will progress for about five years before stabilising. I was 19 when my Generalised Dystonia started, it started in my Jaw and then spread rather quickly. Though I had an episode of Oromandibular Dystonia back when I was 17.
There are several possible reasons why someone may develop Generalised Dystonia. In some cases it is referred to as Primary, this is when there is no identifiable cause other than genetic factors such as a mutation in the DYT1 gene. Secondary Dystonia is when there is an underlying cause for example another medical condition, stroke etc. Dystonia can be inherited, there is a 30% chance of developing the condition if a person has the mutated gene. There are several other genes which can cause Primary Generalised Dystonia.
Treatment of Generalised Dystonia normally involves a combination of Botox injections and medication. I find a combination of muscle relaxants and six weekly injections, extremely helpful. Levodopa is usually trialled for around two months to see if the Dystonia is Dopamine responsive. Deep Brain Stimulation is also used to treat the condition and can make a huge impact to the sufferers quality of life. Selection for this however is done very carefully to make sure that the patient is likely to benefit from the treatment as the surgery obviously carries many risks.
Below is an image of one of full body spasms.
Raising awareness of Dystonia is vital. The Dystonia Society’s website says that an estimated 70,000 people in the United Kingdom have the condition. Considering just how many people this is, it is still such an unknown condition to both the public and the medical society. By raising awareness and funds more research can be done. Dystonia may not be life ending but it is life limiting. Without research there is no improvement in treatments for the condition and there is no cure.
When I became ill with the condition I had never heard of it, I had lived my life blissfully ignorant. Now it’s fast approaching the two-year mark of my being ill. Dystonia may have taken away many things from me but it has also inspired me. The only way change will happen is if we bring it around. We can sit and moan about Doctors not understanding the condition all we like, but what difference will that make? By actually having the condition and experiencing it we can choose to empower ourselves with knowledge and spread awareness.
I spent yesterday sat in my College canteen raising money and awareness for Dystonia. The age range of students at the college is from 16 to mature, yet all no matter how old or young were prepared to listen to what I had to say and asked lots of questions. I went with lots of leaflets that The Dystonia Society had provided me with and every single one of them got taken by people wanting to go away and read more.
Awareness is key to a cure being found and weeks like this one are the perfect time to do it. Tea parties, joining in with campaigns like the Go Green for Dystonia one or getting involved with Thunderclap, are all so easy but so effective!! Dystonia Awareness Week is not over until the 11th May, so if you’ve not joined in yet, why not now, every voice counts! https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/9777-dystonia-awareness-week