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
I cannot believe how quickly this year has flown by, it feels like just the other month I was curled up writing my usual Happy Christmas blog post. Looking back at my blog posts from the last year it has been a rather hectic emotional roller-coaster. My blog was set up to raise awareness in 2012, but rather accidentally for me it developed into a rather useful therapeutic outlet. For you guys that means whilst I do post the happy stuff, the negative is slightly more frequent. This is simply because life is unpredictable and the good, bad and the ugly don’t come in equal measures.
So to help end the year on a positive spin here are just a handful of things that have kept me smiling this year that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t chronically ill.
- January 2016 – After BBC 3 Counties found my Cosmo Articles and my blog I took part in a quick phone interview to discuss disabled dating and ‘The Undateables’. Having been approached by ‘The Undateables’ before I took advantage of this opportunity to express how labels such as the shows title really are not helpful when tackling social stigmas.
- February 2016 – I was invited down to the BBC 3 Counties studio to participate in a valentine’s day segment on dating and disability. I was extremely nervous but the humour I manage to find in my conditions meant that I had several great stories to tell. It was a surreal experience that received great feedback and really boosted my confidence.
- March 2016 – Finally I realised the importance of not apologising for being the way I am. My genetic makeup makes me who I am. So what if I am a bit of an oddball with misbehaving limbs? If you feel uncomfortable around me then take a look at yourself and your views first, because my genetic make-up isn’t something that can be fixed and I no longer feel like I have to apologise for it.
- April 2016 – After waiting just over a year I finally was admitted to The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore for a 3 week inpatient pain management program. I’d been extremely nervous about this, and if I’m being honest didn’t see how they could help me short of waving a magic wand. 8 months later and I’m still putting my pacing lessons into practice (I slip up now and then but on the hole I manage much better), and I have a flare up plan that works!
- May 2016 – this had been a hard month, between being assaulted and the Drs telling me they were pretty certain I had MS (turns out I don’t but that was a scary few weeks). I was pretty much at my lowest point here. Then at the end of May I was offered a preliminary contract with Britain’s Next Bestseller. Now sure I may not have reached publication due to not hitting the pre-order requirements but hell that was a confidence boost and a half. I had a publisher believing in my work and that’s good enough for me.
- June 2016 – I was still being investigated for MS, but with a wonderful man by my side I was managing to take it all in my stride. I was starting to see the funny moments in being ill again rather than allowing myself to be swamped in fear.
- July 2016 – This marked 4 years since I had had to leave my midwifery training. Usually I would mope about and be quite tearful. This year whilst the sadness is still there I can smile when reflecting on it. For if I had never become ill all the wonderful opportunities I’ve had over the last 4 years would never have happened.
- August 2016 – my partner gave me a key. I think I just grinned for the rest of this month.
- September 2016 – I started my 2nd year at university. I’d survived my first year and am fortunate to be studying at a university that goes above and beyond to help meet my needs!
- October 2016 – I was pretty ill and hibernated for most of this month. The fact that I recognised this and took care of myself was a huge leap forwards for me.
- November 2016- I ended up back in the hospital for awhile. Nothing out of the ordinary in that respect other than the fact I have a huge fear of this particular hospitals neurology team. After being misdiagnosed by them before it was no surprise when I found them to be as pigheaded and ignorant as previous. The difference this time around was that I had the confidence in myself, and enough knowledge of my conditions to advocate for myself rather than allowing them to treat me incorrectly.
Everything that’s happened throughout the year whether big or small has been impacted by my health. Previously I would have told you that was awful, I wish I could be ‘normal’; whilst yes I’d love to be healthy, I cannot deny I have an exciting fun filled life that if I wasn’t a spoonie would have been drastically different.
After a haywire week I am home from hospital and resting at my mum’s for a little while. My plan at the moment is to catch up on the university work that I have missed and take some time out for myself to reboot; would you believe i’m finally pacing! It only took four years.
Cuddles with this fluffball are the perfect medicine
During this time I won’t be blogging as catching up and getting back on track with my studies is currently my number one aim. So look out for a new blog post late December/early January.
When I was diagnosed with Dystonia I developed a need for control; exercising it in life helped me cope with the lack of it in my body. Consequently, I don’t cope well when things are beyond my ability to manipulate. On the evening of the 1st May I was sexually assaulted. I’m not going to go into details. However, for a person who craves control in life this was yet another stark and frightening reminder of how little control I have. Naturally the police were involved, and I must say the support I have received from both them and my university has been outstanding. Unfortunately, due to a lack of forensic evidence the police were unable to charge my attacker. Whilst a disappointing outcome there’s a lot that can be taken from this ordeal. As many of you may have picked up from my blog posts over the last week, my emotions have been all over the place; one moment I’m smiling, the next I have a hatred for all near me, and then I’m crying. It’s been exhausting.
Whilst retelling the attack to the police officer working the case, he mentioned to me that many victims of assault emotionally spiral and are unable to cope; he asked that I try not to let this happen to me. I informed him that that isn’t me; I am a stubborn woman. Whilst I’ll admit the last week has been a bit up in the air, I haven’t hidden away from the world. If I can live with Dystonia, then I can make it through this. I simply refuse to let anyone have a negative impact on my life. It is mine and I will be happy!
Focusing on the positives around the incident has been key to enabling myself to feel like me again. I have been thinking about when in 2012, during a stay in hospital, a rather arrogant neurologist, who had missed the module on bedside manner, misdiagnosed my symptoms as psychosomatic. He informed my family and I that my symptoms were due to trauma and stress, and that they would continue flaring up whenever my stress levels increased. He was obviously wrong and months later I received a correct diagnosis, but this misdiagnosis and subsequent few months of incorrect treatment still irk me. However, I cannot remember the last time I was as stressed and emotionally charged as I have been over this past week, but my Dystonia has stayed at its usual spasm level throughout – despite my Botox being overdue. Proving once again that the previous neurologist was wrong. It’s a fact that for me, provides a gateway to happiness in what has been a dark time.
I’m currently on week seven of my Botox cycle. My injections are not being administered for another week due to a mistake (lets presume it’s a mistake and not my new neurologist being devious, because being frank I would not put it past him). I should be in bed asleep right now. Normally I would currently either be asleep or out with friends. Instead I am medicated to the extreme, I have lavender wheat bags heated up wrapped round my neck, and resting along my jaw and heat packs stuck along my back. To say I’m in agony would be an understatement.
I have resorted to taking Oramorph, a medication I try my best to avoid, however I would much rather give in and take it than have a seizure (click here to read what a seizure is like), and right now I’m concerned that with the amount of pain I am in that I will have one. My brain is not staying connected to my mouth tonight, functional paralysis is something I have suffered from for a few years now, but it has never ceased to terrify me. I understand that it is simply my brain being unable to cope with the amount of pain I am in, so it disconnects from the affected part but it is an unnatural experience that no matter how much I attempt to laugh off unnerves me.
Tonight my jaw is particularly bad, and is frequently being functionally paralysed leaving me unable to verbally communicate. It may seem like a small thing to some, but when you are trying to desperately to get any part of your mouth; whether that be your lips, tongue, just anything, to move and they won’t, apart from when they spasm, its horrendous. I cannot yell for help if I need it, I cannot cry in frustration or call someone to talk too to distract myself. I am stuck with my jaw spasming, distorting itself in ways that should not be possible, threatening to dislocate, and all I can do is cry silent tears, pray that I do not have a seizure and use this blog as an outlet for my pent-up frustration with this crushing condition.
I have a 9am lecture tomorrow morning. Which I am determined to attend, most likely in a wheelchair for my own safety, one of my close friends has agreed to take me there which has helped put my mind at rest. For now it is back to attempt sleep and hope that my little Dystonia Alien allows me some rest
Today was the first time I have had to give in and use my wheelchair at uni. I had anticipated that today would be harder than usual as I had traveled to London yesterday for my routine injections. My body always reacts badly to them for the first 24 to 48 hours, normally this leaves me in a lot of a pain and with an increase in spasms, which with a mix of painkillers and muscle relaxants I can manage. I therefore had not expected to fall over when getting out of bed this morning. My back and neck had gone into a hideous spasm and my brain had functionally paralysed both legs and my left arm. I spent half an hour lying on the floor like this, debating what to do. I gave myself an hour in which if I managed to get dressed I would venture to uni in my wheelchair and braces, and if I was still on the floor I would ring the Wardens.
I felt extremely proud of myself that it only took half an hour to get dressed this morning despite my brain fighting me, this must be a new personal best. I admit that as I braced the majority of my body I was extremely nervous. My peers are aware that I am ill, but they have never seen me like this, I had no idea how they or my lecturers would react. Within minutes of being in uni my nerves were swept away. Not only did no-one bat an eyelid, but people helped me when I needed it without me even asking.
Part of me had strongly wanted to not go in to uni today. I was worried of what others would think, and how I would physically cope, I had already had several draining days and was concerned that this on top would be too much. I am extremely glad that I took the leap, and forced myself to go. It will help keep my mind at rest the next time my brain decides that a day of alternating between spasms and paralysis would be fun.
It’s the end of my first week at university already and I love it here. I spend the majority of my waking moments laughing with my peers and attempting not to get lost. One of the joys about university is the simple fact that I am surrounded by a large increase in people, and this naturally means that there is diversity amongst the student body. Every day so far, I have met someone with a different type of medical condition. This has really helped me to relax and settle in.
Typically my Dystonia hasn’t left me alone but I haven’t let that bother me too much. I twitched the other day and caught a police officer, who luckily was more concerned that I was okay than anything else. Truth be told I was torn between being mortified and trying not to laugh. I was simply embarrassed to the point of laughter. My new friends and flatmates have all seen a couple of spasms now and have handled them really well, mainly with laughter which is all I could hope for.
I phoned the Neurology hospital that I attend and they still have no idea when my next lot of injections will be, which is causing me some concern. My injections are due on 30th September, this would have been the seven week mark so was pushing it as it was. Unfortunately the hospital staff still have no dates to give patients as to when the injections are going to be. My spasms are unfortunately already beginning. My arm never really completely stopped spasming during this cycle. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I get will my injections date sooner rather than later.
When you hear the word university student what do you picture? I’m sure that many of you conjure up an image very similar to my own. One of students sitting in a small dingy flat knocking back a stomach churning concoction from a mix as part of a drinking game; or stumbling back, shoes in hand, giggling from yet another night out. My ideas are based on experiences from my year at uni in 2011/2012. Whilst planning my return to university my mother and I have had many discussion on student life and how sensible I’m going to have to be this time round.
I have struggled to get my head round the fact that frankly I do not have the stamina I once did. My medication, spasms, and pain levels all have an impact. Now that’s not to say I can’t have a night or two out. I just cant do it back to back every night of the week. If I did I would be a spasming wreck and back in the hospital in no time. Whilst mentally I am the same old Becca, physically I am much weaker and more disabled than when I was last at uni. When I was last a student I was not battling Dystonia, I did not know then what it was like to lose control of your body like I do now. Although my condition is well controlled, it’s still up and down. I know when I’m on muscle relaxants I can’t drink, so my body will force me to be sensible every 6/7 weeks when my injections are due. The rest of the time will be down to self-control, and learning what works for me. Prioritising is key to making sure that I am well enough to attend lectures, and doing the studying that is required etc.
I have not lived any element of a student life since becoming ill. It will be a big adjustment process, which I will have to catch on to quickly. As my moving day creeps nearer (24 days) my nerves increase. I’m anxious to take this next step but nervous at just how much of an impact Dystonia shall have. However I am aware that as usual I am worrying over something that is outside my control, there is nothing I can do but enjoy my time at university and handle my spasms with my medical team as they come.
We recently got back from a beautiful family holiday on the coast. The weather was fantastic, and there is something relaxing about waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against sand. Going on holiday with Dystonia requires a fair amount of preparation. Every medication I’m currently prescribed has to be brought with us, just in case of an emergency, so that we can try to ‘contain’ the amount of spasms and deviation my body endures. Even though I can walk, both my walking sticks and my wheelchair were also packed. In all honesty I thought that packing the wheelchair was overkill, but then I have never enjoyed being it, I used to quite literally bum shuffle around the house rather than use my chair.
As many of you will be aware I have recently had a change in neurologist. At my first consultation with him he declared that he would not be following my old injection routine and that we would be switching from 6 weekly to 10 weekly injections. My objections to this change fell on stubborn, deaf ears. Due to his determination I spent my holiday, and the weeks either side of it, unable to consume solid food. Smoothies and soup were my saving grace. Chewing led to rather painful jaw spasms. It made sense to switch to soft/liquid foods in order to trigger the spasms less.
I spent several hours on a couple of separate occasions functionally blind whilst we were away. My eyes had spasmed shut. This was a complete shock to the system, my condition has been incredibly well managed for so long. It is my arm and jaw that I am used to contending with; not my eyes. I don’t think I’ve felt as thankful for my wheelchair as I had in that moment. For once I did not begrudgingly sit in it, I clambered in thankful that it enabled me to still be out with my family whilst lessening the risk of injuring myself. My family were fantastic, describing the sights in front of them to me so I could conjure up in my mind’s eye my own version. My brother amused us all by whizzing around the aquarium with me clutching on to the wheelchair with fear and hilarity.
I would much rather have not had to fight my Dystonia whilst I was away, but in hindsight I’m glad I had no option but to do so. Not only did it create some great memories, but it gave me the strength to not back down when I visited my new neurologist this past Wednesday. I stood my ground and managed to get him to agree to seven weekly injections and back at my normal dosage. This has left me feeling optimistic and far more relaxed about my upcoming move to university.
I have some incredible news for you all! I think this tops all my positive news so far this year. I have been offered an unconditional place at Oxford Brookes University to study an undergraduate degree in Publishing Media this September. This wasn’t planned; more about that later. I applied just over two weeks ago and it was a shock to find myself typing out my personal statement, however I’m over the moon and counting down the days till the course begins.
I went to an open day last month with the idea in mind that I would apply to study in 2016. Whilst I was there I had a lovely chat with the course leaders who were impressed with my Cosmo articles, my work editing the church magazine and of course my blog. They encouraged me to speak to admissions and apply as a late applicant to study this September. In all honesty I didn’t expect to get a place. The deadline to apply was back in January so I was really pushing my luck. Yet can you believe it, for once luck is on my side?!
I was astounded at the open day by how disabled friendly the university is. The ensuites in the disabled accommodation are comparable to modern hospital disabled facilities. Ironically it will be easier to keep myself clean at uni than at home! The disability service team talked through with me the support that will be on offer for me, which really helped put my mind at ease. There will be a pull cord in my room and bathroom for if I need emergency help when I’m in the flat. On days when I am suffering from a flare up of symptoms l I can ask for a ‘buddy’ to be with me all day in case I need help. There is a fantastic range of support available for both my physical difficulties and my Dyslexia. I have been beyond impressed by the speed of contact from the disability team. I only received my offer yesterday from the university but this team have already been in contact to arrange support for the upcoming year.
It’s all happened so fast and I’m sure the next two months will fly by. Returning to university study is a huge step. Moving to university is an enormous step. I have relied on my family to care for me, when Benedict the Dystonia Alien decides to come out and play, for so long. I have never had to deal with my condition on my own, so this will be a big learning curve, but it is one that I am extremely excited to experience. The next three years I’m sure will have bumps in the road but I plan on enjoying the journey!