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.
I was up in London today for an appointment with my fantastic neurologist. Whilst I always stress over the little things like timings, how the injections will go and medications, I never stress over seeing him. His manner is so calming that during the appointment I feel as if it doesn’t matter what he says, it’ll be okay as we will always put a plan of action in place to try and make the future as pain free and positive as possible! The hospital I attend has some fabulous Toy Story themed stickers on the wall in the waiting room which I love. As I’ve mentioned before I always picture my Dystonia to be a Toy Story style alien named Benedict. Which is why this picture naturally had to happen today 🙂
I’m currently coping with Optic Neuritis on top of everything else. The hospital which I’m under for this had decided to leave it up to my neurologists as to whether or not I was treated with steroids. He has decided that he wants me started on steroids and wants an MRI with contrast carried out, as this is my second flare up in six months. I shall be spending Thursday at the eye hospital so hopefully I can talk to them about getting all of this put in to place and moving forwards.
Overall today went extremely well.
As Dystonia Awareness Week draws to a close it is hard not to draw comparisons to previous years. Today is my beautiful sisters 21st birthday; Happy Birthday Eloise! To celebrate we drove down to Portsmouth, where she is studying, to visit her for the day. This is something we do each year for her birthday, and it’s always a fantastic laughter filled day.
The first year we did this was 2013, my Dystonia was still very much new to me and we had not found a treatment regime that worked yet. Due to this I had sunglasses on and off all day as the sunlight was aggravating my blepharospasm, I was wearing several layers and huddled in blankets as the bite of the wind was increasing the severity of my spasms. At this time, I was completely reliant on a wheelchair. I had major trust issues when it came to people pushing me around, I was terrified they would tip me out, so you can imagine how I felt about this.
Whereas today I got out the car and strolled to my sister’s house; if I had still been in my wheelchair I would not have been able to get through the front door! I was able to enjoy the sunshine without worrying about my eyes, and it was hot enough to not need to layer up. Even though my Botox is a week late I only had a handful of spasms over lunch, and I simply laughed through the pain. I think my mother may have doubted my sanity at this point as she asked me to recite the alphabet backwards to prove I was completely conscious.
Today has been extremely upbeat, it has shown just how far I have progressed thanks to ongoing treatment.
Whether you are ill or not having a support system in place is something everybody needs. Everyone deals with varying difficulties in life, and whilst experiencing these a support network helps keep life ticking over and enabling you to feel like you can cope. Often during difficult times, it becomes very tempting, and easy, to simply shut yourself away from family and friends. I know personally that I would much rather deal with a problem by myself, this is simply because by talking to others the issue feels more real and daunting. However, acknowledging it and making plans to resolve it with people you trust is a key to moving forwards.
When I was first diagnosed with Generalised Dystonia in 2012 I shut myself away from most of my friends; even a trip to Tesco was difficult as I did not want others to see what had become of me and judge me. Reflecting back on this now, I know that this was more a fear of seeing others react to my spasms and having to admit that I really was having to deal with this. A huge chunk of me wanted to pretend it was simply an unpleasant dream. Despite knowing that talking amongst trusted individuals is helpful, I still fall back into bad habits whenever life goes slightly askew.
This past week I have been coming to terms and dealing with some difficult situations outside of Dystonia. Admitting that they happened and needed dealt with was a hugely difficult step, but a necessary one. My botox is a week late this time round, I am receiving it this coming Wednesday, so dealing with a combination of life being more flawed than usual and my spasms progressively increasing in severity, has been more than I felt I could cope with. This is where a support network is vital. Family and friends can help give an outside perspective on how to manage life events, and advise what steps to take. This is an invaluable tool! Sometimes though, you need more than just the loving circle of individuals. Realising this is key. I have just started talking to a councillor. This is something I had hoped I would never have to do again, but it’s been necessary and I know is helpful.
Living life with Dystonia is never going to be easy. I greatly admire every individual who does so. Realising when you need support is not a sign of weakness but of great strength. So please remember to talk to those around you. This condition drives us all barmy, sometimes we need grounding.
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
Dystonia Awareness Week has arrived! This naturally got me reflecting on my journey with my alien so far. It has been a long four years to say the least, but the experiences I have had on my journey so far has been worth it. I don’t think I will ever be 100% adjusted to the lack of control I have over my body, but I’ve accepted, adapted and molded who I am around my quirks.
At 17 when I was diagnosed with Oromandibular Dystonia I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I thought it was some sort of infection causing the issue and that once dealt with it would just be an unpleasant memory. When I was diagnosed with Generalised Dystonia at 19 it felt like the end of the world. Emotionally I was a mess. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I had gone from training as a midwife to being unable to brush my own hair, let alone stand up. Now at 23 I have hope.
If you spoke to me about the condition even two years ago I would have told you that I could not imagine living the rest of my life with it. The idea alone used to reduce me to a quivering sobbing heap. Despite the pain and the spasms, I can now picture the long term. I understand that my Dystonia isn’t going anywhere but I’m okay with that. It’s part of my life now and although it can be pretty dire, it has at the same time filled my life with so much laughter.
As is now my annual tradition I shall be blogging daily through-out Awareness week, and going green for Dystonia. So hop on over here daily for more information on the condition.
For more on Oromandibular and Generalised Dystonia head on over to http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia/mouth-or-tongue-dystonia
It’s Brain Awareness Week! Whilst I could whittle on to you about the many theories of how exactly the brain develops Dystonia, I figured I would just link you to The Dystonia Society instead as they have explained it in a far more efficient manner than I ever could. The Basal Ganglia theory aside, come Dystonia awareness week I’ll go into that some more. http://dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/dystonia-and-the-basal-ganglia.
Today I want to talk about my brain. Not brains in general, mine.
We are all unique individuals. A huge part of our individuality is our brains: they control our thoughts, motor process, emotions, impulses and so much more. They are the reason we have moments that leave us feeling like the next Shakespeare, and the reason we wake up some days look at our messages and question where on earth our sanity went the night before. After my diagnosis I loathed my brain with a passion that would make Hades quake in his fiery little boots. I was no longer ‘me’. I had new quirks that in all my nineteen years I had never met. I did not know how to love them, laugh at them, let alone tolerate them. Gritting my teeth and swearing out of my mum’s earshot was the best I could do for a rather a long time. It may not seem like the right attitude to have, but it’s what worked for me. I blamed my brain for why my life, which had been darn great up until that point, was crumbling around me. You could superglue me up as much you like, but there was no way the pieces were going to fit back in the same places.
These crumbled bits made a new jigsaw, and what do you know, four years on I have learnt to love my new quirks, love my brain and love every crazy aspect of my life again. My little alien has added another element to it, I’ll admit I still swear at it on a frequent basis, but I laugh far more than I did before. I am surrounded by positive people and I have barrels full of confidence that were worlds away when this little alien took hold and started to disrupt the signals bouncing around my brain. I’m always going to long to be ‘normal’, but I no longer view Dystonia as the alien that ruined my life. It’s now simply an uninvited house guest who is happy to provide entertainment for all.
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!
Everyone says things without thinking sometimes. Often its harmless, and its only afterwards when you are reviewing a conversation that you kick yourself in the teeth and hope it was not taken offensively. More often than not these things can be laughed off. This date happened the other week, and as I sat there attempting to get to know the man across from me, I found myself biting my lip more and more. Now I don’t mean this as a tongue in cheek Fifty Shades reference. It was a preventive measure to stop myself from reacting to several comments that were without thought.
For the first hour and a bit, I gave him numerous passes figuring that these careless remarks were down to nerves. I know from experience that I waffle nonsense when nervous so was prepared to ignore the niggling voice inside me telling me to leave. Eventually I decided to address one sentence that shocked me. ‘Looking at you no-one would know you’re ill, which is great. Don’t worry I would never tell anyone’. I’m sure many of you can imagine the numerous retorts that I had to bite back before answering. A large mouthful of G&T later I addressed this.
I started slowly pointing out that I don’t hide the fact I’m ill. I’ve never hidden this fact, I am not ashamed of the person I am, so I’m not going to start hiding parts of me now. This got me nowhere. So I attempted a different tactic, explaining that when my injections wear off my Dystonia is very much noticeable. Whilst in-between injection dates it is well-controlled, once the Botox loses it effect I have no control over the affected muscles. My explanation fell on deaf ears, all that he picked up on was that I had Botox on a regular basis, which left me defending this choice as he viewed it as a medicine for cosmetic purposes only.
It goes without saying that there will not be not a second date here. While it would have been nice not to have to justify my treatment, I view it as good practice for the next person who chooses not to listen to my explanations.