Think you know my health condition? Then can you spot the incorrect statement…

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Welcome to the eighteenth day of the National Health Blog Post Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health.   Every day during the month of November I will be writing a new blog post related to health and living with a chronic illness based on given prompts provided by WEGO Health.

Today’s prompt reads:

Three Truths and a Lie: Tell us three things that are true about you, your condition, your Health Activism, or your life.  Now tell us a lie.  Do you think we will be able to tell the difference?

 

So, you think you know my health condition?  Let’s see!  Can you spot the incorrect statement from the four statements below?

  1. The dizziness that I experience is constant
  2. The spastic paraparesis only affects my legs
  3. Both hot and cold weather affects my legs
  4. The vertigo is triggered by visual disturbances

Do you know which is the incorrect statement?  Choose which one you think the wrong statement is in the poll below and I will reveal the answer tomorrow!

 

 

Social Media and the chronic illness experience

This post is for the ‘Patients for a Moment Blog Carnival’ hosted by Leslie at ‘Getting Closer to Myself‘.

This month’s theme is Social Media and illness, with which there are two parts!  The first part is to describe our illness using just 140 characters; just as if we were using Twitter to do so.  This could just be one statement characterising the illness experience, or a series of statements of 140 characters.

The second part of the challenge asks us to describe how social media has personally impacted our illness experience.

So, how can I describe my condition just using 140 characters?  Well, this could be extremely challenging giving the complexity and the unrecognised nature of my illness.  But here it goes…

Neurological condition affecting the brainstem. The effects include constant dizziness, vertigo and spastic paraparesis affecting the legs

The first part is self-explanatory, obviously the illness that I live with is a result of a neurological condition, known as a long-standing brain-stem lesion.  The lesion is scarring of the brainstem, possibly as a result of a head injury of birth, although as it was diagnosed years later, the exact cause of the lesion is unknown.  The effects that I listed are the main symptoms that I experience as a result of the neurological condition.  As the statement suggests this include the constant dizziness (feeling as if my world is unbalanced), vertigo (as if the world around me is spinning).  The spastic paraparesis is another symptoms that is troublesome to my daily life.  It affects primarily the legs as suggested by the above statement.  It causes stiffness and weakness of the legs which makes it uncomfortable and at times very difficult to walk.  Often due to the weakness, it can cause my legs to suddenly give way from under me.  Recently, I have been battling severe trembling in the legs, a jelly-like feeling in my legs, which above all is extremely uncomfortable and leaves me unable to stand for long.  Of course, there are other symptoms that I experience such as nausea, neuropathic pain and fatigue.

Are you able to describe your condition in 140 characters?  Give it a try!

 

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To the second part, then!  How has social media impacted my illness experience?  For starters, the impact upon my illness experience is mainly positive.  Social media, not only allows patients to connect with others and share their stories and experiences, it also allows patients to raise awareness of their particular chronic illness, and share with others what it is like to live with illness every day, and everything that goes with it, for example, I often tweet via Twitter on how I am feeling, and attempt to write how the symptoms affect me and what it is like to live with them.  Not only is social media fantastic and advocating and raising awareness of illness, but it is great to connect with others, particularly when we are experiencing a flare or relapse, and gain support from other patients in similar circumstances.  It provides camaraderie for those experiencing chronic illness, like myself.

Think about when you are ill in bed, it often involves being stuck in bed, alone whilst everyone else is busy living their lives.  Asa  result, it often leaves you feel lonely and isolated, right?  Think if illness was a regular part of your life; being stuck in bed, lonely in your bedroom with no company was a regular part of your routine.  That feeling of loneliness and isolation is also a regular part of your life, however Twitter and other forms of social media, provides patients with chronic illness a perfect tonic, as it allows to converse with other people even when in bed via new technologies such as smartphones and tablets.

It provides entertainment and diversion from illness.   Often, when I am bed bound due to the extreme weakness in my legs, or due to severe dizziness, I am very grateful for the supportive messages that I receive on Twitter from other chronically ill patients and friends; they really brighten the day, and also reminds me that I am not alone on the journey through illness.  Social media provides real-life perspectives on illness, and besides the entertainment and social aspects, perhaps the most valuable features of such sites is it’s a place free from judgement and stimatisation that many experience in the real-world, as well as educating others about particular medical conditions in order to tackle the problem of stigma .

 

HAWMC 2013 Day 6: A Letter to my Condition….

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon prompts given.

Today’s prompt reads as follows:

Write a letter to your condition – what do you want to get off your chest? 

Unfortunately, today I am feeling particularly unwell, and am not feeling up to writing.  So, instead I have decided to republish an older post, which was along the same line as today’s post, which asked us to write a letter to our condition.

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Dear brain lesion,

I am not sure quite what to say to you, as I have never written a letter like this before but I will try my best.

I find you very odd; I experience so many fluctuations in my condition – how I feel, and the severity in which I experience the symptoms that you cause me.  These fluctuations not only change day by day, but can also change hour from hour, or even minute by minute!!  And it’s these fluctuations that stops me from leading a normal life. This condition does not allow me the ability to make plans for nights out with friends, or holidays or full days out, as I never know how I will feel on that particular day, or even I am having a rare ‘good’ day, I have no knowledge whether it will remain that way, or if I will be taken ill sometime during the trip.  

Living with you day-to-day is hard, and it’s particularly hard when questions are raised by others about you.  You are rare, and not understood, even doctors can be baffled by you.  This then causes the mammoth task of trying to explain you – what you are, how you affect me and so on.  I would wish no chronic illness on anyone, but one which is especially difficult as you are is particularly hard to deal with.  The loneliness and isolation that you cause, can often be overwhelming; no one can understand exactly how I feel, or what it is exactly like living with you.  There are no support groups for people like me, living with you, no friends who I can call on when times are tough and I really need to vent; I have several confidantes – some online, some I can see in real life, but still no one that can just get ‘you’ and how you treat me; how you affect me.

I have lived with you for so many years now; many of those years I did not even know of your existence.  Now, you are constantly making your presence felt, like a loud, harsh scream being blasted in my ear.  Every turn I make, you are their, like a shadow; a dark figure lurking, waiting.  And then within a blink of an eye, my legs will give out; lying on the ground, unable to get up due to the weakness in the legs.  You causing embarrassment; you causing injuries and pain.  The doctors tell me that there’s nothing that can be done – no treatments to help, no reigns that I can attach to keep you under control.  When I was diagnosed with you, at first there was relief – relief at knowing that there was a name for you; relief that finally I had validation from the doctors’ that you were very much real, and not in my head as it was often claimed.  Then, I have felt despair; despair at realising that there was nothing anyone could do to treat eliminate you from life.  It was like being blindfolded and then left in the middle in the centre of a garden maze where I am expected to find the exit without any guidance and without the ability to see exactly where I was going.

You have made me your victim, from something that I cannot escape.  Never will I escape you; you live deep within me, deep within my brain, there will you be there forever.  But I will not let you win, I will not let you beat me, and I will be happy despite you, that I am determined of.  Because of you, I have found inner strength, have found things that I am good at, and have found ways in which I can help others and participate in social activities and pastimes. Despite you, I have found friends whom I can talk to and despite the problems you cause, they like me for who I am, and look beyond my imperfections.

I may not be able to beat you, but because of you, I am stronger than I have realised; have made me aware that I can overcome certain obstacles and overcome challenges that come within my path.  And I will not let you beat me – all the obstacles and challenges that you present , I will overcome; find my own path into achieving everything that I wish to.  I am hoping to go on holiday, possibly on a cruise, and I am determined not to let you beat me – I will have a good time despite you. 

And for that I thank you.

Rhiann x

HAWMC 2013 Day 2: Brain Stem Lesion? Here’s all you need to know…

 

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon prompts given.

Today’s prompt is as follows:

Introduce your condition(s) to other Health Activists.  What are 5 things you want them to know about your condition/your activism 

For you all that are new to the blog and therefore to me – Welcome!  My name is Rhiann and I am 27 years old living in a small town within South Wales (UK).  The conditions which I live are a long-standing brain stem lesion and spastic paraparesis.  Both are as a result of damage to the brain, in which I suffered at birth (or so the doctor thinks) however I was not diagnosed until I was 24!

The brain-stem lesion basically means that there is scarring on the brain stem.  As a result of this, I live with constant dizziness with which I have suffered since I was approximately 8 years old, although it may have been before this age.  As well as the constant dizziness, I also have episodes of vertigo (spinning sensations) and visual disturbances.  The spastic paraparesis is connected with the brain stem lesion, and causes stiffness and weakness in the legs, and neuropathic pain.  The difficulties I experience with my legs can result in a lot of falls, especially as they often give way on me.  Lately, I have been experiencing episodic periods of numbness in my legs and cannot feel any sensation.

These are the 5 things that I would like to share with anyone new regarding my health condition/activism:

  1. My condition and the effects that it has on my life is for the most part invisible, and therefore it can be hard to accept that there is anything wrong.  But there is – and although the symptoms cannot be seen, they still have a huge impact upon my life and am unable to do a lot because of it 
  2. You are unable to compare one sufferer of a neurological to another – think of us all as snowflakes.  Like snowflakes, each case is unique as and it is possible that mot all patients will exhibit the same set of symptoms.  The types of symptoms and the severity of the symptoms both can vary widely from patient to patient.
  3. The condition is unpredictable – apart from the dizziness which is constant; many of the other symptoms can appear with no warning.  Added to this, I as the symptoms are unpredictable, I never know how I am going I am going to feel from day-to-day, sometimes even minute-to-minute.  Because of this it can be extremely difficult to make social plans with friends, as there is always a possibility that I will need to cancel
  4. Although symptoms can be unpredictable, I have however found that there are certain triggers that can exacerbate the severity of the symptoms.  These include fatigue (a major factor that can increase the likelihood of symptoms occurring), the common trigger – stress!  I have also found that the cold weather can really affect the spasticity in my legs, and so during the winter months I ensure that I really make sure my legs are warm when out, such as thermals underneath my clothes.  In contrast the very hot weather can also increase the severity of the spasticity and other symptoms, and during the summer I have to make sure I drink plenty and stay in the shade as much as possible.
  5. There is no treatment or cure for my condition, yes, I take some medications, but they are only to try and control the symptoms that I experience (although I have had little success with them).  The medications are for management of the symptoms rather than to treat the root cause – the damage has been done and unfortunately cannot be reversed.  Due to this, the condition is life-long, and at times can be disabling; there are times when my legs are so weak that I cannot get out of bed, or the dizziness is so bad that I am falling over the place, and so just need to lie down on my bed and rest.  The condition is also rare and so there is no real support for those like me (one of the reasons why I started the blog), and because the condition is such an enigma there is little research or literature on it, or no charity or organisation to provide support or advocacy – basically my condition is unknown.

In terms of my health activism I am on several different social networks.  You can find me on

NHBPM Day Eight: O Health! What do I think of thee? Let me count the ways!

Dear health,

I am not sure quite what to say to you, as I have never written a letter like this before but I will try my best.

I find you very odd; I experience so many fluctuations in my health and how I feel, and the severity in which I experience the symptoms that you cause me.  These fluctuations not only change day by day, but can also change hour from hour, or even minute by minute!!  And it’s these fluctuations that stops me from leading a normal life. This condition does not allow me the ability to make plans for nights out with friends, or holidays or full days out, as I never know how I will feel on that particular day, or even I am having a rare ‘good’ day, I have no knowledge whether it will remain that way, or if I will be taken ill sometime during the trip.

Living with you day-to-day is hard, and it’s particularly hard when questions are raised by others about you.  You are rare, and not understood, even doctors can be baffled by you.  This then causes the mammoth task of trying to explain you – what you are, how you affect me and so on.  I would wish no chronic illness on anyone, but one which is especially difficult as you are is particularly hard to deal with.  The loneliness and isolation that you cause, can often be overwhelming; no one can understand exactly how I feel, or what it is exactly like living with you.  There are no support groups for people like me, living with you, no friends who I can call on when times are tough and I really need to vent; I have several confidantes – some online, some I can see in real life, but still no one that can just get ‘you’ and how you treat me; how you affect me.

It can be hard finding the right support with a chronic illness – especially one which is rare

I have lived with you for so many years now; many of those years I did not even know of your existence.  Now, you are constantly making your presence felt, like a loud, harsh scream being blasted in my ear.  Every turn I make, you are their, like a shadow; a dark figure lurking, waiting.  And then within a blink of an eye, my legs will give out; lying on the ground, unable to get up due to the weakness in the legs.  You causing embarrassment; you causing injuries and pain.  The doctors tell me that there’s nothing that can be done – no treatments to help, no reigns that I can attach to keep you under control.  When I was diagnosed with you, at first there was relief – relief at knowing that there was a name for you; relief that finally I had validation from the doctors’ that you were very much real, and not in my head as it was often claimed.  Then, I have felt despair; despair at realising that there was nothing anyone could do to treat eliminate you from life.  It was like being blindfolded and then left in the middle in the centre of a garden maze where I am expected to find the exit without any guidance and without the ability to see exactly where I was going.

Life with a chronic illness…like navigating through a large maze!!

You have made me your victim, from something that I cannot escape.  Never will I escape you; you live deep within me, deep within my brain, there will you be there forever.  But I will not let you win, I will not let you beat me, and I will be happy despite you, that I am determined of.  Because of you, I have found inner strength, have found things that I am good at, and have found ways in which I can help others and participate in social activities and pastimes. Despite you, I have found friends whom I can talk to and despite the problems you cause, they like me for who I am, and look beyond my imperfections.

I may not be able to beat you, but because of you, I am stronger than I have realised; have made me aware that I can overcome certain obstacles and overcome challenges that come within my path.

And for that I thank you.

Rhiann x

One Voice…

Hello, readers new and old – hope you are all well.

Or much better than I have been lately anyway – it really hasn’t been a great time for me, with legs giving way much more, becoming weaker, even leaving me in bed for a whole day a couple of weekends ago.  Whenever I attempted to stand, my legs would just collapse from under me…

A lot of people, would think it would be great to spend a whole day in bed, not doing anything – no chores, nothing instead spending the day watching TV, films or listening to music.  However, let me tell you the reality of it – it is so boring being stuck in a bed, I would much rather be doing something much more constructive than watching endless episodes of CSI, despite it being one of my favourite shows.

On topic, I was recently reading an excellent blog post regarding a person’s experience of a condition in which she describes as having ‘many voices’ and in which the community of people with the same condition is large – each sharing their own personal experiences of living with a chronic illness.

And that got me thinking of my condition – long-standing brain stem lesion and spastic paraparesis.  To search information about it, is extremely difficult – most being medical journals, to difficult to understand for those without a medical degree!  And the big fact that I have not met one single other person with either diagnosis.

Many of the information that can be found regarding my condition are those usually found on websites about Multiple Sclerosis, as MS can present with brain stem lesions, and spasticity of which I suffer is a common complaint within the MS Community.

However, I do not have MS, so therefore am unable to really approach MS organisations for support and information.  Near to me is an organisation for people with brain injuries called Headway, however many of the case studies that I have read suggests that the organisation provides support and help for those with acquired brain injuries – usually those sustained in adulthood as a result of an accident or trauma.

So where do I turn for help and support with my condition? I feel as if I am one person, on my own living with this condition with nowhere to turn, or for people to listen and understand just exactly what I am living with day-to-day…

Image: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/audiencecouncil/sites/your-voice/

 

12-12-12 Project: Interview with Me!

Image: http://abledis.com

I think I have previously mentioned that I was taking part in a fantastic project entitled the ‘12-12-12 Project: 12 Month, 12 Journeys, 12 Lessons‘ over at my great friend Marissa’s blog, Abledis.

As part of the project, Marissa featured my condition – long-standing brain stem lesion and spastic paraparesis on her website, learning all about it, and the effects it has on my life and so on.  Also, Marissa asked me to complete a podcast interview with her about my health condition and life, which we completed last week, and is now up for everyone to hear.  You can find the podcast here:

April Podcast Interview: Rhiann Johns

And there was also a special guest featured!!  Who? You’ll have to listen to find out!!