The Longest Ride…of life with Chronic Illness

Living with chronic dizziness is hell.  The unpleasant sensation of having your whole world constantly moving even when still takes everything away from you.  Your friends, social life, independence, career plans to name but a few are lost when chronic illness strikes.  Long-term illness pecks away at your identity; taking pieces of things that make you you: the friends you meet, the places you like to socialise and your hobbies and interests.

For me, living with this neurological condition has taken a lot, and one example of something that it has taken for me is being able to go to the cinema and watch a film.  High ceilings, flashing strobe lights, fluorescent lights are just a few delights that can worsen the severity of the dizziness that I endure constantly.  Furthermore, they can also be triggers for other symptoms associated with the brain stem lesion such as vertigo and visual disturbances.  As someone who loves films this is an incredible loss; I mean sure, I can still watch them at home but there is nothing  like going to the cinema and watching films on the big screen, is there?

A couple of weeks ago, however saw the release of the new Nicholas Sparks film ‘The Longest Ride‘ and as a fan of his books and the adaptations that have been inspired by his works, I just had to try and push myself to go and see the movie.

My ticket for a showing of 'The Longest Ride'
My ticket for a showing of ‘The Longest Ride’

As a result, my carer and I attempted for the first time in several years to visit the cinema.  And I am happy to say that I managed it; successfully staying in the theatre to watch the entire film.  I would love to say it was easy, but like everything with living with a chronic condition  it was not.  The dizziness at times was so severe and my vision kept becoming blurry.  All my instincts was telling me to leave and go somewhere my symptoms although would still exist, would be less severe.  But the love of the film, and the beautiful story that unfolded during the two hours (and was also helped by the gorgeous Scott Eastwood).  The film was a beautiful love story about love itself but also the sacrifices that are made for it.

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This achievement may seem like a very small feat given the fact that going to the cinema is an activity that many people partake in everyday.  Healthy people often take being able to go to places such as the cinema for granted as for me living with a neurological condition, it was a big a challenge as someone attempting to scale an enormous mountain.  So, for me personally this was not a small feat, it was a huge win for me in the conflict that chronic illness has created inside my body.  During the course of watching the film it was not only dizziness, vertigo and the visual disturbances I had to contend with but also severe neuropathic pain in my legs (not helped by the lack of leg room) and the trembling in the legs made it difficult even being able to physically walk to the cinema itself.

I was thinking of the film long after it ended, and kept thinking of its title ‘The Longest Ride’.  For me the title was defined by the enduring love between the two characters, Ruth and Ira.  But it also got me thinking of its meaning in my life.  Living with chronic illness in itself is a long ride.  The term itself is clear of this as the definition of the word can be used to refer to an illness which persists for a long-time or is constantly recurring.

From the onset of symptoms, living with a chronic illness is a long ride, consisting of endless doctor’s and hospital appointments, persistent and recurring symptoms (and often the onset of new ones) as well as the ceaseless days of feeling frail and sick.   Imagine an extremely long and persistent road, well, living with a long-term condition is often like making the long ride down this road, and which often feels like there is no end.  The journey towards diagnosis is even a long ride itself, with repetitive appointments with consultants leading to disappoint as medical tests fail to answer the one question we want answered – what is wrong with me?

Living with chronic illness can often feel like travelling on a long road with no end in sight...
Living with chronic illness can often feel like travelling on a long road with no end in sight…

And even after the diagnosis has been confirmed, chronic illness allows the long ride towards not only acceptance of the diagnosis but also to learn how to live with and manage the symptoms of said chronic illness.

Thinking back to the film, and the gargantuan achievement of going to the cinema despite experiencing such unpleasant symptoms that for one makes it extremely difficult to sit and watch a film but also has previously stopped me from enjoying such perks as trips to the cinema, has made me realise that we should not allow our conditions to take full control over our lives.  Yes, chronic illness is bound to take pieces of our old lives and identity and change them, however we should not allow our illness to stop us from doing things that we love.  Yes, the cinema trip was demanding on me physically, affecting me even days afterwards, experiencing a flare in severe symptoms, but it was still worth the trip.  Not only did I manage to watch a film that I desperately wanted to see, but I also defeated my condition reminding me that I am stronger my condition.

Now, I just need a little reminder of the film and the cinema trip to pin to my positivity board to serve as a reminder of the defeat over the dizziness and my neurological condition/  I was thinking of a postcard of the film poster or something so if anyone has any ideas or anything please get in touch!  And if any of you, love romantic films then I would thoroughly recommend ‘The Longest Ride’.

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(Soon to be) Leaving on a cruise ship…

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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:

Travel Time…If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Why?  We also know travelling with a chronic illness can be challenging, so any tips for others that you can share would be great!

This particular prompt is a very interesting one for me, as in just over two weeks I myself will be going on holiday!  Yes, I am due to go on the first holiday I have had for a number of years.  The prospect is both very exciting and nerve-wracking.  This is the first holiday since my diagnosis of my neurological condition, and in addition is the first time I will be travelling since my symptoms have become worse, such as the mobility problems I live with as well as the worsening of the dizziness and vertigo.

My parents and I are going on a cruise with Royal Caribbean, sailing on one of their magnificent ships ‘Adventure of the Seas’ departing on May 8th.  The cruise is to travel around the Mediterranean visiting places such as Cadiz, Barcelona, Nice, Livorno and Rome.  I am particularly looking forward to visiting the places in Italy, as it is a country that I have wanted to visit.  I love Italian food, and think the language sounds beautiful.  It is a place full of history, a subject that I am interested in, and the architecture of its building are spectacular.

The beautiful cruise ship that I am about to depart on for my adventure around the Mediterreanean
The beautiful cruise ship that I am about to depart on for my adventure around the Mediterranean

I will admit that after I was diagnosed with the neurological condition, and since the symptoms that I constantly live with worsened I thought that I would never get to visit the sights in Italy that I had wanted to visit since I was young.  For example, I am unable to fly as due to my dizziness I would not be able to handle being in airports for a considerable amount of time because of their considerable size and high ceilings.  There are several local bus companies that do offer trips to Italy, however since the pain in my legs has worsened during the past couple of years, we ruled that option because of the likelihood that being in a bus for a long time without being able to stretch my legs would worsen the pain in them considerably.  So, the only option left was to go on a cruise.  At first, I was very skeptical as I was certainly worried that the dizziness would worsen due to the movement of the ship.  However, as both my parents have been on a cruise before, and eased by concerns and anxieties about cruising as well as listing off a large number of benefits of going on a cruise versus other types of holiday.  And by agreeing then I would be able to choose a cruise that would allow me to fulfil my dreams of visiting a place I had wanted to for so long.

The beautiful city of Rome which I will soon be experiencing
The beautiful city of Rome which I will soon be experiencing

After mulling it over, I agreed and took the plunge by booking the cruise we are to depart on in a couple of weeks.  The countdown now is most certainly on and I am busily preparing for the cruise and purchasing new clothes and bits and pieces that I need to take with me such as sunglasses, hats and other holiday necessities.  Another necessity that I have to take is my wheelchair; due to the neurological condition I am unable to walk far and therefore will need it to use on excursions and around the ship so I will be able to enjoy everything I want to experience.  Granted, I never dreamt that if I ever got to visit Italy I would do so in a wheelchair but sometimes dreams do not turn out the way that we expected.  I have decided to pack some items that are my personal necessity items such as my iPad – before leaving I will download some films that I will be able to watch on the days where I may be feeling very unwell and am stuck in our cabin due to the severity of my symptoms.  This may not happen, of course, but I thought I would prepare for the possibility that it could happen.  I am planning to watch a film or two on the journey to Southampton in order to distract myself from the pain and trembling in my legs that has worsened recently and may also worsen whilst travelling in the car due to the lack of leg room.  A notebook of course is another item that I will be taking with me; an item that will be very useful in taking notes for the blog post that I will be writing when I return home.  And of course, no holiday would be complete without a camera to document the experience of travelling to new places for posterity.  For this, I am planning to take as many photographs as possible with my smartphone, and then I am planning to build a scrapbook of my cruise experience as something to look back on when I am having a bad day due to chronic illness.

This particular prompt also asks for tips for others regarding travelling with a chronic illness.  However, as I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have not travelled since being diagnosed with a neurological condition, or not taken a holiday since the symptoms associated with my condition has worsened.  Therefore, I would like to make this particular post interactive and ask my readers (aka YOU!) for their tips regarding travelling whilst living with a chronic illness?  What are some of the items I should be packing in my luggage?  What are some of your coping techniques when your symptoms flare whilst travelling?  Any tips that you can offer would be much appreciated and would love to hear others’ experiences of cruising with a chronic illness or even better a neurological condition.  So, please leave any tips and suggestions in the comment section below:

I look forward to writing a post about my holiday of a lifetime and sharing my experiences and tips that I may have found whilst travelling with a neurological condition.

My condition sends me in a spin!

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Welcome again to the third post for the National Health Blog Post Month 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 upon given prompts provided by WEGO Health.

Today’s prompt reads:

My Mascot! Give your condition, community or self a mascot.  Who is it?  What do they represent?  What is their battle cry?

To represent my condition in the form of a mascot, I have chosen to represent it using an inanimate object instead of a person or animal.   I have decided that the mascot for my condition will be a spinning top.

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The world due to my condition is constantly moving ; and very regularly the dizziness becomes severe vertigo sending my whole world in a spin.  The room spins so fast, just like the spinning top.  A perfect representation of how my condition affects me everyday.

However, it is not only the dizziness and vertigo that affects; as regular readers of my blog would know that the condition also causes weakness in my legs which often results in my legs giving way from under me.   The spinning top also can represent this part of my condition as the spinning top falls after it stops spinning;  Falls, like those that happens to a spinning top after it stops spinning is a constant part of my life; my legs will suddenly collapse from under me, causing a fall to the floor!

Now, there is much more to my condition such as the fatigue that I constantly experience, or the visual disturbances but just like any mascot that I could have chosen could not have represented every facet of my life with this condition but I wanted something to represent the symptoms which  I consider to be the biggest challenges that I face daily due to the condition which I live with.

If you could represent your condition with a mascot, what would you choose?  Let me know your thoughts!  Feel free to comment below…

Being your own GP! (When medicines aren’t being effective or condition is untreatable…)

My condition has not improved; at times it feels as if it is steadily getting worse and so as my condition has been significantly bad recently, it has meant that I have spent a lot of time in bed and watching television.  I have particularly been enjoying spending time watching medical dramas – Saving Hope, Grey’s Anatomy, Emily Owens and M.D and notably Monday Mornings.

Although, I love these types of show, as a spoonie however, I do find them to be quite unrealistic.  In one episode of ‘Saving Hope’ for example, one doctor immediately diagnosed a brain tumour  (even before ordering an MRI!) in her patient after observing a symptom, although most common in this particular type of brain tumour but can also be indicative of other neurological conditions.  Although many spoonies, go through endless hospital appointments and tests before receiving a definitive diagnosis, patients depicted on such medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy are quickly diagnosed and  treated – if only the reality was that simple!!

 

 

 

 

But what if the condition is untreatable?  My condition is one such illness that is sadly untreatable.  Sure, I am prescribed several medications designed to control the symptoms that I experience; such as Gabapentin for the pain in my legs.  Other symptoms however, there are no such medications to even control them, for example, the trembling in my legs.  And although there are a lot of different medications to help control dizziness, unfortunately I have not found a successful tablet to control the dizziness or vertigo that I experience, especially since that one of the commonest side effects of many such medications is dizziness!

So, how should we cope with these untreatable conditions?  Surrender and give up? No.  We find ways that we can take control over our illness and its symptoms.  My good friend Marissa over at Abledis.com who writes about creating our own daily prescriptions as a way of taking back control over our conditions and more importantly to combat the depression that is very often a result of living with a chronic illness.

It’s a simple yet effective tool to increasing the quality of life that often diminishes when chronic illness takes hold on your life…and best of all there are no unwanted or horrible side effects!   It may also be a fun and unique way to not only make you take back control over life but also as a way of distracting yourself from the pain or other symptoms that medications does not seem to help.

 

Be your own GP! Prescribe some little treatments for yourself to raise spirits and distract you from symptoms
Be your own GP! Prescribe some little treatments for yourself to raise spirits and distract you from symptoms

 

 

So, what are some of the things that we can ‘prescribe’ ourselves to bring us comfort during relapses, or when we need to spend a lot of time in bed.  Here are some examples of the little things that I ‘prescribe’ myself when my condition becomes too unbearable to cope with:

  • Phone a friend – a good friend, someone who understands what I am going through and will offer sympathy and good advice.  Also important to choose somebody who is going to make you smile and laugh so you can take your mind off your problems if only for a little while
  • Watch a heart-warming or funny film – my top picks are ‘The Proposal’ starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds; ‘The Blind Side’ another Sandra Bullock film and ‘Little Women’ starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon
  • I always make sure to have Netflix also on standby as well as my iPad as thanks to new technologies I can stream films either from Netflix or even from my computer so means that I can still watch the films and TV programmes I love without having to leave my bed
  • Read an uplifting book; something light.  I would recommend ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count your Blessings’ which contains over 100 stories of gratitude, fortitude and silver linings.  A perfect book to read when suffering a relapse as it makes you reevaluate your own life and appreciate the small things in life
  • A cuddle with a pet – my dog never fails at making me feel better
  • Practice meditation or other relaxation techniques – they really help you feel better and calmer
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Keep a journal – a really cathartic way to release pent-up emotions
  • If you can sit outside and admire your garden or other surroundings
  • Pain your nails or give yourself a face pack – pamper yourself!

So, they don’t have to be big gestures or even something which is going to cost a lot of money.  Give it a go!

Any other things that you would like to prescribe yourself more time for?  What would you choose?  As ever would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  Comment below!

‘Miss April’…

In the madness of the Writer’s Challenge that I have been taken part in that I have forgotten to mention that a very special friend of mine who has her own blog is completing a special project for her blog abledis.com.   Marissa, like myself suffers with chronic dizziness, and was diagnosed with a debilitating vestibular disorder and set up her website “with the intention of documenting my life living with a hidden disability”.  For those who aren’t familiar with vestibular disorders, they are defined as:

“…a disturbance that causes an individual to feel unsteady, giddy, woozy, or have a sensation of movement, spinning or floating.  Balance is the result of several body systems working together: the visual system (the eyes), vestibular system (the ears) and proprioception (the body’s sense of where it is in space).  Degeneration of loss of function in any one of these systems can lead to balance deficits”

The project is called ’12 Months, 12 Journeys, 12 Lessons’ and where she is educating herself about a different medical condition each month.  So far, Marissa has featured spinal muscular atrophy, budd-chiari syndrome and multiple sclerosis.  And this month I and my condition, long-standing brain stem lesion and spastic paraparesis is being featured.  The page featuring me, with a list of the posts related to my condition, can be found here:

http://abledis.com/12-12-12/rhiann-johns

As part of this incredible project, I will also be taking part in a podcast interview with Marissa which will be available to listen to near the end of the month!  Each month Marissa is truly being an advocate for the project member and the condition being featured by wearing a t-shirt and a wristband to various medical appointments to show her support and raise awareness for the cause.  As you know, my condition is very rare, and so were no organisations or charities that we could find to reflect my condition, so Marissa had a t-shirt made instead! And somehow, we were able to find a website that had wristbands (silver) to support various brain disorders. Here they are:

Anyway wanted to let you all know about this incredible project, and I hope you all support Marissa and all of her hard work by visiting her website and having a look around and learn all about her health condition as well as those project members being featured.