Living With The Darkness

All of us will have situations or places that we find difficult; situations that push us emotionally, revealing the depths of our strength and ability to cope with high-stress situations. Add living with a chronic illness into the mix, and the number of situations or places that we find demanding increase exponentially.  The reasons for […]

Back in the driving seat…

As I have been enervated by symptoms, almost leading to the feeling of being trapped in a prison surrounded by invisible tormentors.  However, I was not only trapped inside my own body; a metaphorical prison whilst enduring persistent and unrelenting symptoms but these were also keeping me inside my home due to their severity as well as the fear of the possibility suffering another fall in public.  It was as if the symptoms were acting as prison guards, keeping me imprisoned in my home and the same four walls in which I already spent the majority of my time to begin with.  I longed for adventure, to experience activity and excitement, like the characters in the books that had become my constant companion as I convalesced in my bedroom.

Adventure. Spontaneity.  Two words that is not synonymous with life with a neurological condition.  Going on an adventure when living with any chronic illness requires planning with almost military precision, and is reliant on a number of factors such as how you are feeling on the day that has been set out for the planned adventure.  Personally for me, big adventures are also dependent on whether or not my legs are being cooperative on the day, and if they are somewhat weak and the wheelchair is needed then it needs to be a mild dizzy day so the motion sickness does not present itself!  Spontaneity is near possible when living with a chronic illness!

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During a short reprieve from my condition and its accompanying symptoms, I made the decision to make a trip to Hay-on-Wye with my carer on a sunny afternoon in late May.  I say that it was a reprieve, but the symptoms were very much there but the severity of them was not as bad as it had been, so it did feel somewhat of a reprieve but at this point it felt that my condition and its symptoms had been very much in the driving seat dictating everything, from how I was feeling to what I could and could not do and I was tired.   I was ready to finally take back control and be the one in the driving seat instead of being the passenger on my own ride.

Hay-On-Wye is a small market town located in Powys, West Wales is a place that I had been before, but have desperately wanting to return to since.  It’s most famous as being the town of books with an impressive number of bookshops adorning the streets of the quaint little town.  As a massive bookworm myself, this beautiful place is like a little piece of heaven for me, and I was really excited to make a return to this mecca of literature.

The many wonderful bookshops of Hay-on-Wye
The many wonderful bookshops of Hay-on-Wye

The day itself was beautiful with majestic blue skies with a warm gentle breeze.  It was a beautiful start, the only problem being my extremely trembling legs, as unfortunately the place being somewhat unsuitable for a wheelchair, meant that I had to rely on what felt like incredibly unreliable legs.  But even that wasn’t going to stop me as somehow despite how tough things have been, I finally found my sparkle again.  And despite wobbly legs, several near falls and major fatigue I had a great time in this wonderful little town.  I  was able to browse the many quaint and unique bookshops, treated myself to lunch and just sat down and soaked in the sights and a little vitamin D.  It was a great day; probably the best I’ve experienced for a long while.

Above all I learnt just how much control I allowed my condition to have on my life, yes, some of this was because I had no physical control over this such as the severe weakness and trembling in my legs.  However, I let myself believe that because of the severe symptoms I was not able to do anything at all.  I thought this was my reality, when in fact it was only my perception of the situation.  On the day I discovered determination and strength I never knew I possessed. It felt like pain had my legs trapped in its vice-like grip, but determined to sought out lots of books, I carried on.   Yes, my legs were weak and uncooperative, ready to give way in a blink of an eye, but there are plenty of ways to still an enjoy a day out.  The use of a wheelchair, for example, or by taking regular breaks as we did in Hay (and the perfect excuse to enjoy a hot chocolate!). We may not be able to enjoy a long day out, or a day out like we used to but with appropriate accommodations we can still enjoy a day out somewhere special.  Are there any perceptions regarding your condition that you think to be reality?

Admittedly, I perhaps overdone things that day given the fatigue and amount of pain I experienced days after but even that cannot tarnish the memories and the experience of the day.  And above all it felt brilliant to be back in the car, even if I’m not always in control…

 

Diagnosis is not the end of the story…

Recently, after another hospital letter landed on the doormat, it was time yet again for a visit to the consultant neurologist, whose care I am under in the attempt to shed some light on the medical mystery that feels has become my life.   The beginning of the appointment was the benign initial chat on how I have been feeling since the last appointment (a really short time to cover a year in just a few minutes!) and the regular neurological examination, including testing of my reflexes, a not so favourite as it always produces the most violent of spasms, increasing the trembling in the legs ten-fold and increases the weakness in them.

After the standard neurological examination was completed and the consultant thoroughly reviewed my extensive notes, which almost resembled the length of a novel and eventually came up with a diagnosis – Functional Neurological Disorder.

For those, who may not have heard of this condition before, functional neurological disorder is a condition in which a patient such as myself experiences neurological symptoms such as weakness, movement disorders, sensory symptoms or blackouts.  Patients exhibiting signs of a functional neurological disorder however shows no signs of structural abnormalities but is rather a problem with how the brain functions.  It is a problem with how the brain is sending or receiving messages.  If we imagine the brain to be a computer, then conditions such as MS or Parkinson’s Disease would be a problem with the hardware, whereas functional neurological condition is a problem with the software.  Just as a computer crashes or becomes extremely slow due to a software bug, neurological symptoms arise when there is an interruption in the messages being sent or received by the brain.

There is much debate on what exactly causes the dysfunction of the nervous system.  Some suggest that there is a psychological component which manifests itself in a physical manner, but is merely a theory to why these symptoms occur.  I suppose that this is one of the most frustrating aspects of being diagnosed with this condition; yes, it’s a label that explains the experience in terms of my physical health, however there are so many questions that cannot be answered.  Reading the literature on this condition there are words such as possible and probable and no definite answers or explanations for the development of this condition.  As I read more and am left with no real answers to my questions, I often wonder if the acronym of FND should really stand for ‘For No Diagnosis’.   And with no such answers, how can we as patients be confident of the diagnosis?  Is it a merely a label that doctors grasp at when they cannot find a definitive explanation of our symptoms?  In my experience, the consultant almost pulled this diagnosis out of thin air.

Interestingly most of the anecdotes from others diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder describe how their symptoms often started out of the blue, like being struck by a bolt of lightning after which realising life will never quite be the same again.  However, this was not the case for me, as what started off as minor symptoms slowly became more and more severe, as well as the introduction of new symptoms which was progressive in the same way as the original symptoms.  And there is the big puzzling picture of the early days of my life when the doctors thought there was something wrong with me after I was born, leading to a brain scan at two days old.  Growing up, I always complained about my pains in my legs which was worrisome to me but this was brushed away with reassurances they were merely growing pains.  Surely, these must be important pieces of the puzzle that surrounds my symptoms?

Sometimes a diagnosis can lead to more questions than answers
Sometimes a diagnosis can lead to more questions than answers

 

So what now?  Well, once again I have been referred to specialists for vestibular therapy to help with the dizziness and vertigo.  A therapy that I am no stranger too having been through it several times before.  I am not sure how I feel about this, initially I was reminded of the famous quote by Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”    Do the doctors think that now I have a label, therapy will magically work when in the past it had no effect on my symptoms?  But, although I am initially sceptical I will always try my hardest and will try anything for even the smallest of improvement to the debilitating effects of dizziness and vertigo.

I have also been referred to a specialist neurological hospital in London for a second opinion and to see if the consultants there can come up with any answers and more importantly ideas on how to treat or even manage the symptoms that more often than not run the show of my life!

Through my experiences however I have learnt that even after getting a label, diagnosis is not the end of the story…

 

The Invisible Fight of Illness…

Imagine walking down a busy street.  Look at the faces of the people passing by.  Every one of those people will currently, or at some point in their past, face a battle.  Some of these battles may be visible, detectable to others, eliciting empathy and compassion.  Other battles, however are invisible; concealed from everyone else, like a deep hidden secret.  A battle that is only known by the person carrying the burden of the fight.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle...
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle…

I am one of these people whom are battling an unseen, invisible fight.  If you were to sit next to me on a bus, or train for example, you would never know that I was living with a neurological condition (although you might if I were staggering with my crutch, or on the days where my weak legs confine me to the use of my wheelchair but even then I am met with confused stares silently asking why I am in need of such aids).

The personal fight I face as a result of my neurological condition although may not be visible to others, for me however is very real.  For me it is not invisible; it is my life.  Every step is a struggle, with legs trembling so much that it feels as if they will be buckle, although no one can see.  For others, the world is still, unmoving.  For me, however, the world seems off-balance, as if everything is slightly tilted, and at other times it seems as if there is constant motion.  Everyday I fight against fatigue to do everything that everyone often takes for granted such as being able to go shopping, take a shower or cook a meal for the family.

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“Living with an illness is often a balancing act between surrendering to our symptoms and fighting against them.”

Everyday is a battleground between myself and my body, however, like with any battles in history, there are times I am forced to surrender – such as those days when my legs are so weak, or the dizziness is so severe that I am unable to get out of bed, let alone stand or walk.  Those days I am forced to surrender to my condition and stay confined to my bed.  That’s the thing about living with a chronic illness, it is often a balancing act between surrendering to our symptoms and fighting against them.

It is not just the symptoms that we have to fight.  We also have to fight against the judgements of other people regarding our long-term health conditions.  At the start of our chronic illness journey, we are often met with understanding and compassion, friends and family make allowances for our limitations.  As time passes however, the understanding and compassion dissipates and is replaced with frustration.  Frustration at us still not being well enough to go out and take part in activities we used to before illness took over our lives.  Frustration at the chores still left untouched as illness still will not allow us to attend to them.  My parents, although often extremely supportive and understanding of my condition will sometimes feel embittered at finding certain chores left untouched after coming home from work, not realising that the day has been waived for a day on the sofa as a result of debilitating and unrelenting symptoms.  And they are unaware of this as to look at me, you only see a healthy woman.

It may seem that the neurological condition takes a large amount of space in my life, it however does not own nor control me.  Yes, it may borrow my life at times, restraining me to the four walls of this house I live in, but the condition does nor ever will take my entire life.  There are certain things that I am unable to do because of this condition; certain baggage that it has created, but there are still plenty of other things that I can and have done that I can still do.

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A profound quote from Tangled!

This invisible condition may fight for control for every facet in my personal life.  Now however I have chosen to fight back, and although I have not won control for every area of my life I have chosen to control aspects of my life that I do have control over.  I have chosen to live side by side with my condition instead of merely enduring life with it.

I choose to live rather than simply survive.

Song that is on my self-care playlist
Song that is on my self-care playlist

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’.

HAWMC Day 22: Finding Sanctuary Amidst the Chaos of Chronic Illness…

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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 given prompts.

Wednesday 22nd April: Hobbies 

Running and 3PM dance parties are some of our favourite hobbies at WEGO Health.  Tell us, what are YOUR hobbies?  Love to crochet?  Can’t stop collecting rocks?  Take photographs of everything?  Share your favourite past times.

Sitting here preparing the post for today, I feeling particularly bad due to the symptoms I experience as a result of the brain stem lesion.  The dizziness and vertigo are making it difficult to do anything due to the severity, and the trembling in the legs is so bad that it has already lead to several falls, and it’s only early afternoon.

Today’s prompt above asks us to write a post about our favourite past times that makes us happy and provides us with a respite from life with chronic illness.  This is a post that I have already written during a previous #HAWMC and which you can read here.

Instead, I have decided to write a post about the little practices and routines that help me during a particularly bad flare.  By doing so, I not only hope to help others who may find comfort in these during their own relapse, but also by reminding myself of the little things that give me comfort and pleasure even during the bad days, I can also help myself in the process.

An important aspect of living with chronic illness, is in my opinion, having your own personal sanctuary; for me, this is my bedroom.  My little haven where I can go to escape from the stresses of everyday life, and where I can receive comfort when chronic illness is beating me.  It is also an homage to me, filled with everything I love.

I love butterflies, as they are a symbol of hope and change, and as a result there are a lot of decorative touches with butterflies throughout my room.  The space therefore, for me is not only comforting but is also a space where I would love to spend a lot of time, which for someone living with chronic illness is vital.  Little touches such as soft and luxurious cushions also gives comfort for the times when there is a need to stay in bed for long periods.  I have also added things like inspiring quotes and affirmations throughout my room, cards pinned to my positivity board, prints hanging on my wall, or on little trinkets to keep in my comfort box.  Including these affirmations and positive quotes in my personal space, is a reminder that despite the struggles faced as a result of chronic illness, things however will get better.

Furthermore, living with chronic illness and as a result spending most of the time at home can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  Making new friends and maintaining existing friendships can be difficult.  As a result, I have used the internet and social media to meet other people also living with chronic illness, and have even made several pen pals.  Writing is something that I love, and so using this hobby, I write letters and cards to others who are also struggling in the hopes to help lift their mood.  By helping someone else, it also helps to lift my spirits also, and is reciprocated by lovely and thoughtful cards dropping on to my doorstep.

When it seems that chronic illness is controlling my entire life, and due to the severity of my symptoms as mentioned above, a lot of time is inevitably spent in the bedroom, lying down and trying to find any relief.  During these time, I find that entertainment is a vital tool, not only keeping myself occupied but also to distract myself from symptoms such as pain, dizziness and trembling in the legs.  I often find solace in various films and TV shows on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Recently, I have loved watching episodes of ‘Once Upon A Time’, often watching several episodes concurrently.  During times of painsomnia (insomnia as a result of pain), I also find watching films or TV series on my tablet to occupy my nights without disturbing anyone else!  Books are also fantastic distraction tools, as they often pull you into the story, that you lose yourself in the plot, forgetting about everything else.  Audiobooks are a great alternative when symptoms makes it difficult to physically be able to read.

Addictive viewing amidst a bad flare in symptoms
Addictive viewing amidst a bad flare in symptoms

As mentioned in earlier posts this month, colouring books are the new craze and one which I have bought into.  They are incredibly relaxing as it helps the mind focus on the present and not on any stresses that may be troubling an individual.  I have found it particularly effective in helping to distract my mind from the pain in my legs.  I love the intricate patterns and detail that appear in the adult colouring books, which are coming popular and provides you with some artwork to decorate your living space! I also enjoy other craft projects such as making cards, and sometimes even a go at jewellery making.  Also, a great way of being productive amidst being physically incapacitated by symptoms.

Painting my nails is just another hobby and activity that I like to do during the bad times as a result of chronic illness.  Living with a variety of symptoms affecting the body, and even sometimes noticing physical changes as a result can be difficult and lead to issues surrounding body image.  For me, living with constant trembling in the legs, and very often in the hands can be miserable and very uncomfortable, noticing small tremors in my hands serves as a physical reminder that there is something very wrong with my body, so to make me feel better, I like to paint my toe and fingernails some bright and bold colours puts a smile on my face and makes me feel better and more confident about my appearance despite these troublesome symptoms.

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HAWMC Day 5: No such thing as a small accomplishment when living with chronic illness…

531000_10150773237874254_36556179253_11327993_607059728_n 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 given prompts.

Sunday April 5th: Breaking News  The top story of today is…YOU.  Share with your readers your proudest accomplishments in the last 5 years.  Don’t be shy, tell us everything!

It often feels that chronic illness robs us of our lives.  As a result of the debilitating symptoms we constantly live with, the majority of our time is very often spent inside the safety and comfort of our homes.  Sometimes much of our time is even spent stuck in bed. It very often feels that chronic illness is controlling us rather than the other way around.  And because of these feelings of inadequacy and grieving over the life we have lost takes place in our conscious thoughts.  I know from personal experience, that very often we feel that because of our time spent living with illness, we have not accomplished anything special, especially when witnessing the many accomplishments and big life events of our friends and family on social media. We forget to celebrate the small victories and accomplishments that we achieve without us ever realising it; sure, they may be inconsequential to an outsider, but fellow spoonies and our close friends and family will know how big these triumphs are, especially as it shows our strength at not letting our chronic illness win and dictate our lives. So, as the prompt asks, I am going to share with you all some of the small victories and accomplishments that I have achieved during the last five years:

  1. Going on a cruise – This is probably the biggest accomplishment that I have achieved.  A lot of people are afraid of the unknown, but as fellow spoonies will relate, this fear can become worse when living with a chronic illness.  So, going on a holiday, and especially a holiday that we  have never been on before can provoke worry. What will it be like?  How am I going to feel during the cruise?  What if I become ill? A lot of questions are raised when going on holiday and a lot needs to be thought of when living with a long-term health condition.  But despite the worry and the severity of my condition at the time, I still went on the fortnight cruise and had a wonderful time

    The magnificent 'Adventure of the Seas'
    The magnificent ‘Adventure of the Seas’
  2. Going to Bath – I am a fan of Jane Austen, so it has been of one my dreams for sometime to go and visit the Bath, a city in which she lived for several years and influenced several of her novels.  And last week, I made it there.  At the time I was disappointed as the trip to the museum was the only visit I accomplished during the time, Mum and I spent there.  The rest of the trip was spent lying on the bed in the hotel as I was too unwell to do anything else.  But looking at it positively however, the trip was still an accomplishment as not only had I visited a new city that I had never been before, but I also visited someplace I wanted to go for sometime.
  3. Going to the Cinema – Due to the dizziness, going to places such as the cinema is very difficult for me, as it’s not only due to the extensive sensory overload which can make the dizziness worse and cause vertigo but due to the neurological condition, I am unable to cope with buildings which have high ceilings.  However, despite this when the film, Les Miserables came out I really wanted to go and see it as it’s one of my favourite musicals.  My carer took me to a smaller cinema, but it was still quite the ordeal and really had to battle against the dizziness and nausea.  Somewhere, despite all of this however, I managed to stay and watch the entire film and so therefore this was quite the accomplishment.BCCY6Z7CcAA0Q7e
  4. Started shopping at Next – Due to the problems with large buildings being able to go and shop in stores located in local retail parks is also extremely difficult, and as a result mostly use online shopping to buy clothes from my favourite store, Next.  However, before my cruise last year, I wanted new clothes to take with me.  So, once again I pushed myself to go in there, it was not easy and often had to leave the store and go back and sit in the car because of the severe trembling in my legs but the determination I had gave me the strength to try and try again.  Now, I regularly visit the store, even if it’s just to look around, and can even push myself to spend more time in there then I previously could.

    It's more satisfying shopping in-store than relying on the internet
    It’s more satisfying shopping in-store than relying on the internet
  5. Visiting new places – A lot of spoonies, I am sure can relate to the difficulty and worry of going somewhere we have never been before.  We spoonies often love the familiar.  Going to towns or cities which we know well is far easier when living with a chronic illness as we know where certain facilities are such as the toilet for example.  For me, suffering with severely weak legs and dizziness I often need to sit down somewhere quiet, and therefore when shopping in familiar surroundings I know where there are suitable places to take a rest.  When going to new places, however, we do not know any of these types of information, so visiting someplace new can cause worry and anxiety but during the past year or so I have managed to push myself to visit new places, which I have throughly enjoyed and although there have been problems such as legs giving way when I have not found any places to recuperate when symptoms flare, I am glad I have given myself the opportunity to experience new places and now have new places I love shopping!

What have been your recent victories and accomplishments?  Celebrate them all – even if they seem small and inconsequential!  Being a spoonie, even getting out of bed and having a shower is an achievement, especially on a bad day!