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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A Personal Experience of Cruising with a Neurological Condition

As mentioned in my previous post, I concluded that in my opinion cruises are a perfect option for those with disabilities due to the excellent accessibility of cruise ships by large companies such as Royal Caribbean and the wonderful care that the staff provide for those passengers with a disability.  It is also preferable to using air travel because of the lack of waiting around for hours in a large airport.  However, as the first post was a general overview of cruising with a disability, I wanted to write another post, writing about my own experiences of going on a cruise with a neurological condition.

As regular readers will know, one of the main symptoms that I experience as a result of the brain stem lesion is dizziness and problems with my balance.  As a result, I was hesitant about going on a cruise because of the severity of these issues that have been increasingly become worse recently.  In fact, a few days before leaving for the holiday, I was in floods of tears stating that I couldn’t face going on the cruise because of how sick I have been feeling.  Furthermore, the attacks of losing my vision also came back the days before the start of the holiday, and as a result, I just felt that I wanted, or even needed to stay at home to be among the familiar surroundings and those items that give me comfort.  I was frightened of these episodes occurring when in unfamiliar surroundings and somewhere where I do not know the layout.  I was eventually talked round into going obviously and had to go anyway as it was too late to cancel without losing a substantial amount of money.

I so wish that I could write telling you, I had a fantastic time.  I wanted so much to be well enough to enjoy the whole cruising experience as well as visiting new places such as Rome and Florence.  However, unfortunately, I found the majority of the holiday feeling very unwell.  The dizziness and vertigo were severe for the entire trip and has not settled since returning, so I am hoping it is not yet another deterioration in my condition.  A lot of people who I know that have been on cruises assured me that these ships are so large that you cannot feel them moving at all (apart from the times when the sea is rough!), however, my experience was far different.  Even when the cruise ship was docked at the ports, I still felt the ship moving; for the entire holiday, my world was awash with constant motion.  Perhaps due to the neurological condition and the problems with balance, as a result, I am hypersensitive to any type of movement.  Furthermore, as a consequence of the increased problems with my balance while onboard, the number of falls that I experienced increased as a result and therefore had to rely on my wheelchair for most of the cruise.  However, having said this for me, a cruise was preferable as if my severe symptoms suddenly presented themselves then I would not be too far from the cabin where I would be able to lie down and recuperate until the symptoms dissipated and I felt well enough to rejoin the fun onboard again.

I didn't manage to get off the ship during the cruise but didn't miss out on the amazing sights that were on offer from the ship itself.  This is an amazingly beautiful picture of Nice
I didn’t manage to get off the ship during the cruise but didn’t miss out on the amazing sights that were on offer from the ship itself. This is an amazingly beautiful picture of Nice

The symptoms, however, did not dissipate or I recovered enough to fully enjoy the experience, and therefore, unfortunately, was unable to leave the ship and visit the various destinations that the ship docked.  The symptoms were just too severe for me to feel well and strong enough to get off which is such a disappointment for myself as I so wanted to visit these places and those in Italy in particular.  Instead, I had to make the most out of what I could do, which was not much because of the severity of the symptoms and due to the weakness in my legs.  Instead, I stayed in the cabin and slept due to the fatigue or spent the time reading.  It might sound as if I didn’t accomplish much. However, I did manage to read a rather impressive 6 books during the 15-night cruise, some of which I have wanted to read for a long time but hadn’t found the time.  A positive therefore is that the holiday gave me time to rediscover a love of reading and losing myself in stories that for a short period took my mind off the dizziness, trembling, weakness, fatigue and pain.  And talking of pain, I spent a lot of time using the Solarium and enjoying the facilities including the warm Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  I found that spending time in the jacuzzi was excellent to relax and unwind from the stresses and worries of my condition as well as helping to ease the pain that I experience in my legs.  In addition to using the jacuzzi, my mother also splashed out for us to have a massage at the onboard spa Adventure of the Seas, which again was incredibly enjoyable as well as being extremely relaxing.  The masseuse noticed the stiffness in my legs, as well as my cold toes, which apparently is a sign of poor circulation so, was even recommended on some oils which we could use at home to ease the pain and increase the circulation in my legs.  It was very pricey but really was worth every penny.  My highlight of the holiday!

My sanctuary onboard Adventure of the Seas
My sanctuary onboard Adventure of the Seas

Even going down for dinner was difficult for me – the lighting, the varying ceiling heights and the loud noises  all seemed to bother me,, making me feel very dizzy and setting the vertigo and although I felt silly for wearing it, I needed the security of my hat with me, the majority of the time in order to block out the stimuli which were making my symptoms worse.  I was unable to attend the shows because of the strobe lighting and flashing lights being used, as they too are a trigger for the episodes of vertigo that I regularly experience.  However, I did attend an ice show which used such effects, and was very unwell afterwards, with the inability to even get dressed the very next day.  People did stare and felt very self-conscious but I remembered a great quote by Dr Seuss “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  A lot of people who we met during the cruise were lovely and very understanding such as Gemma and Stan, a granddaughter and granddad who sat on our table at dinner.  Both were lovely and we enjoyed their company during the cruise.  Although even attending dinner was difficult as positive is that, during most of the holiday I still managed to go despite the severe symptoms I was experiencing and very much enjoyed dressing up for the formal nights.  Arriving back at the cabin we were on some nights greeted with the fun and cute ‘towel animals’ created by our wonderful room attendant (who nicknamed me Rihanna during the holiday!).  They also helped put a much needed smile on my face!!

 

Being so unwell and suffering with severe symptoms so much on a holiday was incredibly difficult and as a result was very difficult to remain positive.  For obvious reasons, did not have room to take my positivity board along with me on the board which is a main tool of mine to remain positive despite chronic illness.  I did however take my gorgeous Book of Strength and Book of Motivation along with me, which helped me to cope during the difficult times.  Then whilst browsing the shops onboard, I saw a gorgeous necklace, depicting the word ‘hope’.  In replace of the ‘O’ was a ribbon using silver stones.  A silver ribbon, I remember reading is used for a variety of different including brain disorders (or neurological conditions) and as a result was drawn to it, and thought it would be a perfect piece of jewellery to remind myself to remain positive despite living with a neurological condition and remain hopeful on the days where dark clouds are appearing in the same way the positivity does for me when at home.  A couple of days before the cruise, they had a jewellery sale – this time selling charm bracelets by the jeweller Bella Perlini.  There were many bracelets to choose from in a variety of different colours; so many that I had trouble to decide which to buy.  Then I found a plain silver charm bracelet, which had the words ‘Live, Love, Laugh and Dream’ engraved and again the inspiring positivity of this piece of jewellery really spoke to me and so had to buy it.  With these pieces of jewellery it is like wearing a piece of my positivity board and carrying it with me wherever I go.

To conclude, the cruise was a difficult holiday for me, with the deterioration and severity of my symptoms.  A cruise, however does offer several benefits such as the easy and fast booking and check-in day on departure day, and the short distance to your cabin when chronic illness strike.  Although, the cruise was difficult and felt very unwell for most of it, I am glad that I went; if I hadn’t there would always be that ‘What if?’ question being asked in the back of my mind.  In addition, if my parents were to go on a cruise again, I would not feel as if I were being left out or jealous that they were going away and I wasn’t because I am aware of the effects that the constant motion of the ship has on my particular symptoms.  But as unwell as I was during the cruise, there were several highlights of the holiday and positives of my time away.  Would I do it again?  Probably not; perhaps the only way, would be if the doctors were able to cure the dizziness that I experience.  How, likely that is I don’t know.

 

NHBPM Day Twenty-Two: Changes…

It’s Day 22 of ‘National Health Blog Post Month’.  One of today’s prompt asks us to write about we are thankful for – as I have already done this in a recent post (Day 5: Giving Thanks!) I have decided to use the second prompt.  The second prompt asks us to write about change.

Well, my life at the moment are going through some changes.  The biggest change is that I am going out more, and to new places, thanks to my new personal assistant whom I was able to employ thanks to a grant provided by the local council through a scheme called ‘Direct Payments.’  When I am out with my Personal Assistant, I am not just visiting places that I need to go – but am also starting to visit new places, or places that I have not  been able to access for a long time.  And for the first time, I do not even have to rely on my parents to buy essentials for me, such as shampoos and conditioners, shower gel for me anymore – I can get them myself and even decide on the brand for myself!

                 

The house – outside and inside has also seen some changes this week.  A few weeks ago, I had a visit from a Community Occupational Therapist, to have a chat with me and to look around the house, and whether any adaptations could be recommended to make my life easier moving around the house, and of course, to prevent accidents.  For example, outside my house there are steps leading to the front door, steps which had no rails to hold onto – this for me, causes a real problem, as when I need to circumnavigate steps or stairs of any kind, I need something which I can hold onto, to prevent stumbles and falls, especially when the visual disturbances presents itself as I cannot always clearly see the steps to safely walk down.  Before now, i used to walk down a little grass banking at the side of the house to get to Dad’s car – the Community Occupational Therapist saw a potential danger with doing that – as if when in the case of heavy downfall (which happens a lot in Wales!) the grass will get slippery, and leads to the increase risk for a fall.  So, she referred me for some adaptations to be done to the house – such as external rails for the outside steps, an internal rail for the stairs (we already have one, but the OT thought a second one on the opposite wall would be beneficial) , and a drop-down rail for the bathroom.

 

              

These changes have now all been installed and ready for action – and are already been incredibly handy for me!

Another change that has happened for me lately is the move from using a crutch all the time when I am out and about to using a manual wheelchair.  The reason for this is the worsening of the weakness in the legs, which for me leaves me unable to stand or walk for long periods – obviously when I am with my Personal Assistant, this requires me to be out for pretty much the entire day (around 7 hours), and so need a wheelchair to be able to manage this.

This doesn’t come without its problems however.  One of my main symptoms, as you all know by now is the constant dizziness.  The dizziness, can still be really bad, even when sitting down; a symptom which really won’t go away.  And so the dizziness, is causing a real problem when I am using the wheelchair – being pushed and seeing everything whizz past, doesn’t do anything to help the constant movement that I already live with – and almost makes me feel really unsafe sitting in the chair.  Using the wheelchair going into shops is also a problem, as it causes the need to look up to see items – and tilting my head back to look up is one of my triggers – and can set the dizziness to high!!

 

 

 

I would love to hear others’ stories about being new to using a wheelchair and perhaps some tips to help me adjust to the new experience of using a wheelchair.  Any tips would be greatly appreciated!!

How do you solve a problem like…a high ceiling?

Sorry for the lack of an update this week – truth be told, I haven’t had the greatest weeks with most of it spent lying on the sofa with the comfort of a quilt and watching endless hours of television (or at least trying to!!) feeling particularly dizzy, weak, nauseous and with frequent episodes of the ‘room spinning’ motion.

It started Wednesday evening and I believe that the deterioration in my condition was due to the afternoon I spent at ‘Life 4 Living’; a local group I attend every week which promotes enjoyment, positivity and friendship.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my time at the group, and is something that I really look forward to, however, this week we had a local singer coming to the group to perform and so we left the confines of our usual room to conduct the session in the Day Centre’s Main Hall.

Now as I may have mentioned before that one of the triggers that seem to affect me much more than anything else are high ceilings.  The very first dizzy spell I experienced was in a DIY Superstore with vast ceilings and being in a place with high ceilings can bring on an attack of vertigo, causing my vision to become out of focus, balance becomes even more unsteady.  I have no idea why these places affect me so much but they just do – if anyone knows any such explanation I would love to know!!  The ceiling wasn’t particularly, much lower than what you would find to expect in a superstore for example, but as there was dips within the ceiling itself – progressing from higher to lower and so on just threw me for a loop – as if it was too much visual stimuli for my brain to process!

Unfortunately for me everywhere and every new store that is opening up seems to be big vast and open as well as the problematic high ceilings – as if the world I live in now no longer is fit for me, a lot of places coming out-of-bounds for me and my condition, nowhere being accessible for people ‘like’ me.

My Nemesis!

We had prior warning to the change of venue and knew what it was like in there beforehand so I was able to bring my Mum along for support and to help me if taken unwell. On a positive note, I did manage to stay in the hall for the entire group session (close to 3 hours) but even so I uncomfortable and unwell the entire time, and my balance was really bad also – thank god Mum was there to get me drinks and to help me get my food from the buffet.  As much as I did want there, I just wanted to enjoy myself with my Mum whom I do not get to go out with anymore on account with the severity of my symptoms as well as the awkwardness of spending a long amount of time out causes due to the weakness in my legs, and Mum was also looking forward to seeing the singer perform so didn’t want to spoil it for her.

The most embarrassing part came towards the end of the afternoon when coming to leave my legs seized up on me causing me to crash to the floor!! But still a good time was had by all!

And since then, I have really gone downhill, legs weak I have hardly been able to stand and generally feeling weak and lethargic – as if those three short hours just took everything out of me.  So here’s to a quick recovery in time for volunteering Monday and especially to the next meeting of ‘Life 4 Living’!!

Unsure of the Path I’m On…

Hey Friends

Me again, for another post to my blog.  Hope all of you are OK.  I have to admit, lately I am struggling – feeling down, alone, sometimes I feel as if I have no friends or no-one that I can turn to – although absolutely no idea as to why I have been feeling like this…

May be down to the deterioration of my condition – the dizziness, which has been constant for some time now, seems to have become more intense, as well as the episodes of vertigo becoming much more frequent, and are often times are worse to deal with than the constant dizziness, especially when you take into account the visual disturbances – vision becoming foggy or blurry and unable to focus on anything, sometimes not even being able to recognise what I am looking at.

As well as that, my legs seem to be gradually becoming worse too – experiencing many ‘drop attacks’ in which my legs suddenly give way from under me, with no warning.  That is the one of the hardest things to deal with also – the unpredictability of it all – going out perhaps, not knowing whether my legs will collapse, and when you take into account that often I find myself often unable to get up after these ‘attacks’ making plans to go anywhere becomes very difficult.

Take one example: on a Monday, I volunteer for a local Mental Health charity, which I have done for a couple of years now.  So, on my way, my Dad takes me to a local supermarket to go and buy some lunch, and last Monday was no exception.  However, whilst  buying my lunch, my legs gave way, and like on several occasions found difficulty in being able to get back on my feet again as my legs were so weak, and felt as if they were trembling a lot, so consequently  my Dad had to take me back to the car and buy lunch for me.  Legs never really recovered after that, so felt as if I wasn’t much use at the Centre, but often is nice just to get out of the house for a few hours.

Later on, had another appointment with the doctor.  Basically, told him of all the difficulties I have been having, the seemingly progression and deterioration of the condition, etc.  And once again was told “unfortunately, with conditions like these it isn’t much that we can do, and  no drugs are going to help with the weakness…”, basically another way of saying “There isn’t anything we can do, you just have to live with it.”  Mum even asked whether there was any possibility that I may need to use a wheelchair in the future, and the doctor just nodded his head in agreement, that may be my future…  I was shocked and a little upset, as I honestly never really thought that I may need one, people have said that maybe I should, but never really thought that I may need to actually us one, more so for going out, as still need to use the muscles so they don’t atrophy.  But if I need one, then so be it, as there are worse things in life, hey?

I have been often told that I need to exercise and make use of the muscles as often and as much as I can, however, as I am unable to stand for very long, it makes finding any forms of exercise that I am able to do very difficult, my legs and problems with balance and co-ordination, etc. My exercise bike has been increasingly difficult to use as often feel that I am going to fall off, and the Wii Fit that we have does not often recognise me during some of the games as when you are required to stand still, my body is swaying back and forth…

However, I have recently bought a machine that hopefully may increase the strength in legs (although isn’t  guaranteed that it will work) and also keep me fit and in shape.  It is called an Aeropilates Machine  –  a machine that incorporates pilates exercises with a resistance machine….

AeroPilates 4695 4 Corded Machine and Cardio Board
AeroPilates 4695 4 Corded Machine and Cardio Board

“Pilates was invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a way of incorporating a full body workout to build muscle and core strength. Over time pilates has come to be the preferred means of exercise for a wide range of people from athletes and dancers to those with common household injuries like injured backs. It’s benefits are wide-reaching and provide not only fitness and toning, but also help with injuries that you might have. An aero pilates machine apply the basic principles and effectively ‘super charge’ your workout so that you reap the rewards of pilates with an aerobic workout that aids with blood flow and muscle growth.”

Anyway, I’ll be off now, doing some exercises on my new AeroPilates machine – fingers crossed that I will see some benefits soon…

Fighting the Battle…

Hey Everyone

Haven’t posted in a while, for which I apologise for, but lately am finding things so tough as of late.

The symptoms that I experience with my condition – as I have mentioned before:

  • Dizziness
  • Stiffness and weakness in legs (Spastic Paraparesis)
  • Sporadic episodes of vertigo with visual disturbances such as double vision, tunnel vision

All these seem to worsening… for example, a couple of days this week my legs were so weak that I could barely stand, and as a consequence most of those days were spent in bed watching mind-numbing day-time television, or listening to audio books – I love reading but the visual disturbances were so bad that I really was unable to focus on a book, and after several recommendations from others in a similar position to mind, bought some audiobooks to pass the time when I am having bad times and unable to read.

My legs were trembling so bad, a feeling similar to when your legs feel like jelly when you are nervous, that I just was unable to stand for very long, so really was unable to do much at all and realised how much we all take for granted – going for a showers, making a drink or lunch for ourselves, and so on.  The dizziness was also very intense, as I have mentioned before the dizziness is constantly there, but the intensity of it changes from day-to-day, sometimes moment to moment.  The way it makes me feel is as if I am totally unbalanced, and unable to ground myself, and when standing I can literally feel myself swaying back and forth.  The episodes of vertigo, however differs in that they are episodic, and so come and go (although are becoming much more frequent) and with the vertigo comes the sensation of the world moving, for many it feels as if the room is spinning.  However, I would describe it as everything moving back and forth, and often includes tunnel vision.

As I was so bad my parents pushed me into making another appointment to see our local GP.. after some thought I have made one, although I just get this feeling that I am just wasting the time of the doctor, as it has already  been said that there is nothing that can be done, so it there much point in going?  Should I ask to see the neurological consultant again, even though they are unable to do anything for me?

And on top of all this – it’s also the emotional impact living with a chronic or life-long condition, the feeling of being alone, that no-one else understands what you are going through.  The isolation of being in a room by oneself, no-one to talk to…

Feelings of loneliness and isolation...

Through all of this, not being able to go by myself, in case of a fall or if the visual disturbances come on with no warning, leaving me unable to really focus on where I am (dangerous and could lead to an accident), it has left me very lonely and with no friends, apart from my online support network which is fantastic, but just wish that I could live a normal life, and do things with someone else such as shopping, or going for a cup of coffee, etc.

However this is the card I have been dealt, and maybe there is a reason why ‘this’ did happen to me., and am meant to do something with everything I have dealt with or have learnt from all of this… Now I just need to find the answer and what I am able to do with my life….