phew!

Despite my body kindly reminding me on a minute by minute basis that I do in fact have PoTS, it’s been a good week, so here’s my favourite view of Sheffield (from Meersbrook park if you’re interested).

Drumroll please ……… after over a months break I’ve finally got back on the exercise bike!!! This is partly because after struggling on for a while I finally rang the specialist nurses who let me increase my second dose of the day of Ivabradine, which has so far helped give me a bit of a boost. I’m hoping eventually they’ll let me try some other combinations of medications as I’m a long long way off feeling vaguely ‘normal’, whatever that ends up being. For now, though, I managed 5 whole minutes on the bike. Those 5 minutes where the hardest minutes of exercise I’ve ever done (yes, even including cross country in year 9, or the dreaded bleep test in PE). I was on such a high afterwards I may as well have run a marathon.

I’ve been to my first PoTS support group meeting and it was lovely to meet other people with PoTS who understand what you are going through, and what a mad mad thing PoTS really is.

Without a doubt, the best thing that happened this week was when I went in to my GP for yet another sick note. We’ve had a system where I ring up the receptionist who then lets a GP know that I need a new note. So I haven’t actually been in contact with a GP since before my actual diagnosis and I thought I’d go in to see them in person for this one. Best decision I could have made! Before I’d even sat down in the consulting room this lovely GP who I’d never seen before was saying what I tough time I must have had lately and asking how I really was. Those ten minutes were probably the best GP appointment I’ve ever had even though I only needed a sick note. We talked about my diagnosis journey and how uncontrolled my symptoms where, how long it might take to recover enough to regain a decent quality of life, what my career options might be, how I was mentally coping, if my family were supportive, what my manager was doing to help me regarding work…. I could go on! I’d like to add that he didn’t claim to know much about PoTS, but he had at least heard of it and knew enough to know how dehabilitating it can be.

I came out feeling quite emotional, it made me realise how damaging it was to have had bad experiences in the past because it made me feel that it was a constant battle to be believed by health professionals. My whole past experience means I can doubt myself or not want to bother GPs or even the PoTS specialists that I’m under as I worry about the reaction I might get. A tiny irrational part of me worries before each appointment that I will have a repeat of the past and be told I’m just an anxious young adult with nothing wrong. Which is silly I know but I think it is a natural reaction to have. It’s hard to undo the 10+ years of being told nothing is wrong when you know deep down something is in fact very wrong.

In other news, I’m waiting for the outcome of my work capability assessment questionnaire and after many phone calls and confusing letters my oh-so-generous Employment Support Allowance payments have begun. Let me put it this way, I’m really grateful for once that it’s my parents I owe rent to!

The hot weather recently has been tough, tougher than I imagined, so I’m enjoying the torrential rain and downpours at the moment. Also, more often than not I’ve been waking up feeling as if I’ve been hit by a bus. I’m sure it would be much more painful to actually be hit by a bus, but it’s the only way I can think to describe it. Everything aches so it’s taking superhuman effort to get up, but most days I manage! I feel so relieved I’ve made it through the last week or so and am still smiling and (relatively) sane*.

*to be fair that is debatable!!!

lambs, lakes and laughter

I’ve just come back from a weekend away in the lakes with some lovely friends from uni. I was a bit apprehensive of how I would manage, and was also worried about having PoTS symptoms around people who know me from when I was well. I’m used to the reaction from people that because I don’t look ill, I must be fine.

I needn’t have worried  because I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend time with. They let me go at my own pace, have lots of naps, cooked and took me out in my wheelchair for which I was so grateful.

We were staying on a working farm and there were two very cute hand reared lambs in the field next to us, as well as free range chickens who seemed very keen on trying to break into the house whenever the door was open. I was proud of myself as on the first day I managed a short walk (we took my trangia and made a brew half way round for a cheeky break!). The next day we went for the day to Conistion Water but I wasn’t leaving the wheelchair behind for that! We were really lucky with the weather too, with blue skies and gorgeous sunshine.


In terms of how my PoTS was on holiday, I had all the usual brain fog, headaches, nausea, aches and pains and dizziness. I felt extremely fatigued and had to have naps where I was flat out comatose on the sofa for hours at a time. I found the third and fourth doses of ivabradine didn’t even touch me with horrendous palpitations throughout the afternoons and evenings. I could barely stand and felt really bad that I was unable to cook or wash up or generally be useful because I’m one of those people who like to get stuck in and help out. I do feel very lucky though that I was well enough to be able to go and very appreciative of my amazing friends. Love you all!!

The exercise bike will have to wait yet again whilst I recover, especially in this heat. When I arrived home I was so tired I could barely speak, and I slept for two days. Now I’m dragging myself out of that hole and managed to go for a gentle swim in our local lido today with my cousin. The heart palpitations are back with a vengeance! It was so worth it though because mothing can compare with spending time with good friends. I needed the change of scenery and some time away independent of my family (lovely though they are!).

ups and downs

Let’s just say this week hasn’t gone quite as planned! I started off so drained after my last blog post. In some ways, applying for benefits is just the next positive step in the journey of getting well enough to go back to some sort of work. In other ways, it’s a horrible experience because it means admitting to myself how differently things have turned out to how I planned even though I like to turn a blind eye and think otherwise. When I left uni I’d assumed by now I would be working full time, planning holidays and travelling with friends, and moving into a place of my own. (I like to think of my time off as a kind of extended Christmas break. Shame not everyone is in a festive mood!). It also doesn’t help that the process is so confusing and feels like they are trying to catch you out at every step.

Last week I’d spent more time on my exercise bike than in my wheelchair, but this week the wheelchair has won hands down! As well as the usual, I’ve had some pretty horrendous nausea (luckily no vomiting this time, but there were some close calls!) lots of aches, pains and cramps and some truly awful levels of fatigue. Basically back to how things were before my diagnosis. I know my limits and this week was not going to be a week in which I pushed myself! I’m putting it down to the fact that I’m always worse in the week before and during my period, and that I’ll be able to power through when it’s all over. In fact I’m wearing my exercise gear while I write this as if I’ll be motivated to go and spend some time on the exercise bike later!

Highlights of this week have been making it to a gig with my family and going to a close friend’s birthday Ceilidh. There’s been a lot of laughter this week and I appreciate these moments with people who are special to me, friends and family. I’m so lucky to be able to get out and about even if it is in a wheelchair and it does take me a while to recover, it’s worth it to be able to feel normal for a little while. It’s also been fun binge watching TV with my siblings and baking (everything I’ve made this week has had baking paper stuck to it, proof that I’m not learning from my mistakes!!).

Here’s to a better week, I’m looking forward to the warmer weather (well the PoTS part of me isn’t but I am!!) and hopefully the exercise bike won’t be so lonely this week.

 

on yer bike

I’ve not written in a while because the last fortnight has passed in a blur. I woke up the day after my last blog post and madly decided to take the next step: exercise! I have seen research that claims exercise is the single best thing you can do to manage PoTS symptoms, but knew this would be impossible to start without the help of drugs to allow me to tolerate exercise.

As I was now on medication I decided the time was right and it felt good to unpack all my old running gear (yes I still hadn’t unpacked them from when we moved house!).  I’ve started on an exercise bike because I can sit down and go as slow as I want. I’m not going to see the benefits for months yet, so it will be worth it in the long term, although realistically in the short term it’s leaving me worse off. 15 mins on the exercise bike is leaving me in bed for the rest of the day!

My eventual aim to to be able to run again but the eight month plan I downloaded from the dysautonomia international website for PoTS patients advises to wait until month 5 at least before starting upright exercise.  It feels good to have something to work towards though, and it feels like I’m achieving something positive.

pacing

Although I know I have moments when I feel much better I also have days when I feel worse again. I think it’s probably due to the fact that thanks to Ivabradine I can stand more so I over-do things and end up feeling worse.
I’m really frustrated at myself today because I had a really busy weekend, but I’ve spoilt it today by having a bath this morning. I’m having to recover all day in bed which is a shame as it’s a lovely day outside. Oh well, tomorrow is another day!

Pacing is something I need to get used to, and to help me I have a few ‘cheats’ to get me through each day.

  • Commode. Or as I like to think of it, my en-suite. I use it overnight, and as my Granny said, in her day everyone used chamber pots and it’s not too different to that!
  • Shower chair. This piece of equipment has been life changing!! I’m so excited by the fact I can now have showers.
  • Wheelchair. I was apprehensive about using a wheelchair especially if people see me getting out to go to the loo, or if I’m well enough to walk for a bit. The thought was much worse than the reality though, as it means I can go out even on not so good days, and for longer periods of time. My family are going to be so fit by the time I’ve finished with it!
  • I’ve also got a seat in the kitchen, I don’t really have the energy at moment to cook but it’s useful waiting for the kettle to boil!

how many spoons?

The spoon theory was devised by Christine Miserandino, as a way of helping her family and friends understand how she lives with chronic illness. She writes about it in her essay ‘The Spoon Theory’ on her website ‘butyoudontlooksick.com’. I would recommend a look as it’s a much better explanation than mine!

Basically, each activity that you might do in a day uses up ‘spoons’. Even little things like boiling a kettle or walking up stairs. You replenish these ‘spoons’ through rest. A ‘spoonie’, or someone with a chronic illness, has to conserve these spoons else they will run out, but someone without a chronic illness pretty much has an unlimited amount of spoons to get them through the day.

If a ‘spoonie’ runs out of spoons they could borrow some from the next day, but this will leave them with less ‘spoons’ to use in the future.

To illustrate, yesterday I was so pleased that I managed to sit up all day without having to nap, and so in the evening I decided to have a shower. However, that meant borrowing a couple of ‘spoons’ from today (climbing the stairs and having the shower took more ‘spoons’ than I had left) so I’m paying the price now. It feels like a backward step as I had been feeling much better yesterday, but it’s a little reminder that it’s going to take baby steps (which is a bit longer than I’d like it to take!).

good things come in small packages

When I took my first Ivabradine it was so small I wasn’t even sure I’d swallowed it! It’s a tiny tablet anyway, but I have to cut them in half which is near impossible. It describes itself on the box as ‘salmon’ coloured. I was wondering if it came in fuchsia or teal but sadly not. Fun fact: pharmaceutical companies don’t like to make drugs a green colour because it’s considered unlucky. See, I have remembered SOMETHING from my nursing degree!

Ivabradine will obviously affect everyone differently, but so far I’ve experience headaches (normal for me), dizziness (normal for me, but occasionally it felt more like vertigo when the wheelchair would feel like it was moving when I had the breaks on; normally my dizziness feels like I’m looking through a haze). I have felt my heart rate slow, occasionally it’s felt really ‘heavy’ and pronounced, even more so than my usual palpitations. It’s a really slow acting drug though, which peaks after 30 mins and wears off after 4.

I’m not looking forward to the most common side effect which is light sensitivity seeing as I’m very light sensitive anyway at the moment and am wearing sunglasses pretty much 24/7 so might have to become a mole or something. Lets hope that’s not a side effect I get (I mean light sensitivity, not turning into a mole. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read that as a side effect in the leaflet!). So far I’ve not felt a reduction in my PoTS symptoms but not sure if that’s because I’m feeling so extremely exhausted and rubbish at the moment anyway. Hopefully I’ll see some improvement in a couple of days when this ‘flare-up’ has settled.