Diagnosis Murder Part 1

Well I’ve attempted to write this a few times and failed. In the past I’ve been given labels and written about them. And in reality my diagnosis is still fluid and ongoing.

It’s mostly described as a list of symptoms with a few anecdotes/ short stories thrown in for goo measure. I’ll start all the way back in the beginning… take a deep breath and grab a comfy seat, it’s a long one.

The early days

When I was younger I used to have bouts of severe stomach aches, and vomiting. I remember my first one so clearly. As a birthday treat my mum and dad had taken me to London to see ‘Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. Any 80s child, and closet Jason Donavon fan, will remember the song that was at number one for like forever (sorry if it’s now in your head t… any dream will do…). We were too late to see Jason but starring in it was Philip Schofield of the broom cupboard fame. If you’re too young to get the references then you really missed out. I vaguely remember the show and the t-shirt I got a treasured (until my sister pinched it and vommed all over it whilst travel sick). What really sticks out though is the insane stomach ache I had after the show. We had gone to get pizza and I spent the whole time in the toilet unable to hold anything down.

And so it continued from that point and happened anywhere and everywhere. Always coming on super fast and the most painful thing ever. All the attacks were attributed to an almost ten year grumbling appendix. In reality I think they were Abdominal Migrainesthat were mentioned at the time but not really explored. This was the appearance of my first condition, Chronic Migraine.

Head and occasional abdominal migraines are with me to this day. And no they are not just headaches but they are completely dibilitating and so painful you wonder whether you can cope (if someone gave you a shotgun you’d probably pull the trigger). I have ended up in hospital with mine and take meds daily to stop them. In the last 3 months I have had 5 major attacks each lasting from 7 to 24 hours. Sometimes they cluster and sometimes they don’t. They have a significant affect on my life as are so sudden and viscous. They stop me functioning completely. I’ve tried multiple medications including Propranolol (worked a little bit) and Pizotifen (worked a lot but caused massive weight gain) and my current medication Sodium Valproate ( I have it under review). I also find that sumatriptan is the best medication to use when they start. My latest one has lasted 6 days and although I’ve managed to carry on functioning throughout and stave off the big blow out. It’s been painful I’ve lost my appetite and sleep.

Teens

At 17 I had an enormous attack of stomach pain and migraine. I was supposed to be painting the set of a play and ended up rolling around on the floor cloth in agony, I saw the school nurse and begged to just go home. Looking back I was so used to self managing these attacks that I was convincing to others that I was better than I was. (I still do this now, so if you ever do see me asking for an ambulance, I really need it.) On this occasion the School Nurse must have got me a cab home or something. All I remember was the next couple of days wanting to die from the pain. At some point a GP came out to me and when I wouldn’t let her touch me because of the pain she told me I was being a silly little girl. She gave me pethidine and anti sickness and told me I’d sleep for ages then be ok. I woke up twenty minutes after she left and was back in exactly same pain and vomiting. Eventually I was only bringing up pure black liquid (sorry) and had a circular bruise on my forehead where I’d passed out on a bucket and was still being sick. Eventually another GP came and said it was classic appendicitis. I went off to hospital and had my appendix out.

As a side note, the not being believed by doctors, the self managing of the attacks, misdiagnoses. Plus falling behind at school and teachers thinking I didn’t care has had a huge affect on my mental health and self esteem. In particular feeling as though I had failed and feeling guilt for being ill, or though I was using it as an excuse, is still with me now and it hurts to write it. I remember one of the drama teachers, who was involved in the play I mentioned above, pulling me aside and asking me if I should be doing drama! All because I’d missed the play whilst in hospital and hadn’t finished the floor cloth I was writhing on. Despite getting an ‘a’ in that course, completing a degree, and running a successful theatre company for ten years, I still ask myself the same question and it cuts really deep.

After my appendectomy (still don’t know if it was appendicitis or migraine) at 17 I kept getting flu like symptoms. I had constant fatigue and joint pains. It went on for weeks and weeks, then into months. At the time it was attributed to a glandular fever like virus that my body couldn’t fight off. I dropped back a year in sixth form and began the pattern of doing things at my pace. I couldn’t focus in lessons and would fall asleep on my desk despite fighting it. Interestingly at a similar time my sister was diagnosed with Juvenille Arthritus, and what I didn’t know till later was my mum was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I think this episode was either my autoimmune trigger or the first signs of activity. Multiple blood tests at the time showed positive ANA and white blood cell activity but it was never explored further.

Also from about 15 years old I began to struggle with mental health. At this time it was suggested I had Anxiety and Depression. By the time I went to University at 19 this was really affecting my life and I asked for counselling etc from my GP. By the time I was in my 4th year of university I was having an extremely difficult time personally, with my degree and at home. All of these contributed to a series of severe panic attacks. These were medicated and I just got on with it.

University

Fast forward a couple of years and I wasn’t coping physically at all. Firstly I constantly had the flu and couldn’t function. I worked really hard and just found ways of coping with feeling so ill. I went to the doctors and was told I was ‘unlucky’ to have had flu nearly every month. This was the biggest insult and I just couldn’t cope. I couldn’t get a full time job but built up my self employed work. This meant I was self managing whatever was going on in my body. I could work around the illness by ploughing on with everything I had when in a good patch and hiding when I couldn’t. This managed everything on the surface but in reality I was chasing my own tail constantly. Friends and others constantly commented on how often I was ill, other less kind comments urged me to just suck it up and stop moaning. I remember having conversations with people saying I think I’m going mad but something in my body is really wrong. I still felt like a fraud and the burden of guilt.

In 2005 I began to get severe chest pains. They were so bad I couldn’t use my arms or breathe. The pain was unbearable. My first reaction was that there was something wrong with my heart so I went to my GP. They thought it was either muscular or even anxiety and sent me away with pain killers. But it kept happening in cycles and I could feel the attacks coming. I saw multiple physios who mostly made it worse through their exercises. Eventually I saw a brilliant physio who wrote back to my doctor. She had seen me for a long time and recognised a number of symptoms pointing to something more than a mechanical problem. My trigger points were wide spread and with the other symptoms she thought that maybe it was fibromyalgia. She wrote a long and thorough report for my GP that took into all my symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, dispraxia, flu like symtoms, migraine etc. I returned to my GP who called in a senior partner and they decided together that this was something more. For the very first time I was being listened to and this GP stayed with me through a lot of the next bits.

Adulting

So I finally got referred to a rheumatologist and felt like everything would finally into place. I was finally being listened to and it was recognised that something was wrong. Within seconds of the rheumatologist walking into the room I was crushed. Before even meeting me or talking to me he looked at one set of bloods and announced ‘it’s not lupus, it’s not RA’. Only then did he examine me or ask any questions. But he never really looked or listened. He avoided eye contact with me, choosing instead to stare into his computer screen. I can honestly say I’ve never met a colder or more inhuman person in my life. By the time he abruptly said ‘you can go now’ I was more confused than ever and in tears. I began to walk out as the nurse barked ‘go get your bloods’. ‘What bloods?’ I said as I broke down completely. Then she explained everything the doctor should have done, and that he was a good doctor despite his bedside manner. I don’t think he was a good doctor and triggered lots of mental health issues. Later I got a mystery letter in the post summoning me to a full upper body MRI and physio. Apparently all ordered by the rheumatologist, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Nor did the physio it seems. I was dumped in a cubicle with a trainee who took one look at me and said ‘I can’t treat you you need someone more senior’. They’d be in contact,  they weren’t.

The next letter I got was summoning me to hydrotherapy. Amazing I thought something practical I could do to help myself. But this was not the case either. The therapists didn’t know why I was there and asked which physio I’d seen, I never had had a proper appointment with any. So they offered me sessions which I tried. The result was cancelling after three seasons as I was in so much pain I couldn’t breathe, move or sleep. My GP wrote a letter of complaint, I was so let down and felt toutured by the treatement both physically and mentally. Again I thought I was going mad, but this time my GP was behind me and persisted. I finally had someone fighting my corner.

So letters of complaint were written and I chose my next rheumatologist at a different hospital. I decided to give it another go and this time couldn’t have been more different. He listened carefully to my history and family history. He said he thought something auto immune like was going on. The first thing he diagnosed me with, however, was Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. This explained a lot of the chest pains I’d been having, as well as other symptoms in most people hypermobility isn’t a problem but with overlapping symptoms it was reeking havoc with my joints, connective tissue and pain. I was finally referred to a specialist physio who confirmed all the previous physio I had received was more damaging than good. I still see her now and she is part of my ‘magic team’ of experts. Without all the sessions I’ve had with her, including ultrasounds and acupuncture, I wouldn’t be able to move half as well as I can today.

To be continued…

Lets rest here for now because I’m tired physically from writing this and mentally from going through it all. I hope this begins to explain to others the extent of what’s going on. But mostly its been a hugely useful process for me to go through it all chronologically and to realise why some of my behaviours and blocks towards the system are there.

Next up in part two, my thirties…

Who am I?

So…

I don’t know where to start this one. But yesterday I was asked who I am. I was floored.

I am Vic.

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But who do I present myself as? For years I’ve been me but maybe not me? Its such a confusing question. Can knowing who I am be the answer? I can’t answer it, partly because its a fluid thing and partly because I just don’t know.

I am Vic. I’m creative, passionate and imaginative.

 

For years I’ve played at being an artist and I did ok at it. I’m creatively inspired by stories true and fictional. I’m passionate about the power of the Arts and working with others. My imagination has taken me on some crazy adventures and projects, all of which I’m proud.

Over the past few years my ability to work effectively has been swallowed up by my physical and mental health. At first I said yes to everything in my excitement to be working in the Arts. I was good at what I did so work came to me and despite the struggle in terms of funding and consistency I was happy. The work grew and my company Wide Eyed Theatre was born. I worked in multiple roles for the company, as a youth worker, sessional lecturing and freelance. All aspects I have loved, and despite being poorly paid, I know along the way I have made a real difference in young people’s lives.

Maintaining this was a struggle and at some point amongst all the anxiety fear, pain and fatigue I stumbled. Something went wrong inside and no matter what I did I just couldn’t keep up or manage everything. Work was so important that the first thing to go was my social life and me time.

I began to reduce my life and cut out the extras that tipped me over the edge. I was stuck in a cycle of working or sick. I gradually got more and more fatigued, I’ve often described it as every day feeling fluey. I’d work then collapse and repeat. I had to take long breaks and nap or I just felt like I’d vomit. Everyday off and every nap carries guilt and I felt lazy and like I’d failed. So I’d go back into it full pelt, desperately not wanting to let people down. It wasn’t working. I began to feel drained creatively too. Partly from not feeding myself imaginatively by slowing down and allowing moments of peace and beauty. And partly because I was giving so much to everyone else and not myself as I was so scared.

So I fought for a diagnosis to understand why I felt the way I do. Why everyday is a struggle and why I let people down. I got used to wearing the label of chronic illness and found it easy to hide behind. In a bad place physically and mentally I also got into a bad place in a relationship and financially.

In 2013 I was diagnosed with Lupus. Since then its bounced around and things have been added and subtracted. I wrote more about the labels here. My current diagnosis stands at

  • ‘Lupus’ like auto immune disease1397203fa8512bc777ae182f1060e702
  • Suspected Behcets Syndrome
  • Joint Hyper-mobility Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Migraine
  • Bipolar
  • Borderline Features
  • Depression and Anxiety

I fought to be recognised as ill and not fobbed off and I feel like a diagnosis means I’m taken seriously and its not in my head. The trouble is that I’ve fought so hard that its consumed me. Lupus and medical took over even back here I was discontent with the Vicki that said ‘Hi I’m Vic I have Lupus’ before anything else.

So when I was asked who I am it jarred and crushed the part of me that has become swallowed by the wolf that is chronic illness. Its my defence mechanism but has made my life so unbearable that I am the wolf.

In 2016 it all imploded and I’ve been left stripped of everything. My mental and physical health is fragile. I’m currently at risk of being made homeless and bankrupt. I’m stepping back from work due to feeling so breakable. I have nothing, yet there is glory in being stripped bare.

Then in this conversation a different suggestion was made. One that may yet have viability. I am still Vic, I have a chronic illness and this is how I manage it. This is how I choose to live with and tame the wolf.

I am Vic. I’m creative, passionate and imaginative. I am fierce and tame wolves.

The Snow Leopard

This one is for my beautiful super moon tonight.

Written about reading Peter Matthiesen’s book of the same title:

“I wanted to write a song that reflected the exalted/frustrated way I felt when reading the book, rather than responding to it in a more literal way. Did you see the “Planet Earth” footage of a snow leopard hunting in the Himalayas? So surreal and beautiful…”

The way is to climb
the way is to lie still
and let the moon do its work on your body

and then to rise
through forests and oceans of lives
and through the way of the black rocks, splitting, wide,
and flow
ten thousand miles.”

well, I’ve had enough,
wasting my body, my life
I’ll come away, come away from the shallows

but can this sullen child,
as bound as the ox that i ride,
climb to the heart of the white wind, singing, high,
and blow
through my frozen eyes?

Bird. Moon. Mirror. Lighthouse. Wolf

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There’s a caged songbird in my chest,

It’s meant for the sky and riding the air.

It forgot how to fly.

It flutters and bleats and can see the other side,

but my ribs hold it captive.

 

There’s a moon in my head,

Its meant for the ocean and to follow the sun.

It forgot how to shine.

It waxes and wanes and can see a path,

but my skull holds it prisoner.

 

There’s a broken mirror in my eye

It is meant to reflect beauty,

It forgot to be present.

Now it only see’s a painful past,
my gaze holds it there.

 

Theres a lighthouse in my soul

It’s meant steer the ship through the storm.

It’s light is buffered by the wind.

It looks to the future and brighter days,

but it’s light is dull against the fog

 

There’s a wolf in my body, 

It’s meant to be brave and care for it’s own.

It lost it’s pack.

It licks it’s wounds and takes time to heal. 

It will bear these scars with pride.

 

Never


Part of me wishes we’d never met.

That we’d always been lone wolves and never a pack. 
Never swam and chased underwater or danced and laughed at our four left feet.
Never caught trains on adventures and driven for miles whilst playing silly games to make it pass by.
Never stood so proud of each other whilst watching girls on roller skates collide. 
Never hunted the magical potions created in bars. Two maraschinos please oh and an espresso martini.

Never created delights to feed each other and had kitchen meltdowns to match.

Never hidden from the world under duvets whilst eating mountains of pizza and ice cream just to be together.

Never thrown pizza off cliffs and shouted from balconies into the London night sky.

Never had ignored each other whilst drawn to screens or watched series upon series back to back whilst I asked too many questions.

Never have had mad making projects in which I had the idea and you made it happen. 

Never put dusty records on the record player and sat in our pants.
Never been humiliated by our daft dogs, taught them to swim or snuggled as four.
Never have enjoyed making fires inside and out. Never have foraged for food and dragged home tree limbs with guilty faces.

Never have made lemon meringue pie with all my heart but it’ll never be your mums.

Never have spent hours making and finding the perfect gift to make each other just to know how wanted we were.

Never have barbecued in the rain.

Never have put the world to rights with a shared intensity. Anger in our words for peace and a better place.

I’d never have thrown your shoes over the wall or teased you about your new clothes.

Never have held hands in the cinema and felt our hearts race at being side by side in the dark. 

Never have invented the film rule or searched endlessly for the tiny remote.

Never have shared Sunday mornings in bed as the closest time together.

If only we’d never met…

I wouldn’t have given you that hug at the gate thinking you still cared. 

Or woken up from the pills to hold your hand and look into your eyes for an answer to the pain I’d tried to take away.

In that moment I trusted you still and believed you cared and we connected. 

But all of the nevers were lies.

I am a girl who was swallowed by a wolf…

So I did that Facebook word cloud thing that everyone is doing, because they got lovely things in theres like ‘Time, love happy, today, beautiful <3’.

I got this…

Three days on I’m still too ashamed to post it on Facebook. I realise I’m a broken record, consumed by Chronic Illness. It’s what defines me and I hate it.
I got swallowed by the wolf and became it.
It’s time to refocus and regroup.
So I started a new Etsy shop without the word Lupus in it!