For me, being stuck at home for prolonged periods of time, due to chronic illness, is the norm. Hospital admissions, operations, cancelling plans and missing out on events and opportunities is a way of life.
Over the years, many birthdays, holidays and celebratory occasions have been lost to my condition. Whole months have been wiped out to repeated bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax.
~ This is the case for thousands of disabled and chronically ill people throughout the UK! ~
I know what it is to struggle, to feel trapped, isolated and helpless. Such an existence really puts life into perspective and opens your eyes to what is truly important.
Attitudes to Lockdown Restrictions
Since lockdown began, I’ve seen and heard many petty complaints from ignorant individuals, which I find incredibly frustrating.
People whining about being unable to go out partying or bar hopping to get pissed.
To those self-absorbed cretins ~ GET OVER YOURSELVES!
Despite warnings, many continue to flout the rules, refuse to wear face masks and generally take life for granted, with little regard for the wellbeing of others. Some naively appear to think they’re invincible.
Trust me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to breathe through a protective face covering than a ventilator!
So please, have a little care and consideration. Protect yourself and others.
During lockdown, I can honestly say I did not miss going to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops or salons. To me, these are life’s luxuries.
Yes, we all need that escapism and we all enjoy going out and socialising, myself included.
But, when the time comes to look back on my life, I’m pretty certain I won’t be thinking, “damn, I wish I’d done more pubbing and clubbing”.
The one thing I REALLY missed during lockdown was quality time and physical contact with my family and closest friends. Being able to sit with them, touch them, hug them and talk face-to-face.
~ It really isn’t what you do, it’s who you do it with. ~
Muscular Dystrophy is an umbrella term for a group of muscle diseases.
There are nine forms (see image above), which then divide into many more sub-types.
The various forms of MD differ significantly in which areas of the body are affected, severity, rate of progression, and the age of onset.
Some are born with the condition, while others do not display symptoms until adulthood.
2. What causes it?
A faulty or mutated gene. It is therefore, a genetically inherited condition.
If one or both parents have the mutated gene that causes MD, it can be passed on to their children. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the children will have the condition. But they may be carriers.
I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, which is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning you inherit two mutated genes, one from each parent – as shown in the image below.
I am the only known member of my family to be affected by muscular dystrophy. My unaffected parents (both carriers) had never heard of the condition, and so, it was a huge shock to receive my diagnosis at the age of 4.
3. What form do you have and how does it differ from other types of muscular dystrophy?
I have a rare form of congenital (from birth) MD, called Ullrich.
I have severe contractures in all of my joints (knees, hips, elbows, wrists), and a severe scoliosis (curved spine). As a result, my balance is very poor.
UCMD affects my respiratory function. 7 years ago it became necessary for me to use a BiPAP machine (non-invasive ventilation) nocturnally.
For me, a common cold can very quickly develop into a serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia (which I’ve had numerous times).
I experience chronic fatigue due to the progressive muscle-wasting and my squashed torso, which prevents expanditure of my lungs.
I try to live as “normal” a life as possible, having attended university and learnt to drive (though this is no longer possible as my condition has deteriorated).
8. Pros and Cons of living with UCMD?
The cons of my condition are mostly listed in the previous answer. The most bothersome of these are the respiratory decline and chronic fatigue.
You might think being unable to walk would be the most frustrating thing. And while I do wish I could walk, jump and run, this has never really bothered me all that much. It is what it is, and you learn to adapt.
The pros I would say, include the network of people I have in my life, people I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my condition.
I have made some amazing friends through blogging and living with muscular dystrophy. For this, I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful.
Other pros include my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), blue badge for free parking, and being able to skip to the front of the queue at tourist attractions!
9. Has it changed/got worse over time?
Yes, my condition is progressive and life-limiting. My symptoms have got worse over time.
The term life-limiting can, understandably, be scary for many to hear. While I don’t expect to live to be old and wrinkly, I have no plans to pop-off anytime soon!
After all, if you’re a smoker you are limiting your life expectancy!
As a child, I could walk short distances wearing custom-made leg splints.
Joint contractures and the severity of my scoliosis has increased.
My lung function is significantly worse as an adult.
10. What are some of the common misconceptions?
There are many! Here are just a few assumptions…
I have family members with the same condition (I don’t).
I can’t have children.
I can’t have sex or a loving relationship (some even assume I wouldn’t want to).
Many assume I can walk, even when I try to explain I am completely non-ambulant.
People think I take lots of pills and potions – if only there was a miracle cure! I’d take it in a heartbeat.
For more examples, check out this blog post I wrote all about societal preconceptions related to being a wheelchair-user.
Though we all must now adapt and change our way of life somewhat, it’s important to remember this is only temporary. Things will improve.
I’ve heard people complain about the restrictions; mostly young, fit, able-bodied people. Yes, it’s a pain in the fat ass! But it isn’t forever.
Also, please be aware that many disabled and chronically ill people are repeatedly forced into prolonged periods of self-isolation throughout their lives. Plans are often cancelled last minute due to poor health. This isn’t new to them.
So, before you complain because you can’t go out partying with your mates, or to the pub, please consider those for whom limitation and isolation is a way of life.
Show your thanks and appreciation for the NHS and those working in health and social care.
Be mindful of the most vulnerable in society, and help out if you’re able to.
Please don’t panic buy or stock pile. This isn’t the apocalypse, people!
This is not to say that the disability/impairment, whether temporary or permanent, is the primary cause of the mental health issue. It could be a contributing factor, or they may be completely unrelated. You might just be super lucky and have been blessed with both – Double whammy!
Equally, those struggling with their mental health will often (if not always) experience physical side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, nausea and chest pains.
Essentially, what I’m saying is, the mind affects the body and so the body affects the mind.
My Disability & Point of View
I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy – a physical disability – that has progressed over time. I am now a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, having lost the ability to walk at age 10.
My condition has a considerable effect on my body and physical capabilities. With the best will in the world, there are many things I cannot do.
For example, my older brother is very fit and able-bodied. He has travelled the world and often goes trekking through the countryside and climbing mountains.
I often wish I could be out there with him. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but it would be nice, just once, to experience that sort of thrill and adrenaline rush. A real physical accomplishment whilst being in the midst of nature.
But, I can’t. And I never will. Of course, this gets me down and impacts on my mood. Yes, I wish I could walk, run, dance, be completely independent and spontaneous. But I can’t. I am limited and reliant on support from others to live my life. This is something I have no choice but to accept.
There is no treatment, no cure, and no pill I can pop to help the situation. For lack of a better phrase, it is very much a case of, deal with it!
I cannot control my disability or how it affects my body. Therefore, it is important to focus on the things I CAN do and control.
I can’t dance, so I like to watch the dancing (yes, I’m a sad, old Strictly fan. Don’t care!)
I can’t drive, so I have a passenger WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), which allows me to get out and about.
I can’t walk or run, so I roll (with style)!
Admittedly, I’m pretty crap at sorting my own problems out. So I tend to focus on other people’s 😂 Not necessarily a good thing, but there ya go!
Living with a physical disability is a way of life. It is inflicted on us – we have not chosen this path. Similarly, living with a mental health illness is a way of life. So what you gonna do? ADAPT or Die!
I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, affecting my body and physicality. I have a severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) which, for various reasons, is not surgically corrected. This causes asymmetry and a shortened torso. Joint contractures mean I am unable to stretch out my arms or legs. Furthermore, the muscle wasting nature of my condition results in extremely thin limbs.
Now 31, I look very different from other women my age. My pixie-sized stature is emphasised by the scoliosis. In place of womanly curves, are unwanted and abnormally crooked humps and bumps. This visible contrast negatively impacts my sense of self and makes me feel odd, weird, and self-conscious.
I love fashion but fashion doesn’t love me
Over the years, I have desperately sought to hide my body with shapeless, baggy clothes. Anything resembling a potato sack is a winner. I live in leggings because jeans are a no-go and frankly, they are the next best thing to pyjamas!
Clothing manufacturers don’t cater for my body since it doesn’t meet standard criteria. Shopping is not an enjoyable experience. It is a frustrating and disappointing struggle to find anything at all to fit, let alone look flattering. Most of the clothes I buy have to be returned which makes me wonder why I bother at all – well, simply because I can’t roll about naked!
Accepting my unique body
Do I love, embrace and celebrate my unique body shape? Hell, no! BUT – I have slowly and gradually learnt to accept it. After all, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change it. So why stress myself out over something I cannot control.
Exercise isn’t an option for me. I can’t go to the gym and buff-up. And why should I resort to cosmetic surgery? Why put myself through pain, trauma and financial strain simply to conform to societies high and unrealistic standards of beauty? Okay, it might make me feel more confident to look a little more like the average woman. Then again, it might not…
Societal standards of body beautiful
Our perception of body image and beauty is arguably increasingly influenced by social media, particularly Instagram. Heavily airbrushed, edited and filtered selfies are everywhere to be seen. With a smartphone, we can all look like a celeb from a magazine spread!
But this is misleading, unrealistic and unattainable. I can’t relate to the pouty, posers of Instagram. Honestly, can anyone?!
Diverse bodies are sadly under-represented in the media. This is starting to improve but there is still a long way to go before the presence of disabled bodies on our screens becomes mainstream.
I have just turned 31 (sooo old!) and, in order to live my life, I require support from personal carers.
Today, I (well, actually my mother) received the following letter…
Now, don’t you just love it when so-called “professionals” invite themselves to your home to drink your tea and eat your biscuits at a time and date to suit them?
It seems the assumption is that disabled folk just sit at home all day, idly twiddling their thumbs ~ Nah, mate.
Not only that, they failed to inform me and instead wrote to my mother! WTF?!
I know I’m child-sized but I am in fact a fully-functioning adult who manages all aspects of her own care needs.
~ My disability!
~ My carers!
~ My business!
~ My life!!
I wouldn’t mind so much, only I’ve spent months jumping through hoops (not literally, obviously) and answering the most inane questions in order to qualify for NHS CHC (a continuing healthcare package – to pay personal care assistants).
*FYI ~ I am currently in receipt of Direct Payments, enabling me to employ and pay my own carers*
As yet, I haven’t received a penny via CHC, though I did get a call to say an initial payment was made during the summer. Nope, sorry, no it has not!
(Little tip for you ~ when it comes to NHS/council funded care, QUESTION EVERYTHING!)
~ joint contractures, scoliosis, progressive weakness, inability to weight-bear and respiratory decline ~
Inevitably, there is an additional impact on my mental health.
For the most part, I am upbeat and stay as active as possible. But admittedly, recurrent chest infections often get the better of me. It can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, and frankly, it is bloody hard to remain optimistic when life is completely put on hold for months at a time, during which I’m unable to leave the house.
The considerable down-time makes forward-planning almost impossible. Over the years, I’ve missed out on many events and cancelled numerous birthday celebrations due to ill health. It is difficult to commit to social arrangements and accept invitations for fear of letting people down, which then leads to guilt.
When ill, I may…
• Have to cancel plans
• Not respond to calls or messages right away
• Be unsociable
• Be impatient
• Not want to talk
• Be unable to focus or maintain attention
• Spend a considerable amount of time resting and/or sleeping
• Lack motivation
• Be unproductive
• Feel pessimistic, frustrated and emotionally exhausted
• Feel isolated yet unable to see anyone
When I’m ill, I am out of action for a month, sometimes longer. The days are long, tiring, monotonous and utterly unproductive. It is easy to succumb to despair, so for me it is essential to establish a focus and a purpose.
• Rearrange any cancelled plans
• Don’t shut people out
• Accept support from loved ones
• Pet therapy ~ a cuddle from your beloved pet can work wonders!
• If possible, go outside, look up at the sky
• Give yourself a daily reminder of at least 3 positive things in your life
• Say out loud, “I will get through this”, “I will get better”, “I won’t be defeated”
• Don’t overexert yourself. Allow yourself the time and space you need to rest and recover
Life is a gift, but it can also be a bit shit sometimes! Always remember, you are stronger than your struggles. 💪
A Life Update | Muscular Dystrophy & Chest Infections
Once again, I’m out of action with a chest infection. Although unpleasant, this isn’t generally a concern for the average person. But for those like me who live with a neuromuscular condition (in my case, UCMD, a rare muscle-wasting disease) a chest infection is not to be taken lightly. It can develop scarily quickly and lead to more serious complications such as life-threatening pneumonia.
I have always struggled with chest infections. Every time I catch a common cold, it heads straight to my chest. As a child this necessitated a course of banana medicine (Amoxicillin), chest physio and a week off school (okay, so it wasn’t all bad).
As I have aged and my condition has deteriorated, I now find chest infections much more difficult to cope with. It can take me a month, sometimes longer to get back to any sort or normal. In the meantime, life comes to a complete standstill.
Due to the severity of my impaired lung function, I struggle to cough effectively and clear secretions, making the seemingly simple act of breathing incredibly difficult. As a result, I become totally reliant on my BiPAP machine, and find removing it for a mere 10 minutes a major challenge.
When I feel myself getting ill, I throw everything at it:
• Respiratory physio
• Stay hydrated and eat as much as possible for energy and sustenance
• BiPAP to support breathing
But in the end, for me, it really is a case of waiting it out and remaining as positive and defiant as possible.
Obviously, this is just my personal experience. There are many forms of muscular dystrophy, and each individual reacts and responds differently to respiratory illness. But one thing is true for all of us –
chest infections are no laughing matter!
You may often see members of the NMD community banging on about infection control and the importance of the Flu jab, and with good reason! For us, this really is a matter of life or death.
The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread.
How can we best prepare ourselves for winter?
We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter.
Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.
Click here for Part 1 ~ Top Tips to Keep Warm through Winter!
1. Stock up on supplies: Medication –
• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home, should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.
• It’s good practice to have a list of contacts, in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next of kin can contact, should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!
• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. If you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water, so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.
• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!
• Top Foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.
• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surfaces and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.
• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
• I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.
5. Avoid Germs:
• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. For me, a common cold can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
• Wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.
I really hope this was helpful! Please SHARE this blog post so that others may benefit.
I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?