A very long awaited update – having major surgery soon.

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time, I’m really not very good at keeping up with this whole posting frequently thing anymore it seems – but was I ever?! To say a lot has happened since I was in hospital under my GI doctor in June is an understatement, and a very long story. From discharge on the nutritional drinks I continued to go downhill, loosing weight rapidly symptoms just worsening and not able to tolerate more than 800 calories of the drinks a day, and the amount I could tolerate of them was continually decreasing. Bed bound and needing a wheelchair for a combination of reasons in order to leave the house, which was generally only for doctors appointments. Constant abdominal pain, nausea and many other different unexplained pains and symptoms. By August I had lost 20kg since the beginning of April and was very underweight. However, in August I also found out what was wrong…

I have a couple of very rare vascular compression syndromes:
– Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS), to simplify this is where the 3rd part of the duodenum (first part of the intestine) is compressed in-between the Superior Mesenteric Artery and the Abdominal Aorta. Which makes eating incredibly problematic as there is not much space for anything to get through your duodenum from your stomach.
– Nutcracker Syndrome – yes this is a real thing and yes this is actually its name. Nutcracker Syndrome is where your left renal vein is compressed in-between your SMA and Aorta. For me this has also caused Pelvic Congestion Syndrome due to the blood flow issues with having a compressed left renal vein. Both of these conditions cause me a significant amount of pain and problems too.

By September I just couldn’t keep going as I hadn’t been able to sustain myself nutritionally on the elemental drinks, I was continually losing weight and was down to only being able to do about 200-300 calories a day of them. I was admitted to hosptial under my GI again for him to try and stabilise me. I ended up having to have a nasojejunal tube feed put in, which actually ended up being a completely horrific experience of placing the tube. I ended up having to have it done in radiology rather than endoscopy which meant I was unable to have any sedation. It unfortunately was not a simple or quick procedure due to my compressed duodenum, it was incredibly painful and long, involving a lot of crying, my whole body shaking and passing out at the end. I was on the NJ tube for a week however I was not able to tolerate it, whilst feeding it caused me a significant increase of pain that was not bearable, and it was causing me a lot of tachycardia when on the feed too. I ended up having to be taken off and the only option was to put me on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN). TPN is IV nutrition which goes in through a central line (I have a PICC line), it completely bypasses the GI system, providing you with nutrition straight into your blood stream, the end of the catheter sits just outside the heart in the Superior Vena Cava. The fact that it means no nutrition is entering my GI system gives me relief from the increased amount of pain and symptoms I have when I have anything going in there.

We did some tests to confirm my diagnosis with another scan in order to send it to an experienced vascular surgeon. I met with the surgeon and really liked him, he was easy to talk to, understanding, I liked what he proposed and he had a sense of humour! He wanted me to have an angiogram and a venogram to assess things a bit further before discussing next steps. Not a pleasant test to have done, especially when you end up being able to feel the entire venogram happening inside of your abdomen – very painful and uncomfortable! Not to mention having to lie completely flat and still for 5 hours afterwards which is not Ehlers Danlos Syndrome friendly in the slightest, my unhappy and unstable joints were screaming at me in pain for the entire 5 hours begging me to move them.
The scan showed it all clearly and we went ahead with planning surgery to fix the SMAS and Nutcracker.

I’ve now been in hospital for the past 10 weeks on TPN waiting for surgery. Have had several complications including sepsis, and ongoing very abnormal haematology blood counts and liver enzymes through the roof. The last two being unrelated to the sepsis, and deemed incredibly odd to have happened for several different reasons. I had the lipids in the TPN reduced and switched to the old type as my liver enzymes at one stage went up to 37x the normal value. My haematology blood counts I ended up with thrombocytopenia and low WBC, RBC and Haemoglobin. Though platelets being the worst and were dropping each day, there is still no clear explanation for this, but it most likely is due to the TPN for some strange reason.

We have had to try and re-stabilise my PoTS prior to surgery to make sure I am safe enough for it with the anaesthetic and also post op. My PoTS has been getting progressively worse pretty much since I came off the medications that kept it stable, which was about a year and a half ago. Initially after coming off it wasn’t too hard to cope with, but things just started getting worse and worse to become in a really awful state. I’m back on two medications, which I was on previously, however they are not effective enough and I’ve got some very strange things going on with it all too, my PoTS professor did want me to get checked over by cardiology prior to surgery as well.
I have also had some incredibly weird things going on with my headache too, but don’t know what is going on with that and hopefully we can figure that out more once I have recovered from surgery for the compression syndromes.

Surgery is imminent, I am having two procedures in one operation. Vascular surgery to transpose my left renal vein and gastrojejunostomy for the SMAS to bypass the compressed section of the duodenum. Having surgery will hopefully allow me to eat again and relieve me of all the pain and symptoms that both these conditions cause. I have two very experienced surgeons and an incredibly supportive GI doctor and I feel completely comfortable with the plan. Just keeping my fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly and that I will be able to sustain myself nutritionally in order to go home, as I need to get off of TPN in order to go home from here. So fingers crossed I will be able to and will be home for Christmas!

It’s been a very long hospital stay, however I actually can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks. I’ve been incredibly lucky to not only be under some amazing doctors but to also have been looked after by the most incredible and lovely nurses I have ever met and I don’t think I will ever meet any as great as them all again! And despite pain and feeling really unwell, distraction in the form of incredible nurses to chat to, laugh and joke with has truly been the best medicine. I have managed to maintain being completely mentally stable, upbeat and positive – and I am very proud of myself for that.

Will write more about everything and my recent experiences once I’m able to after surgery.

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It’s the never ending headache’s 4 year anniversary!

I got a notification today telling me it’s my blogs 4 year anniversary. It’s crazy to think that it’s been 4 year since I started writing on here. I’d been writing similar for a couple of years before but on Tumblr under the same sort of url, but closed it down and started out on here properly.

My reason for starting writing was to help me cope with the challenges of living with this headache, to give me an outlet because I’m not very capable of voicing my feelings to anyone. I needed a safe place where I felt able to express how this condition makes me feel somewhere other than the once a week session in a psychologists office. It has always and still does make me feel so much lighter once I have written down and shared how I feel; it’s very therapeutic! I’d really recommend blogging/writing to everyone, especially if like me you tend to bottle things up and have difficulty expressing and sharing your emotions with people.
My blog has always remained very private to me, as in I don’t tell people who I know in real life and see all the time about it. Most of my friends and family don’t know it exists and the couple that do respect my privacy enough and how I feel about not wanting to share it with them. I just simply wouldn’t feel comfortable being as honest if I knew family and friends were reading and knew everything I write on here.

I know this blog isn’t often too positive or hopeful and in some ways I’m sorry about that, I wish I could be more of that for you all. But I’m not going to lie and tell you that living with this condition isn’t hard or it’s easy just to get on with it, suck it up and continue with your life as if you didn’t have a headache. Because that’s not possible for me and not for a lot of people with NDPH, that being said a lot of people do work and study. Most of us just try to get on the best we can, whatever that may look like or our situation may be. I pride myself of this being a personal honest account of how this condition affects my life, the problems it causes and how it makes me feel. And I hope that is okay.

When I started this I never thought that many people would be interested in reading about my life and the issues I have faced and still currently face with my headache, turns out that quite a lot of people do. To those of you that read my blog and have ndph or a different headache/migraine condition, I hope that somehow knowing that you’re not alone in this or how this may make you feel is of some small comfort.
To everyone those that always comment and are rooting for me, thank you means a lot!
And finally to all the lovely people who have emailed me since I put a contact email on here. It’s been really nice chatting to each of you, I hope that sharing experiences, helping each other feel slightly less alone, and chatting about random stuff in our lives as a distraction helps you guys as much as it helps me.
If you haven’t emailed me but would like to talk to someone who gets it, share experiences etc, feel free to send me an email as I’d love to hear from you.
iamtheneverendingheadache@gmail.com

Thanks for all the support over the past 4 years, I’ll keep writing 🙂

 

Heartbroken.

I’ve been a bit quiet on here again recently, writers block would be the wrong word. It’s more like I’m actually really struggling and I haven’t been sure how to express it to anyone, even on here.

My pain levels are still worse since my stimulator was turned on a few weeks ago, my 2nd extra headache is still raging and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I really don’t think my brain likes what is happening to it. I feel completely and utterly devastated and I really do not know what to do anymore. I was hesitant to call my neurologists team because I didn’t want them to think that I haven’t tried hard enough, that I’m just giving up. When really I’m in agony, I obviously wanted this to help more than anyone and I’m heartbroken that it has been a complete disaster and I’m worried I am now going to be stuck worse. I did however call my team and spoke to one of my nurses, telling her it was worse again and how I wished they would take the stimulator out. She asked if I had told my neuro that and I said not yet but I would be telling him when I see him in 2 weeks time. She said she would talk to him this week and said she would call me with what he says, so hopefully I will hear something tomorrow.

I’m really struggling with the failure of this treatment which was a last resort and the complete and utter heartbreak it is causing me. The overwhelming fear of spending the rest of my life in agony, the sadness I feel that I will never be able to move forward with my life, that all I will ever be is sick and in pain. And I honestly don’t know how to let myself feel the grief that I know is there.

I’m really at a loss of what to do and how I could even hope to move forward from here because I really don’t think it’s possible.

The art of looking OK.

I’ve been in pain for over 7 years, but if you didn’t already know you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s taken me a long time to perfect the art of looking okay even when I’m in agony. But now the majority of the time I look relatively normal but nobody see’s what I look like when the pain is at it’s absolute worst, because I stay at home and in bed.

My pain levels are always on the high side, but I am able to mostly function a portion of the time. Over the years I’ve learnt to deal with the pain better, but I’ve also learnt to hide the look of pain in my face and hide how I feel from the world. When my headache first started I had no idea how to deal with it and I was unable to hide the pain and how depressed and angry I felt, and it drove everybody away other than my family and Jo. I’m not saying that nobody in my life these days knows about my headache; they all do and I’m completely fine with that and telling them updates on my stimulator and medical issues. But when I’m with people they have no clue the extent of how actually I feel like my head is about to explode or that someone has stabbed me multiple times in the head. I hide my depression and just how badly I feel about the fact that I’m going to be in pain for the rest of my life, how surgery was my last attempt at a life with less pain and it’s been a complete and utter disaster that has only made me worse. I hide just how completely devastated I feel about that right now, and I don’t necessarily want to talk about it with anyone because I honestly don’t know what to say and I don’t want to see the disappointment in everyone else’s eyes, because they were all rooting for this to be my answer too. My body has let me down, it has let everyone down.

Everything I do is clouded by the pain – I go to training (my best relief and coping mechanism) and hang out with some of the most amazing people afterwards having a laugh and a joke which is hilarious and always makes my day and slightly distracts me from my pain and the thoughts in my head. The pain is not great whilst I’m there but I get home only to be engulfed by agony. And how my life is right now is really all I can manage, I wish so badly I could manage more and it breaks my heart every day that this is all I will ever be and I’m really not sure I will ever come to terms with that.

I’m really struggling at the minute, I’ve got some aspects of my life that keep me going, my training and the people there, they don’t know it but they keep me alive and make me laugh and smile a million times more than I use to. But theres a hole in my heart that the pain has created and a deep rooted depression that I hide so well but will probably never recover from.

Rock Bottom – rising from the darkness.

Last week I went to this fantastic event in London, all I knew about it was the title which is quite self explanatory and that it was being partly run by someone who has some chronic illness’. I was really nervous about going, I’m not very good socially with people I don’t know really well, but in the end I was so glad I didn’t chicken out and that I went because it was fantastic.

I arrived at where it was being held and there wasn’t that many people there yet, I greeted the people running it briefly and sat down anxious as hell. I ended up talking a lot to Jacqui  and Bash who were running it, turns out Jacqui has some of the same conditions I have so we really got on well and had a lot to talk about. She had advertised the event on the Mast Cell Activation Facebook group which is where I saw it, I was the only person in that group who came which struck me as odd actually as I think a lot of people in that group could have benefitted from coming.

The event started and it was basically Jacqui and Bash’s stories of how they hit rock bottom through a combination of trauma and illness and how they basically rose from the darkness and have taken steps to overcome it and move forward out of the darkness and on with their life. I won’t go into their stories, they’re not mine to tell but they were incredibly emotional, relatable and inspiring and I left feeling incredibly grateful that they had shared their story with me and very inspired to continue trying to get better myself.

I’m actually meeting up with Jacqui on Friday after I’ve had my stimulator reprogrammed, which should be really nice as she is lovely and we have a lot in common because of having some of the same conditions. So I’m excited to chat some more with her.

I am so glad I went out of my comfort zone to go to this event as just hearing their stories has really made an impact on me. So thank you Jacqui and Bash!

 

 

 

Can you be ‘fixed’ in 8 sessions of therapy?

Along with having my surgery in September I was given psychological support form the hospital I am at in London. At first it was a temporary psychologist whilst the ONS surgery service employed a psychologist to be on their team. I saw the temporary one for 4 sessions and it was going okay, and then I got moved to the new ONS service one. I’ve been with him since the start of the year and I’ve spoken about it on here a bit before.
At my first appointment he asked me what my goal was, and I replied to feel better. By better I didn’t necessarily mean my headache would miraculously disappear, though that would be lovely, instead I meant to feel less miserable all the time. We agreed with a set of 4 sessions before reviewing it.

At the end of the initial 4 sessions I said I’d like to keep going and we agreed another 4 but then that would be the maximum they would be able to offer me. I know I won’t reach a goal of being less miserable, and I honestly don’t think that is possible in only 8 sessions, I also don’t think that most people with complex issues would be able to go from depressed to somewhat okay and ready to leave therapy in basically just over 8 weeks. I’ve been in therapy 7 years and I’m still not there. I know not everyones the same and people have different problems and yeah maybe 8 sessions would be enough for a small number of people, but for a lot it’s not and where do people go once they get discharged from their 8 sessions? It also makes me wonder why people wonder why we have a mental health crisis on our hands this day and age. With my experience with some NHS mental health care I completely understand it. People don’t get better, local mental health teams are often shocking, I know they are in my area, and then not enough therapy is offered (that’s if and when it is offered) so therefore people don’t get better. I get that the NHS is often overworked and understaffed and staff work really hard to look after patients, but often mental health care is lacking, trust me I know I’ve experienced it.

As I near the end of my 8 sessions I know I won’t cope well without therapy, so I’ll have to find an alternative. I also wonder if I will ever reach a goal of feeling less miserable, it seems like I’ve been trying for 7 years just to feel somewhat slightly better but I’ve never got there. I question whether being less miserable is possible for me, or whether I’m destined to just be the way I am for the rest of time? I actually feel like the total of 8 sessions I will have had will have been a waste of time when they can’t be continued to reap any possible long term positive effects. I’ll start again with someone else, maybe my old psychologist or maybe someone new and that could possibly mess up thought processes or any effects the past 8 sessions may have had because of another outside influence with different thoughts and ideas. What was the point in the past 8 sessions, because they’ve made me feel worse.

I get that maybe short term therapy works for some people, but I believe that for people with chronic pain or illness, which influences so many aspects of your life they may need longer term work. Especially if they’ve been sick a long time, perhaps there isn’t much hope of their health ever improving. I’m sorry but how can 8 sessions fix how you feel about spending the rest of your life sick and in pain, as someone who knows first hand and fully admits that they need psychological help and support, for me I know it’s not possible for in 8 sessions to be fixed and ready to be discharged.

I pride myself with always being honest on here, and that’s my honest opinion.

 

My fear of failure.

I’ve been seeing my new psychologist in London every week for the past 4 weeks, to start with I wasn’t too sure about it, but it’s been going okay and I’m getting use to him and his approach. It’s hard going in the appointment but I seem to have actually progressed with this psychodynamic approach as each week has gone on I have got better at identifying my emotions and the reasons behind them and my anxiety. It’s also been getting easier to talk to him, rather than lots of silence.

Last week he asked me to talk about something he read in one of my clinic letters from my neurologist. It was to do with studying and going to uni, so I told him about how I went back to college to try and obtain some qualifications because I desperately wanted to go to uni. My main reason for wanting to go to uni was because I just wanted to be normal, and secondly that I wanted to be a psychologist. However I was unable to complete the course because of my pain and ended up dropping out of college for a second time.
He then went on to ask if I would agree to some homework, he wanted to me to go home and look at some volunteering opportunities in my local area. He suggested things like volunteering for the Samaritans. He asked if I would be willing to do something like that, I said I am more than open to looking, however it’s the actual going forward with it that would be the problem. Don’t get me wrong I would love to do something productive like volunteering however in actual practice I worry that it wouldn’t work out. I’m scared of failure, actually I’m terrified. Everything I have ever started in the past 7 years I have not completed, I didn’t finish school, then college, then I had a job/apprenticeship and I didn’t finish that either, all because of the pain getting too bad that it becomes impossible. I feel like a complete failure and I don’t want to enhance that feeling by yet again having to drop out of something because the pain gets too bad. But I’m stuck in this cycle of never doing anything for fear of pain and failure, meaning I never move forward and enhancing the feeling that my life is stuck. Today I’ve had a look at some volunteering near me and I’ve found a couple of things that I’d possibly be interested in. Both of which I’ve actually looked into before however I’ve never gone forward with either for fear of pain and failure.  I’d like to do either of them but I’m just terrified of how I would feel if I started and then had to give it up because of the pain.

He also gave me a second piece of homework, which was to get out my old college papers which I obtained all distinctions on. As often I get into the belief that I’m not clever and I have never achieved anything. The belief I have that I’m not clever is not true (hence all the distinctions at college), but I guess I try to believe it because I actually am really clever but I never get to use my intelligence and I’ve never managed to achieve anything with how smart I actually am because of my pain. So I guess thinking that I’m not clever is almost like protection from the feelings I get in knowing that I actually am clever but I feel it will never amount to anything worthwhile and meaningful. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but somehow it makes sense to me. Anyway I got them out and had a read through them and I was reminded about how easy and straight forward I found the assignments. I was also reminded about how I felt when I realised I was going to have to drop out of college because the pain was too bad. I was distraught despite knowing yet again in my life that education was not the right thing for me and my headache and that in my eyes I had failed at something again.

This homework task was okay, I kind of figured out the reason behind my thinking that I’m not clever when actually deep down I know I am. It also revealed how much I’d like to do something productive like volunteering, though I don’t know if I will go through with it because of my fear of failure due to pain.

I’m in London twice this week, Wednesday to finally see my neurologist and hopefully get some answers on my extra pain. And Friday to see my psychologist again, which is my final session out of an initial block of 4 sessions, however I would like to continue seeing him as it seems to be being helpful, so hopefully he can offer me some more sessions.