Jenna Lovell -Instinct & Intuition

Welcome back to the ‘Meet my Peeps’ Guest Series. I met Jenna Lovell through an online Chronic Illness bloggers group set up by Carly Findlay. Jenna lives in Tasmania, a part of Australia very dear to my heart. When I put the invitation for my series of Guest Posts, Jenna jumped in.  I am so glad to bring your her words and wisdom. Through her blog, coaching with clients and speaking at events and conferences, she shares her story of living with a rare genetic illness and how she has changed her health and life. Jenna loves mail, so pop over to her corner of the internet and say hi:
www.mymissingfactor.com
jenna@mymissingfactor.com
https://www.facebook.com/mymissingfactor
https://instagram.com/mymissingfactor

Thanks Jenna for contributing, I really value your input!    -Rach

The biggest thing that has changed for(2)

I was 16 when I was diagnosed with a rare, inherited bleeding disorder called type 1 Von Willebrand Disease. Like those with haemophilia, my body doesn’t produce enough of one of the essential clotting proteins, and I’m susceptible to bruising, nose, throat, gut and colon bleeds, and as a female with this diagnosis, my periods are severe in every sense. While I’d definitely invite you to take a read of my physical symptoms, Rachel has invited me to share with you my other experiences – managing the mental, emotional and spiritual challenges having a genetic illness throws your way.

This story really starts long before my birth, with my mother’s experiences. While she experienced all the same symptoms I do, she was never diagnosed. She had to struggle through monstrously difficult periods, excessive bruising and other symptoms without a diagnosis or a hint of medical support. I’ve found out in recent years that for women of her generation, that was far from a rare experience (though thankfully its pretty rare now here in Australia). Fear and anxiety about engaging with doctors is common among those of us who had to wait until later in our lives for a diagnosis, which makes getting care and support an anxious task, despite its necessity. So after a few years of horrible periods myself, the decision was made to ask doctors about it, but that definitely brought nerves. We knew my mum had never been given the attention she needed, and had no idea if I’d get the right support or not.

Luckily, my GP is fantastic, and referred me to two equally skilled specialists who dispelled any fears or concerns about their approach, and were able to provide me with my diagnosis. Of course being a teen at the time, my struggles didn’t stop there. It took around 2 years to find the right combination of medications to manage my bleeds and for them to settle down to the most under control point I’ve had them, but in that time, I had a lot of time out of school, I missed social events with friends, I had several teachers talk to me about my attitude and commitment to school work, which prior to my diagnosis I had no good reason why it was slipping. I had the worst of my symptoms during the most important two years of high school (years 11 & 12), so I have no doubt my illness during that time impacted my final grades. Its only been in the last few years that I’ve made progress in creating and maintaining new friendships – after struggling with this in high school due to my constant absences and subsequent loss of friends (and even relationships with my relatives). Even after being diagnosed, I struggled for a number of years to explain my diagnosis and symptoms given the primary issue I deal with is my menstrual bleeds. I felt embarrassed to talk about the details, to mention my condition to others, even when it was needed because of the social taboo about talking about our reproductive systems.

It will come as no surprise to you that as a teen and young adult this put a massive pin in any plans to have dates! I often find it ironic that the primary class of drugs used to treat female bleeders is contraceptives – trust me, with periods like mine, you don’t spend time thinking about sex or anything related to it! I was also scared and worried about telling boys and men about my diagnosis and symptoms for a long time – would they understand it, would they think I was gross, would I have to explain far more to a male than a female, thus extending the time I was talking about my periods to a male, probably in public!

I also went through a period of almost 10 years after my diagnosis that can only be described as my cognitive dissonance days. While I don’t skip taking my medication, for roughly a decade, I continued to have period-based symptoms, large unexplained bruises, and an unrelated but constant string of colds, flus, chest infections and even a few rounds of pneumonia. On paper, I may have looked ‘healthy’ – my weight was in normal ranges for my height and age, I was diagnosed by treated for my bleeding disorder, but I was ignoring a lot of signs. Clearly, my immune system was struggling, and I just didn’t feel great – inconsistent energy and frequently tired, struggling with an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity, and I felt lacking in strength, both emotionally and physically. At the root of this was deep seated apathy – I took no care of my body and I didn’t listen to any of the (now glaringly obvious) signs it was sending my way. I didn’t care about my health that much because I didn’t think I needed to.

So what changed for me?
A number of new experiences in the last few years have seen me revolutionise my relationship with my body, health and myself:

  • I’ve become connected with the patient support community for people with bleeding disorders. I have to say this was a turning point in me finally accepting my condition and myself. There’s nothing like other people who go through what you do, they just get it. Some of the people I trust most in the world come from that community, and I can say I wouldn’t be the same without them.
  • A local Hobart-based business, Barrecode, also has a lot to answer for! This low-impact strengthening workout has not just seen my physical self improve its condition, but I now also trust my body to do physical things, and know it can be challenged and not fail on me. The owner, Christie, also introduced me to new eating philosophies that have supported my exercise and general health, but also allowed me to better understand my body and its needs.
  • Meditation. Bet you’ve heard that one before, but by gosh has my personal quiet time made such a difference! In a physical sense, I use it to manage pain, but its also been fundamental in me coming to a new relationship with my condition, with experiencing pain, and developing my intuition which has helped me make better decisions in all parts of my life.
    The biggest thing that has changed for me? I now trust myself – wholly, completely and over anyone else. I trust my body and I can work together to make me healthier every day, and my instinct and intuition will always provide the best outcome.

-Jenna Lovell

A Medical Menagerie

 

This may be of interest to you if you also have Dysautonomia, Pandysautonomia or Seronegative Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy, or if you know someone who does.  If neither of those apply, please don’t feel obliged to read through.
I record below all of my medical weirdnesses because I know that people will find recognition here. I took a lot of comfort from learning that there were others like me when I first heard my diagnosis.  I have recorded all my symptoms because sometimes, something small can be a clue.  I am looking for answers and you might be too.

nb_-i-keep-this-list-here-for-others-looking-into-their-own-condition-i-am-now-well-but-what-you-see-below-is-how-things-were-for-me-before-i-went-into-remission

 

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Symptoms From Top to Toe:

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pm‘Cognitive Fog’; memory issues, variable ability to concentrate, dizziness.
 These challenge my very identity.  I was smart and now thinking is much harder for me. Sometimes I sound like I’ve lost my marbles, my words get jumbled and my memory scrambled.  It’s distressing.  If I sound weird when I talk to you, it’s not that I am stupid.  I am just struggling.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmI have trouble with vision sometimes, my eyes go into focal spasm.  My pupils are not always equal in size and sometimes they don’t adjust to the light properly.  My eyes are often dry.  Other times they stream and people think I am crying.  But it’s just my Dysautonomia (as moved as I am by whatever it was you just said)!

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmDizziness when I have a postural change has been my reality since I was eight. Sometimes I am dizzy even lying in bed and it feels like someone is slowly tilting my bed backwards in a full circle. It feels a bit like being in a raft on the ocean and I feel like I am going to fall off. Or I have a kind of up-and-down dizziness when I am just standing (like I’m bouncing internally), or presyncope when I bend over, or stand from squatting. My dizziness makes me feel unsteady on my feet and I bang into walls and doorframes. I always have to steady myself against something if I have to stand. I use a ‘shooting stick’ cane that has a seat so that if I need to sit quickly, I can. I can also use it to prop myself up.  Descending stairs is terrifying. Dizziness is never something you get used to. You learn to breathe through it, but your body always feels stressed during a dizzy episode.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmThe inside of my mouth feels like after you’ve taken a big mouthful of hot soup.  That burnt tongue feeling? It is sometimes tender, dry and my gums are red and sore.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmHeart issues are part of my scenery, managed mostly by my wonderful pacemaker.  I don’t take cardiac medicines anymore.  My heart rate ranges from the early thirties to the mid two hundreds. If my heart rate drops rapidly, my pacemaker kicks in.  I have had thousands of rate drop episodes since my pacemaker was inserted. I am grateful for it every day. My blood pressure can be very low, or very high, or somewhere in between.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmMy stomach, digestive tract and bowel can miss important nerve messages that make them work.  This can result in a ‘pseudo obstruction’.  First, I get ‘post prandial bloating’; my tummy distends like a ten-month pregnancy.  Then, all tummy services are suspended  (so much for never having to be pregnant again)!  These days I wear forgiving clothes and I frequently get asked if I am expecting. When it is extremely bad, I make the trudge back in to hospital. It’s hideous; but my new normal is a bowel that doesn’t work without extreme inducement. I take ten various doses of laxative a day and also self administer enemas.  I hate this symptom most of all.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmI am nauseous on and off all day and especially at night.  This is a side-effect of the medications which  produce peristalsis (intestinal squeezing).

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmMy bladder either retains urine and have to self-catheterise, or I am incontinent.  I have detrusor dysfunction, so emptying my bladder fully is tricky. Sometimes for brief and lovely periods, the pendulum passes through the middle of the arc and my bladder behaves like it used to.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmMy body doesn’t regulate temperature properly.  Some parts of my body can’t sweat anymore, so other parts of my body overcompensate.  I struggle greatly with heat.  I don’t know how to dress for the conditions because my experience of them is not accurate.  In the past, I often over-dressed or under-dressed my children.  Now they are old enough to let me know if they need thermals and a jacket.  For me, it is always layers so I can try to manually adjust things from the outside in.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmI get fasiculations in my muscles, in random places all over my body, sometimes these go on for a long time, other times it is just for minutes.  Sometimes, they are not there at all.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmMy leg muscles are weak, so standing up from a seated position is hard.  I struggle going up and down stairs or uphill.  My left leg often burns.  I’ve been told this is nerve pain.  Sometimes I have a strange gait, it is tricky at these times to lift my feet properly.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmI have pins and needles and burning sensations in my feet and hands, known as peripheral neuropathy.  We found an excellent medication for this, but now I only take it when it is extreme because the medication made my brain fuzzier.

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.32.54 pmI live with fatigue. It stands to reason that my body is tired.

 

Medications and Treatment (pre-Immune Suppression)

The general approach with Dysautonomias, is to treat the symptoms. So for everything you see above, there is something I take or do to try and help it.

 

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  1. I take Mestinon, Domperidone and Cyclizine 4x day.
  2. I take Solificenate Succinate, Gabapentin and (a list too long to be bothered recording) of laxatives on an as-needs basis.
  3. I use intermittent self-catheterisation and enemas as necessary.
  4. I also have, and highly rate, osteopathy (thank you Glyn, you are a genius!)
  5. I have iron infusions when my iron gets too low from malabsorption (these are also genius).
  6. I am currently seeing some immunologists who think it is probable that I have sero-negative Auto-immune Autonomic Ganglionopathy.  Pulse IV steroids point to an auto-immune aetiology, so moving forward I may trial other immune modulation therapies.

I rely on my husband, my kids and my friends for help, encouragement and support.  I don’t like to ask, I don’t like to receive, but I am learning how.

Still with me?  You are amazing!  Thanks for sticking around!