Friday, 16 September 2016

Anxiety, Mindfulness and Me

So I have been battling another one of my demons recently, anxiety... I have always been quite an anxious person, always worrying a lot about everything but it wasn't until I was diagnosed with epilepsy that it started to get out of control.  During the first few months of having epilepsy I would wake in the night, with my heart beating in my head in a real state.  At the time I put it down to the lamotrigine as after a few months these episodes stopped and I didn't really think anymore about it.

In the years since there have been moments where my anxiety has seemed to get worse, during my pregnancy with Benji when I was worrying about labour was one of those times but it was then that I learnt about mindfulness and really used it to take some control back over my thoughts and worries.

So when I was planning going back to work I thought it would be ok Benji starting nursery, me starting work, Riley starting school and running my first half marathon all in the same month... not sure exactly what I was thinking but all I can say is this last month has been a tough one.

I have started to wake in the nights again with these panic episodes and found it hard to control my mood when I am tired. My thoughts start to spiral out of control and can feel myself panic about every tiny thing. I know it's not healthy and isn't helping things. I also know I'm more likely to have a seizure and I really don't want this seizure free streak to come to an end... but at the same time I don't want to add another medication to my list of meds.

So I have turned to mindfulness and I know I need to use it more but I at least I am making a start. I find that focusing on the breath when my thoughts get out of control helps centre me. And by doing a meditation before bed such as a body scan my sleep is so much improved. It's time consuming but it helps and I know I need to do more to feel more in control. I have started to try a running meditation as well which is a way of fitting in some mindfulness and training for the half marathon at the same time.

I think mindfulness should be taught to everyone with epilepsy, everyone with a chronic condition in fact. The research behind it is really solid, this paper gives a really good overview of some of the benefits seen in mindfulness. It actually changes the way our minds and bodies work for the better. Yet there is next to no provision for it within our health care and I think that needs to change.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Medication in pregnancy ~ does the guilt ever go?

When you are pregnant you want to do everything you can to protect your unborn baby.  You watch what you eat and drink, giving up things you loved before just in case it impacts on the life you are growing inside you.  But for those of us who have no choice but to take medication during pregnancy it is a huge weight on our mind throughout those 9 months and beyond.

Pregnancy and the early days

That first scan is so scary, but then so is every scan after that, what if they find something, what if the drugs have affected the baby, I think it’s the only time in life where you want your child to be completely average and I felt blessed that both mine were.

Then they are born and the relief that both my babies we’re ok was huge.  The first few days with Benji were a worry, he didn’t poo straight away and the doctor was questioning whether his digestive tract had developed correctly.  We heard her making irate phone calls to the consultant and the whole time I was sat there thinking maybe this is because I took Keppra in pregnancy.  It turns out he is fine but the worry at the time was very real.

So once they are home I though the guilt would pass, we have two healthy children we could get on with life.

Small problems start to show

But then we noticed Riley’s eyes would sometimes roll outwards, to begin with I thought I was imagining it but by the time she was two others started to notice it too. It turns out she has a divergent squint, she controls it really well and I am so proud of how grown up she is when she goes to the hospital and has her eyes tested.  But in the back of my mind I question why does she have this problem, could it be the lamotrigine I took in pregnancy?  She may need surgery in the future, it’s not a problem that is likely to go away and I worry that other children will notice her eyes and bully her for it.

Then there are her little toes, they are slightly deformed, they are slightly high on her foot and the nails are small and impossible to cut. I have mentioned it to the doctor and we were told they may well bother her when she gets older and require a small surgery to correct them.  But a few weeks ago Riley asked me why her toes are funny, it was because Benji’s are normal so when I cut their nails together I can do his really quickly but with hers I have to get clippers out and try to pull the nail back to cut them and it hurts her.  She asked why her nails were so hard to cut when Benji’s toes were so much smaller and yet his nails were easy to cut…

Finally there is potty training, this has been a complete nightmare, the hardest part of parenting so far for us… we have tried everything.  We have used so many different reward charts, we have got her to clean up the mess, we have used a wobble watch to remind her to use the toilet, we have given her big drinks to try to stretch her bladder and still we have regular accidents.

Don’t get me wrong things are improving, we definitely have less accidents now than 18 months ago but we struggle to go more than 2-3 days without an accident and some days we will have loads.  The health visitors are all out of ideas, nursery are all out of ideas and for a child so bright and articulate it seems strange she can’t grasp a simple concept of using the toilet.

At first it was really hard seeing all her friends just getting it.   But it has gone on for so long now I have learnt to accept it but it is still hard when there are children so much younger than Riley who are successfully potty trained.

There is also so little support out there when you are struggling.  I had to break down in floods of tears to the health visitor to even see them.  We had a scan done and it showed her kidneys are normal but it would appear her bladder is small.  We don’t know why yet but we have finally got a referral to the paediatric urologist, it has taken a long time and a lot of heart ache to get there.  And now I wonder could it be the medication I took in pregnancy which is behind this problem.

Could it be the medication?

The truth is we will probably never know whether these problems are caused by the lamotrigine because while data is collected on major birth defects at birth, small problems like this are not recorded anywhere and without the large data sets you can never tell whether it’s just unlucky that she has these problems or whether it’s due to the drugs.

Of course these little problems wouldn’t have stopped me having a baby because I was taking epilepsy drugs, I wouldn’t change Riley for the world.  I suppose it’s more the guilt that is linked with them, I blame myself for Riley’s problems.  Because no one can tell me either way whether it’s the drugs I blame myself for the decisions I made, like to up my lamotrigine dose during pregnancy because my levels dropped.

It’s also a funny situation because I feel like because Riley and Benji were exposed to different drugs during my pregnancy and Benji doesn’t seem to have these problems that if I had taken the plunge and tried Keppra sooner Riley might not have these problems.  I chose not to try Keppra sooner because I was worried about it effecting my mood because of all the things I had read about it so I feel guilty for that.

What needs to change?

I suppose what I am trying to say is that more needs to be done to record the long term effects of medication on children exposed to it in uterus. Drug companies need to take more responsibility for their medications so women can have all the facts available to them.  I wouldn’t have chosen not to have children because of these small problems but now I feel guilty for every problem my children have, it would be good to know which are linked to the medications and which aren’t and just to receive better support and understanding from health professionals.

There is so much information on the risks of smoking and alcohol in pregnancy and at the end of the day there is no need for women to smoke and drink in pregnancy (and the risks seem pretty obvious) yet there is so much data on the risks.  But for medications that many women have no choice but to risk in pregnancy the data just isn’t being collected and that seems wrong somehow.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Update on life!

I haven’t written anything for a while and yet so much has been happening, and I guess that is the point of this blog.  It’s been a very busy few weeks, I have returned to work, Benji has started nursery and we finally got a referral to the paediatric urologist for Riley. Meanwhile I have been continuing the running training for the marathon next year and feeling the pressure of needing to begin to fundraise.
I would love to say that I have coped with all this fantastically well, and I hope that to the outside world it seems I have, but on the inside I have been really struggling and at one point was right on the edge so here’s the honest truth condensed down to one blog.

Benji’s growing independence

Benji is a star, so laid back, so easy and I feel totally blessed to have him.  He has started at nursery which I have to say I was really nervous about as it took Riley so long to settle and while I can’t say he loves it, I feel like he has accepted it and so I don’t feel too guilty.  He has also just started to crawl and is into everything! 

Yesterday I noticed four new teeth seem to have sprouted from nowhere and he hasn’t really made a fuss.  We’ve had the starting nursery sickness to contend with as well, lots of new bugs so last week he had a temperature and last night I was clearing up sick!  But all in all he is doing really well and growing up so fast!

Riley on the road to school

Riley starts school in a matter of weeks, she is excited and can’t wait.  She has grown up so much and while she has the odd difficult moment she is a joy to spend time with, she cares so much about others and is funny and her character is really starting to shine through.  That’s why the next blog I am going to write is going to be a tough one to write, there are a few little things which she has to deal with that I just wonder, ‘are they linked to the lamotrigine I took in pregnancy?’ but that is a long story and will be the basis of my next blog.

Work and run

So my seizures remain controlled with the Keppra which to me is a miracle, no focal seizures for coming 20 months, no tonic-clonics for 28 months! I have my driving licence back, my confidence is growing with the kids and I feel great.  I am now back at work, at a desk all day, and I find that quite hard but it has to be done.  I am also doing great on my marathon training, now running 5k well within 30 minutes 2 times a week with longer runs as well, so I am now up to running 15k.  With my first half marathon in 5 weeks’ time I feel like I have achieved a lot in the last few months and overcome a massive hurdle.

Anxiety attacks

So all this change has come at a cost, Keppra has been the drug to control my seizures, I feel so blessed for that, but it hasn’t been plain sailing that’s for sure. I can’t say whether it is the Keppra itself or the fact that for 10 years I was on lamotrigine, a mood stabiliser and maybe I just got used to that but lets face it all these drugs change the way our brains work, they control the activity going on in there. 

There is no getting away from the fact that since I made the change from Lamotrigine to Keppra I have had to work a lot harder at finding strategies to regulate my mood.  When times get tough like that have in the past few weeks I start to feel myself falling apart.

So I know that I have been more snappy towards Rich and I am so glad that he puts up with me, I can’t thank him enough for all the support he give me.  I have found that running really helps me to regulate my mood, it gives me some me time away from the kids and allows me to reset.  But the biggest challenge over the last month has been my anxiety. 

I started waking in the night having anxiety attacks, with my heart racing and pounding in my head.  I used to get this when I was first diagnosed with epilepsy and all I can say is it makes going to bed really scary.  So after three nights of this happening I started to feel the anxiety growing in the day, then one day I thought it was going to happen while I was out at the park dealing with the kids, I panicked and started to leave the situation and luckily calmed down. 

But that episode made me realise everything had got too much for me and I needed a coping strategy.  So cue mindfulness, I had let meditation slip over the last few months.  As things get busy finding the time to actually meditate seems to fall to the bottom of the pile.  But after these anxiety attacks I started prioritising it before bed, and wow I can’t explain how quickly I felt more in control. 

Since starting 30 minutes of meditation each day I haven’t had any more anxiety attacks, day or night and just feel able to cope again.  I have also found a great running meditation which kills two birds with one stone! Yes it another thing which takes up my time, but it really does improve my quality of life.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

My 2017 London Marathon Challenge really begins!

With my place confirmed on the Epilepsy Action London Marathon team 2017 now seems to be a good time a step up both my training and fundraising as both are a huge challenge but one I am looking forward to.

So I want to start by sharing why running the London Marathon is such a huge challenge for me. I have always wanted to run the marathon I guess it's one of my biggest life goals. At school I did long distance running, something very few people were keen on! I ran 1500m at all the school competitions not because I was an amazing runner but more because noone else wanted to and I used to run 10k in sub 1 hour so I wasn't a bad runner and I enjoyed it!

However I had my first big tonic-clonic seizure, 12 years ago, walking home after a training run, I had my second seizure while running with my athletics club and I had my forth seizure on a treadmill. I quickly lost confidence in running, put the challenge of running a marathon to the back of my mind along with the idea of driving. That diagnosis of epilepsy really knocked my confidence but it was Epilepsy Action who gave me hope that I could live a full life.

In the past 10 years my volunteering with Epilepsy Action has given me a purpose, I feel like my epilepsy diagnosis has given me an opportunity to help others, that something positive has come from it.

By giving epilepsy presentations to care providers, businesses and other groups I have helped make our world a more understanding place for people with epilepsy. By helping at events I have met so many amazing people effected by epilepsy, their stories have inspired me to do more with my life and I hope my story has helped others to. By getting involved in campaigning I hope I have helped make a small change to the bigger system that means others with epilepsy won't have to go through some of the more negative experiences I have had to fight my way through.

So now I want to achieve the life goal epilepsy made me place on the shelf so many years ago, I am going to run the 2017 London Marathon and I couldn't imagine running it for anyone else other than Epilepsy Action.

Running the marathon is a big enough challenge in itself but the fundraising goal I have is also a pretty big goal for me too, and something I have never really done before.

So I ask you my friends to help me with this, it doesn't have to be by giving money (although if you can spare a little that would be amazing, you can visit my just giving page here) just words of encouragement to get out there running when it's cold and wet would be amazing. I'll also be holding cake sales and hopefully an auction of promises so it would be great to see you at them, just watch this space.

So the challenge begins, here we go!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

SUDEP ~ the other side of the Epilim debate

So a few weeks ago I was invited along to share my story at the Epilepsy Action pregnancy symposium in Wales. It was an amazing opportunity for me and I feel my story really helped highlight the need for better support for women with epilepsy throughout pregnancy.

It was fantastic to see so many health professionals from across Wales interested in making women with epilepsy have more positive birth experiences. I was really surprised to see what a good level of specialist support they seem to have across Wales with epilepsy nurses attending anti natal clinics to give support. Yet in our area just South of London there was next to no specialist input.

But the day also highlighted to me a darker side of epilepsy and I have been umming and arghing about how to write this post. Reading this post about the importance of bringing epilepsy and death out of the shadows has kick started me into writing this.

Risks of Epilim (Sodium Valporate)

We have all heard the awful stories of women having been on Epilim during pregnancy and not being informed of the risks to their baby. Of the babies born with birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems.  The day really did highlight the importance of informing women of these risks which is brilliant but it also addressed the other side of the coin... the fact that epilepsy can kill.

The reason I am writing this is because women should be given all the information when making a choice about medication during pregnancy.

I have heard people say Epilim should be band in women of child baring age but this is why it shouldn't, because every woman should be given all the information then given specialist support to come to the right decision for them.

Gender gap in treatment of generalised epilepsy

Epilim is the most effective treatment for generalised epilepsy (things like Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy). If a man walks into an epilepsy clinic with a generalised epilepsy syndrome he'd be put on Epilim as a first line drug. If it's a young girl or women they would try other drugs, drugs less likely to work, it turns out keppra is one of the most effective drugs aside of Epilim so it's very positive that it is appearing to be fairly safe in pregnancy.

Real Story ~ to raise awareness

They told a story which really hit home to me of a women who had been on Epilim for JME throughout childhood and it had controlled her seizures completely. She then wanted to start a family and made the difficult decision to change to what was then seen as the safest medication in pregnancy, lamotrigine. She started to have a few seizures again but got through the pregnancy and had a healthy baby.

After the birth she saw her neurologist and they discussed if she wanted to go back on Epilim but because she wanted a second child she decided to stay on Lamotrigine and live with the seizures. A few months later her husband found her blue on the bathroom floor, he was unable to resuscitate her, at her inquest the family were told she had died from SUDEP.

SUDEP ~ the information everyone should have

Seizure control is the best way to reduce SUDEP so sadly if this woman had chosen to restart Epilim her child would probably still have a mother. It's a horrible truth but one that is not spoken about enough.

The risk of SUDEP increases in the first year after birth, it makes sense and yet I never really considered it. Lack of sleep, hormonal changes, forgetting medication as we are running around after our little person, all increase our risk of seizures and thus our risk of SUDEP.

We say women should have all the information about epilepsy drugs in pregnancy to make a decision and I think that is totally right.  I just wonder whether this women was given all the information about SUDEP to add into that decision.

Epilim does carry a fairly substantial risk to a baby in pregnancy (you can find more information here) but uncontrolled epilepsy increases the mothers risk of SUDEP and that needs to be considered too (you can find more information on SUDEP here).

Lets face it not all women want to have children, women may be happy to take the risk of Epilim or maybe adoption is a better option for them but at the end of the day what women need is ALL the information and a supportive knowledgeable health professional to discuss it with so they can make there own informed decision about their health and the health of their baby.

Epilepsy is a difficult condition to get your head around in fact when a group of health professionals were asked whether they would rather have a diagnosis of epilepsy, diabetes or asthma, epilepsy was the least popular and yet there is an 70% chance that by taking a tablet twice a day you will never have another seizure again... but maybe it's all these extremely difficult topics that the condition throws up because at the end of the day weighing up your own risk of death against your babies risk of being harmed is a horrible and really tough decision to make.

We are amazing women, fighting tough battles, we deserve all the information and a supportive team of health professionals around us. Let's fight for that together.

Monday, 16 May 2016

It's National Epilepsy Week ~ let's get talking about epilepsy

So this week is National Epilepsy Week and a survey by Epilepsy Action shows many people with epilepsy still fear discrimination and are worried about talking about their epilepsy.

So I was thinking wouldn't it be great if we could use this week to start turning that around. How? By sharing our own stories of epilepsy, showing people that yes Epilepsy can be scary and unpredictable but we all battle through it and come out stronger and more reliable people, better partners, children, parents, friends and employees because we have been through hell and just got on with it, it may not feel like that on the hard days but we are all amazing epilepsy warriors.

So here goes, my story, I would love it if others shared there own stories in the comments, doesn't have to be pregnancy related just show the world we are stronger than epilepsy.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy 12 years ago aged just 19 and around the time I stated university. When I was first diagnosed I was lost, scared and I felt my whole life hinged on becoming seizure free, like everything was put on hold waiting for that to happen. Seizures were so unpredictable, with no warnings and knocking me out for days, how could I function like that?

There were a few periods where it looked like it would happen, months with no tonic clonic seizures and then bam a seizure would happen out of the blue. It was like it was teasing me. There have been some dark days where epilepsy definitely pushed ahead in the battle.

Eventually after 6 years of these intermittent tonic clonic seizures I found the strength to challenge my neurologist about why it wasn't going away. His response of well that's just how it is  wasn't enough for me so I pushed to see an epilepsy nurse and got refered to London.

Finally I saw a doctor who really listened to me. She did more tests and re diagnosed me with temperal lobe epilepsy and said she felt I was having focal seizures. Suddenly a reality hit... I hadn't been seizure free for months ever, these little focal seizures had been there the whole time I just didn't really link the two.

With a proper diagnosis I started talking to other people with the same type of epilepsy and other professionals and it became clear that while the seizure frequency tends to be relatively low seizure freedom can be hard to get especially after so much time. I then I started to realise I couldn't continue to put my life on hold waiting for seizure freedom. I needed to start living life with seizures.

So I started looking for ways to cope with the anxiety I felt from the unpredictability of seizures. I enrolled on the expert patient programme and looked into mindfulness, both helped me come up with strategies to manage my anxiety.

Then I started to live life, finding a job my epilepsy didn't effect so I could give it my all, having two amazing children, riding my horse, skiing in America and getting out running again. I didn't let epilepsy win.

So 12 years after my diagnosis I am in fact 18 months completely seizure free... it is a miracle and yet not a miracle I needed to live life. People say you must be so pleased, and I smile and say yes I am. But am I pleased? Of course I am happy but I had already accepted a life with seizures in order to make sure I didn't miss out on living life so being seizure free I don't like to think about too much because if I do have a seizure again I don't want to feel the incredible disappointment I have so many times before - I don't want to miss out on life because of it.

I guess what I am trying to say is don't let epilepsy win. Have hope things will improve but also find a way to live in the worst times otherwise we miss out on so much.

Sending lots of love to all my fellow epilepsy warriors and their families and friends who stand by them, hope to read your story soon xxx

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

All Wales Epilepsy and Pregnancy Symposium, Cardiff ~ Wednesday 20th April 2016

This looks like a fantastic event for health professionals and will hopefully help build understanding of epilepsy and pregnancy and what extra care women with epilepsy need on their journey.

I also feel honoured that I have been invited along to the day to share my own experiences with health professionals and I'm really looking forward to it.

The day is going to look at:

Epilepsy, diagnosis and management, seizure types, treatment

Teratogenicity of anti epileptic drugs, valproate and learning disability

Pre-conceptual counselling, contraception and fertility

Management of pregnant women with epilepsy - a confidential enquiry

Epilepsy Care in Pregnancy

UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy Register

Ante natal care

Labour, delivery and post delivery

Safety issues

Personal experience of epilepsy and pregnancy

So looks like an excellent day. If you are a health professional and would like to attend you can find out more about the event and book your free place here.

I'll be writing about the event afterwards so watch this space!