Category Archives: Mental strength

A week at altitude

Since my last post about stepping into the unknown of altitude in Bolivia, I have explored the Salar de Uyuni, spent 24 hours in Bolivia’s capital city La Paz and travelled to the former Incan capital of Cuzco – all of which are 3,400m or above. In this post, I have broken down my experience with altitude and myasthenia gravis into a daily diary covering the first seven days.

Day one

Landing at 4,100m in the La Paz airport, the highest international airport in the world, was a shock to the system. We had a day to spend there before our evening flight to Uyuni and considered getting a taxi to the lower city centre (3,660m) to make life a little bit easier. But on arrival, we found a hotel in the airport where you could pay by the hour… at this height, to conserve energy.

Observing my symptoms closely, I noticed that first came a flush to my cheeks and my skin stared tingling. This was followed by a slight tremor of the heart as if it was shaking with uncertainty and then a burst blood vessel in my eye. Next, the delight of an upset stomach. While all this was happening, we were having a Netflix binge while lying sprawled in the hotel room.

After 8 hours at that height, I was feeling rather spaced but nothing else more serious than the symptoms above. I could feel my circulation working a bit slower than normal as my hands and toes were cold and my lips had turned a strange purple shade.

My appetite had disappeared but we had read that you should make yourself eat as your body works harder than normal at altitude. After some chicken salad, I felt a sudden energy boost – a pattern of eating and feeling better that continued for the next few days.

The flight to Uyuni gave us a break due to the normal oxygen levels on planes. Once back on steady land, we were at the slightly lower altitude of 3,600m.

Day two

During a broken but not terrible night’s sleep, I felt my heart working harder than it normally would so I had to lie on my right side. I woke to find my face puffy and my pupils huge. My body was tired but not weak -I was hungry and I woke up with a thirst as if I had been smoking and drinking all night.

We allowed ourselves to have a day of rest to acclimitatise. This meant barely leaving the hotel and walking everywhere very slowly. After breakfast I felt better although my lips were still purple tinged.

While we lounged about the hotel reading, the fires were roaring but I couldn’t get warm. Putting on all the extra layers I had didn’t really help as it felt like it was coldness coming from the inside out. The hotel had a sauna and jacuzzi but I didn’t want to risk the extra pressure of heat on my body, so I had regular hot chocolates (caffeine and alcohol were advised against).

By 9pm I couldn’t keep my eyes open and passed into a coma-like sleep.

Day three

I slept like a log and woke up feeling nearly normal although my face was still a bit puffy and my lips still had a purple tinge.

After another relaxed morning and a FaceTime with some friends (which would have tired us out the day before), we went for a tour into the Salar De Uyuni.

Walking very slowly between the stalls in Colchani, between the Dakar monument to the salt hotel and then posing for lots of silly photos (see below) tired me out, but it was totally worth it. I found myself slightly breathless after doing a yoga pose, but thankfully I was able to catch my breath quickly.

We spent the last hour and a half having a picnic watching the sunset and taking our first taste of alcohol since arriving in altitude. My body told me clearly ‘don’t overdo it’ so I kept it to a small glass simply to enjoy with the best sunset I have ever witnessed.

Day four

After another good night’s sleep – deep and restful but with some crazy dreams in the morning – we flew back to La Paz.

Instantly on arriving back at 4,100m I felt the thinner air and the pollution speed up my breathing and heart rate. As we slowly descended with the taxi into the incredible city, which is in a valley surrounded by the huge mountains of the Andes, I felt myself relax.

For the first time since arriving in altitude, we did lots of walking (close to 14,000 steps) and because of how the city is laid out, we had to walk up a lot of hills. However we took our time and didn’t have any problems.

Saying that, I got a headache and my ears were popping like crazy when we took the teleferico back up over 4,000m but we didn’t hang about long at the top. That sudden headache reminded me how much difference 500m can make.

Day five

We flew to Cuzco, Peru, which is at the slightly lower altitude of 3,300m. I expected to find it easier to breathe right away after being back at 4,100m in La Paz airport. My breathing felt smoother inside the airport although the pollution of the city was quite bad. After a rubbish night sleep in La Paz due to a dusty, creaky room and probably eating too much too late, I felt a bit ropey and after eating my first meal in Cuzco felt thoroughly poisoned.

That meant being unable to do anything after 6.30pm so the first night in Peru was wasted and I was up with an upset stomach through the night.

Day six

After another rubbish sleep, I was awake early and did what I probably shouldn’t have – caffeinated the problem away. This gave me a false sense of energy and the tiredness at altitude felt like a distant memory.

We spent the morning and early afternoon organising activities for the rest of our time and then visiting some of the city’s attractions. Unlike anywhere else we’ve been in South America, except Ipanema Beach in Rio, the people of Cuzco relentlessly try to sell tourists stuff. Once we politely said no to our 14th massage, 20th restaurant, 37th hat and 42nd selfie stick, we were drained and found a quiet bar for respite. The peace of the bar was so nice that we couldn’t resist a second drink and then having tapas for dinner would have been a crime without a glass of wine.

So basically Cuzco was where my caffeine and alcohol consumption went back to normal. You’re really encouraged not to drink at altitude – because it’s a depressant and because you’re already dehydrated. So after initially passing out, I woke up with a racing heart in the middle of the night.

Day seven

When the alarm went off at 6am for our first trip out of Cuzco I had slept on and off but didn’t feel rested. Thanks alcohol!

As a result, by the time we got to our first stop – a lake in the town of Chincerro at 3,700m I was out of breath and felt very weak. The stairs to the first Incan settlement in the same town were a real struggle. Each one feeling like a mountain – similar to how I feel on really bad fatigue days.

As we moved down into the Sacred Valley, things got easier – although climbing the stairs at Ollantaytambo was still a challenge that required a pause halfway. By the end of a full day in Pisaq, a settlement around 3,500m, I felt thoroughly exhausted and was not looking forward to the 4am alarm clock for Machu Picchu the next morning.

In reality, the wake up was tough but our eighth day was much easier as Machu Picchu is around 2,500m above sea level. As a result, I was able to bound around the mysterious ruins, while other people were walking around grey-faced, looking as if they could be sick at any time.

This feeling of having all the energy in the world is common when you come down from altitude and so I’m looking forward to how amazing I will feel when we reach Lima, the final stop of our trip.

In summary

We have now managed to spend 10 days at altitude without any real problems and without having to take any special medications.

I have managed a tough yoga class, a lot of walking and have climbed thousands of Incan-built stairs.

I think the following made my first extended period at altitude easier:

  • taking the time to acclimatise properly by having two full days of relaxation
  • not drinking alcohol or caffeine for the first three days
  • eating light meals
  • allowing ourselves to go to bed early and not overdoing it

Now that I have seen how my body reacts to altitude, I would be less nervous about going above 3,000m again. Saying that, I won’t take it for granted and will definitely take the same precautions and have a back-up plan in case I react differently next time as altitude, like myasthenia gravis, is unpredictable.

A bad week in Uruguay

After five days in breathtaking Rio De Janiero and a couple of days on both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the Igazu Falls, we had a night in Buenos Aires before heading to Uruguay for carnival.

To get to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, we had to take an overnight bus from Puerta Igazu to Buenos Aires and then an early morning boat to Montevideo the next day. It was exhausting and I think the combination of the extreme heat, the lack of sleep and the different climates led to what happened next.

On day 1 in Montevideo, I had the start of double vision and felt pretty unwell. This developed rapidly over the next few days to the worst double vision I’ve had in years, a nasty headache from the swirling and really bad fatigue. Elaine said I was getting less and less like myself each day and the hours where I was fit to do anything kept getting shorter.

Still, we tried to enjoy the cool carnival nights in Montevideo.

This photo above is on our first night in Montevideo. It was the night of the main parade and here we’re climbing scaffolding to get a better view.

After five nights in Montevideo, we moved on to Colonia Del Sacramento, a former colonial town across the river Del Plata from Buenos Aires. Luckily, there is not much to do in Colonia, so I was able to relax there as I didn’t have much energy for anything else.

After a week of getting worse each day, although I had doubled my steroids, we caught the boat back to Buenos Aires a day earlier than planned to get some help.

I’ve now had medical care in a private facility in Argentina’s capital (more about that in another blog soon) and after upping my steroids and pyridostigmine I am feeling much better. However, this Uruguayan episode served to remind me that the MG is more of a sleeping beast than a distant memory and that I can’t take a day of being well for granted.

The photo for this blog is at the lowest point of my last episode where I wanted to hide away from the world. Thankfully in that moment, I had Elaine to keep my spirits up and pull me out of my self pity. So it has served to remind me how lucky I am to have her by my side too.

Despite this bad turn, the reason we are here – to experience other countries and cultures – is what kept me going. Here are a few of the amazing things we experienced in Montevideo and Colonia Del Sacramento. I hope the beauty of the country and its people is what I remember when I think back on our time there.

Travelling and myasthenia gravis

I’m back in Scotland after travelling around south east Asia with my wife Elaine and I have one thing to say to you: long term travelling is possible with a condition like MG. But more about that later. Over the three months, we spent time in seven countries:

  • Nepal
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • Singapore
  • Indonesia
  • Laos

Although many of the countries were neighbours, they were very different culturally and politically which meant there were big differences in how developed they were and, as a result, what the medical facilities were like. The last point would not be a consideration for many of the travellers we met along the way, but Elaine and I were constantly aware of how likely we would be to survive a hospital trip if it was required.

During my time in Thailand, our second country, I made a decision – that blogging about the trip was getting in the way of my ability to be in the moment. Often we only had a few days to truly immerse ourselves and I didn’t want to spend that time doing the reflecting that I felt might be more meaningful from a distance. So I stopped, hoping that I’d have a few things to say once back in Scotland.

Now that I’ve had time to process it all, I’ll cover different topics that came up during the journey over the next few blogs. I’ll be posting these between now and when Elaine and I head over to South America at the end of January for our final three month stint.

For now though I want to say loud and clear; travelling for an extended period is do-able for someone with myasthenia gravis (MG). I repeat, it is do-able because I definitely have MG and I’ve returned from three months away happy and healthy. Saying this, I had the go ahead from my consultant after coming off the drugs that suppressed my immune system and getting all the relevant injections. I would NOT suggest trying it unless you can get the same thumbs up from a medical expert.

Naturally, I was nervous about how I would cope and while I was planning I couldn’t find anyone with MG saying you can do this. But as travelling for an extended period to far flung continents has been a dream of mine since long before I was diagnosed with MG, I had to try. And I knew it was important to try while I was feeling healthy and strong as with this condition nothing is guaranteed.

Fine, I had to adapt my dream: from a solid year of backpacking down to two three month periods because I am still taking medication (prednisolone) and that’s the longest prescription I could get. I also won’t be able to go to any areas with yellow fever in South America (the Amazon for instance) because I can’t get the yellow fever jab as it’s a live vaccine.

Although it’s cost us more money to go and come back home and then go again, it’s given me time to catch up with loved ones, get blood tests done to make sure I’m really doing ok, to sleep in the same bed for more than three nights in a row and to recover my strength before the next leg.

I already know it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and may ever do. Don’t get me wrong: there were hard days and times when I wished I was back in the safety of my pest-free and tropical disease-free flat by the seaside. But then there were days when I felt more alive than ever before; like when we snorkelled with wild turtles in Indonesia and spent the day looking after rescued elephants in northern Thailand. These two things alone were worth every possible risk and will stay with me for as long as I live.

A photo taken on our rented Go Pro off the coast of Gili Meno, Indonesia.

So if there’s one big takeaway for me, challenge your I cants and be willing to adapt your plans to make them fit with your MG or whatever it is that you’re struggling through. There may be a way of making your dream come true if you’re flexible and brave.

Extreme cold

This weekend I climbed Ben Nevis with one of my good friends. For most of the way, the sun was out and the air was warm enough for it not to be called ‘freezing’ (a rare day in Scotland). However about 2kms from the top, there was snow on the ground and due to exposure and wind chill the temperature dropped straight away. By the time we were on top, the wind chill was up to -11 degrees.

What does this have to do with Myasthenia Gravis? Well, when the temperature dropped my speech went funny. As in I couldn’t speak properly at all – my tongue and my lips felt too thick and the sounds I was making were slurred. My mouth seemed full of saliva. It was frustrating as I tried to communicate with my friend about our last stage of the journey.

Yet when we came back down, the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had come on.

It wasn’t the first time this has happened. When my body temperature has dropped on other winter walks, it’s been the same thing. But this was the worst experience (possibly because it was the coldest) and helped me to recognise the pattern.

All the time I’ve been worried about my MG responding to heat – in the bath, in saunas, in hot countries – and I’ve never had any problems. But it seems that I’m not so lucky in extreme cold. 

I didn’t have any other weakness, but then again I didn’t hang around to find out what would happen to my body over a longer period.

Does anyone else have similar symptoms in extreme cold?

Down to zero

After 4 years of MG symptoms and 3 and a half years of the diagnosis, I’ve been given the go-ahead by my consultant to reduce my medication to zero. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Earlier this week, I gave my consultant an update on how I’d got on with going from 100mg to 25mg aziathioprine. The short version is that I don’t feel any different now – there was a time when I wasn’t sure between 75mg and 50mg as my symptoms were worse than they’ve been in a while. But I waited it out realising that a month between stepping down doses wasn’t long enough so I’ve been waiting 2-3 months between reducing my dose.

Now comes the real test – my next step is down to zero then down to 1mg of steroids every second day then nothing. So totally drug free. 2017 will be the year I tested going drug free.

This is what I’ve been wanting for years, what I’ve been working towards, but this week I’ve felt a little numb to it. I’ve not been sure how to feel about it so I’ve put off thinking about it knowing that I’m away this weekend. In the middle of nowhere, with lots of time to think. But now I’m here and I’m still struggling to feel it. 

Thinking about it, it’s probably because now comes the scariest part. The ultimate test of whether the thymectomy and healthy lifestyle (early nights, good diet and lots of exercise but not too much) will allow me to stay in remission. Proper remission. 

I’ve been told it’s fine to take 1mg if I’m feeling weak, which is a good back up. But when I finish my latest prescription in a few days time, it will be time to step into the unknown. Wish me luck!  

3 years of myasthenia gravis

This month marks my 3 year anniversary of myasthenia gravis diagnosis. I realised this today with a bit of a shock and found myself asking how 3 years could feel so long and short at the same time?!

Where I was 3 years ago

September 2013 – I had had an incident in March where my right eye had gone squint over night. After lots of tests at Moorfield Eye Hospital, I was given the all clear and 2 weeks later the eye was back to normal. I let out a sigh of relief and put it out if my mind for fear that thinking about it might make my eye go squint again. But in September the double vision brought on by the squint eye crept back and as I sat at work not knowing which screen was the real one, I knew I had to get back to the hospital. Panic struck – once could be bad luck but twice was a pattern. 

I was told that I had suspected myasthenia gravis and a diagnosis had been sent to my old address in April. 6 months of knowing about the condition without treatment felt unfair and as the symptoms progressed over the coming months I got angry about it.

 As I’m sure many of you can relate to, hearing you have myasthenia gravis for the first time is upsetting and terrifying. What is it? What does it mean for me? Googling it didn’t make me feel any better – in fact I started to panic that life as I knew it was about to rapidly change. And it did.

Before I received my first appointment with my consultant and therefore received treatment, my vision was almost permanently double, I started to have difficulties with speech, I struggled swallowing and couldn’t really eat around people due to awkwardness of it all.

For a long time after September 2013,  I was in a difficult place both mentally and physically.

Between Sept 2013 and Sept 2016

I’ve had:

1 thymectomy- an operation to remove the thymus gland

2 specialist consultants 

3 jobs

4 different kinds of medication

The pleasure of attending 5 Myaware meetups

and…

I’ve written more than 365 blogs about living with the condition. 

September 2016

3 years on and I often forget I have MG. After seeing my new Edinburgh-based consultant, I’ve cut out 1 drug and, as I’m doing well, I should be gradually reducing another shortly.  I’m in drug induced remission according to the doctor and we’re testing whether that will hold as I take the drugs away…a bit like a game of Jenga.

Since my move back to Scotland, my quality of life is superb which in turn has helped my symptoms stabilise and reduce. My work-life balance is…balanced and the stress I feel in Edinburgh, compared to London, is minimal. I now get the occasional ptosis (eyelid droop) and I get exhausted still if I over exert/indulge myself, but that’s about it. Both of those things aren’t too hard to live with when I look back to the alternative experience 3 years ago.

On the over indulgence point, I’m currently taking a month off from alcohol mainly to rest my liver after a rather boozy summer. But I’m also keeping a close eye on how my energy levels are without alcohol in my life as I’m not averse to cutting it out for good.

I’ve felt strong enough recently to try a host of outdoors sports: kayaking, paddle boarding and Munro (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft) climbing (as pictured with my friend Steph). Each of these adventures were challenging but I managed without any MG-related difficulties. This is on top of 3 fitness sessions a week.

And most importantly, I’m writing almost every day. Whether anything will ever come of it or not, I’m really enjoying the discipline and the creative outlet that it gives me. Having the mental space and quiet to do that is something I couldn’t of dreamed of 3 years ago.

3 years is a long and short time 

While much has changed over the last 3 years I know that in another 3 years time, everything will likely be different again. I might have had a crisis (where your muscles stop working properly) but I might also have trekked to Everest base camp, I might have had to give up working full time or I might be running a team. That’s the problem with MG – it fluctuates so all I can do is try to keep myself strong, follow the doctors orders and, most importantly, listen to my body.

Myasthenia and post-thymectomy blues

A conversation I had over the last few days about the feelings you have after an operation got me thinking about my thymectomy. While there are a range of emotions you go through, my thoughts were focused on the disappointment you feel if it isn’t an instant success. I thought I’d blog about that nearly two years after my operation.

You go into hospital with high hopes when having a thymectomy –  you read that’s there a 30% chance it’ll make your MG vanish. You try to remember that’s still 70% of people who continue to live with it, but your mind says ‘be positive’. You think your consultant and surgeon have pushed this on you for a reason, right? I mean, it was practically from your first MG appointment that you were encouraged to have a thymectomy. 

Then, as happens for the majority, you have the operation and your symptoms are still there. In fact they may flare up because of the stress your body’s under post- operation. It’s spoken about or assumed by the medical team that you’re not one of the 30%. The good teams will tell you that it takes time for many people to feel the full impact of the thymectomy. Your loved ones will either be too polite to say anything or they’ll be straight up with you – they’ll remind you that hope isn’t gone. But once you’re strong enough to want more than basic comfort, you’ll begin to feel the loss of something you only ever had a slim chance of getting. An easy cure. That’s when you might hit a wall.

That wall will look different depending on the way your mind works and how you react to the thymectomy – for me, it looked like a mountain blocking my path. That I couldn’t hope to climb. Instead I sat down and looked up at the mountain – studied its sharp crags, the rain lashing down around it, the mist lingering at its peak, the broken path leading up at an angle I could hardly fathom. I sat still in the silence of the mountain’s valley and asked myself ‘why did I bother trying’. How deluded was I to think I’d be one of the ‘special ones’. 

As I sat stewing in that anger and frustration, I missed the initial changes.

I barely recognised the stable state I found myself in. Months past and all I had was ptosis and a bit of fatigue. No sign of double vision, slurred speech, difficulties swallowing or weak limbs. I woke from my silent trance to see that the mountain had transformed into a jagged cliff edge with gentle clouds over head and a calm sea lapping away. It was much more manageable now – everything was. While I went for little strolls, I didn’t stray too far. I was scared to try the path just yet for fear that it would shape shift before my eyes back into the terrifying rock face. Or that a surprise landslide would throw me into the sea and my legs would seize up. I didn’t believe the change was real or would last.

The symptoms stayed consistent and I found I was able to challenge myself more with work, with the blog and fitness. I began to feel stronger than I had for years – the only thing that remained of my MG was the fatigue when I overdid it and the ptosis. By the time it came to the year anniversary, I looked to the spot where the mountain had turned into a cliff and saw a rolling hill. The sun was peaking through the clouds now and illuminating a meandering path. This made me smile from my heart outwards and for the first time I considered that the mountain might not come back at all if I was careful. I went for further strolls now – roaming, seeking, testing myself. 

It’ll be two years in September since I had my thymectomy and when I find myself in that valley now, I see only that. A peaceful valley with mountains and cliffs and hills in the backdrop. I walk around safe in knowledge that I won’t fall or find myself scrambling on my hands and knees (unless I choose to).

 When I think about the first few months after the operation, I realise that the dark feelings I had are still there deep down. Like I’ve stored them away so I always remember. But I can look at them from a safe distance and know that accepting them and waiting for them to pass was the best thing I could have done. They probably won’t ever leave me because they were part of the journey of acceptance and because I think of them every time I see my ever fading scar. 

The majority of us won’t have that thymectomy miracle and while it’s good to be hopeful, it’s not the end of the story if it doesn’t happen. Even if it might feel that way at the time. 

Be patient, listen to your body and your mind, embrace what you’re feeling rather than trying to shut it out and pay close attention to the little changes. You might find yourself in that valley with me someday.

Guest post: summing up

Elaine is the partner of the author of this blog. You can read Elaine’s other guest posts on the tagged page.

Thankfully, I have come to the end of my short career as a ‘blogger’. Over the last few weeks, I have tried to share some personal perspectives on supporting someone with Myasthenia. I hope you found them even slightly useful.

Extracting some themes from the jumble of words in my blogs, I will leave you with the following summary of my ramblings

1) having a team is important – yours can be made up of anyone who has a positive influence in your life.

2) Communicate with your team – tell them what you need and don’t feel guilty or awkward about it.

3) Try to put your pride to one side – by letting people help you, it will indirectly help your partner.

4) Know your boundaries – to help you be a supporter, there are some things you may need in return from your partner e.g. communication, being involved in decisions and compromise.

5) Be patient – you can’t fix everything.

6) Google is a horrible place – stick to the facts and avoid the ‘but what ifs…’ where you can.

7) Guilt is not constructive – try and focus on all the good things you can and have been doing to support rather than what you can’t do.

8) Unspoken thoughts can be there to protect you – there is often a nugget of value in the middle of the madness:

9) Be kind to yourself and be kind to each other – you’re both already doing great.

My final point is the most important of all:

10) Give a big two fingers to Myasthenia – When Laurna got diagnosed, I quickly learned that there was a time for talking. Retrospect has shown how important it was that there was also a time for not talking; just being us, having fun and enjoying the life we had chosen together. 

When I look at Laurna I don’t see someone with Myasthenia – I see Laurna. A person who is passionate, smart and kind. A person who I can’t spend enough time with. I completely refuse to let Myasthenia change that – there are so many more interesting and fun things about Laurna and she will never be defined by her condition in my eyes.

So there you have it. If you have made it this far, thanks for reading. I am really looking forward to hearing about other people’s experiences.

 Like Laurna, I have much to learn and more bridges to cross. I always appreciate the support and perspective from the Myasthenia community and can’t wait to read the next instalments. 

Guest post: The fear, the guilt and the irrational thoughts

Elaine is the partner of the author of this blog. You can read Elaine’s other guest posts on the tagged page.

This entry is about the period after diagnosis when the initial shock is starting to wear off and the fear, guilt and crazies start to creep in.

The Fear

The aggressive onset of Laurna’s initial symptoms made me fear for her and how much further her condition would deteriorate. Within a year, she had gone from having no symptoms to having regular tsosis, speech slurring, difficulty swallowing and weakened limbs. Google was a terrifying place with its doom and gloom articles and pictures. I have never been a particularly creative person but during that time, I dreamed up every scenario possible (and even those that were impossible and frankly ridiculous).

Selfishly, I feared that Laurna would want space after her diagnosis and maybe break up with me. As it turned out, Laurna did need space to figure things out but thankfully not in the way I was worried about. I had to learn to be patient and accept that I can’t ‘fix’ everything. Looking back, I have always really appreciated how patient Laurna was with me learning to be patient!

The Guilt

I am sure lots of partners can relate to this but put simply – ‘It Should Have Been Me’. I just felt guilty. I felt guilty for having fears. I felt guilty for feeling guilty. Laurna had Myasthenia and I couldn’t take it from her or even share some of the load. 

Laurna has always been so active and it seemed a particularly cruel thing for such an energetic person to get. It left me feeling very helpless for quite a while. Ultimately, this kind of thinking doesn’t help you and it doesn’t help your partner. I tried to focus on the things that I could do rather than what I couldn’t do and I found that helped a lot. 

The Irrational Thoughts

I know it’s different for everyone but my brain turned into a tumble drier of questions, thoughts, doubts, concerns, ideas and plans.

How did I feel about Laurna’s diagnosis? What did it mean for her? What did it mean for me? How much training would it take to be able to run every marathon ever organised and raise thousands of pounds for research? What impact would it have if we wanted to have children in the future? Was I going to give up my career to look after Laurna? On second thoughts, I could never give up my career because I may have to support the both of us? What if I retrained as a scientist and single handedly developed a cure – can’t be that hard, right? Am I really the right person to deal with this….

As you can see, I went from having a total crisis of confidence to being overly exuberant in wanting to defeat Myasthenia. There was also a lot of fear driven hypothesising and general concern for the future. I worried what people would think if I shared my doubts or concerns and so they remained largely unspoken. 

I now understand that it is important to engage with the unspoken and feel more comfortable allowing myself to feel whatever it is that I feel. Sometimes ‘unspoken’ thoughts are there to protect you – there can be a nugget of value in the middle of the madness.

Conclusion

I’m not really sure when the ‘fear, guilt and crazy’ stage ended. It all just phased out as we ‘got on with stuff’. The main thing I would take away is to be kind to yourself and to each other. It is a complex phase to navigate and requires patience, empathy and communication. It’s when your support team can really help too. 

The priority is the person with the Myasthenia who has much more to deal with than you in this moment. If you feel that this phase is getting in the way of your support or your relationship, there are lots of options available. Counselling is always a good place to start and the Myaware charity (amongst others) has great resources including a counsellor and support groups. Just remember you’re not alone.

Guest blog: Elaine’s introduction 

Elaine is the partner of the author of this blog. You can read her other guest posts on the tagged page.

Laurna is the writer but I’m going to try something out of my comfort zone over the next few blogs. You see personal/creative writing is not a strength of mine. My friends often joke about how formal my writing is – it often includes a bunch of ‘thereins and heretofores’. If you can bear with me I will try to lend a different perspective on living with Myasthenia because in any household, Myasthenia is a team effort.

When Laurna was first diagnosed, the prospect of ‘our household’ was still an unspoken future hope. Laurna and I had been together for about 6 months when she started experiencing symptoms. The insecurities that naturally come with a relatively new relationship seemed to be magnified as I simultaneously worried about being suffocatingly attentive or appearing aloof in an attempt to give some space. 

Another  year and six months on and Laurna was being wheeled into an operating theatre in her hospital nightgown to have a Thymectomy. I have never felt as useless as I did that day putting her care into the hands of complete strangers. 

In the days and weeks after the operation and despite initial stubborn objections, I was able to help out more and we found humour in most things from the ‘sexy’ hospital gowns to making up outrageous stories to impress people about how she got her scar (did I ever tell you about the time Laurna got into a bar fight with a shark?)

 Two years after the operation and we have settled into our usual Myasthenia related routine. I give Laurna a hard time about reducing her medication, over-exercising and not getting enough rest. She is mostly appreciative of my perspective and I usually know when to back off. It can be a hard balance to achieve and continuing to find that sweet spot can be a delicate task.

 I have also had to really improve the relationship with myself over that time to be strong physically and emotionally so that I can cope with all the things Myasthenia, with its almost comedic inconvenient timing, throws at you.

 Over the next few days, I will give some examples of the kinds of things that work for me. 

Retrospect gives 20/20 vision and these observations, while seemingly straightforward now, were not always so apparent. Of course, all experiences and relationship dynamics are different.

From attending the Myasthenia events, I have met the most amazing Mothers and Daughters, Friends, Husbands and Wives etc. Hopefully most people will find something to relate to over the next few days, regardless of the capacity in which you support someone with Myasthenia.