A few weeks ago I decided to do a new video update on my case to mark my progress a year after I was first diagnosed with arachnoiditis, and six months since my last flare, IV steroid treatment and the start of my making videos about my case. It’s taken me a few weeks to then add to this video with this additional expanded update in writing.
Sometimes I feel like it takes ‘an essay’ to give a more substantial picture of how things are. Videos help that as I can add quite detailed explanations. However, writing can also provide a different avenue which allows further explanation and summary of how things really are.
So to start off with I wanted to share my seven minute video update, then I will expand on what I have said in that with a few more details and explanations. https://youtu.be/Qa2RwmwYTDo
As you will see – it’s very good news for me on so many levels.
Compared to how things were last year and especially around the time of the admission that prompted the diagnosis… things are substantially better in so many ways. My symptoms ‘across the board – in my head, spine & legs’ are substantially better and more controlled. I can do between 9-12 hours upright in one go and then more again after that if I lie down for 1-2 hours to rest. I walk around 7-12km a day over 2-3 long walks. My head is clearer, I do not suffer with as much fatigue or so many debilitating headaches. I have been able to travel for holiday and to visit family in the UK (although this in reality remains very hard). I can do and achieve more ‘normal life activities’ than I probably have been able to do since my accident.
When you are chronically ill there are often no simple answers to explain your current experience of life. Yes I usually ‘look well’ at the moment to most outsiders. But ‘looking well’ masks a hidden reality of constantly managing what I do and can’t do. What position/ posture I can stay in, to try and get the ‘best outcome’ of symptom stability.
My daily living is dictated by constant micro & macro self-management decisions & deliberate plans to help my body utilise its abilities rather than constantly be restricted by its disabilities.
I gave up on ‘normal’ a long time ago.
Since my accident (a ladder fall) in January 2015 I have not had one day I have felt ‘normal’ … like I used to before that day I fell. A time without any neurological issues in my head & spine. I cannot even remember what ‘normal’ feels like to be honest. I watch people sitting down comfortably or relaxing on a recliner chair with their head up and think ‘how do you do that?’ It’s just so uncomfortable for me to sit or recline (unless fully flat on my side). So it’s just not relaxing! I have become used to standing, moving around, walking, being quiet, lying down. I have got somewhat used to the unnerving constant pressure and subsequent ‘dreamy/ foggy’ feeling in my head. The constant stiffness, pain, tension and pulling in my spine.
This is my ‘normal’ which is far from normal… And yet I live A LOT closer to ‘normal’ than I probably ever have done in the past six years. I have found ways and means to bring balance, symptom management & utilise my broken body to the best of its capacity.
…And that has been LIBERATING!!
I am doing well for me!
A New Way Of Living
I have found ways of living that generally work with and around my limitations, frustrations and restrictions. It’s often a quieter way of life … a long way from the busy, outgoing, energetic, packed full life I used to live… but full of many things I love and value all the same.
Through accepting my limitations – and not trying to constantly ‘push against them’ I can often find a ‘way to make it work’ … as long as I am realistic about what my body and brain can do.
Understanding and treating the arachnoiditis more has been revolutionary to more physical and mental stability in my life. My body & its many issues are much less of an enigma to me … we have more answers and I have learnt to ‘flow with’ the illness more rather than do things that make things worse.
The Problem With Staying in One Position
For instance… today I am typing this in my iPhone notes… and because I am standing, mainly in one position, with my neck slightly bent & arms raised to hold my phone… the pressure is building in my head, upper neck & lower spine, the pain is increasing behind my eyes, neck & lumbar spine until I start to feel like my head wants to burst, my ears need to pop and sometimes a wave of nausea begins to come. The pins and needles & numbness are also increasing in my legs … so I am feeling that normal ‘arachnoiditis agitation & restlessness’ increasing.
But these days I know the answer to help alleviate these increasing symptoms … it is to walk, to move around. To allow my spinal fluid/ circulation or whatever is hindered to flow again more freely.
Then I can come back to this task later.
I have learnt to accept that my concentration can only remain consistent in one position for so long. But if I learn to do things in shorter bursts – 20mins here – 30 mins there… with breaks to move around and maybe do some simple housework in between…
…then I will get more done.
It works for me because I mix any church admin, preparation or other work or admin in with general housework, standing gardening, cooking, shopping or sorting things to help my body through moving about again at regular intervals.
To some people it might look like anxious or restless behaviour… and I think I could be ‘seen’ like that by others before. But in reality the constant moving about is mainly a biological manifestation to stop the aggravation of increased physical symptoms and pain from staying in one position too long.
Other Symptom Aggravators
I have to manage bending, straining, raising my voice, singing, what I carry, how fast I walk, how long I sit, using the loo, how far I drive or travel as a passenger, fast moving images (even scrolling on my phone or on the computer can make me feel nauseous), loud noise and bright lights etc… all things that exacerbate my symptoms. So need careful management.
Walking is really helpful for my lumbar spine, legs and general fitness but it can at times also flare my head pressure – especially if I walk too fast, try talk a lot when I walk or have to look down because of uneven ground. They can all cause a pressure surge in my head and neck & make the dreamy/ strange equilibrium feelings even more noticeable. However; the benefits of lots of walking greatly outweigh the drawbacks and it has been liberating to be able to do so much more that I could a year a go.
I also have to carefully manage stressful situations or hurrying about. It takes extremely fine balancing to keep myself calm in difficult circumstances. This is because stress, anxiety, a lot of pressure on me or the need to rush are extremely detrimental to my symptom stability. I believe that this is probably a lot to do with the strain it puts on my intracranial pressure system. My normal biological reactions are very hypersensitive compared with your average person.
Things That Improve My Symptoms
Include: Moving around as much as possible, walking a lot – long distances every day – being quiet when needed, resting lying down in the evening, eating healthily at regular intervals, taking medication, planning my day to include all these things in good balance. Symptom management is all about good planning to provide correct breaks from sitting or staying in one position for too long. And good rest lying down later in the evening.
Often by the evening my lower lumbar/ upper sacral spine pain is pretty awful – especially if I have done a lot of standing, sitting or bending. It feels a bit like someone has ‘grated’ or deeply ‘grazed’ the inside of my spine. Like when your flesh is raw – but deep inside me. Although this does always improve after an hour or so lying down in bed or on the sofa.
Spinal CSF Leak Update
At the moment we do not know for sure whether my spinal CSF leak is there permanently, has fully sealed, comes and goes or possibly remains and acts as a stabiliser to my messed up intracranial pressure system. I say this because I do appear to struggle with higher intracranial pressure issues as well as low ones. Which is again typical of people with arachnoiditis & sacral Tarlov Cysts. So I have sometimes wondered whether – IF the leak is still there – whether it could possibly act like a ‘natural shunt’ that helps maintain my pressure surges. Equally, it could be that the leak isn’t permanent and it heals but can return. It really is hard to know. It was last seen on my September 2019 MRIs and I haven’t had a new full spinal MRIs at my CSF leak specialist hospital since then. However, it is clear that when my arachnoiditis symptoms do flare – when I relapse – that my ‘low pressure syndrome’ symptoms get a lot worse again.
We can only theorise as to why this is. I personally think that my CSF flow becomes impeded by the inflammation and nerve clumping because it improves so radically when I have the IV steroids… and, as my neurologist said, IV steroids will not seal a leak. So we know there has to be something else going on. It could also be that the inflammation causes an increase in intracranial pressure which causes me to leak more. But there are many unknowns. A spinal CSF leak has certainly been a big part of my story and probably the initial catalyst for my ongoing issues … but there is perhaps more to the way the whole CSF system is impeded by the arachnoiditis than we yet fully understand.
In my case, I have decided with my neurologist that it’s too risky to pursue any more investigations regarding the spinal CSF leak. Because these would include CT myelograms, epidural blood/ glue patches or surgeries which have the potential to make the arachnoiditis much worse and move it very quickly into much worse adhesive arachnoiditis. So in my case seeing that my typical low ICP symptoms have improved so radically through the use of IV steroids and my ongoing drugs protocol…. in my NHS neurologist’s words … it makes the issue as to whether I currently actually still have a CSF leak or not somewhat ‘academic’. In the end, when I had a CTM in September 2017 – I badly seizured & then after the subsequent high volume lumbar BEBP a week later I was seriously unwell for weeks to months after it. I wouldn’t want to risk that again without a critical reason.
So it is no longer a risk we are willing to take. In my own case it seems that the arachnoiditis is my bigger current problem. And thankfully when we treat the arachnoiditis EVERYTHING else improves.
My update video gives a summary of my current medication but here it is written down:
- 5mg prednisolone every other day (after 20mg Omeprazole to protect my stomach)
- 4.5ml LDN (Low dose Naltrexone via private prescription from Dickinson’s Chemist Glasgow) but with the awareness of my GPs and two NHS neurology teams
- Iron tablets (Ferrous Sulfate) due to low ferritin levels found after blood tests following hair loss)
Medication sometimes used for symptom flares or for long car journeys/ travelling (as discussed in my video).
- 50mg pregablin
- 2/ 2.5mg diazepam
Turmeric/ Curcumin, B-12 & B complex, Calcium, Magnesium & Vit D, Omega 3. (Disclaimer – I do not really know which help and which don’t. I simply chose them according to my own research and in relation to the meds I take). It’s my whole medication, supplement and walking protocol that helps. I also try and eat a low carb/ low sugar and high protein (inc some meat), dairy, vegetable & fruit diet.)
Halted medication & supplements due to possibly contribution to hair loss as discussed on my video. My hair loss has much improved since coming off these and taking iron tablets.
- Pregnenalone (non- prescription supplement)
Arachnoiditis: A relapsing / Remitting illness
As it is very clear if you have followed my story long-term, my illness has always followed a clear relapsing / remitting pattern. This means is that usually around every 4 to 12 months I have an acute relapse of symptoms. This is shown in my case summary video. However, I can then go through months of doing significantly better. This is a normal pattern for people with arachnoiditis and adhesive arachnoiditis.
Since we have learnt to treat these relapses with IV steroids I have found I have recovered from the relapses in comparatively super quick time. In previous years it would take many many very long weeks and months for me to ‘somewhat recover’ from them. My last one (before last summer) was in April 2019 and I never got back to pre-relapse levels until after the diagnosis and treatment in July 2020. Since then I have also been recovering to a much much better level of symptoms stability and a much higher peak in what I can do and achieve than I have probably at any time over the past six years since my accident.
However, this does not mean when the illness is in a season of more remission that I am not unwell.
I am always unwell in one way or another. As I said above … I never feel normal.
I have obvious permanent damage to my lumbar spine (nerve clumping) and to the way my nervous & intercranial pressure systems function. However, what I wanted to demonstrate through these videos is how much better I have been since my diagnosis last summer and new treatment plan.
So for that I remain extremely grateful for all the support I’ve had from both of my NHS neurology teams, other local consultants & my local GP practice. It’s not been easy for them to navigate my illnesses when there is not a lot of up-to-date information on them and they are very unusual (and under diagnosed).
It helps patients immensely when they find doctors who are willing to listen, learn, be open minded and consider new diagnoses regarding their case. Especially when there has been so many unknowns about their constant symptoms over the years.
It is very easy for doctors to start thinking that you have a mainly psychological problem rather than a predominantly physical one when your case is full of unknowns. So to be listened to and believed by doctors AND those around you is one the most healing things to a suffering persons holistic health. One of my greatest underlying fears throughout my journey was to ‘be abandoned by medical professionals’ whilst in my greatest time of distress, pain, symptom severity and need. Mainly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding about my conditions. So to know I am under two great NHS neurology teams is very helpful to me.
I know in some ways I am still at the start of such a very long journey. Despite being 6 1/2 years into it. But over the past year I have felt that new empowerment to face both the past, present and whatever the future may bring in a more holistically healthy & supported way.
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. But it sure does help when you have an arsenal of ‘medical and holistic weapons’ at your disposal & and a great team of supporters around you – to help you face & navigate the battles the future will inevitably bring.
“… there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer. Only very few realised that.”– Viktor Frankl
I pray that I … and you… may continue to have the courage to suffer well & suffer strong. Whatever that may look like long term. The past 6 years have at times been a nightmare to navigate and at my darkest times I was ready to just ‘give up’ on life itself. BUT… I do not feel like that now. So I have said it before and will say again… please never give up… because things can change and they really can get better again! And new answers to long term questions can come in very unexpected ways!!
For more posts of my arachnoiditis diagnosis please see the arachnoiditis menu above.
ARACHNOIDITIS INFO: ‘Arachnoiditis – Taming the Most Painful Pain’ Dr Forest Tennant video and Suspecting & Diagnosing Arachnoiditis (J. Antonio Aldrete) and The Arachnoiditis Syndrome (Dr Sarah Smith)
A medical paper supporting the use of steroids in treating early stage arachnoiditis and in the prevention of further adhesive arachnoiditis: Immunotherapies in chronic adhesive arachnoiditis – A case series and literature review And another case where IV methlyprednisolone was successfully used: Idiopathic Arachnoiditis of the Cauda Equina: A Case Report from Tanzania
For more previous posts about my story of living with a spinal CSF Leak (from before we understood the arachnoiditis element) please look at the subject heading on the menu bar above.
SPINAL CSF LEAK INFO: Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks. For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.