There's an elephant on my face
Just between me and you by lianne keiller
(With permission from Lianne Keiller, we bring you her story about educating yourself living with Trigeminal Neuralgia)
Hi New TN warrior, I thought I would welcome you to this world with some advice based on what I have learned on this journey so far. So just between me and you...
Firstly, education is key. Make sure you have educated yourself about TN. There are lots of web posts about it, but the more reputable sites are those covering scientific journals and sites dedicated to facial pain research, like The Facial Pain Association or tnnme.com .
It's important for your own sanity and for sharing information with family friends and colleagues. More importantly though, it's possible you will come into contact with health professionals who haven't yet heard of this rare disease, believe it or not, and this means you need to be sure of your facts going into a consultation. It's also very important, and I mean EXTREMELY important, to learn that all TN patients may be similar in how they describe and experience the pain. However, for some reason, we all react differently to treatment. What works for some to put them in remission, may not work for others.
Secondly, TN is unpredictable. One day/minute you will feel okay and the next you will feel like you are the source of an electrical storm or that a knife has been jammed into your face...or however you choose to describe your symptoms. It's scary, I know, but something that I am starting to accept.
Next, remembering the first two I have mentioned, it is understandable that you need to be your own best advocate. Your own best weapon as a TN warrior. You are likely to come across a doctor, specialist, emergency room nurse or manager at work that tries to dismiss your pain because either they aren't aware of TN or they see you as "ok" at that moment. This is when your self-education around the disease comes in handy. Your knowledge of TN and the possible treatment out there is how you can know what to ask in a consultation. Your level of understanding about your capabilities in your current pain levels or going in to a possible scenario where you will encounter a trigger, is what you need as a weapon in any discussion with your manager. Do not let someone who doesn't have TN try to dismiss your pain. Don't let anyone force you into a situation where triggers will be inevitable, e.g. having to sit outside in the wind for any reason if wind is your trigger.
That said, something that I really hate to have learnt is that this disease is an unrelenting beast. It doesn't care if you don't have plans for the day or if it's the day of your child's athletic event. It doesn't care of you have just started a new career and need to be in important meetings. It will attack when it wants to. It's unrelenting, yes, but only you can decide how you respond.
If you choose to push through the pain for an important event, you have to know how you will react later (for me pushing through in pain for something I don't want to miss, means days of being incapable of functioning afterwards). It kind of links to the education side of what I have shared. You need to educate yourself about your own limits and be sure that those in your life understand them.
I have read many blogs and articles where people with various chronic conditions say that you should remember that 'you are not your disease' or 'don't let your disease define you.' I'm sorry, I honestly don't think that applies to TN. Someone walking past me causes enough disturbance in the air to cause pain...it IS my life! I think I'll leave that sentiment for another day.
Two points I think should be made together, is what I will end my conversation with you on. Find support, either from a family member/members, friends or online in one of the support groups. Your personal, physical support is so important to help you cope on a daily basis. When it comes to the online groups, there are many, find one you feel comfortable in.
The value of having others, even virtually, know what you're going through is hard for me to explain. It truly does help. Once you know who really does accept, believe and support you, hold on to them. Your family and friends will often feel helpless because they can't make it better, they can't say 'get well soon' and they can't relieve your anguish in the midst of an attack. You need to acknowledge their helplessness but more importantly, hold on tight to the support you have. You are not alone in this, your acceptance of this last fact is what can keep you going even on the hardest days.
My dear fellow warrior, welcome to the battle, and may the elephant on your face truly be gentle on you today.
There's an elephant on my face by Lianne Keiller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
Photo used under Creative Commons from Tambako the Jaguar