One of my conditions is POTS. It stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Even though there’s thousands of us POTSies out there, it’s still a relatively unknown condition that’s difficult to diagnose.
If you have a friend or relative with POTS you may choose to do some online research on their condition so you can better support them. (Big round of applause for caring if you do!) This is a lovely gesture, but please, only do this in order to learn. Remember we are all different, we often have intermingling conditions, and we have already tried EVERYTHING imaginable to get better. We don’t need Dr Google giving us unsolicited advice. Compassion, understanding and company is always welcomed though.
It’s the idea of understanding that’s prompted this post. Often I see POTS described as ‘an increase in heart rate of 30bpm on standing’, which is true. But it is oh so much more. Better articles will explain that living with POTS is akin to living with heart failure in the effect it has on your body. This is a little better at describing life for me. But unless you’ve lived with heart failure (which I hope you haven’t) you’re still not going to know how that feels.
So I thought I’d try to describe how POTS feels to me. Please bare in mind I have LOTS of random stuff wrong with me, so I apologise if not all the stuff I talk about strictly fits with POTS. It’s hard figuring out which ailment goes with which condition these days.
So first, the heart rate. Yes it increases when I stand, often reaching 154 and above. This isn’t bad for many people with my condition, who can go much higher. Luckily I’m not affected when seated, so I can still drive. When your heart is racing it feels like fluttering in your chest. But not sweet little butterflies, noooooo. When my heart races it’s like I’ve got a giant ass albatross in there! Soon, as my heart is going so fast, I start to get dizzy and lightheaded. My head and feet don’t seem to be part of the same body, and I’m almost detached from myself. This makes me clumsy and I often look drunk when walking, or I stumble and trip. One of my talents is tripping over nothing, the other is walking into things. Door frames, furniture, people, anything is fair game.
After being upright for a very short time (often immediately on standing) my body feels like it has lead weights attached, trying to drag me to the ground. Everything is heavy and I’m walking through waist high mud. My energy is sapped as it takes so much (three times to be precise) more to do anything. It’s at this point I’m usually clinging on to someone or something for dear life. If I’m not seated (or preferably laid down) in time, then my body will give out on me.
I’ve been told all the colour drains from my face and I crumple to the ground like a puppet that’s had its strings cut. What I know is all of a sudden the world shifts. Dark engulfs my vision and I can no longer keep tension in any part of my body. I used to think I remained alert, but having not realised a woman was screaming when my head connected with the floor in a local supermarket, I now appreciate that’s not the case. As the world swims back into focus its at that point the pain hits. Let me tell you something, floors are hard!! Pavement diving is not a sport Id partake I given a choice! I lie there, usually crying (I’m not sure why as I’m not upset) and shivering uncontrollably. I can’t sit up too fast or I’ll go again. But when I do, I feel as though I’ve been run over by a freight train for the rest of the day. I usually also end up with whiplash and sprains due to my other joint condition.
However, this isn’t the whole story. My condition causes my body to constantly be in ‘fight or flight’ mode. My autonomic nervous system (the one that controls everything you automatically do such as digesting, regulating temperature, circulating blood) is constantly on high alert. I am the human version of bambi in the woods. Because my body is constantly thinking danger is on the way it does some really stupid things. It sends blood away from my none vital organs, like my digestive system (because according to nature food is not vital, stupid nature) leaving them slow and sluggish. Or sometimes way way way too fast. Which is always fun. My thermostat is always off, so I’m either too hot, or freezing. Or, if I’m really lucky, both at once. My blood pools in my hands and feet, making pain I already get there, worse. Plus it turns them a rather fetching shade of purple. Then, as well as completely exhausting me, my lovely body won’t let me sleep. After all, could you sleep if your body was in constant high alert, waiting for a wooly mammoth to attack? (Fight or flight mode is a throw back from when we were cavemen.) I’ll give you a hint, the answer is no. No you couldn’t. You’d just toss and turn in bed, sweating one minute, freezing the next, and every now and again twitching for good measure. Just because.
So that’s the bulk of it. I know there’s so much I’ve missed out, but my eyes are struggling to focus (that’s a lovely symptom right there) and my hands are hurting. I hope that my description has helped you imagine what it’s like for us a little better. Maybe next time your friend with POTS is being cranky (me every day) or boring (again me) you’ll find it a bit easier to be understanding.