Tegan & Sara, concentric circles and failed resolutions

One time, quite a while back, I had my heart broken pretty badly. Correction, that one time in particular, I had my heart crushed to smithereens not by being left abruptly (which I was) but by the words uttered to me when I asked my then-boyfriend how he could just leave me for someone new after all we’d been through together.

The begging for an answer went on for weeks! I couldn’t stop myself beating myself up, beating him up even more, with incessant need to know why. “How could you?” I whimpered. “How could you leave me for her?” And then one day he said the fateful words I never needed to hear…

“She was just too good to pass up,” he said.

Wait a minute. I thought I was the one who was too good to pass up but apparently suddenly I’d taken a turn into pass-up-able territory without anyone ever clue-ing me in. I was mistaken. I wasn’t too good to pass up at all! SHE was. Well, shit.

The words don’t pack the same punch they had almost 20 years ago, of course, but they pop into my brain sometimes at the oddest moments to remind me that there are, indeed, some things one can never really forget but that doesn’t make those things right or true.

Sometimes the thing that jogs these words back into my mind is a particular song, that I happen to love, that sums up the flat-out flummoxed feeling I was left with once I was actually, suddenly left:

“Where do you go with your broken heart in tow
What do you do with the left over you
And how do you know when to let go
Where does the good go,
Where does the good go?”

That’s from the song by Tegan and Sara called “Where Does the Good Go” and if you’ve never heard it, check it out. It sounds sad, but for some reason, it always makes me feel happy when I hear it. Perhaps because it’s right in the sweet spot of my vocal range and I can really belt it out in the car when it pops up on shuffle?

Whatever the reason, it keeps popping up on shuffle again and again in these last few weeks and it’s starting to mean something different to me now.

It’s not so much about an age-old heart breaking memory to me anymore. It’s more about life now. My life. Your life. Life in general that is always changing, always knocking us on our collective asses only to surprise us with unexpected joy before it knocks us on our collective asses again, then back to joy and repeat. The stanza that speaks to me now is this one:

“It’s love that breaks the seal of always thinking you would be
Real, happy and healthy, strong and calm
Where does the good go,
Where does the good go?”

I used to believe there was nothing I couldn’t do, nothing that could really ruin me. I knew that even when my heart was broken, I was strong, happy and calm. I was healthy. That thing we tend to take for granted while wishing to be thinner or prettier or stronger or more talented or able to run faster. Health is the thing I never questioned. I believed somewhere way down deep that nothing could break me.

Along the way, these past two years since my diagnosis with MS, I lost that fundamental belief. It threw me for a serious loop because if there is one thing that makes me who I am – not the way I look, what I do, where I’ve been, how much money I make, how successful I’ve been, the car I drive or even how many cats I have – it is my fundamental belief that nothing can break me.

That’s how I used to feel. That unrelenting optimism in my own heart protected me. I would always be happy, healthy, strong and calm, no matter who broke my heart or what might make me feel otherwise for a short period of time.

Lately, I’ve been haunted by the notion of concentric circles.

I guess it’s somewhat obvious but I see my life in a series of concentric circles that once were wide and varied and full of new and exciting colors, lately the circles have gotten smaller and smaller, more focused and built of fewer colors than I’m used to, a lot like my predominantly black wardrobe. I think this notion about life as a series of concentric circles began in 2015 right after my diagnosis when I was freaked the hell out but still not fully aware of what my new life would be like. As my health started to go downhill, the circles started to get smaller, but in tiny increments. Nothing too scary. Then with my first big relapse in mid-2017, the circles were suddenly so small, that sometimes they threaten to suffocate me.

And yet they don’t. I’m still here.

There’s always a time period, a date or line in my mental sand for when I am expecting to feel somehow better. Those dates come and go without feeling better and it gets the better of me. It makes me feel like the good up and went. It makes me wonder, in the great words of Tegan & Sara, “what do you do with the left over you.”

Like everyone else in the world at this particular time on this particular night of the year, I’m sitting here on this last night of 2017 wondering which resolution I will fail to achieve this year (last year’s was so good! And also a dismal failure…it made for a great blog post, but it never did stick).

I’m going to try a few things with the left over me, and see if any of them stick…This is my honest attempt to kick myself in the ass and start focusing on the center of the circle – I think that might be where the good actually goes.

I’m in the center. The center of my circles is me.

So for this, the last day of 2017 looking ahead into a brand new set of 365 random days, I’ve made some commitments to myself. They’re not complicated:

I will try to remember that some pretty crappy shit has happened to me in this life so far and none of it has killed me yet. This disease is not likely to do it either (not even death by embarrassment).

I will stop judging myself and my abilities (or lack thereof) so harshly. It’s not the world that is ashamed of me, it’s ME that’s ashamed of me. I need to stop doing that. I walk funny. I stay in my house a lot. I wear pajamas a lot. I read a whole lot & go out a whole lot less. So what?

I need to give myself a break from all the judging.

I do need to try walking a little more. I do need to stop thinking of myself as no longer good for anything I used to be good for (I could make a list but some of those things would be pretty embarrassing so I won’t). I’m still good for a lot of things! The good hasn’t gone. It’s just gotten more inwardly focused and to be honest, closer to my center is not a terrible place  to be.

In 2018, I will listen to more music, laugh with more friends (either physically or virtually), try harder to be nicer to myself, stress less about how hard it is and how funny it looks when I walk around…I will allow myself to just be instead of wishing for how I used to be. I will eat more ice cream. (I figured I should give myself one easy resolution just to be safe.)

I will be where the good goes, for me, on good days and bad days.

I wish all good things for you, too, dear readers. My wish for you on this new year’s eve is that you find your good, wrap your arms around it and never let it go.

A very bright and dark Christmas

Some of my favorite memories of this very bright and dark Christmas holiday.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any of my readers that I was not looking forward to the Christmas holidays this year.

I mean, I’m not terribly subtle for one thing. I’ve been quite outspoken about the open struggle that has been my 2017. It seems like this year, that was supposed to have the promise of a new miracle treatment and a new lease on life for Bethybright, has been one disaster after another. I’ve gone downhill so fast, its left me dizzy. I can count on one hand the number of truly good days I’ve had since going off of Tysabri in January 2017. This Christmas was going to be the one when I could look back on the time that has passed since I was diagnosed just before Christmas in 2015 and say to myself, “Wow, these past few years have really sucked but it was all worth it because now I feel so much better and I feel hopeful for the first time in a really long time!”

Yeah. Or not?

Christmas is usually one of my most favorite things. But like many of my reliable favorite things of the past, it’s complicated now. Just like everything is complicated now.  I want to feel festive. I want to help with preparations. I want to enjoy time with those I love most but the simple truth is that just the act of leaving my damn house is a major issue these days and it’s really starting to get old.

It snowed on Christmas eve. I woke up to a white Christmas morning and it was beautiful and lovely and quiet. I lay in bed snuggly warm enjoying the simple pleasure of the overnight snow outside, the warmth inside, a cozy bed warmed by four furry creatures who are generous enough to share their body warmth with me. It was early, really early because that’s when those furballs wake me to be fed so I got myself out of bed, down the stairs and fed the kitties. Scooped litter downstairs and before heading back up to bed for a little longer to rest up for the festivities ahead, I peeked out the front door to look at the pretty snow.

I noticed, the lid had flown off of my tub of ice melt on the front porch. I  opened the door thinking I better get out there and put the lid back on before the thing blew away when I noticed that my front porch looked shiny. It was a solid sheet of ice, rippled, like tiny frozen waves, made by wind that blew through the night. I gingerly stepped outside in my outside slippers, carefully grabbed the ice melt bucket lid, very slowly tossing some ice melt across the porch and down the steps to my sidewalk below, shivering all the while because I’m still in my pajamas. I crunched back to the front door being a little less in mortal fear for my life and went back to bed.

It dawned on me, though, that I wasn’t going to be able to drive myself and my mom’s to my sister’s house where Christmas day brunch was to take place. My sister lives high atop the world’s steepest driveway, affectionately dubbed Mt. Doom. Any snow at all makes the approach to my sister’s house nearly impossible without 4-wheel drive. I was supposed to pick up my mother and head up to my sister’s but I knew if it was icy at my house, it was definitely icy at my mother’s house. I realized that I’d be basically of no help whatsoever for getting my 77 year old mother from her house to my car while also carrying the homemade danish pastry she had to bring to the brunch, across sidewalks made of ice. The truth is, my mother is almost more capable than I am but neither of us should be out traipsing around on icy sidewalks.

Change of plans. We needed transport. My sister has a Suburu that would have no trouble getting us up Mt. Doom, safely and with the precious danish pastries intact. Alex, my nephew, came to pick us up and get us safely to the Christmas feast. All good! Disaster averted. Having an amazing family willing to drop everything to make things easy for you is kind of awesome. And yet, there I was sitting in my funk, thinking to myself how much I hated the entire situation.

Something as simple as the weather can fuck up my entire day. I’m so unsteady on my feet that even a little snow or ice renders me basically useless. When it’s too hot, I can’t function. When it’s too cold, I can’t function. Low-key stress-free holiday fun all delivered without my help or support should have been perfect (and in many ways it was) but it bugged me that I wasn’t able to help with any preparations at all. I didn’t hang one single ornament or bake a single cookie. I didn’t do more than wash a few dishes, and barely a few. I did nothing. Nobody asked me to do anything, of course, because they all know that it will probably be too much for me whatever the ask might be. Hell. My only job was to get my mother to the brunch and I couldn’t even do that because I needed help my damn self.

Earlier in the week, I had a hair cut appointment in a busy part of town during the holidays. I was feeling ok that day, not great but not terrible (otherwise known as my general state of being), so I headed out not at all worried about the task. How much easier can it get? Drive to the salon. Park. Get into the salon. Sit. The end.

But it was the Friday before Christmas so people were everywhere  scurrying about getting last minute gifts or meeting friends for festive holiday drinks, doing what normal people do during the holidays. I couldn’t get a parking spot in front of the salon like I normally do. The only handicapped spot on the street was an entire block away but it was my only option. I hadn’t brought Stanley, my cane, because I’m still not accustomed to the fact that I’m likely to need him if I have to walk any distance at all. I stumbled the one block to the salon. I was dizzy and shaky. I could see people looking at me drunk walking down Butler Street trying to pass me because I was moving so slow I was barely moving at all, feet occasionally dragging. I made it to the salon but I was on my last legs. I knew I had to repeat the whole thing in the opposite direction again once my haircut was over. I sat there wishing my hair cut could take longer. I didn’t want to go back out there again. I felt so far away from safety. It was unnerving. Safety was literally less than a block away.

I love that people make things easy for me. From work colleagues to family members to friends and neighbors – I am surrounded by people who want to help make things easier for me. I am truly #blessed (and I’m not even being remotely ironic this time). I just want so badly to go back to being useful, a helpful, fixer of problems, solver of challenges, someone my people can count on. Not someone who my people need to worry about, cater to, work around.

It strikes me over and over again over this holiday break how my mother and I are oddly in the same boat though we are nearly 30 years apart in age. Neither of us can do what we want to do all of the time. Both of us move pretty slow because both of us are likely in some kind of pain. Both of us want to be able to do more and we’re both pissed off at the world about our current circumstances. My mother, a new widow learning to live on her own for the first time in almost 60 years and me, the 50 year old woman who woke up one morning feeling more like 75, has been consumed with anger every minute of every day since.

I want to have an answer when someone I love asks me, “What’s new?” My answer this year was probably better kept to myself but instead when my niece asked me that very question yesterday at Christmas brunch my answer came spewing out of it’s own accord, “Oh, you know. Not leaving my house a whole lot. Different body parts stop working every day. I haven’t showered in almost a week and I haven’t been around actual human people in weeks. I didn’t bother putting on makeup today because I knew I’d be too tired when I finally got home later to take it off. I look like a fatter, older, uglier version of who I used to be…so. I guess that’s what’s new.”

Geez. That was a lot. Nobody deserves that but there you have it. It’s very possible I should keep those kinds of responses to myself. They slip out. As if they demand to be heard and acknowledged. As if doing that might take their power away. Saying things out loud makes them not as scary, right? Not always, as it turns out.

Every year on Christmas morning before I head out to my family’s annual brunch, I watch A Christmas Carol alone at home in my jammies with a cup of coffee. I like the George C. Scott Scrooge the best. I cued up the movie on demand and enjoyed it again this year. It hit me about halfway through. I’ve been visited nightly by my ghosts of Christmases past, present and future and I want to be a changed woman much like Ebeneezer. Alas, I just keep being visited by the very same ghosts over and over and over again. Like they’re lost or caught in some kind of loop where everything bad is on repeat. And I keep waking up broken, slow, pained and angry.

My family went out of their way to make this first Christmas after my father’s death as good and happy as it could be. I am literally in awe of what my sister is capable of doing. She puts up like 5 Christmas trees! Thank goodness because I haven’t put one up in almost 14 years. My mom kicked butt too with her cooking, preparing, and generally doing more than any recently widowed woman should. My nephew Alex continues to be amazingly helpful and a source of actual joy. That kid is hilarious. Everyone was a joy to be around. I am so very lucky I am ashamed by how much I hate this entire experience. I want it to be over. It will never be over.

My mom had a tough time this holiday season. It broke my heart. It broke my heart even more to know that I am yet another thing she will continue to worry about. I am another reason why her mind can’t be at peace.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I really did and I am deeply grateful for all that I have and for the wonderful people I am surrounded by (including all of you, my readers). Yet, I am simultaneously also grieving. I’m grieving for my mother but I’m also grieving for myself. I’m grieving for what I lost, which feels like most of me, things I can never get back. I’m not sure what to do with that reality.

So, yeah. I’m a big holiday downer with a side of desperation. I have a trip to make for work in late January. I have literally no idea in the world how I’m going to make it happen. It’s lurking back there in my mind taunting me, telling me I can’t expect people to be patient with me forever. Hell, I’m not even patient with me! When am I going to finally wake up and laugh about this horrible dream I’ve been having?

When will I finally stop being so angry? 2018…you’re facing a lot of pressure. 2017 set the bar pretty damn low. Don’t let a girl down, 2018, ok? Don’t let a girl down.

I got a new foot for Stanley

That’s me. Doing what I do best. Thinking too much.

Stanley is my cane. I dubbed him Stan upon looking upon him for the first time. I use his more formal name when I’m displeased with him. You see, I never use Stanley because he’s kind of frail and not very reliable. But when it arrived, this new more stable foot for Stanley, it changed all that. The new foot for Stan is so much better than the little one I used to have. It feels more stable and more like I will be less likely to kill myself using Stan, so I may use him more. I may actually stop stumbling around without support when there’s no handy friend, family, wall or grocery cart to hang on to. It also makes Stan able to stand on his own without me holding on to him (independence is important to me in a man). It’s a good thing in all ways. Well. In most ways, really.

Such a good thing got me to thinking. As you know, that’s never a good sign. According to my Precious Cheryl, therapist to the stars, I think way too much. Certain old ex-boyfriends might agree. When I get to thinking, there’s not a force in the universe that can get me to stop.

Let’s use an enormous hyperbolic cliche of a sentence starter, here, to describe what my new cane foot got me to thinking about: My descent into a brand new, much smaller life continues. With no end in sight.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes I feel completely OK with it. Sometimes I look around my new smallish life and I think, “Well, the truth is, this isn’t half bad at all. I have a nice place to live, I have snuggly cats that I love, family & friends that are crazy awesome and more than enough of most things I need.” None of that can be categorized as anything near bad.

Other days, I look around my new smallish life and I think, “What the mother fuck has happened to me? How can I find any joy in this existence? How can I accept the fact that there is more that I can’t do than I can on most days? How can I become OK with the fact that there are more days than not that I am un-showered, wearing comfy clothes (again) and not a stitch of make up and I truly don’t give a fuck? How can I live a life that is so very antisocial? I will miss people. I will miss laughing and drinking and dressing up to go out. I will miss it all.”

It’s all very dramatic and complicated and lets just face it, not terribly healthy. For once, I have experienced a turn in this life that I have literally no idea how to deal with. That’s also not entirely true since I felt much the same way the day I was told Chuck was taken to the hospital after collapsing at work. We all know what happened after that. I didn’t know what to do with myself after all of that insanity either and I behaved astonishingly badly but somehow life went on and so did I. This experience is so much the same and so much different. It has completely boggled my mind, plain and simple.

I had my two year MS-versary on December 1 and it came and went without much fanfare. I had to actually look back in my journal to see what day it was that my actual diagnosis came and there it was. December 1, 2015. I remember the holidays that year being in a Solumedrol-induced haze. My first time on the ‘roids. How grateful I was earlier that week to hang out, in a hospital, with one of my oldest friends from high school who came with me to the three-day outpatient infusions. I remember laughing, like not a single minute had gone by since last we laughed, when in reality it was more than 25 (closer to 30) years since we’d done so for three days in a row. I remember how she ran around the hospital looking for Lifesavers when the Solumedrol gave me that nasty metal taste in my mouth, also for the very first time. They were butterscotch Lifesavers and they were perfect.

On Christmas Eve a few weeks later, I wore green shoes with kitten heels (Fluevog of course) with a simple, swingy black dress (the harbinger of uniforms to come) and bare legs. It was unseasonably warm in 2015 in December and I remember being grateful that I didn’t have to navigate through snow. I remember putting on makeup before heading out with my giant bags full of gifts and thinking how everything felt the same but also completely different.

I can’t remember last year much at all. I guess I’ll need to go back to ye good old journal to see how I was feeling on Christmas 2016 but I don’t remember feeling very festive. Or maybe I did and I’m just projecting my 2017 melancholy on to that holiday memory.

Lately, I find myself uncomfortable around other people. I find myself wanting to be normal and not coming close. I find myself wanting to enjoy myself and laugh and be with friends and family – and at the same time, I find myself a fish out of water in nearly every one of those situations. Grasping for the strength or will or whatever it is that will make me feel anything like any of these people I used to know so well and at the same time trying not to let anyone see me grasping at anything at all.

In my old life, I could enjoy myself in pretty much any group of people. I loved being around people, being social, doing my social thing. Don’t get me wrong…there were just as many times that I felt outright antisocial back then, too, but I had the uncanny ability to fake it. These days, though, I don’t feel like I could even fake faking it right now. I’ve tried it a couple of times so far this season – like for my office holiday lunch and gift exchange – where I had such a terrible day physically speaking, the pain so intense, that I could barely focus on acting festive.

I felt like a bitter, sad, broken woman sitting in the corning flashing her best fake smile around a room of happy, healthy, festive people. That smile of mine probably looked more like a grimace and I knew it. I could feel it. I kept at the act for most of the party until I sneaked out when I reached the point where I couldn’t even sit without feeling pain. It made me feel like a failure as I stumbled to my car, just across the street to the hotel where I’d valet parked just a couple of hours earlier.

I read a lot this year. Thirty-three books so far. That’s one helluva lot of books. It will probably be 35 or 36 before the year is actually over. I read so much because it keeps my mind busy and away from thoughts about what’s to come. I also read so much because I just love reading. I resent this disease for intruding on my favorite things and somehow making them bad to me now. Things like staying home, being cozy, reading books and writing. I did all of those thing before my diagnosis and they felt good. Now they feel like giving up.

I’m going to tell myself what I usually do at this point in a time of so much discontent and that is simply this: it can’t last forever. It will get better. Things will even out or they won’t and my new cane foot that feels more stable will give me the ability to get out of my house (and my head) even on a bad day so I can accept whatever I need to accept and not give up. A stable cane foot can make all the difference, is what I’m telling myself today. It’s a little thing, but maybe it will help. Maybe something will help. Maybe something will change. Maybe I will change. But for the better, this time.

It’s all so cliche! Major life changes after a cataclysmic diagnosis (this felt at the time and continues to feel cataclysmic though it should probably not feel as such. I mean, there are lots worse things). Events such as this, though, typically create melancholy that runs its course at its own speed until it peters out into some kind of begrudging positive thinking that feels more like lying than anything else. But it’s better than feeling angry all of the time so one tends to give in.

I used to think about how lucky I am that this disease hit me after I had such an amazing time in my earlier life. How this disease hit me after I’d traveled, did impulsive things, lived for decades as an unfettered adult without a care in the world because I had no idea what was to come and I just wanted to enjoy it. That time I took a year off work and just…painted. And sewed and wrote in my journal. Those trips I took with my friends to tropical places. Those trips alone to various other places. Paris and Florence and Denmark and London.

How lucky I am that I had so many drunken happy hours when I laughed with my friends until we peed. The wins (and losses) in my crazy career in advertising. The men, mostly boys, who I allowed into my life, sometimes only to break my heart, until I booted them out again when I started to yearn for solitude once again. Or they booted me out and I thought I’d die then I never did and things went back to normal again. I’ve lived. I’ve lived a lot.

I’m not sure I know how to live now. No! This is not me saying I don’t want to live (I promise you), it’s me saying I don’t know how to live.

I keep trying to figure out how and what will make this new life happy again. Simplify/get rid of unnecessary stuff (check). Change routines (check). Eliminate unnecessary obstacles, (mostly check). Get a uniform (done). Slow down (like I had a choice). Alter perspective (Um…working on it). Ask for help (check). Accept help (check). I’ve done all of the things! I’ve taken all of the advice. Even the advice I didn’t know to ask for.

We used to joke, my friends and I, when I would ghost every now and then and have a weekend or a day where I just caved up, did nothing, and luxuriated in my solitude. They would say, “You’re spending time with your favorite person, aren’t you?”

And I would chuckle. I sure was. And I didn’t even care who knew. It was occasional, after all, a much needed rest from trying to be the happiest, most free, most successful, most full-of-life person I knew. That shit was exhausting. Who wouldn’t need a break every now and then?

So now it’s a disease that’s making my life exhausting. I have no idea why the reason for the exhaustion has such an impact on how I think about how to deal with the exhaustion. I have no idea why it’s so hard for me to accept that this disease has given me the rare opportunity to live the life I thought I wanted to live – the life with unlimited time for my favorite person.

Maybe I haven’t figured out how to allow this new, broken somewhat less shiny person become my favorite again. I’m so busy picking her apart inside and out, I never get the chance to luxuriate. I never get the chance to just be…me. The only way to change any of this is for me to somehow fall in love with this new version of myself, the way I did such a long time ago after having my heart utterly annihilated by the latest guy to let me down. It took time then. And it’s taking it’s good old time now! I’m just as impatient with the process now as I was then.

Everything is the same. Everything is different. Time is the only answer. Fa-la-la-la-la and all of that rot.

Been there, done that (and I’m so grateful)

You have. Not me. And I’m so grateful for the wisdom.

Here’s the thing.

We call multiple sclerosis a snowflake disease and with good reason. MS is never the same for any two people. Things that are major issues for me, may not affect your friend who has MS at all. And I will be the first one to tell you to shut your damn pie hole when you tell me about your cousin’s friend’s grandmother who runs marathons with MS because…just shut it. We can still be friends that way. But I digress.

Things that have never gone wonky for me, may drive you crazy on the daily. There are many symptoms I haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet. And no. I’m not stupid enough to actually write down a symptom I do NOT have. That’s terrible MS karma and I’ve fallen victim to it before. Fool me once! You know how that goes.

The thing that amazes me lately, though, is not how unique and special my disease might be but how utterly normal and mundane my MS is in almost every way. The problem is that nobody of the medical professional variety has ever told me, warned me, or talked to me at all about some of the weirder things that can happen, therefore I spend a lot of time with this soundtrack flying around in my mind…

“Is it MS if I’m in pain all of the time? Is it a muscle pain or a nerve pain? When I put my head down and get that tingly feeling down my spine, is that my MS? It’s not a pain, it’s more like a tingle, but people call it pain and I don’t call it pain, so maybe it’s something else entirely…Is it crazy that (fill in the blank) is happening to me or is it just my MS? WHY WON’T ANYBODY TELL ME ABOUT THESE THINGS?!?!? WHY MUST I GUESS AND GOOGLE UNTIL I THINK I MAY GO MAD?!?!?

This soundtrack is the background music to my life. It started even before I was diagnosed.

My ever-patient BFF and fave sidekick in life had to listen to me say things things like this out loud constantly in the year leading up to my official diagnosis. The one instance that is most vivid to me was when we’d be getting out of my car to walk into our bar for what we called “happy time.” I started to notice that when I stood up after sitting for any period of time, my legs would do a little shake thing. Like a tremble. Before I took a step toward the bar.

In fact, I know I said something really close to this because my BFF does this awesome thing where she writes down crazy things I say over the coarse of a year and then prints me up a book full of them each year on my birthday. I guess I say a lot of crazy things? Go figure. But one day as we went to walk into our bar I actually said something to her like, “I wonder why my legs do this little shake thing when I want to walk anywhere. I’m like a shimmy waiting to happen.” Or something to that affect. A quote something like that went into the book that year among other equally weird things I might have said in that 12 month span. It was like a foreshadowing of shimmies yet to come.

I suppose the doctors don’t tell you what to expect because they don’t want you looking for things to “blame” on MS. It’s kind of a mind-screw (to be polite) really. They make you guess what might be your MS until you can’t stand it anymore and you ask then they say, “Well, Maribeth, that can be very normal for people with MS that presents like yours with lesions in the blah blah blah area and blah blah blah…” I actually hear the blah blah blahs because I’ve gone mad with rage just thinking of the time I could have spent not agonizing about the symptom du jour.

That’s where you guys come in, really.

I knew this blog was helping me, mentally speaking, just to have a venue for the overwhelming feelings that bang around in my head, bouncing into each other growing larger like molecules turning into evil compounds along the pathways of  my broken central nervous system. Those thoughts have to be released somewhere if anyone is even remotely capable of dealing with the hot mess that MS turns our lives into sometimes. But there’s been a surprising and awesome upside I never predicted.

As it turns out, you guys are much better at the advice giving and symptom checking than Google or The Great Scott (all due respect to the Big G, and the TGS). You guys knit together random posts and thoughts and things I share, then you come up with a pretty damn good explanation and send it to me via IM or on a Facebook post and I feel instantly more calm knowing that I’m not actually losing my mind.

The most recent example was when one of my personal MS-gurus, I call her Joda (the Yoda of my MS). Joda and I have never met in real life. We didn’t even meet in one of the many MS-related forums and groups. We met completely randomly through a mutual friend on Facebook. The serendipity inherent in this “meeting” kind of blows my mind more than a little.

So, Joda knit together a few things that led to a place I’d never even considered before related to how my body functions (or doesn’t) in the outside world. Those seemingly unrelated but probably related things are as follows:

  • When I make it to work, I now require a special chair for supporting my head and neck because I’m in so much pain at my desk I can barely function. This chair has a neck piece and makes me feel like I’m the commander of the Starship Enterprise (or “just like that really smart guy in the wheelchair? What’s his name?” said my friend at work. “That would be Stephen Hawking and probably not the best comparison to make to the sometimes crippled girl.” And we laughed and laughed).
  • The new chair helps, quite a bit, but it still doesn’t alleviate the phenomena that occurs where by at the end of any day (even a good leg day!) when after a few hours in my office, I’m practically dragging my legs across the street to the valet, praying I don’t fall down before I make it there. Like clockwork. Weird.
  • Then there was the day I posted about how my trip to Target nearly killed me, as I pretty much became Frankenstein about 1/2 way through the store. I couldn’t keep up with my mom (who was with me and getting more and more concerned the longer she watched me lurching around). And again, by the time we were walking back to my car, dragging my legs behind me like big stupid wooden logs instead of my formerly functioning legs. It was a good leg day or I wouldn’t have even considered a trip to Target in the first place!

These things can’t possibly be related. I clearly am trying to make connections between random things that have nothing to do with each other, I tell myself. Not everything is about my MS!

Until it is.

Joda, amazing font of MS wisdom that she is, happens to mention very casually that there could be one thing connecting these phenomena that I never knew was even a thing! This one thing that might explain why my home is usually the place where my body feels the best (which isn’t saying a whole lot lately but you get me).

It’s the lighting! Joda tipped me off to the one thing all of these places have in common. The lighting. The damn bright, jarring, previously unpleasant but never energy zapping, light that is pervasive in all public places.

This artificial lighting, fluorescent and otherwise, in public locations can cause symptoms to flare up temporarily. Well shut my mouth and get me to Google…and lo, there were stories among the thousands from people who have similar experiences. People who are forced to wear tinted lenses or actual sunglasses at all times in artificial light. People who suddenly can’t walk halfway through Target (they actually refer to it as “the Target effect!”). People who have trouble with bright lights when driving after dark (ahem). This isn’t something new! People have been talking about the Target effect for years and years all over the interwebs and yet nobody thought to mention that to me at any of my visits to The Great Scott. I guess they don’t want to “suggest” symptoms you might never have?

Whatever the reason, every little bit of time that I can save trying to puzzle out if I’m crazy or if it’s my MS, every little bit of that time is critical because feeling like you might be losing your mind while you’re simultaneously losing some pretty important physical functions is a shitty, horrible place to live. Feeling like you might be losing your mind is one of the worst things about having a disease that is such a snowflake, sometimes, but at other times, not very snowflake-like at all!

Just tell me I’m not crazy and things get instantly better.

I know this is a big ask. Clearly, if you know me at all either digitally or in real life, you are well aware that my sanity has been pushed to all new levels of delicacy. I nearly lost my damn mind during my first relapse. I literally thought if I stayed one more day in that hospital bed, I could be certified insane and put into another, entirely different, kind of hospital. I can go a little batty trying to figure out what time to shower is the safest for me on a particular day because there are so many goddamn variables that my mind bends a little just trying to think through how to take a damn shower.

Telling me I’m not crazy, and not lying, is a stretch on pretty much every single day. But as soon as Joda shined the light, Kara jumped in and corroborated and then Google verified the masses and masses of people with MS who struggle with the very same thing, I felt a million times better. I know that’s also not saying much lately, but any better is still better.

On the downside, I’ve discovered yet another thing that I have to plan around. Maybe I don’t go to Target so much anymore. I’ve got Amazon Prime for most things anyway, right? I sat in my office in my Stephen Hawking chair in the dark last week and you know what? Even though there is bright glaring light all over that place, sitting in the dark with just the glow of a desk lamp actually helped my pain. It does bring up concerns, of course, that I’m now not only going to be the girl who looks funny and walks funny but now I’m also going to be THAT person. The one wearing sunglasses indoors.

Maybe it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that part of the reason I love being home so much of the time is not only that I can hide from the outside world of normal and very fast walkers. It is also because home is where I feel, physically, the best. I am in control of nearly every aspect of my home. Except the damn steps, of course, but I refer to those steps as my daily workout, so there’s that.

I mean, I keep wondering when it will be that I can entertain the idea of air travel again what with it involving so much of every little thing that is bad for my MS. I think sunglasses will be a must for travel to occur. Also, at my super brightly-lit giant corporate campus in Atlanta I will now likely have to be Sunglasses Girl with the Draggy Legs, but hey. My brain still works pretty damn well and I have always enjoyed being the center of attention before it was a medical thing, so maybe it’s OK?

Nah. I will hate everything about that scenario. But I can force myself to remember the many times one or a bunch of you proved to me that I am not entirely crazy after all, and I will feel a tiny bit better.

I’ll take any kind of better I can get these days. I’m so amazingly grateful for this network of wise MS friends I’ve made over the past two years since my diagnosis in December of 2015. I get kind of misty just thinking about it.

The Great Scott may be great, indeed, but you guys are the real miracle workers.