Random thoughts while waiting for my car to de-ice

My actual face after sitting in my actual car for literally 43 minutes.

You know my constant debate…

Go to the outside world, play the Old Me (who walks really funny but I don’t walk that much or that far, so it’s cool) and visit with some of my favorite normals in my downtown office? Or stay home and be uber productive in the relative safety of my home.

It’s never easy, this whole game I play with should I stay or should I go now, but the benefits are huge so I keep myself motivated to keep on keeping on and walk out the damn door when I physically can to get myself to the office. It’s important to me.

The weather hasn’t been on my side lately. I discovered this winter that the cold messes me up nearly as badly as intense heat. Color me informed. The extreme cold turns me (and some others from what I’ve been told) into what I like to call the Tin Man. The Tin Man before Dorothy came along with her trusty oil can, I mean. My whole body feels solid. Stiff. It becomes hard to move. Like, at all. You feel frozen in space which is fine except for you feel this way while out in the world full of fast-moving, often impatient people.

So lately when it’s single digit cold, I stick by the home office connected to the world by a bunch of letters (VPN, WWW, IM, ATT…) I could go on, but I won’t. It’s warm at the home office. But not too warm! Because we all know what happens when we get too warm…liquid squid body. Everything feels liquid, melty, fluid. Again, not bad things to be unless you’re out in the world full of fast-moving, often impatient people. People have substance. They like to move their substances quickly.

Anyway. I’ve spent a few long days at home doing meeting after meeting on the phone or via webex or whatever and I really needed to get out of the house. I have an amazing office to go to! I really wanted to be in that office, talking to actual people’s actual faces. I was determined to get my butt out there and do the things. All of the things involved in getting out of the house (all completely necessary). Plans must be made.

It had snowed the day before. But before the snow started, it sleeted. Then it snowed, again. Then it got really, really cold. Ergo, the entire outside world full of surfaces and steps and other sneaky hazards is now covered with a thick layer of ice, covered by a twinkly white layer of snow. Oh. And look at that! My snow shoveler-guy used up the last of my ice melt and didn’t tell me. I have nothing with which to melt the icy world outside.

I think to myself…”Self,” I say, “Just drink that bullet-proof cup o’ joe, put on some clothes, douse your head in dry shampoo and slap on something that looks like makeup and see how you feel when that’s all done. You can wear Uggs! Nobody will judge.”

So I did just that.

I sat, rested, vaped a bit more and lo! My anxiety decreased and I thought I was ready to go…I would just walk really, really slowly and I would hang on for dear life to anything nearby be it a railing or my beloved cane, Stanley. I’ve grown to love him, reluctantly. He matches all of my clothes (he’s also black like my soul) and he doesn’t get mad when I forget and leave him behind in strange places. Who could resist that?

A couple of things I learned today (in no particular order):

  • Uggs – while flat, warm and oh so very basic – are not very good on slippery surfaces. Like steps. Like the cement steps down from my porch. The more you know.
  • While I have always been terribly ungraceful, uncoordinated, un-anything that means I have any locomotive skills for doing anything physical at all…It doesn’t really matter that I now have an excuse to be such a klutz. When faced with certain cement-filled death, miracles do happen! That expensive wrought iron railing I bought oh so long ago…totally worth every penny.
  • I walked gingerly across my snow covered grass to the driveway, clutching Stanley for my very life.
  • Freezing rain must pool around vehicles, or something, because my car was encased in ice and surrounded by what looked like small speed bumps made of ice.
  • Clinging to your brick house, your car, your cane and your backpack are all very reasonable when faced with speed bumps made of ice.
  • A miracle occurs. The car doors will open.
  • The entire car is caked in snow on top of ice on top of snow. I can’t brave the icy speed bumps to go back outside to scrape the car clean. I could easily perish by falling and sliding UNDER the car. I could run my own self over.
  • Sitting in the car with heat blaring at 82 degrees for 43 minutes may or may not be what one does when one is facing the reality of possibly running ones self over.
  • The ice eventually melts. EVENTUALLY. While it’s melting, one might sing the entire score of Jesus Christ Superstar while sweating off the makeup one took five precious minutes to apply.
  • As I am driving into town, it starts snowing. Again. Because of course it does.
My view from the red light as I drive into town on a gorgeous, balmy Thursday. The bridge. It looks ominous, doesn’t it? It might just be me.

Where was I?

  • I arrive in town and prepare to disembark at the valet at the hotel across the street from my office. We have an arrangement. Thank sweet baby Jesus, we have an arrangement. At the hotel across the street.
  • There is ice all over the place where it probably wouldn’t be an issue for even the average MS’er but it may or may not have required the assistance of two valets and an old woman to get me out of my car and into my office building…across the street. Yes. You read that right. ACROSS THE STREET. Wanted to make sure you got that.
  • I had a pretty great day in the office. I remember people! People are so awesome. Someone ordered Vietnamese food for lunch and got me some and…wow, I had no idea how much I’d love Vietnamese food. I’ve never had it before. How have I never had this before? So good.
  • I’m loving today!
  • I may or may not have vaped CBD in my office when the reliable MS back burning pain kicks in. Nobody cares, right? Right.
  • I had such a great day being with actual real people, I forgot to take my 4PM meds.
  • Two of my 4pM meds are pretty much required for any amount of locomotion. Ampyra (the walking drug). Baclofen (the muscle relaxer drug that lets my body actually move around a little).
  • I am stumbling out of the office clinging to Stanley and Sandy around 6PM. Sandy is a real person, and not a walking device. She’s my best friend and we work together. How lucky am I?
  • Sandy allows me to cling to her when we’re walking together in the outside world. It reminds of that thing that happens at every single Italian wedding you’ve ever been to. That thing where two old ladies dance with each other on the dance floor because their husbands are long gone but they straight up have the music in them so they dance with each other.
  • I’m not a big toucher. Neither is Sandy. But we’ve come to call this odd clinging behavior of mine cuddling. Clutching would probably be a better description, but whatevs. We cuddle all over town.
  • I actually have to lift my left leg with my arms to get it (and me) into the damn car. Sandy pays the valet for me. THANK GOD because those extra five steps would have put me on the sidewalk as sure as god made little green apples.

(As an aside, this is a very god-filled post for someone on the fence about the actual big guy himself…go figure. Nothing brings out the god in a girl like a degenerative disease. Amirite?)

Where was I?

  • I get home. By a miracle of the lord, again, and via my nephew Alex, all of the icebergs have been melted by the time I get out of my car in the driveway again.
  • I stumble to the front door thanking god (again) that I hadn’t forgotten Stanley in the office again. I am stymied by how badly I am walking. I mean, I walk funny! This is not in dispute. But I don’t walk THIS funny. Usually.
  • It is at that moment, I remember…my 4PM meds!!! I forgot my 4PM meds.

One tiny adjustment to my schedule (leaving the house) threw me for such a loop that I plum forgot the actual magical beans that try to turn me into a real girl. OK. I mixed up a bunch of Disney movie imagery there but you get me. I shouldn’t skip my 4PM meds.

Ever.

Tomorrow is supposed to be 43 degrees. The ice will melt for real this time. At least for a little while. Forty-three is almost within my range of workable environmental temps for ultimate body operation. I have determined, via a very scientific method (not) that ideal temperature to be between 45 and 55 degree Fahrenheit.

I will set myself an alarm on my phone as a reminder to never, ever again forget my 4PM meds.

I survived the icy, cold outside world on this day by the (sheep) skin of my damn black Uggs! But, it was worth it. I love Vietnamese food.

New year…new me?

My new/old obsessions.

I’ve had a lot of time to think this holiday season since I took some left-over vacation days at the end of the year to allow myself to actually rest instead of just “pretend resting” which is what happens when I am working. When I’m working, I never turn off even after actual work hours because I’m too afraid of falling behind. When I’m really and truly off work, my constantly churning brain allows itself to slow down a bit. This only happens on those rare occasions when I’m off and my entire company and most of my clients are off too. Our offices close the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s like the best gift anyone could give us. Time off when everyone else is off too! Brilliant.

It’s all over now, the holidays are past and life goes back to normal for normals and back to something else for us non-normals. But while I was in that holiday limbo, I got to thinking about lots of things. One of those things I thought about was putting some serious effort toward finding my lost joy.

You guys won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve had a hard time this year thinking about anything but how horrid this disease is and how it was more or less ruining my life. It crept into every corner of my life, every hidden nook and cranny, before I knew it, it had become everything. Everything in my life was tainted by MS. I let it happen, sure, but I think we all find ourselves there sometime when the lows get really low, lower than you thought they could go.

Your ever shrinking list of goals gets smaller and smaller. At one point, my only goal was pretty simple. REMAIN EMPLOYED. All efforts were focused on that goal because it is the foundation of everything else in my newly complicated life. My first goal was to function with limited travel (my HQ is in Atlanta, my job often requires in person meetings with clients not in Pittsburgh). I told myself it was no big deal and I could make things happen from my office in Pittsburgh no matter what it took. Then that stopped working – my new office created new problems. I had to cross the street (harder than one would think while dizzy). I had to get myself to the office but then once I was there I was good for nothing because I was so exhausted by the time I arrived, it felt sometimes like my brain stopped working (to say nothing of my body). That isn’t good. I get paid for my brain. I had to think of another plan. Again.

I decided to do my best to keep things moving, rolling and functioning but I would try to do that from my home office instead of my actual office. My body didn’t work so well but my brain still does! I could do what I do without putting my life at risk crossing the damn street. The only way this would work is for me to make 150% more effort to make sure I stay involved, relevant, impactful and useful. I had to build relationships over the phone – not as easy as actual face-to-face interaction. I had to support behind the scenes (direct, tweak, re-focus, support) to enable others to do what I couldn’t do. It works, it really works, but holy crap is it tiring. By the time I got to the extensive holiday time off I had planned (a little over two weeks off) I was depleted. I looked back at the last six months and felt very demoralized.

This didn’t leave much time for joy. I couldn’t remember what made me happy. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt actual happiness. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I thought surely, this too, is normal and I just need to ride it out until happiness comes back some day! But maybe that wasn’t right. Maybe they were right.

“They” were two people, primarily, that I interacted with over holiday break.

The first was a woman on the internet. She read my Christmas blog and took the time to comment on the post. Her approach was new to me – I haven’t gotten much negative push back on my writing so far, mainly because I think I attract like-minded MS’ers. I try to find people who aren’t motivated by what I call the “sunshine and roses” blogs – “the MS-doesn’t-have-me” crowd. I know that whole thing works wonders for many people, but I think it’s obvious that this disease took me to some places where thinking on the bright side became impossible.

The woman commented on my blog and said (I’m paraphrasing here) that my real problem was that I always think negatively and I feel sorry for myself. She told me, with all good intentions I believe, to always remember that there is someone out there who has it worse than me. Huh. OK. I thought on that a minute or two, debating a few snappy come backs, and eventually decided to leave it be. Her intentions were good. I knew that. This is the price I pay for putting so much of my emotional baggage out there for the world to read! I let it go.

But it nagged at me. I wanted to explain to her that I knew what she said was probably true, and yet focusing on people much worse off than myself as a means to make myself feel more positive didn’t really work for me. It gives me no joy to think about how bad other people have it. In fact, it makes me even more sad. I want to fix things for all of those people. I want to make them better. And I can’t. So it’s just not that easy for me. Not yet anyway.

Later in the week, another interaction, this time a positive one, got me thinking about my approach to my lost joy again.

We had a post-Christmas get together with some dear, dear family friends. My mother’s friend Norma from childhood has two daughters and a son who have been part of my life for literally my entire life. As we got older we got closer and our moms remain dear friends to this day. We have an annual holiday get together that we call MMDDSS (or “mother mother daughter daughter sister sister) usually hosted at one of our homes, usually involving much laughter and a most excellent white elephant gift exchange. You may remember it as the night I stayed out past midnight! Of course I had to post that accomplishment on Facebook based on it’s sheer remarkable wonder.

My sister is a fan of tradition. She has always been the one that holds all of our family traditions together to the point where I jokingly refer to her as Tevya (Fiddler on the Roof? Anyone?). This year at MMDDSS, my sister wanted to start a new tradition. The thing is, we’ve all had some pretty shitty things go down in our lives this year. Our mothers both lost their husbands. We’ve all had relationship challenges, health challenges, challenges on challenges you could say and we all felt kind of over 2017.

My sister’s new tradition idea was inspired by the notion of people using sage to rid their environments and their lives of bad juju. Saging, or smudging, is a way to remove negative energy from your space and essentially your life. My sister’s plan was that each of us would write down the things that sucked about our 2017 on a sheet of paper. We would sprinkle our sheets with sage, fold them up and toss them in the raging fire in my sister’s living room. By doing this, we would ensure more positive energy for 2018.

I loved the idea but it stumped me too. My struggle was showing on my face…My mom’s friend looked at me and said, “You could probably write just two letters on your sheet to cover a whole lot of things, right?” And she was right. I was stumped because throwing my saged sheet into the fire couldn’t really change a goddamn thing about me having MS. I got a little twisted up trying to generate some actual positive thinking but I wrote my list and I sprinkled my list like everyone else. Actually, we sprinkled our lists with oregano since my sister didn’t have any sage, but as Italians we talked ourselves into the idea that oregano is probably good enough to erase our negative Italian juju. So oregano it would be!

I had a great night that night. Not physically. I felt like crap physically and I was worried I’d put a downer on the entire gathering by having to bust out early or sitting in a corner scowling like I usually do at holiday parties. But I did neither. I rode the wave of the laughter surrounded by people I love and I had a really good time. I felt happy. I thought I was just playing along, throwing my list into the fire, but it worked. I found myself vowing to try harder to feel happy more often. I vowed to try harder. I might not be able to rid my life of negative energy with a bit of oregano on a list thrown in the fire but I could try to change the way I think.

I’ve tried a couple of things to make it happen, some of them (photo above) are presents to me. Little things that make my life easier or that give me some kind of small happiness – whether big or small. I procured myself a little pile of happiness in the mail (presents for me! hooray!) and I remembered what it was that I used to love about my quiet, rather solitary life…

First, a new pillow. I am physically not able to resist advertising for the perfect pillow. I’ve tried them all. I’ve bought them, slept on them and subsequently stacked them in a closet when I eventually hated them. And yet, I still succumb to the idea of the perfect pillow that will lead to pain-free sleep.

This time, I bought myself a Talalay pillow. I would make 2018 the year of comfort, just like the ad said! You might think that I would be immune to outrageous claims in ads, what with being an advertising professional myself, but you would be wrong. I am the ideal target for these kinds of claims. I cannot resist them. The pile of supposed perfect pillows in my linen closet are proof of that! Talalay was going to be my ticket to a year of comfort delivered directly to my front porch.

Next…I might not dress fancy or work very hard on my “look” like I used to with glamorous makeup and high-effort fashion but I love to smell good. Smells make me happy. One in particular is as close to perfect to me as a smell can get. A small whiff makes me feel happy. People ask me all of the time what scent I’m wearing. Sometimes, in elevators, people tell me I smell like cookies. I mean, this might mean I use way too much perfume on the one hand but on the other hand, who doesn’t want to smell like cookies? Exactly.

Vanilla-based perfumes make me happy. I scour the web to find the best of the best. I use perfume every day – even when I don’t leave the house. It’s not for anyone else. It just makes me happy. I got myself two new ones to try, pictured above, at my favorite perfumery Lucky Scent. They sent me a bunch of little new vanilla perfume samples in the box, too, so it’s like a double dose of happy.

My next love to come in a box was from Barnes & Noble. You guys know I’m a huge reader. When I was dizzy all of the time late in 2017, watching TV made me nauseous. I was stuck in the house. A lot. But TV and computer work made my head swim so I dove into books even heavier than usual. In 2016, when I started to spend a lot more time at home after diagnosis, I challenged myself to see how many books I could read in a year. I read 30 books that year.

My goal in 2017 was to beat that total and with the health year I’ve had, it was pretty easy. I read a LOT. My grand total for 2017 was 35 books. I’m looking to beat that again in 2018. Since I’m a lover of actual books, a new stack like this gives me actual joy. Reading can go back to making me happy now, if I let it. It’s not going to be that thing I do because I can’t do anything else…it’s gonna be the thing I do because I freaking love to read. Thinking = changed. Boom.

The little item in the front, the magnetic mirror tag for my handicapped car placard was inspired by my friend Kara’s post on one of the MS Facebook pages I follow. I’m always worrying about ripping my placard. It’s crazy! I know. I pull it off and put it on a bunch of times in a day and it gives me actual anxiety. I can’t stop thinking about what I would have to do to get a new one should mine get destroyed. Yeah. This is a good example of my over-active brain over-thinking every little thing about every single action in every single day. A magnetic, plastic handi-capped placard holder? Why, yes, yes I will thank you. One less anxiety in my life for a mere $11.95!  It totally counts. Not all joys are big joys. They still count.

Next, there is my begrudging acceptance of the Ugg boot. The poster-shoe of basic bitches everywhere (those pumpkin spice latte loving, velour sweat pants with a word across the ass wearing girls with bouncy pony tails in colorful scrunchies and big hoop earrings). The Ugg short boot, is an eternal and likely permanent force in my life. I have denigrated the Ugg boot every time I wear them. They’re so…ugly. They’re so…NOT fashiony. They are so…for people who’ve given up on life and don’t care enough about their footwear, thinks Old Me. (I also love sweat pants and hoop earrings so I’m a total hypocrite, too.)

Guess what? Uggs are horrid but they are also comfortable, flat, furry and freaking warm as hell during a bomb cyclone. My black Uggs have seen better days so I got myself a new pair. I still don’t have a slogan across my ass, but I wear the crap out of my Uggs so I got myself a pair with bows on them. Bows make me happy! Even if nobody ever sees them. I see them.

I know you can’t buy happiness. I know that joy cannot come in a box. What this is really about is me giving myself permission to stop being so judgemental about what and how I should be living my life. I’m going to try and stop beating the joy out of every aspect of my existence.

I will smell good. Be comfortable. Read many books and protect my placard. It’s not much. But it’s a start.

P.S. I didn’t love the damn pillow. My eternal quest for the perfect pillow goes on! I will not be thwarted.

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.

MS Life is Chock Full ‘o Irony

You probably already knew that. MS is a mean, relentless, ironic disease. It’s actually one of my most obvious observations since this whole wacky ride began almost two years ago this month. Well, two years ago in December anyway but close enough.

The things I’ve hated on about myself or thought were critical to my state of mind are the things aggravated most by my multiple sclerosis. So in essence, MS is working to make my worst fears actual realities. Here is but one of many examples…

My looks have always been way too important to me. I took vanity to some dizzying heights in my twenties and thirties. Hell, even into my forties, who am I kidding? It was the thing I always clung to as necessary for my happiness and sense of well being.  As a result, the second I’d been wronged or jilted in some way or when things happened to me in life that presented unpleasant challenges, I would immediately focus all of my energy on hating the way I looked. It’s my standard stress reaction, according to my Precious, Cheryl my therapist. Cheryl is rarely wrong. Because this reaction of mine is pretty much guaranteed. Something stresses me out? Something hurts me? Obviously, it’s because of all of my flaws.

There’s quite a few of those pesky perceived flaws. I’m not pretty enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not stylish or cool enough, I’m not the kind of girl guys like, I have major hideous physical flaws. I catch glimpses of myself in any reflective surface and see what I believe is a real-life monster. I believe this to be actual truth (though Cheryl often reminds me that I have “broken eyes” that see things that aren’t really there when I’m stressed out…whatever, that’s just crazy).

In circumstances like this when I’m in that reliable downward spiral, when I become the monster-girl, there is one perceived hideous monstrous flaw that bothers me a LOT. It is the area of my upper back that I affectionately refer to as my hump.  It’s part of an entire upper-body focused twisted obsession wherein I’ve convinced myself that my neck is too thick, my posture is terrible and as such I’ve developed a roundness in my upper back akin to good old Quasimodo.

I refer to my hump often. My hump really ruins any dream I’ve ever had of being perceived as graceful. It’s round bumpy humpy-ness utterly ruins my profile. I loathe my hump. It haunts me.

Lately, since my relapse from hell I’ve developed some odd symptoms. I’ve been having a severe, burning pain in my hump which has never been attractive but had yet to have actual feeling associated with it. Now it burns like hellfire that requires me to ice it for any kind of relief. Pain relievers have zero effect on my burning hump.

The next weird thing I’ve been experiencing is an overwhelming thirst. Like, ten days in a desert without water thirst. I’m woken up in the middle of the night nearly every night with a mouth and throat so dry I can barely swallow. I’ve been drinking a lot more than a gallon of water a day. I’ve had to increase my 5 gallon bottled water delivery from 4 per month, to 5 per month and most recently I’m up to six 5 gallon bottles in a MONTH. That’s just insane. I live alone!

And finally, I have noticed a very strange, uh, re-organization of where I carry weight. I’ve never bothered much about my belly because comparatively speaking, it wasn’t anything to really worry about. Now I have a gut. I have a round ass face and a thick neck. My skin is weirdly dry. Try not to be jealous. I know it’s hard.

I was worried I might have developed some kind of serious condition like diabetes or thyroid disease (or worse). Isn’t one disease at a time enough?

My primary care doctor, Dr. Mackey, ordered a bunch of blood work for me so we could figure out what was going on before I saw her today for my annual visit. We talked about my hump pain, my amazing thirst, my roundness in unwanted places…and then we discovered something even more mysterious. My blood results were amazing. No blood sugar issues, lowest A1C in my life, thyroid levels normal. Normal. Normal. Normal.

And yet…searing pain in my hump, debilitating thirst, dry skin and all the rest. Even Dr. Mackey (kind woman that she is) said, “You do seem to have developed a roundness at your upper back that concerns me.”  A roundness?!?! She was medically acknowledging my biggest fear.

MY HUMP IS REAL! It’s not imaginary and it has been getting worse and guess why? Come on, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now…It’s likely to be due to something called Cushing’s Syndrome that is sometimes caused by long term use of high-dose steroids. You know long-term like over the last six months of my life. I’ve been on steroids 5, maybe 6 times? That includes my IV Solumedrol in the hospital that time. I get a small hit of Solumedrol with each of my Ocrevus infusions.

“Will it go away?” I asked her, feeling utterly desperate. “How do we get it to go away? Or make it stop growing?!?!?” I think Dr. Mackey could hear the desperation in my voice. I mean, I’m less than subtle as a general rule.

And then she said, “Well. You can avoid being on high dose steroids as often as you have this year but that’s kind of impossible seeing as your MS has been so incredibly active in the past 6-8 months.”

Um. Ok. That little piece of information is a giant chunk of suck. I can’t avoid steroids! Unless I somehow miraculously stop relapsing every few months, I have a future chock full o’ steroids. Unless the new goo suddenly kicks in and I suddenly start feeling like a real girl again (as if that’s likely to happen).

F.M.L.

MS, it turns out, is trying to ruing everything about me. My physicality, my appearance, my general ability to do basic tasks – and now, NOW, it’s going to mean I’ll likely be in constant adrenal suppression that will make my hump even humpier than it already is. Just when I was trying a new era, one where I try harder to  love-my-broken-body! Goddamit. I want to be nicer to my body, I want to stop resenting it so actively but damn if it isn’t really hard to love your damn hump. Humps are inherently unlovable. Trust me on this.

I’ve read that Cushing’s Syndrome is reversible. According to the Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation, “This process of weaning and wakening of the adrenal axis may take up to a year, and should be monitored by an endocrinologist or physician who has ample clinical experience with the process.”

Another specialist? Another “process.” When I see that word anymore I shudder. I’m not asking for a whole lot of instant gratification, people! Just a teeny, tiny twinge. Why isn’t there some speedy method of hump reduction? Is there ANY JUSTICE IN THE WORLD AT ALL?!?!?

So me and my burning hump will be trying to figure out how to wake up our adrenal axis (whatever the hell that is). Until such time that “process” is completed, prepare to listen to me complain about my damn firey upper back “roundness.”

Dr. Mackey is such an amazingly nice woman, but I cannot deny that I wanted to punch her in the throat when she used that word.

Maybe MS is trying to cure me, finally, of fatal vanity. Maybe MS is trying to help me re-focus on more lofty things like trying to feel good instead of trying to look good. Maybe it’s trying to force me to accept that it’s always been what’s inside that counts (even though I thought that was actually a thing people would say to unattractive girls when they felt sorry for them).

I’ve made a vow, a solemn vow, to try and love my hump (and all of the other objectionable things about this body these days). I don’t know if I’m up to this challenge.

But it’s either that or waking up my adrenal axis and that sounds kind of intimidating. I’m sure it involves a lot of kale.

Post Script:

Here are some good things that happened today to me and my hump…

– I went to the doctor AND to my office today, meaning I walked more steps today than I’ve been able to walk in a while and also remain upright. (1,701 to be exact…I’ve made it clear before that my expectations are really not that high.)

– I ate a giant healthy salad for lunch AND butternut squash soup. I’m so healthy! I also walked to get said salad and soup all by myself. Not very far, but still. It counts. I didn’t need a walking companion.

– I made some serious progress on experiencing life on the outside today, more than I’ve been able to accomplish in a good while. I guess that’s progress.

 

 

I finally had a massage

That one time a miracle occurred and I got a shot of all four felines in one frame. There from the top are Ivan (14), Owen (12), Fred (14) and Roger (9). My furry matching menagerie.

(READER NOTE: If you are a cat lover, or any kind of animal lover for that matter, this might be a post you want to skip. I’m serious. I can’t bear to think I’ve shared something that would upset anyone reading. Come back next time. Seriously. I won’t be hurt. I wish I didn’t have to write this one. I felt like I had to. Also, to be clear, all four of my beloved felines pictured above are all very much still with us. Happy as little clams. I promise.)

I had a massage yesterday. A very long over due massage.

I’ve been having some super irritating pain in my neck and back. I’m not MS-savvy enough to know if this is disease related or something else related. I’ve been seeing my massage therapist Michael, for over 18 years. I found him when I moved into my neighborhood at a salon very close to my house. He has become a friend and not just my massage guy. He has an awesome wife that I also really like a lot. I am usually an every other week massage customer so he might technically be my longest regular relationship with a male person. (It totally counts!)

But, I haven’t seen Michael since before the relapse in late July. That’s way too long. My back and neck (the area I affectionately refer to as my hump) has been throbbing with pain for weeks now. Of course I have no idea if it’s MS-related pain, or some other pain related to any one of a million different things. Even after the massage I was sore all night and into this morning. Tonight it’s a bit better. It doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it did yesterday but it’s still pretty sore.

I shared my slew of great news while laying face down on the massage table for optimal back and neck access. My news sounded a bit like this…Relapse, hospital, being home bound, more steroids, more steroids again, dead father, funeral, aftermath, finally getting back on my feet, kind of, the end. A veritable slew of fantastic news that I am growing weary of telling. I’m just going to make something cheerier up for the next time I see someone I haven’t seen in a while.

Then Michael showed me a picture of his new kitten Javier.  We always talk about our cats when I visit. Michael has two cats. Max is 0nly 6 years old. I stupidly asked how he was managing with three cats now. He said, “Well, that’s kind of a terrible story.” And I said, “After my litany of terrible news, how bad could it be?” I mean, I’m a realist. I had to know. I think about how I will handle the death of one of my cats all of the time! It’s morbid. And impossible to stop doing. Turns out that was a stupid thing to say. I was thinking to myself, “You need to hear this. You have a house full of old cats. You have to be prepared. It’s inevitable.”

So Michael told me what happened to Max.

Michael woke up one morning and heard his two cats running around the apartment, chasing each other and playing. That wasn’t unusual at all. He laid in bed listening. Then he heard a very strange hissing. He said it surprised him because his cats never hiss at each other. So he got up to look. His cat Max was laying on the floor panting with his tongue laying out the side of his mouth. Something was obviously very wrong. He started making growling and mewing noises as he tried to get to his feet but his entire back end couldn’t get off the ground. He was attempting to drag himself around, moaning and dragging his legs behind him on his belly, propelling himself forward with his front paws. Michael said it was a horrifying sight and the sounds were terrifying.

Our collective vet is literally three minutes from Michael’s apartment (also close to my house). He saw that it was near 8AM and he decided to get to the vet the second they opened so that he could decide if he could make it out to the emergency vet hospital, that is at least 30 minutes away from where we both live. He somehow got Max into a carrier, Max screaming the the entire time. He was biting at the metal bars on the carrier, making his teeth and gums bleed. Michael said he’d never heard those kinds of noises coming from a cat and he was freaked out. He’s a cat person. He’s had many cats. For him to be shaken like that it had to be pretty awful.

When Michael got inside the vet office, the receptionist told him there was no vet there until 8:30AM. The sounds coming from the carrier were getting worse, as was the blood coming out of Max’s mouth from trying to bite on the metal bars of the carrier. Michael opened the door to attempt to comfort Max. But there was nothing he could do to make the wailing and panting slow down. While his hand was in the cage attempting to comfort this poor cat, Max clamped down full force on Michael’s hand and bit his thumb hard. Now, Michael is bleeding too, all over the vet and all over the floor. Thank god he was called back to the examine room more quickly than he thought (thank heavens for early risers).

The vet tech saw what was going on and brought Max to the back immediately to be looked at. Michael just sat in the little exam room all by himself, feeling sick from both the blood and pain from his hand and the condition his cat was in. The vet tech had given him a cloth to hold on his bleeding hand to stop the blood.

The vet came into the exam room. Thank god it was the woman vet we both tend to like most. She explained that Max likely had a pulmonary embolism. He was paralyzed from his waist down and in a great deal of pain. There was only one thing to do. She asked if Michael wanted her to bring Max into the exam room for the injection. He, of course, said please, yes.

She walked back through the door in the exam room to the back of the facility where the procedures happen and was back in the exam room within less than a minute. She said she couldn’t bring Max in. He couldn’t be moved without causing him excruciating pain. She would have to bring him to the exam room once he was gone. By that time, Michael’s wife Mary was there with him. They both sat looking at poor Max wrapped in a soft blanket on the cold steel exam room table, finally quiet. Hearts broken.

I was on the massage table face down as he told me this story and I could feel myself getting anxious. What would I do? How could I ever handle such an event? How could I manage to do all of that if one of my very large cats is ever in such a situation? Would I even be able to manage it? Who would I call? I would probably call my friend Sandy but she’s not at my service at the drop of a hat. Nobody would be or should be. I might call Alex, my nephew who is my go-to helper…I honestly don’t know what I would do. It was making me sick just thinking about it. I was grateful to be face down. I don’t know what my face was doing with all of this running through my head watching tears dropping to the floor from the center of the head rest.

All I could think about all the rest of the day and into that night as I lay in bed still thinking about it incessantly, was what would I do in a similar situation? I tried to send a wish out to the universe to allow my kitties to go quietly in their sleep, when they have to go. Let me just come upon them once it’s over. Let me not have a dramatic final panic (like Michael went through) that I’m not sure I could even begin to handle. Michael is a strong guy – physically and otherwise. He’s not broken. Like me.

I can’t get it out of my head. I thought if I wrote it down it might help. It usually helps. It’s not helping as much as I’d hoped it would. But I had to try. I often feel lately like I have the world’s shittiest luck. You’ve probably read those exact words in previous posts. It’s a problem I have. The thing is, that’s so selfish and ungrateful of me. I have so many things to be grateful for even now. So many things have gone my way in this life that I should never have one day where I am not brimming over with unmitigated gratitude.

I feel like this disease changed everything almost instantly. Now, I’m the “only-bad-things-girl” and it scares the shit out of me. Why would the deaths of my cats be anything but horrific? That’s usually what I get these days. I have this certainty that I can’t shake. Only bad things. Only bad things. Only bad things. That’s not true, is it? It can’t be true.

That’s some major catastrophic thinking right there. I can hear Cheryl, my therapist, in my head and I know she’s right (even virtual Cheryl is usually pretty right on).

I need to shake it. Believe in something good. Believe in good outcomes and you will get good outcomes. It’s so freaking hard after nearly two years of my health going pretty steadily down hill before my very eyes. It’s really, really hard. How can I find my own faith in good things? How can I start believing that good things will start happening to me once more, if I can just get through this part. This shitty part. I need to make a plan. I need to figure out how.

Actually, I’ve done something entirely different. I’ve decided to try not to think about it at all.

Ha! How mature of me. My “plan” consists of this: Deal with that horrifying thing when that horrifying thing happens. Stop anticipating horrible things happening. Start believing that good things will. That’s usually my only and best option. Sounds easy.

It’s not.

(Sincere apologies to all of my cat loving readers…I know this one was painful to read. I wish almost wish I hadn’t written it. But I had to get it out of my head. I hope you will forgive me.)

My expensive Internet slippers tried to kill me

Um…I’m a tad bit bruised around the nose area you might say.

It’s been a good long time since I took a good tumble.

I haven’t bragged about it much. Especially whilst suffering from the dizzies and woozies during this last relapse because it felt a little like tempting fate. I’m brave. I tempt fate a lot. But I hate to fall, so call me conservative on tempting the falling god, I wasn’t gonna brag about it. I’m sure wherever she is, God of Dramatic Falls would love to look down upon me and smite me something good.

And lo! So it was that I was visited by the God of Dramatic Falls earlier in the week, in front of not one, but three guests (one was a baby and she barely noticed, bless her heart). Since one of those guests was my mother, this was not the most convenient time to have such a dramatic battle with gravity as I think I nearly gave her a heart attack from the panic.

The thing is, it wasn’t entirely because of my MS that I took this expertly choreographed nose dive into pointy corner of the wooden post that supports my stairs and railing. It was only partially because of my MS but mostly it was because of my formerly favorite slippers.

You may have heard of them. They are advertised all over the internets just waiting for suckers like me to spend much too much money on a pair of slippers. I mean, why buy regular old cheap slippers when you can spend way too much on these! They’re called Mahabis.

What lured me in to buying Mahabis (not once, but twice I might add) was this awesome rubber bottom that attached to the wool slipper with a nifty little snap at the back of the slipper essentially making these slippers indoor/outdoor friendly.

I wear them a lot when I’m home since many slippers are deadly to me because they are too slippery on my mostly hardwood floors so I liked the rubber sole option. Also, as you might be aware, I spend a lot of time in lounge wear. It’s kind of nice to be able to run out to, say, the pharmacy, the grocery store, to the trash bins outside – or even to a restaurant for early-bird special sushi dinner (hypothetically).

I actually did this just a few short days ago.

I went out in my lounge wear, covered in cat hair, sporting epic bed head and wearing my snazzy indoor/outdoor slippers. The sushi was wonderful. My dinner companion unfazed by my obvious lack of cleanliness. My psyche only slightly damaged by being in public among the people after actual dark. I mean, it was 7PM when we left the restaurant but to me it felt like midnight. The miracle slippers look like this and they come to your house in a fancy box:

The slippers of death.

But I digress. Back to the story at hand…

I was picking up a dish that I had set out with some cakes for my guest to nibble with her tea while she sat on my couch feeding tiny adorable little baby Stella. I wanted to get the dish out of her way and carry it into the kitchen. Easy, right? Sure. Definitely. No biggie. My mom was in a chair across the room chatting with my friend about her formula that she has shipped in from Germany and how different it was back when my mom had her babies etc etc. In other words, she was distracted or she would have never allowed me to attempt to clean up the table all by myself.

I had the dish of cakes in one hand, absolutely nothing in the other and began to walk toward my kitchen completely unaware that the tiny snap that holds the rubber bottom to the top of the slipper had come unsnapped. The rubber bottom was unattached from the top of the slipper like a giant floppy tongue. It caught on the area rug runner I have going from the front door toward the kitchen and sent me and my dish of cakes flying forward.

As I was going down, because as I explained earlier my damn foot was stuck (flappy rubber bottom thingy was stuck between my slipper top and the rug), I was thinking omg, omg, omg, omg, no, no, no, no, not now, not here, NOT in front of my mother (she’ll never stop worrying about me now)…When BOOM. My face hit the corner of the wooden post of my stair railing, the dish went flying and the cakes spewed every which way.

Falling is both horrible and terrifying. It also feels like it’s not actually happening because in your mind, you had absolutely zero intention of doing the worm on your belly like you were attending a super crazy frat party. But somehow you are now lying face down in your living room on the hard wood floor absolutely stunned.

My first reaction was to feel my nose to see if I’d broken it because I hit that point on the wooden post face first and I hit it hard. To be honest, it hurt like I broke it but there was no blood which seemed like a good sign to me. It was throbbing, however, and that felt like a very bad sign. It felt bigger than usual on one side.

Whilst I was falling to the floor in a violent, messy, manner my mother jumped up from her chair and practically sprinted across the living room toward where I lay, to see if I’d survived. All I can say is thank the goddess that she wasn’t holding that 6-week old baby at the time because she just may have tossed her in the air in her frantic adrenaline powered panic to get across the room to me, still on the floor face down.

Falling is also surreal. When you sit yourself up you are in utter amazement, astonished that your body just did what your body just did. It just feels so wrong! As if things like that shouldn’t be possible in a decent world. I was dazed and in pain looking at cake strewn all over the floor and assuming shards of plate scattered over the hardwood floor. My mom had my face in her hands as she examined me to make sure I was actually and truly OK. I looked a little forward and saw the plate the cakes were on sitting under the leg of a small stool, unbroken. I gestured for my mom to get it before we pushed down on the stool and shattered it into a million pieces. I remember thinking…how the hell did the plate get UNDER the leg of that stool without getting broken? It didn’t seem possible in a sensible universe but this universe I live in is anything but sensible, so OK sure, I’ll accept the unbroken plate as a good outcome of an unpleasant, unplanned bit of acrobatics.

I did try to get up to get the plate myself, but my mother firmly told me to sit the hell down and stay still. She had already picked up the cakes, got my cordless vacuum from the kitchen and was cleaning the mess. Every time I tried to offer to get up and help, she gave me a look and I immediately stopped trying and sat the hell down. I’ve seen that look many times before over the course of my 50+ years.

It was the same look she has given me all of my life when I knew I was about to experience the full wrath of the powerful force that is the quintessential fully-in-charge-of-the-situation mother who loves you but is not having your crap right now. Whether it was for telling a lie and getting caught (“Tell the truth and shame the devil, Bethie”) or whether it was for taking a loan and not paying it back (“I should have named you crime because you don’t like to pay”) or whether it was for upsetting her in any of a hundred of ways…I got the look. I stopped. Did as I was told. The end. It was that same look she gave me each time I tried to get up.

I should emphasize the “trying” part of that sentence. That’s where the MS thing comes in. I was shaking, my legs no longer operational, my body aflame in pain pretty much all over. I had to crawl to the carpeted steps on my hands and knees (attractive) to get a good hold in order to hoist myself up. All the while, my friend is still feeding her beautiful baby telling me it was no big deal, don’t be embarrassed, everyone falls etc etc etc (and me feeling every one of those things was very far from the truth but grateful to her for saying them).

I couldn’t walk completely upright because of searing pain in my lower back. I fell on my face and somehow hurt my back? Even I’m impressed with that feat. My legs shook and felt inoperable as I stood up. My face throbbed. Today, two days post-fall, my nose has reached new levels of purple, it looks to be spreading to my eyes a bit and my shoulders and upper arms are sore like I lifted weights yesterday during a good, long workout. I didn’t do that. Obviously.

So, there you have it. My no-falling streak starts over as of last Friday. I made it almost 18 months on my feet the last time. I’m gonna try for two years this time. You know I like a good challenge. I’ll try to achieve this goal because my body didn’t really need the additional pain that comes with falling, on top of the regular old pain I’m always feeling. Nor did my face need redecoration of this particular sort.

Only 8 more days until Ocrevus infusion number 2. Let’s hope it does some magic and gives this body a little boost.

My body could use a damn break. And I’m not talking about my nose.

When words fail the writer

Rest in peace, Daddy. You did good.

We all get there eventually, I guess. We all get to the point where you are just so blind with anger and frustration that you don’t even have words to describe how angry you really are. I’m a word girl. I’ve been struggling with words.

I think I may have taken the expressway to my current state but as of this middle of October, I am personally ready to put a lid on 2017. I know, I know. I hate to curse myself too, but hell, I’ve made a career of it thus far and still I’m here. So, go on, Universe, give it to me. Pour on a load more misery, a tad more challenge, a little more what the eff. Oh wait. You already have because you’re kind of an asshole.

I remember that now.

I hate feeling sorry for myself. I like to be the plucky, looking-always-on-the-bright-side kinda girl you all have been getting to know (or for some of you, who have known me for years and years) but at times, more times than I’d like to admit so far in 2017, even I get to the point where I have had enough. I have had enough.

This disease is a bitch. She lets you get all positive for like 20 minutes then you find yourself calling a friend for an escort to the office from the parking garage just across the street because you get dizzy when you actually try crossing the street (looking both ways…easier said than done for me at present).

You think your relapse has come to an end…but shit keeps going awry and life keeps happening (and eventually death happens too) and whoa. Is it possibly the truest statement ever made by some very wise and sage and learned medical professional that stress can magnify the symptoms of multiple sclerosis? Why, yes. Yes, it is. Stress is the devil.

I laugh in the face of stress! Or, I should say, I used to. Now I am stress’s bitch. Stress turned my legs into tree trunks, my body into a throbbing ball of intense pain, trembling like a rubber band stretched a little too tightly, ready to snap…and on top of that, drugs designed to keep me awake actually made me manic. Manic. At the funeral home where your beloved father is laying at rest in an open casket. Super appropriate. Thanks Provigil. You kept me from falling over but you also made me into a fast-talking, loud-talking, super-energetic ball of obnoxious at my own father’s viewing. Probably not the tone one should have going into such a horrible, sad event.

By the end of the night (it lasted five hours…just five hours where I was mostly able to sit) my entire body was shaking. I fidgeted around up and down, down and up, changing positions in my chair just trying to hide the pain I was in, weird smile plastered on my face. Once it was over and the people were gone, I couldn’t hide my shaking hands and my trembling legs. I barely made it to my car. I knew what was coming.

On top of being incredibly sad, after saying good bye to her husband of 56 years, now my mother would be worried about me on top of it. I thought I could hide it better. I was wrong. I used to be able to fake just about anything! Now I can’t. I had to arrange for help when I finally got home getting to my house from my own driveway (much less than the dreaded 100 feet) because there was nothing to hold on to between my car and my house and I didn’t think I’d make it. I’m very lucky that I have people in my life who come running when I call for emergency help. Who are willing to hug me for a while as I sit in my kitchen and sob, like a crazy person, not because my father was gone but because I couldn’t even not think about MS long enough to realize that my father was gone.

MS is always and will always be hanging around my neck like a fucking anchor, waiting to drag me down to the bottom where I probably won’t be able to get back up once I’m there. Even when everyone tells me it will get better! Stay positive! It won’t be like this forever…I hear the little voice inside of my head saying, “Um…but what if it is? What if it just keeps getting worse?” I see that happening out there too, folks, and this isn’t looking good from where I’m sitting (un-showered) trying to blend into the scenery so nobody notices. What if this is as good as it gets?

The next morning after the viewing, my mother had already texted me before I woke up around 9AM. Mass was at 11AM, the latest our church would allow for a Saturday funeral, and my mother texted that she wanted to talk to me and please call immediately when I woke up. I knew what was coming. She wanted me to know that she didn’t want me to go to the funeral. She said, “You’ve already done what you could do for Daddy, Bethie, and you can’t do any more. That was too much for you last night and nobody would judge you for not coming least of all me. Please go back to bed. Rest. Come to lunch later if you’re feeling up to it, but get your rest now.”

I try to do the right thing, generally speaking. I knew it was going to stress her out if she saw me struggling to walk into the church. I told her I’d gotten a ton of sleep the night before (I didn’t…thanks Provigil) and I was feeling much better. I told her I couldn’t bear to not attend my own father’s funeral. I asked her if she would be OK if I came because I really wanted to go. I didn’t tell her this part though. I didn’t tell her how fucking sick and tired I am of always being someone to worry about! I’m tired of wanting to help, but adding to the stress of others because they clearly know I can’t help (anymore). I’m the help-ee not the help-er and I fucking hate it. Also, if I ever used that kind of language with my mother she would beat my ass and wash my entire mouth out with soap several times, so please don’t tell her I have the language of a truck driver because it’s only getting worse the longer I have this cursed disease.

I didn’t do the right thing this time and it was selfish.

I got to the church uber early so nobody would see me walking in. I got myself into the first row of pews and sat down and tried to look calm and serene. When my family got there, we hugged, we held hands and we went through a ritual none of us are really all that into anymore but our father was a long-time singer in the church choir and would have had it no other way. We all realized at different times how much we missed hearing him on his “parts” of particular songs. We all had our own memories of Daddy singing in church. For me, it was when he sang the Ave Maria at my wedding. For my sister and brother, it was probably something completely different but our Dad loved to sing and he sang like an angel.

The bottom line is, I’m still recovering from that funeral. Something that should not be about me and how I feel, was about me and how I felt because I have this godforsaken disease that makes me needy. I cannot be a helper very often, or at all. If I was a good daughter I would have stayed home and slept more. I decided to be defiant and try anyway. I have allowed this disease to take so many things away from me. It’s been like watching tiny parts of myself erode so subtly that sometimes I don’t even realize that part is gone until weeks or even months have gone by since I last noticed it wasn’t there. I am always trying to get to know who I am now, because it just keeps changing. Little by little. I don’t even recognize myself most of the time. I couldn’t allow this stupid, infuriating disease be more important than my father’s funeral. I needed to be there.

I did my best and I made it through the mass and the after-mass lunch. Then I came home and slept for almost 24 hours. I expected that. It’s the “MS-tax” or so they call it, and I was prepared to pay it. What I wasn’t prepared for was waking up dizzy again. Or throwing up a bit more. Or being thrown back into drunk walking like I’d been doing during my relapse.

That whole scene I described above where I had to call the world’s best friend to be not only my friend but my human walking assistive device, happened the Tuesday after the funeral was over. I’d used my official “bereavement” time off and I felt the need to show my face in the office. I knew when I woke up throwing up that it was probably not the best idea. Goddammit I had showered the day before and I was clean and I would not waste a clean day at home! I drugged up, dressed myself and pushed myself out the door.

That was also NOT the right thing to do. I should have done my afternoon of telephone meetings from home instead of sitting in my office with the door closed where I wouldn’t be seeing or interacting with anyone there anyway. Ever since that Tuesday, I find myself in bed by 6:30PM at the earliest, 8PM at the latest. I’m still super shaky. It’s still too much effort to stay straight. I’m still wobbly and dizzy and sometimes I get sick too (not so much, though, I think that part might be over now). It’s not as bad as it was during peak relapse, not even close, but it’s not good. It’s like relapse-light? Is that a thing?

I’m sure it is. I’m sure this is all very typical and nothing to be alarmed about and not the way things will be forever. Or is it? The bottom line is that I can’t count on being able to fake my way through the hard things anymore. It might not always be this bad, but it will always be just bad enough to be a factor that I need to actively consider. I can never plan to go anywhere, not even to my own father’s funeral, without thinking of my MS and how I am going to deal with that on that particular day. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of being so high maintenance and needy. I’m tired of having multiple sclerosis.

Believe me. I know. It can (and probably will) get worse. I should be grateful. I am grateful in my own ways. I make sure the Universe knows it, but sometimes? Sometimes I’m too angry to be grateful. I’m just so pissed off I could spit. It had been a few weeks of feeling this way, through my father’s final weeks, and I hated every minute of having to think about ME before I thought about HIM or my mother (or my siblings). I’m a burden before I’m officially a burden. And I’m over it.

What my mother said was true. I had done what I could reasonably do for my father before he died. Admittedly, it wasn’t much. I would pop over and see him. Chat a bit. Help him open up the Werther’s hard candies my sister brought for him. He loved those damn candies.

Even when he was struggling to talk or fighting to find the right words or struggling to breathe, when he saw me the first thing he’d say was, “How you doin’ today kid? You ok today?” He was worried about me and how I was doing knowing I had been struggling lately with my MS. And every single time he asked I lied and told him, “I’m doing OK today, Daddy. I’m doing pretty good. I’m going to be just fine.”

Keep Passing the Open Windows

Finally a real top down day.

That’s the best advice I have, after beginning to come out of my very first significant relapse since my MS diagnosis nearly two years ago. Keep passing the open windows. I’ll explain more about that later, but first a few details.

I had two big meetings last week. One you already know about that I got through by the miracle of high dose prednisone. After 1000mg of Vitamin P, you can pretty much do anything.

But I had another big meeting looming the following Wednesday this time a lunch with the CEO of our largest client, someone I consider to be not only an amazing client but a good friend. I was beyond my steroids by almost a week. I know enough by now to know that Vitamin P high only lasts a few days for me, but I hoped with all of my heart the remnants would get me through this next hurdle on an unusually hot September afternoon. I mean really hot. Like 92 degrees record-breaking hot.

It made it. I had a lovely lunch meeting. My client did as I asked and allowed me to walk behind him and not in front as we left the restaurant just in case (I was definitely walking a bit wonky which still makes me feel self-conscious even after all of this time). I made it home, got into bed super early and told myself I would try to make an appearance in the actual office the next day. I was hoping that when I opened my eyes in the morning, the weird wobbliness would finally be gone, even though I wished the same wish every night since July 19 when this whole thing started and it hadn’t really happened yet.

The a-ha moment came as I lie in bed that early evening. I thought to myself, “That’s why this disease sucks so much.” I mean, there are a lot of ways in which having MS sucks but the biggest one is that it can (and does) change from day to day. You try to plan a week, but it’s futile. You think a particularly bad relapse is never going to end, especially when it’s your first. You truly believe with all of your heart that it will only get worse. You hit some pretty low lows. Your house, to which you’ve been confined for over two months now, starts to look shabby to you. You look around at your stuff, your precious comforts and you find them old, worn out and pathetic. You see cracks in walls you never noticed before. You wonder how long you’ll be able to live in this house with all of its stupid steps. You tell yourself it’s probably not very long.

Then you open your eyes some random day and boom. It happens.

You feel different. Not run-a-marathon different but can get out of bed and shower different. You manage to put on clothing and makeup and even actual jewelry. You leave the house feeling mortally afraid, but slightly hopeful that maybe you don’t have to be all that scared all of the time anymore. At least you don’t feel exhausted just by walking to the car. You get to the office and gingerly walk the short distance from the parking garage to the office only slightly terrified by the idea of crossing the street. You have a good day. You go home again and head to bed early (it’s now almost your regular bed time). You think about maybe doing it again the next day. Then you do.

The thing that keeps you off balance (pun intended) is that you never know, literally never will know, how long the good lasts before the bad knocks you on your ass again.

You realize that the days of making plans, any plans at all, are pretty much behind you. You realize that there might be really important things happening on one of those surprise bad days and you will be powerless to do a damn thing about that. You have to listen to your body. You can’t push forward when you haven’t the power to stand. You also realize that you can’t really plan little things either (like laundry, flower planting or social activities) because your ability has been changing hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute for months now.

When it’s over, it’s almost as jarring as it was when the whole relapse thing started!

You’re suspicious of how you feel. You feel good(ish) but are afraid to trust it. You want to feel optimistic and roll with it but what if it goes away before you actually make it to your office in one piece? You can’t trust your own body when it’s fundamentally not trustworthy, when crazy things like the damn weather can turn everything upside down in minutes.

Somehow, one decent day turns into three decent days and before you know it, the weather breaks and it’s almost a week. Is it really over?

Back to the explanation of my headline for this post. One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors is The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. It’s a Dickens-like epic tale about the Berry family and their adventures (mostly maudlin, tragic misadventures) growing up in hotels, following their patriarch Win Berry who is the very embodiment of the word “dreamer.”

According to the New York Times review back in 1981, the major theme of Irving’s book was simple:

”The way the world worked – which was badly – was just a strong incentive to live purposefully, and to be determined about living well.” All the noisy slapstick, then, is Irving’s way of domesticating the malevolent vicissitudes of life.

The book can be read as a tragedy but it has an infectious hope throughout that refuses to let the maudlin, randomness of life ruin the Berry clan. Well. Not all of them anyway.

One of the kids, Lily, is small. She stops growing around 6 years old and never starts again. She is daunted by life as a person so small who feels things so very large. One of her brothers describes the sound of her crying to be the very sound of anguish, pain beyond pain, a gigantic wail that comes from the tiniest of bodies.

The children are told a story about a street clown named the King of Mice, who jumps out a window to his death one day after despair got the best of him. On a box containing his pets that was left behind are the words “Life is serious, but art is fun.”

Win Berry and his brood take the story to heart and remind each other to “keep passing the open windows” when they go through the sad, crazy, painful or unimaginable things that all families go through. They keep passing the open windows. It’s almost a family motto of sorts. Until one day many years later once Lily has grown to be a successful best-selling author, she finds herself in a terrible bout of writer’s block. She feels pressured to live up to her early success. In the end, Lily kills herself by (of course) jumping out a window. Her suicide note reads, “Sorry. Just not big enough.”

I don’t tell you this story to freak you out or to make you think that I’ve ever considered not passing my own open windows throughout life. The thought hadn’t occurred to me ever before. It hasn’t seriously occurred to me even now, but when you’re in the thick of a downward spiral that you’ve never experienced before that seems to have no bottom, you find yourself having some pretty scary thoughts. What if I can’t do this? That might be the scariest one of all.

I think the lesson of this relapse, now that I hope I can firmly say it is in my rear-view mirror, is that you can’t focus on the pain in any day or even any moment – you have to keep passing the open windows. A relapse hits and life is, indeed, suddenly very serious but you have to find the ability – be it from your faith, your loved ones, your optimism or your stubbornness we all have different ways – to know that it will end and you will feel better someday. Maybe not entirely better. Maybe some of the bad sticks around. But maybe it doesn’t too. You just have to have blind faith. There is literally no other option, lest you start to consider not passing the open windows and that’s just not an option for most of us. There has to be good to come. Even if you can’t see it, feel it or even imagine it.

The cool weather is making me very happy for other reasons too. I drive a convertible. Because of my extreme sensitivity to heat and humidity, I hardly ever drop the top in the summer time. Windows up, air conditioner blaring, that’s how I roll when it’s hot. Now that it’s deliciously cool (finally) I put the top down for my errands yesterday. First, I went to lunch with my mom. Took my nephew to Petco for some supplies for his kitties. And then I went to Target to get some essentials that I’d run out of during the long months of dizzy sickness when driving anywhere wasn’t even an option. It wasn’t until I crawled into bed last night that it hit me.

I did ALL of that in one day. For some of you, that probably doesn’t sound like all that much. To me it felt like a goddamn miracle. I know a lot of you understand that all too well. You’re the ones who I came to for encouragement, perspective, words of wisdom or just some much needed laughs. You’d been there before and you were wise to tell me that it wouldn’t always feel this way. I can’t lie. I didn’t really believe you at the time. I thought you were just being nice.

But I do believe now. We all have to keep passing the open windows. I’m going to remember this first relapse, probably first of many, as a concrete reminder that today is what we have. “Life is serious but art is fun!” Thanks to John Irving for helping me remember that.

My next Ocrevus infusion is on November 6. I’m desperately looking forward to it hoping that this is the one that I walk away from beginning to finally feel better for longer. If it’s not, there’s another one after that. And another one after that. And probably new and different drugs and new and different therapies…the point is, assuming that tomorrow will look a lot like today is never a good thing to think whether today was awesome or horrendous.

This relapse reminded me of that. And why I will continue to keep passing the open windows.