I’ve got nothing

So let’s try this thankfulness thing…

Usually my blog posts start as thoughts that I can’t get out of my head. I noodle and I roll them around until I virtually have to sit down and get it out before it drives me insane. Lately, though, my mind has been a bit dark. The truth is, I’ve got very little to say lately about my MS and how it’s generally screwing up my life, continuing to do so well past the deadlines I’ve imposed on myself like so many fake lines in the sand. The deadlines come. Then the deadlines go. Nothing seems to change. And the world keeps turning. Who wants to read about that?

I don’t even want to write about that (even though this blog would indicate otherwise).

I discovered recently at my second full dose infusion of Ocrevus that The Great Scott told my infusion room friend Marci that the magical superhero of DMTs that is supposedly the new goo can often take longer to “take” for those of us over 40. Well. I’m staring down 51 and I’m here to tell you, that shit is true. I actually felt worse after my last  infusion. It seems to be lifting this week but I had a weird bout of Frankenlegs today as I attempted to get myself to my first manicure in…months? I think it’s been months. So, there’s that.

I’m terrible at the gratefulness thing in the middle of this hot mess that my life has become. I chastise myself constantly. I tell myself it could be so much worse. I know this to be a fact and yet it doesn’t help me get all full of hope and light like it should. It just doesn’t. Maybe I’ve sunk a bit too low but the funny thing is, I don’t feel depressed. I feel some kind of weird apathy starting to grow that maybe I just need to stop fighting it so hard and start realizing that this is my life now. It just is! It’s mine and I should learn to love it, not be resigned to it, as I often feel I am.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday (where we celebrate the false story of pilgrims sitting down with the Indians all friendly like when in fact there was a whole lot of pillaging and killing native peoples by the thousands going on), I’ve decided to try harder at being less apathetic.

I like turkey. I like getting together with my family. I’m going to focus on this impending day as a chance to focus on my own little twisted form of gratitude.

Things I am thankful for…MS Edition

1. My amazing family, friends, co-workers, neigbors and various others who help me to actually live some kind of life that includes laughing, love and kindness. Without these various people…I’d be sunk. Thanks for keeping me afloat.

2. Nothing fills me with more gratitude than things being handled and thus no longer something for me to think about. Something for me to do. One example of this is the giant package of toilet paper that my wonderful sister got for me at Sam’s Club recently (even the thought of going to Sam’s Club makes my legs feel funny). She delivered it to my house. Every time I look in the upstairs linen closet I feel an intense sense of calm. Yes, you read that right. Massive amounts of toilet paper represent one tiny thing I do not have to deal with for a very very long time. Toilet paper has given me peace.

3. I’m grateful for my grocery store that delivers. I almost kissed the woman who dropped my bags inside of my door with nary an ounce of effort on my part. She was frightened. She was wise to be frightened.

4. I’m grateful for great health insurance and a great job that allow me to fund this insanely expensive disease. Drugs and doctors costs money, people. MS drugs and specialists cost even more. Thank god I am generally able to deal with that web of crazy as a result of this very important fact – I remain employed in a job I love. That’s huge.

5. I’m incredibly thankful for Cheryl my therapist who is attempting to keep me sane through this whole thing. Sometimes that takes the form of just giving it to me straight, like this past Tuesday when I said, “I’m trying really hard to see the silver lining here.” She replied, “Well, you should stop that because there isn’t one. This sucks. If anyone says it doesn’t I will fight that person.” And I instantly felt peaceful for the first time since toilet paper delivery day.

6. Dana B. my incredible hair girl is a gift in my life. I get an appointment with her, and I immediately feel better. I know that I will feel human again once she does her magic to my short-haired head. She will spin the chair away from the giant full length mirror that the chair sits in front of, when she notices me squirming at the mere thought of having to look at myself in my current condition for even five more minutes. Growing my hair, even a little bit, created a situation where my unwashed bedhead looked exactly like unwashed bedhead. This could not stand. Dana cleans me up and makes everything right again. I have workable bed-head hair again that some people even think is (dare I say it) cool! For that, I am incredibly grateful. Somehow, Dana makes even bedhead look amazing. Also her salon is one of my happy places. She just gets me.

7. I am thankful that I finally found the perfect pair of black leggings (thanks Universal Standard) as well as the perfect slippers that won’t kill me (thanks Glerups…yep that’s a thing). Also, since I spend a lot of time in slippers, I’m grateful for my Halfinger kitty slippers too (also not deadly). I can never have too many non-deadly slippers with kitties on them.

8. I’m grateful for Old Navy for making my favorite fold-over-waist yoga pants for years and years and years. Now that I wear them almost daily, and laundry involves many steps, I was most relieved to make this discovery. While we’re thanking clothing stores a big thank you shout out to American Eagle for my favorite uniform top the “soft and sexy t.” I do feel very soft (but not very sexy) every time I wear one of the 8 or 9 long sleeve black t’s I now proudly own.

9. I’m grateful that people write amazing books that I can read and forget about things for just a little while. I’ve read 32 such books so far this year and there’s still time for more.

10. I’m really grateful for the lovely woman who did my microbladed eyebrows. If not for this talented wizard, I’d be walking around eyebrow-less on days I don’t wear makeup which is most days these days. Nobody wants to be a picture without a frame. Some days, those eyebrows give me actual joy…I am shallow. And vain. This has long ago been firmly established but that was the best money I’ve ever spent.

11. I’m really grateful for all of you, out there, my digital MS family who are sometimes the only reason I don’t lose my ever loving mind on a daily basis. Your guidance, your stories, your advice and life hacks – your mere existence makes me feel less crazy. Someone else out there has pretty much experienced everything I have, often times all at the same time, and survived it. That is the only thing that can make me feel better sometimes. Plus, you guys are funny as hell.

12. I woke up this morning (already a win). I spent the day making yummy things with my mother, my most favorite person in the entire world (and I have a lot of favorites). She never fails to make me laugh. And we move at about the same speed these days though she is much more ballsy than I am. Nothing holds that woman back. I need as much of that in my life as I can get right now.

13. People that love me, enough of pretty much everything (too much of most things), a home I love, a bunch of kitty cats to keep me busy and calm all at the same time…

Ok. As it turn out, I am incredibly grateful for a whole lot of things. My life is awesome. Even with MS. Even with my funky walk, dirty hair and random dramatic falls. I am incredibly fortunate. I will try to remember that more often.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. May tomorrow be a good leg day, a great food day and full of all of the things that you’re grateful for.

This is a happy post about fear

Sounds like an oxymoron, I realize, to write a happy post about fear. That’s why I’m starting with the good news. I survived! Yet, as I continue to slog my way through what can now officially be termed my first major MS relapse, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mental toll this disease takes on a person.

I’ve never been a fearful person. I used to have a borderline unrealistic perception that I could easily handle anything that was tossed my way. I’m sure this comes from my upbringing. The generally happy world I inhabited wherein I was always encouraged, praised and celebrated for just about any little thing. It served me well as I got older. I was never an excellent student, I hated studying and I really disliked hard work (Hi, 20-year-old me? You shoulda tried a little harder).

But even my stunning mediocrity as a student didn’t appear to hold me back all that much. I worked hard (though I hated it), got the internships, got the jobs and I was on my way.

Fear had never been a major factor in my life until the first really bad thing happened to me as an adult, when my very healthy, vibrant and joyful husband died very suddenly when we were both just 30 years old. I was plunged into fear for the first time – and heartbreak, grief, horror and extreme sadness – but it’s the fear I remember feeling first because it was utterly foreign to me.

The things we planned together I would now have to experience alone. The plans we made and big dreams we shared went poof! In a matter of five days where my husband lay unconscious in a sterile Neuro ICU. I remember going home to the house we shared together, our little starter home, and aimlessly walking through the rooms that used to feel so small, almost not big enough for even just the two of us. All of the sudden those rooms seemed enormous.

Maybe it was my youth. Maybe it was pure survival instinct but I put on my ‘I can handle this’ face almost immediately. Oh, I was a hot mess in private, trust this, but I held it together for the outside world. I felt like I had to. There was nothing worse to me at that time than to see the instant looks of sadness, horror and pity that seemed to turn my way the minute I walked into any room. I would always be the tragic girl. I needed to pretend I could handle it. I had to support me now, alone, and I couldn’t fail. I kicked fear to the curb (at least on the outside) and threw myself into my work with a mania I didn’t even know I had in me. I was searching for lost security, a foundation of safety, the means to take care of myself alone, now, because that was what I had.

Since those days, (now almost a shocking 20 years ago), I’ve experienced difficult situations, problems that freaked me out, near disasters and family problems that definitely stretched the limits of my belief in myself, but I never feared I couldn’t handle it, help out or figure out. I’ve always felt capable. I like to fix things. I like to solve problems. I realized somewhere along the way that I had sold myself short in my twenties by allowing myself to believe I wasn’t really all that smart. I finally felt like I could believe it. There was very little I believed I couldn’t do (strictly mentally speaking of course! I would never run marathons or be an elite athlete but hell, I never even wanted to do those things anyway so that was A-OK with me).

More recently, I was reintroduced to Fear with a capital “F” when I got the call about my initial diagnosis of MS. I just sat there looking at my phone thinking…um, what?

What do I even do with this information? If you’ve read any of this blog in the past, you know it wasn’t pretty. I went downhill fairly quickly. My “aggressive” disease resisted treatment. I failed Tysabri. Went through countless rounds of high-dose steroids. Got approved for Ocrevus and had my first full dose in May of this year. Then, promptly rolled into my first grand relapse that knocked me literally on my ass, landed me in the hospital and now that we’re up to date, put me on yet another round of high-dose steroids in a last-ditch effort to get me back on my feet in time for an important meeting.

While all of that was going on, something happened deep inside of me. I became consumed by fear. It felt so foreign to me, that I didn’t even know what to call it at first. I was afraid of stupid things like my clothes not fitting or my face looking odd. I was afraid about big, huge things like what if I can’t work, think or excel in this career I’d spent almost the last 30 years building? What if I could no longer live in my beloved three-story house, my sanctuary I created for myself after my husband died so long ago, the house the one place I felt safe and always comforted?

There were even more giant fears lurking at all times like, what happens when I can’t walk? How will I dial my iPhone if I need help in an emergency? I’ve thrived living alone, blissfully happily for almost 20 years. What if someday I can’t do that anymore?

Those big fears are to be expected. I’d been agonizing about them in the back of my mind for months, maybe years, before my diagnosis put a point on the problem. It was the new fears that hit me after my recent relapse that freaked me out the most.

Little things. Things we all take for granted. I might suddenly not be able to stand up at any given point in time. I was shaky on my feet almost always and liable to fall down at any moment. I would be besieged with sudden and violent urges to vomit – whether or not I happened to be near a proper place to do such a thing (they are limited…trust me).

I was afraid to shower because when I closed my eyes I would immediately lose my equilibrium. I gave up on actual clothes and gave in to a daily wardrobe of pajamas and yoga pants that have never seen the inside of any yoga studio. I was down to showering once a week if I was feeling super lucky. I started to become desperate to get outside of the house.

So, I did. I decided to try and leave the house and made a few appearances at my office which I sorely missed. I’d walk out the front door like it was any other day but it all felt different than I remembered it.

It felt dark, although the sun was shining. It felt foreign even though I’d done this routine every single work day for the last 18 years I’ve lived in this house without even thinking about it. I felt vulnerable. Almost naked. What if there was nothing for me to hold on to? Why did this fucking cane make me feel even more unsteady? What if I couldn’t make it across the street from the parking garage to my office?

Crossing the street is an odd and singular challenge for me now. You have to look both ways then walk straight ahead. It’s one of the first things we’re taught when we’re old enough to walk outside alone. But when I look both ways the whole world starts to spin and I can’t just take a step like a normal person would. I have to regain my balance first and only then can I take a step and Jesus! By that time, I have to look both ways again or risk being mowed down by a bus. I could spend all day standing on the corner of Sixth and William Penn Place.

I was mortally afraid of all of the things out there that could hurt me.

It was all too much. I used all I had in me just to get to the office. There was nothing left of me once I arrived that could be of any use to anyone. I realized I needed to be productive at work. I need to be able to do my job. I can’t do that when I’m not able to think once I arrive. I get paid to think. Thinking is my thing. I was beginning to panic. Again.

Then the vertigo came back with a vengeance, then the sickness and oh, lookie here! My old symptoms are back now too. My dear sweet friends, weakness, debilitating fatigue, constant pain and wonky legs. How nice to see you all again! You bunch of annoying assholes.

A call from The Great Scott, an unprecedented same-day appointment at his request, and another round of high dose steroids…you know the rest.

The steroids are like the best of times and the worst of times for me. I almost instantly feel like myself again. The OLD me, the capable one. The fun one. The girl who can command a room and make people listen to what she has to say. This particular dose came at a really important time because I had a big important meeting, important for me to be physically present, and I was going to be at that meeting come hell or high water. Thanks to Vitamin P, I did it.

Of course, I’m really not the old me anymore, I just felt more like her. Getting dressed nowadays is always a giant challenge. I’d like to thank the folks at Universal Standard for my entirely brand-new wardrobe of stylish yet simple black dresses that I can throw on with zero effort and feel kind of cool. The shoe choice always trips me up – but I had to put aside my paranoia and choose shoes that would be least likely to trip me up (literally) and somehow also looks stylish? I think I achieved one out of two of those requirements because sometimes you really can’t have it all. I got out of the house clean, relatively presentable and feeling pretty good. My walking was shaky but not anything nearly as bad as it had been just the day before.

Getting to the meeting itself involved extensive planning. I couldn’t walk the two blocks from my leased parking spot near my office to my client’s offices. I had to pay to park at the client’s location, choose the closest handicapped parking spot I could find and then navigate the shortest possible distance of non-railing walkways in order to get to the security desk to check in.

On my way to the meeting, though, even though I left my house a full hour in advance to give myself plenty of time to arrive the less than 6 miles I had to travel to accommodate for my slow walking pace, I encountered construction at every turn. I knew I was going to be late. This was not a meeting you show up to late. I started to panic but I knew I just had to get there as quickly as I could so I tried to focus.

I got my handi-spot. Held on to walls to get to the main lobby to head up to the security desk to sign in. Then I remembered the thing I hadn’t accommodated for in my plans.

The escalator from hell that literally seems to move at a clip of at least 55 miles per hour that stood between me and the security desk at the top. I’m guessing this is some kind of purposeful speed setting in order to keep the productive people moving productively through their regular fast-walking, rushing hither and yon professional days.

This was a busy time of day. People were everywhere. I lost at least five more minutes standing there waiting for a path to clear so I could somehow get myself on to this high-velocity beast whilst carrying all of my work tools and myself to the top without falling face first on the grated steps. I have rarely felt that kind of abject horror not caused by scary baby dolls or evil clowns in movies. I was flat out terrified.

I won’t bore you with the details of the meetings themselves but suffice to say, people continue to amaze me on the daily.

The very important people with whom I was meeting know of my situation and were nothing less than incredibly gracious and forgiving of my auspicious and extremely annoying ten-minutes late arrival. My colleague who was running the meeting with me was, as he always is, simply the very best by just jumping in and keeping things rolling and generally being his all-around amazing self.

It hit me then that this feeling I always seem to cling to that I have to carry things all of the time because it’s my job to do so is also kind of bullshit. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people every day, people I consider friends more than colleagues. They have my back. They literally always have my back. I held it together in the meeting and did my thing the way I always do but I felt a humanity in that room that is sometimes missing from business meetings. I liked it a whole lot.

A planned two-hour meeting turned into a nearly six-hour meeting that required a change of venue within the giant office building but my legs and my friends helped me make it. It was one of those days where you just feel in your element. I felt engaged. I felt excited. I felt like I was on my game for the first time in longer than I care to note here. Even ten minutes late, I felt kind of victorious personally speaking. Another miracle fueled by Vitamin P.

There was one last hiccup. At the end of our meetings, my colleague was staying for more meetings with other clients and I’d have to get back to my car alone. I was riding high by this time and feeling pretty damn good so I declined every offer from my friends & clients for an escort to the parking garage. I assured them I was obviously wearing sensible shoes (wink, wink) and I parked almost directly outside of the elevator door. I was not looking forward to the escalator from hell but I did it once that day, and I just took a deep breath and did it again.

When I got down to the parking garage on the Blue floor, it looked all foreign to me. I couldn’t remember the right way to turn to get to the right door that would plunk me right in front of my car in the handi-spot. Of course, I chose the wrong direction and ended up on the entire other side of the parking structure and had to walk a full 360 around, up and down a few ramps, to finally find my car while toting my giant backpack full of my heavy computer and my ever-present giant bottle of water.

About halfway around the second turn I could feel it rising in my chest. The panic. I had no idea how I could be anywhere near where I was supposed to be because nothing looked familiar and it all kept turning in circles as I walked. I talked to myself as I walked. “Keep going, you’ll get there, you’re doing great, careful now, don’t trip, go slow, you will make it.” And so on and so on until at one point I had this incredible urge to just sit down and cry for a minute until I got myself together. I’m not that person. I don’t sit down in public parking structures to cry. It was at that very moment when I turned another corner and saw my little black car just a short way up another tiny ramp. I almost gasped for joy. I made it!

I sat in the car for a second and just breathed. It wasn’t over yet. I still had follow up work to do when I got home and worked well into the late-night hours to get it done. But thanks to Vitamin P, the decency of other humans and pure strength of will, the fear didn’t win on that day.

I know better than to think it won’t ever win. I’m becoming used to this imposing terrible roommate I’ve acquired recently and I don’t much like him. He pokes me in the ribs as I’m walking out the door and says, “Careful girlie, you don’t wanna take a tumble now do you,” with his evil little laugh. I am resting and working productively from home today to help my body recover. I’m doing what I should be doing, and yet his voice still nags at me.

Yesterday morning I downed my last ten 50mg prednisone dose. Those hideous tasting discs of evil were the last I’d be taking for a while and I hated choking them down not because of how truly horrible they would taste but because now I have no idea how long I have before my body goes wonky again and I remember that I actually really do have MS again.

I’m going to take The Great Scott’s optimism into my heart and believe that my next full dose of Ocrevus in early November might be the one that puts me into remission for a decent length of time, this time.

TGS is so hopeful on my behalf, it seems ungrateful not to support his positive attitude. The Fear can’t have all the fun. I’m going to invite another roommate into our little happy home. I’m going to call her Hope, invite her in and make her a nice comfy spot on the couch.

I cut my hair (and I didn’t post a pic)

This landed on my doorstep, along with some amazing fall treats. Much like pennies from heaven in the middle of a very bad spell.

This might seem like no big deal to you. If you know me, you’re probably thinking, “Well thank god because who gives crap about your hair? You’re way too obsessed with your damn hair.” And you would be right.

The thing is, I’ve taken no less than 300 different selfies of my new non-blonde hair from 30 different angles and in several different locations and lighting situations and I couldn’t bring myself to post a single one.

There isn’t a filter known to the Internets that could get me to feel differently about any of those (to me) hideous photos. I should note here that it’s not because I don’t love my new haircut! I do love my new, shorter, much darker ‘do. I haven’t not had color on my hair since I was probably 19 years old. I’m kind of shocked by how dark my “real” hair is. There’s still  little blonde left on the ends. To get rid of all of it, I’d have to buzz my entire head and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. But as of my next haircut all of the blonde will be completely gone. I kind of can’t wait. Then maybe I’ll do it all over again. Who knows?

I do love my new hair cut but I pretty much loathe the rest and I couldn’t bring myself to post a single shot.

I swear to you, this isn’t one of those posts where I am asking, nay, practically begging someone out there to reassure me that I am truly not a monster; that my eyes are broken; or that my perceptions don’t mirror reality, so give it up already Beth. This is decidedly not one of those posts. You might say those things, but you should know that there is no amount of protestations that will make me see myself any differently right now, or maybe ever.

I know it’s in my head. It’s been in my head for nearly ALL of my very impressive 50 years of life. It’s the barometer that I’ve always cared about, the only fact of my existence that gave me any reassurance that things would always be ok for me somehow because at least I was pretty. I’d always have that (even if I couldn’t actually see it with my own eyes). It didn’t matter. I’d have to take your word for it but that was almost good enough. I used to take and post all of those selfies because for that instant in time, I could see it. That thing you always told me in the comment section!

Being pretty was critical to me. It was, sometimes in my own twisted psyche, the only thing that mattered – why people wanted to hire me, like me, date me, marry me, reward me, give me chances…all of it. But I couldn’t see it for myself. I needed other people to tell me, show me, make me believe it somehow.

I know! This is pure insanity hence the reason I’ve been in therapy for fifteen years and the reason why at 50 years old I still have such a twisted view of the world. Pretty never mattered as much as I thought it did. It never mattered to anyone else as much as it mattered to me. I clung to it after every heart break and disappointment, every bump in every road. The first thing I needed to know after being dumped by a boyfriend was “Is she prettier than me?” I mean, good lord. That’s messed up.

I’ve read a few articles this week about whether or not MS ruined a person’s marriage. I get that and I can understand how hard having MS would be in a marriage or partnership. As you all know, I’ve often said out loud and with great vigor that the only thing that might make this whole late-in-life diagnosis of MS worse for me would be to have to go through all of this mess along side of and in front of another human. It’s too hard to imagine trying to be a good partner to another person when I’m so openly struggling to live on my own. I feel terrible for people who’s MS has so clearly messed up something so critical in most people’s lives. This disease takes so much.

I’m letting it ruin my relationship with the one who matters most. Myself. I can barely look at myself. I struggle every time I have to leave the house. I struggle even more when I’m forced to try and make any effort at all. Like on the days I actually make it into the office. I put makeup on and choose an outfit that works with my very sensible shoe choices – and pack up my backpack and walk out the door like it was any other day. But it has yet to feel even remotely close to any other day. I’ve begun to wonder if this is going to happen, and potentially get worse, after future relapses. I being to wonder if I can actually survive something like that.

There’s nothing attractive about pulling your bright green plastic puke bag from your backpack when the random wave of dizziness and nausea take over. Nothing can make you feel pretty after that.

When I got home from my pedicure on Saturday afternoon, the note above was in a bag left at my front door, along with a plant and some fall treats. The card fell out of the handwritten note when I opened it. I picked it up, read it, and promptly burst into tears. I never burst into tears. Well, almost never but it’s gotten a lot more prevalent since my diagnosis on December 15 of 2015 that I randomly burst into tears. But this time the tears just sprang out of my eyes, I didn’t fight them or even attempt to stop them, not that I could have if I’d even tried.

This face, this body, all distorted by high dose steroids, has become my enemy. It makes me fall down and not be able to get up. It makes me want to sleep 24 hours a day. It makes me hurt and spasm and tremor without warning. It makes me want to never leave the house when it’s hot outside and never actually leave the house for days on end this last goddamned hot, humid summer.

This face looks so much older than it ever has. I used to take great pride when people would tell me how I didn’t look anything like my real age. As if I had any control over the DNA my parents gave me so graciously! It made me proud.

Nobody has said that to me in a while now. If they did, I’d probably laugh right out loud. I might not look 50 years old but I feel like I’m 550 years old and nobody can tell me they can’t see that written all over my face. I’ve got steroid gut. I’ve got gray hair and I don’t even care enough to cover it up. I’ve begun to hate putting on makeup not just because I know I’ll have to have the energy to take it all off again at the end of the day – but because I don’t think it’s fun anymore. It’s no fun at all putting makeup on this face. In fact, it just pisses me off.

I miss myself so much! I haven’t seen myself in such a long time, that when I read this card yesterday, it was the first time it dawned on me that maybe it shouldn’t matter to me as much as it did. I want to be a bigger, better person (not just in my clothing sizes) where none of this matters to me. I sat in Cheryl’s office last time, I actually made it there to her office before I threw up, and I cried for a solid hour. WHY could I still care about all of this stupid shit when I have actual REAL things to worry about now? Why can’t I get over this once and for all? Why does it matter so goddamn much? No matter how much I resist it, how many times I’ve written about it both here and in my journal where things get a whole lot uglier…it’s always there. Like an irritating itch you can’t quite scratch for over 50 years.

OK. So here’s the best of the worst set of selfies I’ve ever taken since the advent of the selfie about 10 years ago. I do love my new hair. I do love seeing what color nature intended me to be. But I’d be a liar if i didn’t admit that I’m including it here, way down here at the bottom of my post, because then it won’t haunt me every time I look at my blog comments.

At least it’s finally convertible weather? For me anyway.

Effing MS. It ruins so many things. I need to figure out a way to not let it ruin the me I have left in me. It was never about the way I looked. I wish I had known that earlier.

The spaces in between might be the hardest

The bright…and the dark. I guess this post is mostly the latter.

Nah. That’s probably somewhat of an overstatement but it keeps occurring to me, in the last week or so, as I wait and rest and do everything I am told I should be doing to help myself get back to non-nauseous living that the spaces in between are the things we never talk about. I’ve avoided writing this post all weekend because I don’t find it very interesting reading, let alone writing.

When you have a flare or are in the thick of a relapse there’s something inherently interesting about that, even if you’re the patient. There are problems to solve. A thing that must be dealt with. Procedures to consider. Drugs to take. Hospitals to escape from. Information to share. All very interesting things to write about should you happen to be a blogger who writes about your life with multiple sclerosis. But once all of that excitement is over, there’s the rest.

The in between stuff is what really sucks because it’s really a whole lot of minutes that turn into hours that turn into weeks and then suddenly it’s been a month since the whole drama started that are full of a whole lot of nothing at all. All of the rest.

You fill the moments with email and conference calls and Law & Order reruns running in the background and talking to friends and being occasionally visited by co-workers, friends and family. You walk around your house seeing corners and details you never knew were there. But you don’t walk too much because you have to conserve your energy for exciting things like cat feeding and litter scooping before your energy runs out. You can’t quit doing those things because you are already so very weak! You need your “exercise” even if it’s just a few flights of steps in a day. You can’t give up your special work outs!

The days look alike because you’re wearing the same clothes (sometimes clean versions, sometimes not because laundry is suddenly like an Olympic sport) and you’re looking at the same face without makeup and without clean hair. The days go by and the nights get longer because even doing the very small things you are able to do leaves you physically exhausted and likely to be happily in bed before the sun goes down.

You read to keep yourself from thinking. So, you read a lot. You read so much you’re on book number 23 of 2017 and there’s no end in sight. You might break your personal annual book record. When you get tired of reading, you write. You write to help get bad thoughts out of your head and into the journal where they can fester without directly threatening your sanity. You journal about the things you could never write about on your blog. People would worry. You can’t have people worrying.

You are always waiting. The days and nights are chock full ‘o waiting.

You go to bed each night wishing and asking the universe to make tomorrow the day when you finally wake up feeling normal again. You get pissed off after you take a short trip outside and realize that the very most minimum of moving about in the outside world leaves you dizzy and eventually heaving into a portable puke bag that you stole from the hospital (I’m very slick like that). Every morning offers new hope of possible normalcy that is usually dashed by around 3PM when you frantically rinse out the stolen puke bag because you never really believed you would need so many of those damn things so you only stole a few.

Other moments are full of experimenting with medicines because in all of your alone time you’ve convinced yourself that you can manage this entire stupid situation if only you could figure out the right cocktail and timing for said cocktail. The drugs that help with the dizziness don’t help enough to make up for the horrible tiredness that they cause. The nausea drug added to that makes for an instant torpor that makes leaving the house out of the question. You aren’t sick when you take the drugs, but you are also pretty much a zombie and you need to function well enough to have all of those conference calls.

You begin to feel like a prisoner in your home. You convince yourself that mind over matter works with brain diseases and then you find out violently that you are terribly wrong. When you move around too much, you get nauseous. When you get nauseous you get sick. Repeat.

Yesterday I drove. My brother was my co-pilot for safety’s sake. I did OK. I walked around quite a bit. I didn’t feel dizzy. It was my experiment to see how I might get through a day should I decide to finally give in and make it into my office this week. I was initially jubilant because I felt like it was a good experiment. I got a little bit hopeful that I had finally come to be outside world friendly! I might be able to leave the house. In clothing that isn’t clothing I could and do sleep in.

Then around 4PM the dizzies hit. I was feeling very worn out. Food wasn’t even an option because my stomach was roiling. I desperately stumbled around the house looking for the clean, recently rinsed out puke bag and gagged into it for what felt like the millionth time in the last three weeks. Or has it been four weeks already? I think it’s been four weeks.

Going to my office involves a few really minor actions. Minor if you are a normal. I have to get dressed. I have to pack up my bag and get my computer in my backpack and get from my house to the car, from my car to my office and back again at the end of the day.

The thing is, before any of that happens I will have done two set of stairs down and two sets of stairs back up to my dressing room after doing my cat chores. So I’m already going to be worn out. Crazy, right? But even knowing that, I’m almost sure I could make it to my car once dressed without using one of my special portable puke bags.

But what happens once I get there? I’d have to walk from my car and into the office which involves actually going outside, carrying that backpack that holds my computer and my giant bottle of water, and probably using Stan, my new cane, to help make sure I actually make it from the parking garage to the building just across the street.

I’m not sure how long it would be that I was actually IN the office before I’d be desperately heaving into a portable bag but this time in public with people all around me. I mean, randomly pulling out a bright green plastic bag and hurling your guts into it at random intervals is often considered anti-social behavior in polite company.  Many of my closest work colleagues are traveling next week (to meetings I should be traveling to along with them but of course that’s impossible because I can barely drive or walk let alone fly) so I’d be forced to impose myself on people who maybe don’t know me as well or who I might not feel as comfortable with asking to hold my puke bag for me, ya know?

It’s also still hot here in Pittsburgh. Above 80 degrees hot and that, on top of all of the little things that are involved with getting me from point A to point B is the perfect combination of factors to ensure that this imagined scenario will play out exactly as I’ve described here. I know the weather for the next week promises some relief from the heat and humidity so maybe I could plan my week around that to give myself more of a chance of success. I am an obsessive user of any and all weather apps that help me plan out days when I am less likely to feel like shit on a shingle. This is also completely normal to me. This obsessive weather watching.

Guess what? All of this thinking and planning and strategizing has me exhausted again. It’s only 4:20PM and way too early for getting back into the bed that I just dragged myself out of at 12:30PM.

There will be more waiting. More days of wearing lounge wear and sporting bed head as I take conference calls and respond to email. More days of being annoyed by my cats who I really love a lot but whom I’m not accustomed to spending quite this much time among. They are needy little jerks. Sometimes I forget I love them. Then I remember and I feel guilty.

This is all to say that when you have so much time to just wait and think and do nothing much at all you get a little overwhelmed with the idea of making your life even a little bit more complicated by trying to accomplish any of it in the outside world.

My new plan is to wait until Wednesday to head to the office. It’s cleaning lady day. I need to vacate the premises. It’s supposed to be cooler and not as humid by Wednesday. Another good sign. Maybe a few more days of resting and sleeping and waiting and nothingness will leave me feeling almost human by Wednesday! I can hope. I never stop hoping.

The image above is a self portrait I did probably ten years ago before all of this insanity started. I used to paint with oils. I used to love painting but I can’t really do that anymore because I don’t have a studio in the house where I can shut out the kitties from chemicals that could harm them. I used to paint on my front porch which involved carrying my easel, my canvas and my paints outside and then back in again once I was done for the day. I keep my painting supplies in the basement out of kitty reach. More steps. I haven’t painted anything in a really long time probably all because of those steps and that carrying and my literal lack of energy for anything other than trying to live the most basic kind of life.

The moments in between are when you start resenting the hell out of things like that. That’s why you don’t like writing about them. The moments in between are the things you would really like to forget but you cannot because there are so damn many of them!

I’m told it won’t always be like this. I believe that, I really do. But it doesn’t make you any less pissed off in those many moments in between. You’re only human and so am I.

A visit with the wizard

I was nervous looking at my calendar and realizing I had an appointment with The Great Scott yesterday.

I always have this irrational fear that I'm not doing my MS quite right. I used to walk out of that office feeling like a failure when TGS would ask me, "When was the last time you walked a mile, Maribeth?" It took everything I had in me not to burst out laughing, not in a good way, and then lunge across his desk and go for his throat. I'd leave feeling like a failure. I should be doing this whole MS thing better. Getting myself checked into the hospital as an in-patient while TGS was off on vacation felt like the ultimate failure.

The thing is, though, without me noticing,  The Great Scott and I have started a more productive phase of our relationship somehow. He has finally gotten to the point where he knows I'm no push over and he also knows that nobody wants me to be better at having MS more than ME.

I think he's pegged me for the chronic over-achiever I am. He seems to finally understand how much I hate this entire thing. I hate it from beginning to end. Being in the same place has allowed us to move on to  a new phase of our relationship. The one where he stops trying to bullshit me about walking a mile and starts talking to me straight about more realistic things.

I got taken into the inner sanctum early by a nurse, and I had left my bag and my phone out in the lobby with my nephew who served as my ride and support for the day since I am not driving-ready just yet. I still get too dizzy when I'm moving around to trust myself behind the wheel of my car. So I just had to sit there, in the sterile room, quietly with my thoughts while I awaited the appearance of TGS.

I steeled myself for the lecture. I wondered how he would react when I freaked the hell out when he asked me when the last time I walked a mile was. That quiet time had me all balled up and anxious. That was probably the longest I've ever been separated from my phone in…years.

A soft tap on the door preceded his grand entrance and the first thing I noticed was that TGS was tan. He was looking all browned up and healthy and I suddenly got a mental image of him wearing madras shorts on some fancy Caribbean beach somewhere sipping a mai tai and I almost giggled.

"Well, there she is," he said while ushering in two other doctors. "I'm running a little behind, Maribeth, so Dr. A and Dr. B here are going to talk through the progression of events that brought you to the hospital and then I'll come back and we can talk next steps."

Dr.'s A and B were very kindly young men. I had to go through the whole progression of events from my first Ocrevus infusion in May…then on to my landslide in June resulting in my short stint on high-dose oral steroids, and my subsequent slide into feeling slightly off balance and thinking maybe I needed a cane and/or physical therapy, to the fateful day when I woke up all wonky and sick that landed me in that hell hole they call a Level One Trauma Center for four very long and miserable days.

Then I had to explain how I was discharged without so much as a strip of paper or any directions on what to do next. I also explained how the three different neurologists that I saw in the clink had three different theories on what landed me there.

Dr. A explained, "The doctors in the hospital checked you for stroke, which this clearly was not. They diagnosed you with vestibular neuronitus not a relapse of your MS. I'm not sure what I think about that, but we will see what Dr. Scott has to say." And as if on cue, after a soft tap-tap on the door, in walked in Malibu TGS looking relaxed and friendly.

They all conferred, all of my many doctors, and The Great Tan Scott looked at me and said quite matter-of-factly, "So the doctors in the hospital who saw you said you have vestibular neuronitus. I disagree one hundred percent. Those doctors were wrong."

I said, "Well, respectfully, my first reaction to hearing that news today was…how dumb. When you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras. It made zero sense to me."

I actually made TGS laugh!

"I was about to use a similar analogy but yours works just fine. This is obviously an ongoing relapse, Maribeth. You've had a rough time. But I still think the new goo is going to help you," he said.

"I feel like this whole thing is one big blur of really bad timing," I said to him. And he agreed with me again! I am now officially in crazy town. Vacation must agree with The Great Scott.

"I think once you get beyond this vertigo, you'll start getting back to a better place but this is a rough patch. Nearly 40% of my MS patients experience this kind of thing. A lesion the size of a pin prick could be present in your brain stem in the region of the vestibular nerve (since you already have so many lesions in the brain and C-spine, this is the obvious conclusion). The lesion could be the size of a pin prick, not visible on your MRI, but that doesn't mean it's not there. Or as you put it, horses for sure and definitely not zebras," said TGS.

Other little gems he dropped on me during our brief visit (in his words):

To me…"Vertigo can be stubborn. It can last weeks, or months and even years. You can't do anything about it but wait it out. If you're not feeling better in  few weeks we may consider an outpatient stint at the Vestibular Rehabilitation Unit at Allegheny General. But that shouldn't be necessary." (Good christ on a cracker…a few more weeks of this?!?! I am in danger of losing my mind if I cannot get back to my life sooner than that. I think the look on my face conveys this reaction completely, therefore I do not verbalize it.)

To the other doctors… "Maribeth here has progressed a bit more rapidly than is usual for a newly diagnosed MS patient. She's still in the thick of it and is struggling with a higher than normal disability level than is usual for a newly diagnosed patient. Hence our aggressive approach to her therapy." (Yikes. He never said that out loud to me before, but knowing he thinks the same things I've been thinking somehow made me feel validated.)

To me again…"You've had a rough time. I am confident the new goo is going to be great for you. I remain fully optimistic that we did the right thing. Your disease is just a bit more active than usual so it's going to take you a little longer. Usually new patients level off within five years or so. So it's coming for you, the feeling better part, it's just that you have no choice but to wait it out." (FIVE YEARS NOW?!? Jesus. I'm going to feel better when I'm 55 years old?!?? Good lord.)

To the other doctors again… "What is the mechanism that makes Ampyra work Dr.A?" And Dr. A clearly had no idea because he was literally stuttering, so I piped up, "It's a potassium channel blocker. It smooths out the electrical signals between my brain and my legs. It only works for 30% of patients who try it but it clearly works for me since when I don't take it, I cannot walk." The Great Scott looks at me sort of surprised, like, and says, "Well, you're exactly right. Are you looking for a job now, Maribeth?" (He made a joke! A funny! Malibu Scott is a lot more mellow than pasty not-tan Great Scott. Also I think Dr. B may be mute because I've not heard him speak this entire time.)

Back to me again… "There is no reason for us not to continue to be optimistic, here, Maribeth. I know this has been discouraging. Hospital visits are not fun. But if we're patient, I think the new goo is going to get you to a new normal that you can manage. Listen, today, fewer than  10% of newly diagnosed MS patients end up in a wheelchair. The therapies are so much better now than what we had to work with in the past. A wheel chair used to be a forgone conclusion but it's now very unlikely. I know you are discouraged. But I remain optimistic on your behalf." (Well, at least one of us is. I guess I'll take it.)

On the topic of PT…"Let's give you time to heal and get back to your office first. You need to take this slow. Do not prolong the situation by pushing yourself too hard. Rest and time are the only things that are going to help this situation. I suggest you try and give yourself plenty of both." (Wait, WHAT?!? This, from when-did-you-last-walk-a-mile-guy? I am so surprised I am rendered speechless. A rarity for me. TGS seems shocked by this as well.)

And SCENE.

My nephew and I went and had lunch after my appointment. Being a passenger in a car was not great for me. I was super woozy. All of that walking around in the outside world, where I've been absent lately, turned out to be a bit much for me. I realized I had a raging head ache. And I was feeling even more nauseous than usual. After my nephew helped me with a few small chores and many laughs (that kid…he cracks me up), I planted myself in my living room chair – the one that I feel might swallow me whole one day since I've been spending so very much time sitting in it. My chair and me are becoming one. I try to look at my computer to answer a few work email, and I realize it's no good. I am going to be sick.

I drag myself through my kitty chores, get upstairs and put on my jammies and prepare to lay flat on my back until the sick feeling goes away when another more powerful wave of nausea hits me. I dig in my bedside table for the handy puke bags I stole from the hospital, and you know what happened next.

I felt immediately better. I lay down. I read a short three chapters of my next book…and I go to sleep. It was just starting to get dark when I put my book down. I didn't care.

I'm following doctor's orders. When The Great Scott tells you to rest and take it easy, you rest and take it easy. I am going to try and cultivate his infectious optimism and hope that I am back in outside-world-form within a few weeks. I know it seems like a really long time. Because it is a really long time. What MS has taught me this week is that I really have no true notion of what a long time really is. A few weeks that feel like a lifetime? It could be worse. It could always be a whole lot worse.

One more tiny piece of news.

When we got back to my house after our post-doctor appointment lunch, I had a few packages on my front porch. One of them was marked with the words "fashionablecanes.com." My nephew grabbed it up and was like, "Yo, let's see if this cane is really fashionable enough for you, AB." And we laughed. We opened the box and we met my first cane.

I'm calling him Stan. He is rather basic, but reliable. He isn't flashy but he will help me when I'm no longer unable to drive, but I might still need some support to keep from holding on to walls, buildings and random strangers whilst walking around downtown Pittsburgh.

I still need to get the hang of walking with Stan. Somehow, I feel less awkward drunk walking around town grabbing on to random stuff than I do when trying to walk with Stan around my living room. I'm sure I will get used to him.

I'm a loner, we know this, but sometimes you need a little help from a friend named Stan. And Malibu Great Scott. I'm going to miss his tan when I see him again in November.

Don’t call it a comeback

I got cocky again.

I know. Shocker but hear me out. I had a decent day yesterday. I got through the whole 8 or so hours of my work day without taking antivert. I participated in a day long training session that I actually enjoyed and felt included in even though I was on the telephone and all of my colleagues were together in a room. I thought it would suck and it didn't. I had a good day.

I went to bed super early after reading a few more chapters of my super scary book (another distraction technique). I had cranked the thermostat down to my usual nighttime temperature of 60 degrees and I slept like a damn baby.

But I'd gone to bed after putting the chain on the door – which was dumb because I should have remembered that Kathy would be coming in the morning around 5am and she'd not be able to get in the house. Sure enough my phone ringing at 5am alerted me to the problem. I stumbled down the steps to unlock the door and then stumbled right back upstairs to go back to precious sleep. I knew I was going to try day two without antivert and I needed the rest.

But when my feet hit the floor once my eyes opened for the second time today, I knew I wasn't all together steady. I still decided not to take the antivert. I needed to try. I had plans later that afternoon to go pick up some groceries I had ordered online. My mom insisted on coming with me – just to be sure I was ok. All I had to do was drive a few blocks to the grocery store, call the number and wait for the guy to come out and put the groceries in my trunk. Easy peasy!

As soon as I stepped outside I knew it probably wasn't such a good idea. It was muggy and humid today. The air felt thick. As soon as it hit my skin I shifted into super slow mo. I opened my car door, the car that hasn't been driven in over two weeks, and went to sit down when the wave of dizziness came over me.

"Do you want me to drive?" Asked my mom.
"No, I want to see if I can. It's literally like two blocks and we'll be going slow," I said.

She didn't love the idea but we were already in the car so off we went. It took longer than usual for the air to cool off the car that had been sitting in my driveway in the heat for two weeks. I felt like I was suffocating. But we drove super slow. Every time I turned my head to look at traffic or see if I could turn my stomach did a little flip. We got to the grocery store without incident. I drove through McDonalds so my mom could get her favorite treat of late (iced coffee sugar free vanilla) and I got a vanilla ice cream cone. Then we drove trough the ATM so I'd be sure to have some cash if I was gonna be home and taking deliveries and paying off helpers and such.

By the time we got home, I declared myself a failure. The dizzies were back. I felt like I could lie on the floor and sleep for a year. I had another meeting to get through today and a tentative plan to go in the office tomorrow for a quick company meeting I'd planned earlier in the week when I was feeling optimistic. But after my short foray into the outside world, I quickly realized that driving more than a couple of blocks would be idiotic. I'd be doing that meeting by phone. Goddammit.

I've read all the articles and blogs and talked to all the smart friends and experienced MS'ers about how hard it is to come back from any setback when you have this disease.

I knew, intellectually speaking, that this would be the case after my short hospitalization. But in the back of my broken brain, I always seem to think I'm going to be special. It might be hard for other people, I'd think, but not me. I'm pretty stubborn. I can do things. Lots of things. MS is different for everyone! I could be an exception. I assumed I would be an exception.

I'm an idiot. As it turns out, the only thing about me that is exceptional as it relates to my multiple sclerosis is my incredible ability to deny what's happening right in front of my own two eyes. I didn't really believe I'd be going to the hospital in an ambulance (an ambulance for chrissakes!) until we were pulling into the ER ambulance bay and even then I was still in denial. Every night that I was in the hospital, I'd convince myself that tomorrow I HAD to be going home.

The depths of my denial are really difficult to grasp. I can be laying here in bed at 8:30pm, feeling my limbs give out and my back begin to ache and my head slightly spinning and still wonder if maybe I could be a-ok tomorrow and make it into the office for my little meeting anyway…

…yeh. Not gonna happen. I'm not outside-world-compatible just yet. I'm hoping that after (another) weekend of extreme resting and generally doing a whole lotta nothing, maybe I'll be feeling outside world ready by next week? Maybe?

I guess it's firmly in the wait and see camp right now.

Something knocks you down, in this case quite literally, then the ripples emanate outward into your life like rings in a placid lake hit by raindrops. They get bigger and bigger until they finally disappear and the lake is still, like a mirror, reflecting your own image back at you. The question is, what image is it that you finally see once the ripples stop?

Well. That, too, involves a whole lot of wait and see.

I've mentioned to a few people I've been in telephone meetings with this week how much I suck at patience. I'm not so good at the waiting and seeing game. I'm more the make it happen and change it if you don't like it kinda girl. Maybe that's why I'm good at my job? But this is one very clear example of a situation where taking too much action can put you right back where you started…and we've already established how I will not under any circumstances be going back to the hospital any time soon if I can help it.

Even if it kills me, I need to find my inner zen and wait this shit out. Then I need to take baby steps, literally, before I can really walk. Then I will start PT and little by little I will get stronger – but it will be little by little. That's just how this stuff works.

Sometimes I think this is happening to me because the universe is trying to teach me an important lesson. Slow down. Stop trying so goddamn hard. Just be. Just breathe. I wonder how dense I must be for the universe to think she needs to give me a freaking chronic illness with which to teach me these important lessons. Couldn't the universe have just made me like yoga?

Nah. I'm a "learn the hard way" kind of girl. I will be dealing with these particular ripples for as long as they feel like sticking around and I will just have to accept that.

On the upside…I can read a bit easier and also watch television. I bought some new sticky tread things for my death trap of a shower hopefully making getting clean not so much of a feat. I also have mini-hair and eyebrow day in my kitchen tomorrow evening because my beloved friend and hair wizard knows me well enough to know I need to be cleaned up a bit in order to feel closer to normal and going to the salon right now is also pretty low on the list of things I should be doing right now.

It will all work itself out. I will be ok. I just don't know when. And that just has to be ok.

The party was awesome (the party was horrible)

That’s me with my favorite clients and my boss.

This is me too. Well not really. But you understand.
All of the work to get to the big day was worth it.

Our new office Open House was a great success. All of that pre-party angst was over and things fell into place nicely. The last minute construction issues that had been keeping me up at night, actually got completed. Almost every single thing was done.  The office looked fantastic.

People came. Lots of people came! And it looked like they were having fun.

We had many guests in from the home office for the event since we were also having an agency-wide Town Hall meeting live from our new offices earlier in the day. I was the keynote speaker. I worked on my deck for days. I had such a great story to tell! It was a great celebration of everything we’ve done in our little office over the last almost 14 years and I was awash in the glow of finally, finally having the chance to talk about how we did it.

And it was possibly the worst presentation I’ve ever given in my life.

We had technical difficulties. The slides weren’t showing me my notes at all. I kept losing my train of thought. Then more technical difficulties made me lose it again. Even that was ok! People were super nice about it. It sucks to present to people via video conference in the first place let alone when your feed keeps going in and out and you’re not seeing your damn notes. I let myself off the hook (sort of). But I wasn’t happy. I moved on.

At the end of the Town Hall meeting, my boss made an announcement about my recent promotion while a slide on the screen showed a picture of Gal Gidot in Wonder Woman. I was beyond embarrassed. A little touched. And awash in irony.

Wonder Woman, indeed. I could barely stay on my feet. After the presentation debacle, I still had one more goal: Survive the party.

Surviving the party meant the following to me: Stay on my feet. Look like I was having fun. Walk and talk to folks around the office who were in visiting. Sneak out when it was technically over at 7PM without making a scene. Go home. Crash.

But when I woke up Thursday morning, I knew it was going to be one of those days (again). I was struggling. Pain. Unsteady legs. Lots of things going on probably brought on by stress, a long, long day ahead of me and a few too many long days behind me in the last week. There were a few other factors I cannot get into in a public forum but suffice to say I made things extra hard on myself. By accident. But still. I was a mess.

I had a plan. I was wearing something easy and comfortable (black of course) with flat shoes. I showered the day before so I didn’t have to exhaust myself getting clean right before the long day began. I had stacked the invitation list with people I’ve been dying to see but hadn’t seen in a long while because I’ve just not been up to socializing much.

This was one party I wouldn’t be able to cancel out of! I kind of had to be there.

My friends and co-workers took their turns holding me up, walking me to the bathroom, propping me up in handy corners and on available chairs. I didn’t eat much because I was so unsteady I couldn’t eat, socialize and stay vertical all at the same time. I had to pick two, like on the value menu at Panera.

When I have to be somewhere, doing something that looks totally normal to regular people for a perfectly normal amount of time, it’s not normal to me. My body goes into some kind of weird shut down mode. It starts to feel like that second picture above. My legs get super stiff and heavy. My knees ache and my back throbs. The pain tingling throughout my body is almost like a buzzing, like a constant backing track. My eyes go glassy and I start using the wrong words for the wrong thing in casual conversation.

My body doesn’t always feel like this, I promise you. Sometimes it’s merely a mild annoyance. Sometimes I just blow it off and take that day as a work from home day and move on. Sometimes they happen when you have life to live. Like last night. And you can’t avoid trying to play the game.

When this happens, you feel like a failure. You feel pathetic and sad. I mean, what it must have looked like! Me, being dragged around by my elbow, from spot to spot, looking like death warmed over and about to fall over.

People kept telling me how great I looked. I know I don’t look great. I look like a swollen, bloated Ursula the Sea Witch who’s been on steroids for a while and can’t stop eating and bloating like a giant water balloon that it takes parade handlers to keep on the ground. I know I do. I can see the pictures. I have actual mirrors in my home, people. I know what I see.

But someone not very close to me, said something very wise and surprising to me last night. She said…Only to you, Beth. You look sad, pathetic and busted up but ONLY TO YOU. Nobody else looks at you that way. It’s in your head. To the outside world, you’re killing this. Just accept that.

That made me think of cognitive restructuring and my last meeting with my precious therapist, Cheryl.

I was telling her how lately I can barely leave the house. I feel fat. Old. Ugly. I feel like a house frau who only wears yoga pants and baggy tank tops (because most of the time I am a house frau who only wears yoga pants and baggy tank tops). I looked in the mirror last week and thought to myself, “Well, my face being all distorted and puffy actually isn’t so bad because my wrinkles are barely visible! Winning!”

I was telling Cheryl that our decade long attempt to get me to deal with this failing in my sanity, was also failing miserably. My inner voices were louder than ever and even more hatefully aggressive. I had a new therapeutic request! A challenge if she chose to accept it, you might say.

I wanted to walk away from it. I don’t want to rationalize, know why or what for…I want it to be OVER. I don’t have time for it. It’s dumb. It’s wasteful and ungrateful and immature. It’s actually more than a little bit pathetic. How many REAL problems do I need to have, I asked Cheryl, before I can walk away from the imaginary ones? Who the hell cares what I LOOK LIKE? WHY DO I EVEN CARE???

Here’s the reality, folks.

My list of things that mattered in a day was quite long before this whole MS thing started. I had an official Persona. A thing to protect. I had to dress the part, act the part, and expertly play the part. My daily list of things to think about before getting out of bed and unleashing myself upon the world used to include things like:

  • what kind of mood am I in?
  • dress or jeans or something fun?
  • what kind of jewelry?
  • what shoes? high, higher or really high?
  • should I do elaborate make-up or keep it simple?
  • Who am I going to see today?
  • Am I going out after work?
  • how hot is it going to be today?

About 18 months ago, my list of things that matter in one day got strangely very short, very fast:

  • can I move?
  • am I in pain?
  • can I walk far enough to leave the house today?
  • can I get appropriate clothes on my body for going outside?
  • how hot is it outside?
  • (some things never change)

As Cheryl and I talked more about Public Beth, my well curated persona perfected over a course of 45 years or so, we started to realize something pretty obvious. I put the pressure on myself to create Public Beth. I thought she was what the world wanted. I thought being Public Beth was the path to happiness and eventual success. People seemed to love Public Beth and I fed off of that positive reinforcement like food from the gods. I really liked Public Beth. The mountains of selfies I used to post are all out there to prove it. I took serious pride in Public Beth.

I used to try really, really hard at all times. I was never not trying. Never. As I got older, I maybe pulled back on some things and simplified some routines, but I was a person who couldn’t not try. It is ingrained into who I am. I think I thought it was who I am, which in and of itself is a bit horrifying. But there you have it.

I felt like I had to adhere to these insane standards. I had to be the prettiest, the most stylish, the most successful and the most creative, the very most fun and delightful at all times. I had to be an “It” girl or I was nothing. Like I said, I did mellow out around 45 but I never really gave it up. I just changed the definition.

It’s too hard, now.

Now, I’m 50. I’m relatively newly diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease. I often have little control over my limbs, so exercise is tough. I take drugs, many of them not just steroids, that make me bloat and gain weight. I am so tired all of the time that sometimes eating ice cream for dinner is less taxing than making a nice fresh kale salad.

Sometimes, at the end of the day I can’t lift my actual legs to take my pants off. It’s like they’re dead. When I get tired, it feels like lights in the rooms in the house of my body are shutting down one by one, room by room, until the house is totally dark and not a flicker of light can be seen. Maybe a tiny one in the attic. The one for my brain that can never turn completely off.

I know I don’t really  look like Ursula the Sea Witch (much), but after years of telling myself horrible things every time I get a glimpse of myself in a plate glass window or god-forbid a photograph, it’s what I see. Sitting in the chair at the hair salon before the cape is on is my very own personal hell.

So after the 5000th discussion about this issue, Cheryl taught me techniques for literally re-wiring my brain. She told me all about cognitive restructuring. I’ve been using my techniques so diligently! I believe they will work. I want to put Public Beth away. Just be regular old me. And worry about important things. Like my health and being happy more of the time and stop being so hateful to my broken, imperfect, not very reliable body.

It made me think of the party again and how having a public persona is what most people do. It’s how you play the game of life. Small talk is bearable for public personas. You laugh and say witty things and your eyes dart around the room looking for the person you’re supposed to be talking to next before you actually walk away from the person you’re currently talking to. I saw so many people’s eyes doing this last evening it almost made me kind of sad. Even when not constantly looking at our phones, human beings still have such a hard time focusing on what they’re actually doing at any given time.

Public Beth isn’t compatible with the real me. I might try to look like her on rare occasions (not all that easy with this moon face but hell, I like a challenge). I still try to use her to protect me even now. But she fails because she quite literally doesn’t matter anymore. She has ceased to exist. I miss her. I can’t lie. But it was probably time for her to move on.

I have more important things to care about. The public clash of Public Beth and Real Beth made it feel like there were actually two of me at the office party. The one outside that was trying so very hard to hold it together, just until 7PM and the one inside, the real one, who needed two friends to walk her to her car, one at each elbow, because at the end of that night I was broken. Legs turned off. Done.

It was a really awesome party. I did enjoy it. But I also hated it. I think I have a bit more time to figure out what I really feel about things that are really important. I have my internal mantra for my program of cognitive restructuring  to kill that hateful inner voice I have, but I may need to move on to the physical snap of the rubber band on my wrist.

I wasn’t supposed to refer to myself as Ursula the Sea Witch ever again. I was doing so well! Cognitive restructuring ain’t easy.

 

Maybe I have unrealistic expectations

The stairs of death and the sorting chair.
It always comes down to this. The most basic things are my undoing. But when I thought about it more, I am starting to realize something that is probably painfully obvious to everyone but me.

And that is the simple fact that this might be as good as it gets. I keep hoping to somehow feel better. But maybe this is feeling better! Maybe this is it.

I remember when I first went on Tysabri and The Great Scott explained to me that it might help me to feel a little better but it could take up to 6 months before I noticed anything. He told me that disease modifying drugs (DMTs for those in the know) are primarily intended to keep your disease from progressing, not to undo existing symptoms.

Even knowing that fact full well, with every passing month after that 6th infusion I got more frustrated. It wasn’t helping me. Other people in the infusion room got 20-22 “good” days a month. I got no good days a month. It was frustrating but I hung in there. I knew I only had a year of safely taking Tysabri because of my JC positive status. I was on month 15 when Ocrevus was beginning to get a lot of buzz.

TGS told me he thought I’d be a good candidate for the new goo, as he called it. He said it might help me feel a bit better but more importantly it might help stop the progression of my symptoms that seem to have just kept getting worse and worse as time went by. I know I have relapsing/remitting MS on paper but I’m telling you here and now, if I’ve ever had a remittance, I sure as hell didn’t notice it. Each passing week there were new and ever more frustrating symptoms. My walking got worse and worse. I finally started the walking drug – and that helps, but it only helps. It doesn’t fix me. It merely makes me able to walk very short distances. I was all about jumping on the new goo bandwagon.  Hope is another drug I can’t resist.

That’s the thing about us early diagnosis people…you can’t quite give in to thinking that this is what it’s going to be like now. You can’t quite stop waiting for the miracle that’s going to mean this whole hideous experience was just a bad and very long dream. You grasp at straws.

So I went off Tysabri for the famous, more like infamous, two month flush. I felt horrible. I barely left my house for two months. I could barely muster the energy to get through 3 or 4 hours a day completely conscious. I managed to work. I managed to get into the office every now and then  but it was ugly. I felt horrible.

The thought starting sneaking into my broken brain…maybe it had been working all along. If this is what I feel like without it, it had to be helping more than I believed. I just didn’t know how bad things could get. I wouldn’t allow myself to go there. I had to believe it wasn’t working and my struggle was all Tysabri’s fault and not the fault of my broken central nervous system. I had to believe that because the alternative wasn’t palatable to me.

I pinned my hopes on the new goo. When I got approved for Ocrevus I did a little happy dance. So it made me more likely to get cancer. So what? I would be less likely to get PML and that’s nearly always deadly so…winning! I can look for cancer. I can prevent it or treat it. That was much more appealing to me than a deadly brain virus. Sign me up.

I had a few really great days after my first infusion where I got the first half dose. I did then and I do now chalk this up to the hit of Solumedrol they give you with the Ocrevus. It wore off and I kind of went back to before (I couldn’t let myself call it normal…I can’t accept this as normal yet). This time, though, I had some lingering post-two-month-flush things going on, things like terrible back pain, weakness in my thighs and really bad headaches the kind I’ve never had before in my life. I might have felt a little less fatigued but not much. I focused my hopes on the second 1/2 dose. I mean, how much could a 1/2 dose really do?

I made myself feel better. I allowed myself to believe there was hope to get back to “normal” by focusing on the magic that would happen after my second half dose. I had a crazy busy work week and I made it through somehow so that’s a good sign, right?

Well, you probably know already what I’m going to tell you. I had my second dose on May 23. It’s almost a week later and I’m here to tell you that it’s been a tough week. I’m struggling. I remembered I took the week after Memorial Day off from work on Tuesday morning after Memorial Day and I was beyond relieved. I didn’t feel strong enough to shower AND go into work. I knew it was going to be a day of “or’s.”

My legs are still weak as hell. I’m actually having pretty severe balance issues, which is new for me. The headaches continue. I’m not feeling great. I keep trying to pretend I do then I do something that should be easy, like taking a shower or changing the sheets on my bed, and I have to hold on to the bed or the walls of the shower because I’m trying not to give in and simply go down because the pain in my lower back is so sharp I feel like I’m being cut in half.

There are a few things I need to do this weekend before I go back to work on Monday.  Changing the sheets was one and that almost did me in. I did what I’ve been doing during the two month flush – I laid on the bed for half an hour after I finished and waited for the pain to go away. The kitties have come to really love this tradition. They walk all over me purring and head butting and being generally lovable but that really only helps a little. I feel pathetic. I had the thought I have so frequently lately, “This has to get better at some point. It HAS to get better.”

The other tasks on my list are just as boring. Laundry, because when I’ve run out of pajama bottoms that I haven’t accidentally peed through at some point or other during the last several weeks, it’s time to do laundry. First I had to sort. My back was throbbing so I realized quickly that I had to sit. Hence the chair you see above. I sat in front of my giant laundry tub and I sorted. It reminded me of how I put my clean pillow cases on – while seated on the bed. It’s what I have to do. For now, is what goes through my head as soon as I type those words, but is it really only for now? Or am I being delusional?

I know there will likely be four trips up and down the stairs while I switch loads, carrying laundry up and back down, you know the laundry drill. You probably do it without even thinking. You are probably annoyed by it but it’s nothing more than that, an annoyance. I feel like I’m doing a triathlon. FOR NOW, I think again.

But is it?

Maybe the new goo is only capable of doing so much. Maybe this is it and I should stop thinking about for now and start figuring out how to accept this reality. I need a chair to sort laundry. I need to sit while putting pillows in pillow cases. My pain is almost constant and also makes me feel very tired. This is just what it’s like now. Things like this will happen to all of us as we get older, it’s inevitable. We will all slow down. Age isn’t really avoidable. I’m just getting it all at once. It isn’t like losing a limb. It just makes little things big things and fast things impossible. It is what it is!

The other things on my list for today – grocery shopping, pet store and a shower – those will wait until tomorrow. They will have to. I’m tired of thinking of a time when “this” isn’t going to be like this. It’s probably not going to change and I need to accept it. It could be so much worse! I have happiness in my life, in spite of it. It probably looks nothing like your vision of happiness or even my own vision of happiness from two years or so ago, before my diagnosis. But I’m not unhappy. I’m just annoyed.

So I think my new quest, since I always seem to need to have a quest, is to figure out how to stop waiting and hoping to feel better. My new quest is to adjust my thinking (again).

I need to stop being disappointed when the pain comes, or when I have to sit down, or when I can’t do things I wanted to do. It is what is is. We all have our things to deal with in life. This is mine. This is my latest, I should say. There will likely be others to come cause hey, I have a chronic disease! That’s chronic degenerative disease life, man, it only gets worse.

The real truth is that I won’t be able to stop hoping. I know myself too well. But I am hoping that I do better at not beating myself up for my failings. I need to stop feeling like I’m failing because I’m not getting better. Maybe I will get better! Maybe that day WILL come. But until it does, I have to just live and stop waiting to live.

I have joined a few Ocrevus support groups today on Facebook that have already been helpful. It helps to hear about others and their experiences with this brand new drug because so little is known about how or when or if it works. Just knowing that I’m not the only one who is on the new goo who isn’t feeling all better yet makes me feel better. Just knowing that there are others who are waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better and getting frustrated that it hasn’t magically kicked in just yet. Reading one woman’s comment about waiting it out, not expecting miracles after one dose made me feel better. It might mean nothing, but it made me feel better.

I’m going to cultivate patience and peace. If it doesn’t get better, I will learn how to be this new me and not be miserable. I know I will. Because I have to. This new life is different, so different than what I expected to be living right now, but it isn’t terrible.

Gotta go now and switch loads. It’s almost bedtime and I need clean jammies. Clean jammies and clean sheets. See? Life isn’t bad. Life is just different.

Life. Is. A. Lot. 

Today was our first day in our swanky new office space. That’s it above. Well. That’s some of it. It’s kind of giant. Much more space than we had before and amazingly technologically advanced and all shiny and new. The team was so excited.  It was a good day. 

It was also a long, hard, active day that required much planning for things I used to be able to take for granted. 

First, I’d planned a welcome party for the team and the fabulous group of support folks from the mother ship out of town who got us moved and up and running. We closed down on Friday at noon. We walked into an amazing new office where everything worked on Monday morning. 

It was a minor miracle. So we had a “welcome to your new home” breakfast and mimosas, thanks to our new office manager and all around awesome woman, Pam (that’s her up there in the picture). I didn’t have to do a damn thing but get into downtown Pittsburgh and park close enough that I could walk into my new office before the party began at 10am. 

This involved pre-laying out clothing (all black of course), showering the night before and bag packing to get my laptop back to the office. It involved figuring out how to put makeup on this face that is literally covered in some kind of rash or middle aged acne or plague (it’s bad). It involved every inch of my broken brain and quite a few spoons to accomplish. 

I did it. It may or may not have involved valet parking at the hotel across from my new office, but I did it. 

We toasted. We nibbled treats. Then I proceeded to move my office furniture around because I hated where they put my desk. My office has a glass door on the back and a garage door that opens on the other side. This means my back was either at the door or the garage door and I hated that. So I moved everything around. Myself. So my back could be against a wall. I sat several times in the process. My body is struggling at this point from the early morning planning and stress. I proceed to unplug and replug every electrical device on my desk – there are quite a few. I sit down in my chair with my back to the wall. I am victorious!

I hate it. It’s all wrong. I try to tell myself it’s ok as I head off to do the final walk-thru of the space with the project manager and the architect. But I have to pee first. This is when I realize how very far away my office is from the ladies’ room. It’s more steps than were in my entire old office. I have to circle the office to get to the ladies’ before heading to the front lobby to meet the architect. I have to pee really badly. Somehow I make it. It’s a goddamn MS miracle. 

We do the walk-thru. Paint this, replace that, this is coming later this week and those doors should be in by Friday…and my legs feel like solid lead tree trunks. I’m stumbling on our funky new carpet. They pretend not to notice and I am grateful. I get back to my office feeling relieved that I made it. The tour is done. 

And I have to pee again. Sigh. 

When I get back from my sojourn to the ladies’ I grab the architect who is rearranging various furniture around the space to his liking and I ask his opinion of my office arrangement. “I hate it,” he says. I hate it too. I move it all to the other side to face the opposite wall. I still hate it. Nothing fits where it should. I’m beginning to feel defeated. I think I sprouted a few new zits. I’m starving. Because it’s 1pm and I last ate two hard boiled eggs this morning at 7am. 

My bestie and I head down to the lobby to dine at one of two restaurants in the lobby of our new building. This is extremely handy since my legs aren’t quite operational at this stage. My luncheon companion is a true friend. She alerts me to the new blemish that has popped up on my lower cheek. I pick at it absently because it’s distracting me from how badly my back hurts. I’m doing this over lunch. I’m in a restaurant. I am disgusting. 

We have a great lunch after which I head back to my entirely wrong office and attempt to move the furniture around again. After a few tries at new positions, I flat give up and just start grabbing passers by to enlist their help. My team are a wonderful bunch. It took four of us but we finally got my feng shui to a place where my soul could feel at ease. At least for now. 

I stumble to the swanky new conference room at the other side of the building (again) to do a surprise conference call with an important client. I overestimate how long it’s going to take me to get there, so I just sit in the room alone and doodle. I can’t go all the way back to my office and all the way back here AGAIN and remain on my feet in the time I have left. When my two co-workers arrive to the room five minutes later, they both look at me kind of funny. I just shrug. This is my life now. They get me. 

The end of the day speeds by in a whirlwind of calls, emergency emails, a few more calls…a few more emails, trips to the bathroom and other minor walk abouts. When I finally realize I should probably text the valet to bring around my car because it is after 6pm and I’ve been out of spoons since around noon,  I shudder at how utterly ridiculous it is that I actually paid to valet park all damn day. 

I laugh at myself. Pack up my things. Walk to the elevators to head down to the lobby just as my car is arriving as if by magic or some kind of crazy kismet. But no, it’s because I paid a million dollars to valet park FOR THE DAY. Instead of thinking how ridiculous I am, I hop on in and proceed to head home with my bestie, my daily co-pilot. 

I don’t even care that I got caught in a speed trap on the way home and was presented with a ticket for $190 (and four points on my license) because I’ve learned something today. 

Who the eff cares? Who cares how overtly ridiculous I am? Who cares that I make outrageous plans, plots and orchestrations just to get through the damn day? Who cares that I paid to valet park and subsequently got a speeding ticket that is about the cost of my old parking lease? Who gives a good goddamn?

I’m lucky I have all of these options at all. Amazingly lucky. Let’s focus on the gratitude. 

I worked from 9:45am through 6:15pm and didn’t perish. I finally achieved decent office feng shui. I may have more zits than I had when I left the house this morning but at least I have good friends who won’t let me walk around with new blemishes on my face completely unbeknownst to me. (She knows me. She knows I’d have killed her when I got home and saw it for myself.) 

So I got a ridiculous speeding ticket! That cop ain’t gonna harsh my semi-comatose buzz. I may have come home and crawled right into bed before 8pm. But I did it. I got there on time. I remained on my feet when it was required. I made a festive toast and rearranged my office furniture at least seven times.  

Somehow that has to be enough. 

Life is a lot. Just getting through a basic everyday  day is a lot. But tomorrow is Ocrevus infusion day. My second half dose. Maybe now that I’ll be fully dosed for the next six months, all of this won’t be so hard in the near future. Someday I might be able to stay up and watch some tv when I get home after a long day. Someday I might even be able to go out for an after work drink or something nutty like that! 

It could happen. Until then, I’m just grateful for this awesome bed. It understands me. 

New flash: I still have MS

The eye roll emoji has become my favorite lately.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve had MS for years and you’ve gone through these early years of highs and lows and more lows and lower lows before and you’ve come out the other side with a more even keeled way of looking at the world and your disease, I envy you. I envy you a lot.

Being on this teeter-totter of symptoms, emotions, life crises, lost days, quasi-hopeful normal days, more frequent ultra shitty-shitty days is not fun. It’s hard to know how to feel from one moment to the next. Because I had a decent couple of days this week (now I am realizing that were very likely caused by my hit of that magical substance Solumedrol and not some fast-acting miracle of the new goo), I decided to try getting back to my old routine.

I went into the office three days in a row. I moved around more than I have been able to do in weeks. I showered and got dressed and went into work with clothes and makeup on. I felt weird, but OK, so I went with it.

I packed up most of my office in preparation for our office move later this week. I took a few walks down memory lane, looking at old pictures and remembering my 14 years so far with this company, fondly. I went home at night tired. I went back in the morning. I managed.

Here I am at the end of the week realizing something pretty obvious. I don’t feel that much better at all. I just fooled myself into thinking I did because I wanted to so badly.

I realized this as a result of two things that happened today that are undeniable evidence that I do, indeed, still have MS:

  1. Evidence the first: I managed to get myself to my MRI appointment at 7:45AM this morning without incident. I had to get this appointment in before my next Ocrevus infusion as ordered by The Great Scott, and Saturday morning at the ass crack of dawn was my only option between now and my next infusion. I did fine. I listened to the banging and the humming and the thrumming of that horrible machine for half an hour and then I was done. I got myself a post-MRI souffle (my favorite early morning treat) and came home to climb back into bed. And then I proceeded to sleep until 4:30PM.  I slept all damn day. I struggled to force myself awake because I knew I should. I dragged myself to Target to get a few things I needed but mostly just to get myself out of the house before I fell back to sleep again. Halfway through my trip to Target my legs started to do that thing they do – that shaky, heavy, dragging thing they do – and I was grateful to have the cart to hold on to. I had to rest in my driveway before unloading. I felt defeated.
  2. Evidence the second: A little later, I was emptying the Litter Locker on the second floor because it had gotten too full and I needed to start a fresh bag. I began my descent down the steps carrying my big bag of kitty poo, my bottle of water (always in my hand) and my phone (also always in my hand) and stepped down the first step…and promptly fell on my ass. I fell backward. Back on to the hallway floor. I dropped the bag of kitty waste (thank the good lord above that the bag didn’t break). I dropped my phone and my water bottle and landed flat on my ass on the floor. I just had to sit there for a minute to collect myself. Then I grabbed the bag of kitty waste and proceed down the rest of the steps. I had to go back up for my water and my phone. I couldn’t manage all of those things at once. I did NOT get hurt. I have ample butt padding that I really just sat hard on the floor, not really a fall at all, more like an unexpected sit. I just hadn’t planned on sitting on the floor so hard in that particular spot at that particular time so I guess it surprised me.

I came down to the living room and realized, I don’t have any energy again. I slept all day. I did almost nothing. And I am about to go to bed again. I wanted to paint my nails. I don’t have the energy to paint my nails. Or watch television. Or do any other thing I was going to do on this Saturday night. I am going back to bed and I’ve barely been conscious a total of four hours so far today.

It gets demoralizing, all of the hoping and having the hopes dashed again. It gets exhausting pretending to feel OK when you don’t, and wanting really really badly to get back to your old routine and then realizing that your old routine wears you out to the point of falling flat on your butt out of nowhere sitting, stunned, on the floor beside a giant bag of poop.

I know there is hope. I know I’ve only had half of one dose of the new goo. I know all of it. I just felt good-ish for a couple of days and it made me really happy to feel like that. Going back again, so soon, is kind of crushing. Like I keep getting reminders that I do, indeed, still have MS as much as I would like to pretend I don’t. Nothing works that fast, nothing really works to eliminate existing symptoms at all, really. It’s only going to keep me from getting worse.

I wanted to feel better so badly!

And that’s why I envy you, mature-in-disease-years MS people. I envy your level headedness and your long view. I envy your earned ability to take all of this in stride because you’ve been dealing with it for so very long, it’s just normal to you now. I envy your ability to frankly accept that no good day means ALL good days (just like no bad day means ALL bad days). I envy your ability to manage all of this and not let it get you down. You accept it. It just is.

My old life is too close in the rear-view mirror for me to accept all of this just yet. Objects in mirror are indeed closer than they appear.

I still fight it. I resist it. I don’t want to believe that this is just how it’s going to be now. Forever. It’s just how it’s going to be. No highs will last and no lows will be always. The teeter-totter is life. There is no adjusting. There is only accepting your complete and total lack of control over just about any little thing.

Sometimes I can. Sometimes I look at this and think…Well, we all have to learn this lesson in life somehow. I just have a disease to force me into it. Other people will have to learn it too because all control is an illusion. There is no control. I learned this once before. I am learning it again. They (the normals) will have to learn it too, someday, it just might not be as obvious to them as it’s happening, like it is to me. This is the single lesson of life none of us can avoid.

Taking the high highs and the low lows in stride is the secret to life. It’s definitely the secret to successfully having multiple sclerosis.

I am looking forward to being a sage old MS’er some day. Where I will look fondly at newbies like me and think to myself, “Ah! I remember when this was so hard every day. Thank god those days are over.”