I finally had a massage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Michael told me what happened to Max.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not.

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

Twas the night before infusion #2

Tomorrow, merely one sleep away, is my second full dose of the new goo (Ocrevus for new readers).

I feel like a kid before the first day of school. My lunch is packed. I have an extra water bottle ready. Speaking of water, I’ve been chugging it all day in order to have plump and juicy veins with which to infuse that magical elixir…I’ve laid out my clothes. I’ll be in bed before 9:15PM since I have to be at the hospital by 7:45AM.

It will never stop being a mystery to me why they tend to schedule appointments for people who have MS so early in the morning. They KNOW how mornings work when you have MS (i.e. they do not work at all) and yet, here I am. Stressed out about the mere idea of a 6AM wake up call. But I’ll be there with bells on at 7:45 AM sharp because I’m more than ready to feel even a bit better.

I think my hopes are irrationally high.

We all know that it was only a month or so after my first Ocrevus infusion when all hell broke loose. The Great Scott has done what he could do to assuage my fears that maybe the new goo wasn’t the right goo for me…he insists on clinging to the notion of “just bad timing, Maribeth” and I’m kind of clinging right along side of him. We’re buds that way now.

I just want to be able to do more things. I just want to feel better so that I can stop spending so much time at home. So I can be interested in other things. Life things. People things. Thing that exist outside the realm of my home address. I want to feel happy again and not afraid of falling every minute of every day. I want the pain to stop haunting me every single freaking day. I want to go back to normal bad (which was actually good) instead of relapse bad (which wasn’t any good at all).

I want to shower more than once a week.

All of these things seem so greedy to me now. Now that I’ve gotten my first glimpse of that relapse life, I’ve finally remembered to be grateful for the regular bad (good) my life used to be. I’ll even take the 5 minute Solumedrol energy bump I’ll get with my Ocrevus tomorrow. I won’t even care if I turn into the woman on the moon again around the facial area! I just want to feel a teeny, tiny, smidgen of better. Even for a little while.

So I’m putting it out there in the universe properly this time.

I will feel better. Things won’t be so terrible anymore. The new goo is wonderful and the bad timing is a thing of the past. Tomorrow, my timing will be perfect. Right time. Right drug. Right as rain.

Gotta go drink two more liters of water before bedtime. Don’t want to have dried up invisible veins for my big day. I’ll have the best veins ever.

Are you listening, Universe? I said I’LL HAVE THE BEST VEINS EVER. This is gonna work. Got that?

When words fail the writer

Rest in peace, Daddy. You did good.

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

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

I remember that now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Passing the Open Windows

Finally a real top down day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Darkest Places (So Far)

In other words, when you get a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis that you weren’t expecting late-ish in life and let those words sink in, you understand viscerally that this is definitely not a good development. Things are about to change from top to bottom and every where in between. You pretty much get that from the very beginning (for me, early December 2015). You have to tell people who love you, first. Those are dark days indeed.

As you read and do some early research and find some voices you rely on for reliable information you feel yourself wanting to be hopeful, wanting all of those voices to be true. The voices of the Societies and Foundations and all the rest. This whole MS thing will be bad for a good long while, but it WILL get better. You will find your legs (bad choice of words or the perfect set of words. Depends on how you look at it). Just believe it. Hang in there. MS doesn’t have you!

The lazy writer in me wants to use the eye roll emoji in this post at this particular juncture. You get on that “MS doesn’t have me bus” and you listen to friends tell you stories about their friends (or friends of friends sister’s aunt twice removed) and she runs marathons with MS. Surely you can do that too! Chin up, buttercup. Better days are on the way.

And I do know there are better days on the way. Currently, better days are in speedy delivery mode as I choked down the most bitter giant 10 chalky tablets of prednisone ever made this evening after a command performance today with The Great Scott.

When TGS calls you and says be here at 1:40PM well…you put on your best black yoga pants/tank top combination. You have 75 identical versions of each so it’s a complex decision making process. You run your lint roller over your freshly laundered daily uniform because with four felines running around, and over, every surface of every item in my home that I’ve not left all that much in the last 6 or so weeks, you can’t be too careful. You don’t want TGS thinking you’re that cat lady (even though you are much much worse than that cat lady…he doesn’t need to know that). You pop an antivert and you get your growing behind off the couch to see the wizard.

And that is exactly what I did.

The Great One himself had two new students, Kyle and another Samir but not the same Samir from the last time. This Samir had some shiny and very voluminous black hair styled in a casual, not-over-done hipster doctor pompadour. It was really something. I’m a hair girl! I can’t help it. Kyle didn’t have a chance. I was covetous of Samir’s hair. Samir’s hair should have an Instagram account because MS’ers all over would follow him.

When Samir was doing my visual fields test and I had to stare at his fingertip and at his nose over and over again, I kept finding myself staring at his hair and he would say, “Down here, Maribeth” and I definitely blushed.

But I digress. After we went through the whole visual field song and dance again, twice, with each student, TGS talks to all of us as if we’re buddies. I think I’m officially one of them, now, based purely on the volume of times I’ve had to be in there in the last 6 months. He asked Kyle what we learn from the visual field test (the whole follow my finger, look at my nose routine). It was almost like TGS knew I was about to blurt out the answer and he look at me and silently shook his head ever so subtly, “Don’t.” (So I didn’t.)

Poor Kyle whiffed on both of his quiz questions. The other one was, “Can you tell me what other drugs beyond meclazine we sometimes use to manage vertigo caused by brain lesions Kyle?” I knew! I’ve been a vertigo researching fool these past 6 weeks or so. I KNOW THIS ONE TOO…I got the look again. I kept my mouth shut, again.

TGS is not pleased that his students appear to be dullards on this subject. Kyle actually stuttered. Poor Kyle.

“Sometimes we use benzos for this reason and we’re going to try that here to help Maribeth out. Also, Maribeth, this drug may kill two birds with one stone because I’m putting you on another course of high dose steroids starting today,” deadpanned The Most Great of all Scotts.

NOOOOOOoooooooooooooooOOOOOOOoooooooo!

“Ugh.” I actually said this. “Isn’t there any other option? I mean MORE steroids? I’m kind of tired of the steroid effect TGS. I just am. I know that makes me a shallow asshole but there has to be another option.”

“Well, there’s plasma replacement blah-blahtity-blah but that is an in-patient experience, is not likely to work and is really a terrible idea so we can probably agree not to go there, can’t we? You have an aggressive disease. A lot more aggressive than we thought. You like being aggressive in treatment, right? We need to give you a chance. This should help you over this hump until your next Ocrevus infusion in early November. I’m still hopeful this drug is going to be right for you, Maribeth. But you do have me re-thinking the two month flush for patients like you. I may be changing my mind on the necessity of things getting this bad before they get better.”

He has a point. I’m nothing if not aggressive.

I do the walking tests. He continues to be concerned that I am back to pre-Tysabri levels of impairment (old symptoms have come back with a vengeance). Couple that with the vertigo that just won’t quit and he’s pretty sure I can cancel my appointment with the Hearing & Balance Center. (I’m kind of bummed. I was planning to go in costume since it’s kind of close to Halloween. I was going to dress up as a crazy old woman with a broken brain who’s lost her damn mind.) So, no Halloween fun for BethyBright. Boo.

I look down. I know I am beaten. He’s not called The Great Scott for nothing. I’ll take the fucking steroids.

Here’s the thing. I know some of you get this because you have been there. Hell. You might be there right now. You know what I mean. It’s a period of time so bad that weird shit starts to happen to you inside of your broken brain. You have thoughts that people like you just don’t usually have. You think to yourself, as you consider these random scary thoughts, “Huh. I don’t normally think things like this.” That’s another concerning relapse-associated “symptom” that the docs don’t talk much about.

You find yourself mildly afraid to leave the house. The outside world starts to represent potential injury and/or embarrassment or both, so you find yourself not wanting to go out there. At all. Ever. But staying in here? That’s another story entirely.

Staying in here is where it’s relatively safe (at least you can puke in private?). But staying in here sends a girl down some dark rabbit holes…

  • What did I do to deserve this? What am I being punished for? (I have some ideas, but I thought I was over all of that. Guess I’m not.)
  • Why do I live in this house that means I need help to do the most basic stuff? Why do I deserve to live in this happy place with so much freaking STUFF? I should give away all of this cursed stuff. We’re all under the same evil eye, my stuff and me. It should go, too. It’s cursed. I am cursed. We should all GO.
  • Why do I have so many damn cats? Why do they need so so much? I should never have been optimistic enough to get all of these needy, bitchy creatures. I should have known it would all go to shit! It usually does. Literally. Then I’ll need even MORE help to carry that shit out of the damn cursed house.
  • Why would anyone want to talk to me now? This utter nightmare is the ONLY thing I ever think about, let alone talk about. When I talk about it to my visitors, those kind enough to come to me for human contact, I find myself on my own damn nerves. There just isn’t a way to sugar coat any of this. I know if the tables were turned I’d leave your house feeling sadder than sad because we used to have so many other, more pleasant things to talk about. Now I have this. Only. This.
  • I’m alone. I rely on the graciousness of others. This is my reality. I am blessed (#blessed – few things irritate me more than #blessed I’m not entirely sure why but every time I see it, it sounds ironic to me). I have so many friends, family and buddies who help me in so many ways because they love me. Hell. They even help me by just giving me tiny little happy surprises! Like the card last week that I needed at just the right moment. But really how long can any of this last? People WILL get sick of me not getting better. It’s just inevitable. I’m so needy that there isn’t any realistic number of humans on the planet to fulfill all of my damn needs. It’s just not physically possible. I mean I am with me all of the time and I’m sick of me not getting better. What happens when I get worse? Or when I get MUCH worse…I can’t really think about that for very long or I go to darker places still.
  • Are there darker places than this? Oh I know there are. I have a feeling I might visit them before this is all over

I may have seriously entertained not taking the damn steroids. I definitely considered it, I may have come close to skipping my stop at the pharmacy. I’m so tired of all of the stupid side effects of fucking steroids! Why do I have to have a disease that makes me LOOK bad too. Why couldn’t I get a disease that makes you look scarily thin? Trust me. I know. These are idiotic, stupid pointedly indulgent obnoxious thoughts. I thought these idiotic thoughts the whole way home from seeing TGS.

Then I thought about how I had a virtual anxiety attack over leaving my house today. I have never had a true anxiety problem in my life. Other problems, sure, but not anxiety. And how doing basic chores has me so exhausted that I think my entire life is going to feel this way. For all time. Forever and ever until I just give up and stop, stop doing all the things let it all go to shit and just sleep. Because I am alone I am and will always be…This, my therapy loving friends is what my precious Cheryl would call “catastrophic thinking.”

Then it hit me. Out of the blue in full-on pedal to the medal on my way to Catastrophy USA, I finally got my head straight. Like BOOM.

The disease is talking right now. Not me. The disease is talking stupid because it wants to win. Its only reason to exist is to ruin me. It wants me to be depressed, full of newfound anxiety, falling apart at the seams. It wants me to hate on this body it wants to feed on because it makes the whole process so much easier, more easily digestible. Like tenderizing meat before you cook it. Those are NOT my thoughts.

When I feel better, my thoughts will be my thoughts again.

I took the damn first dose of bitter pills. They won’t be my last. I need to accept this and I have. I’ll eat sensibly and try not to go on an ice cream binge (prednisone needs no assistance in achieving maximum bloat) but I will have a couple of spoonfuls every now and then if it will give me some much needed joy.

It gets really dark in this world. Scary thoughts can kick you right in the gut and have you questioning your sanity. Your fundamental worth. Then you get to that point where you start to realize that maybe a nice gentle marinade would be ever so much more appealing on the meat than all of that beating it with a spiky metal mallet has been.

(I know at least one of my blog followers read that last paragraph and giggled thinking, “She said beat the meat! Hee Hee.” You know who you are!)

I’m going to marinade in some prednisone and some calming benzos and let this thing ride. Cliches are a thing because most of a time, they have more than a little nugget of truth inside.

And you know when they say it’s always the darkest.

Relapse: the Post Script

The thing is it doesn’t really matter how fed up I am. When you go through something like this last relapse, you tell yourself that it’s a minor set back. It’s just a hiccup. It can’t last forever! But then 6 weeks go by and you’re still feeling it and you start to think maybe it will indeed last forever.

There’s a lot of waiting involved when one has multiple sclerosis, particularly if one is young in their MS. Like me. I’m about 21 MS months old. I’m practically a MS baby but I’ve had my share of waiting in those 21 months.

First I waited to get approved for Tysabri. Then I got approved and I was waiting for the 6th or 7th infusion when I was told I’d feel better…and didn’t. Then I went through the 2-month flush before starting ocrevus, two months of feeling like such utter excrement, I could barely get myself out of bed. But once again, I got through it by telling myself that this amazing new drug would be the one that gets me back on the road to feeling more like myself again, but the thing is, it didn’t. I had about a month of feeling suddenly energetic and it felt awesome. Then, out of nowhere, I had a relapse two and a half months after my first Ocrevus infusion. I landed in the hospital for four days. Then I was waiting again, entirely focused on when I could get out and get back home so I could feel better. Then I got home, finally. But the feeling better part didn’t really happen.

I mean, it did. It did get better but when “better” just means occasionally throwing up as opposed to every time I ingested food and feeling like I’m drunk only 75% of the time versus 90% of the time but you could argue (and you would be correct) that I am better than I was. But better, better? Nah.

I’m back to waiting for the next great hope. That would be November. I find myself looking forward to November when I get my second full dose of Ocrevus hoping that maybe that will be the magical dose that helps me feel better once more…But the little voice in the back of my brain whispers, “Then again it might not…”

This disease requires a long game that I have never developed. To have this disease you have to be OK with your entire life being turned upside down over and over again, with more promises of “better” that come and go without the relief you were told would be coming.

So you focus on the next milepost. The next thing that might get your “overly active” disease under control for the first time since this whole crazy ride started so you can maybe not get back to “normal” (normal is probably never to be again) but maybe establish some new normal where this disease doesn’t affect every part of my every breath of my every second of every day. I have the experienced MS-er friends. They, who are much older in MS years than I, assure me that this is coming. I believe them! But sometimes it just makes me feel stupid for believing in fairy tales.

I did make it back to work last week. I made it to the office two days in a row. It felt awesome to finally leave my house but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that it was hard as hell. I practically had to force myself out the front door. I don’t look like myself. I forgot how to wear real clothes. Putting on makeup (which I usually enjoy) felt like putting on a disguise, someone impersonating the old me, not me at all.

I was so very happy to be out there, I really was, but I was also scared to death. What if I’d used all of my good hours in those days getting myself out of the house and into the office? What if I ran out of good hours before I’d make it home again? What if I had to use one of my handy portable puke bags but this time not in the privacy of my own home but in public among people who look to me for leadership? I’m supposed to be inspiring, the inspiring leader of the office! I was afraid for every minute of every hour I was outside of my home. Who have I become?

I’m back home now for a week of rest taking a long-ago scheduled week of vacation because I think I obviously need more rest. Ya know what gets tiring after a while? So…Much…Rest. Rest is wearing me out. Resting a faulty body that never feels rested no matter how many hours I’ve been able to stay unconscious, though I know it’s the best and only thing I can do, it feels anything but restful.

Nobody is pressuring me. Everyone, from my peers to my team to my colleagues and bosses is being as supporting as you would expect them to be in a situation like this. The one person who isn’t cooperating is probably me. I have higher expectations for myself. I’ve not allowed myself to believe that THIS life is my new life. This is just one of those waiting periods, another thing that I need to deal with, wait out or get beyond. I tell myself that I love my quieter, slower life but much like anything else I’ve had imposed on me, I might like it but I don’t really want it. I only like being quiet and slow when I’m doing it on my own terms. These are decidedly not my own terms. I’m not sure who’s terms I’m working with but MS and its terms are not acceptable to me.

I struggle with the whole phases of grief thing. I remember it well from when I went through this after my husband died almost 20 years ago. It used to frustrate the hell out of me to realize, as I was going through it, that those phases didn’t happen in a nice, planned, consecutive order. They happen all at once. All at the same time, sometimes completely out of order. When you think it’s over, those phases start happening again all willy nilly. Once you’ve experienced grief, you know that nothing about grief is at all tidy. You cannot control it. You just have to let it do its thing and wait.

People will tell you that you will be able to see the other side when you’re grieving but you really can’t. When it has moved on and you have a new life, it’s almost like a surprise. When did that happen? You really can’t put your finger on it. Once it happens, you wonder how you never noticed it as it took over. The feeling of seeing grief in your rear view mirror is more shocking than that. It’s like an old childhood friend who suddenly moves away. You’re sad because you’ve spent so much time together that it started to feel comfortable, but you guys were never really very good friends. You know you won’t miss your friend, grief, not as much as you thought you would, but then again, it will never really be gone. You will always feel it. Lingering on the edges of your life that is mostly happy it will be back there to remind you that it could all go away. Poof. Just like it did once before.

There is a silver lining to all of this. It’s a pretty obvious one, really. The silver lining is that I’ve done this before. I can do it again. I thought I’d never get any sort of normal life back after the one I had went POOF, but I did. I actually made a life that I really started to love. I just have to do it again!

We all have these transitions that we go through all through our lives where we are suddenly forced to acknowledge that having plans, being focused on anything but the moments, is really kind of a lie. “Nothing gold can stay.” Ponyboy Curtis taught me this when I was a pre-teen.* It might not be gold, anymore, but you learn to get great joy from silver and bronze. Sometimes you even get some platinum here and there. My slow, strange life might change or it might not. It might just one day feel like it should. Real. Until then, there’s always November.

Also, it’s not hot anymore. I can’t even believe I’m saying this but I almost turned my furnace on tonight! I thought better of it. But I almost did. It’s gorgeous sleeping weather. I better get to it.

 

  • “Nothing gold can stay” is an iconic line from one of my favorite childhood books, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton who was referring to a poem by Robert Frost in 1923:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

 

 

The tortoise and the hare (guess which one I am)…

I'm working on adjusting my expectations but I have to be honest, it's harder than I want it to be. Listen. I've never been the hare. Even at my best, I've never been what you would call naturally speedy or lithe. I've always been rather clumsy which in turn meant that I did things slower than the average bird. I also might have been described, by people who know me well, as a person who is either all on or all off. I am either 100% dedicated to my task or I want nothing to do with it at all – there was very little middle ground in my life. I believed in black and white. Gray was a shade in which I didn't do so well.

Fast forward to the last 18 months after my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I was teaching myself to do life a little differently. I had to learn that my brain might want to do all of the things – but my body probably had other ideas. There was a lot of pain and a lot of feeling like I was running on empty. I was learning – I didn't like it. But I was learning. I was learning that my life would be lived, from now on, in small chunks. In shades of gray.

I used to get frustrated by only being able to do two or three things in a row before I'd crap out. Those typical things might include…going to work, coming home to kitty chores and maybe some writing at night. Or on a weekend they might include going to run errands (one store only), getting a pedi and changing the sheets OR doing laundry (never both). I was learning.

In the weeks since my hospitalization, I've had to start thinking about a whole new level of slow. I'm down to one thing a day. ONE THING.

Yesterday, I took a shower. That depleted me to the level that I could  barely sit up straight while my dear friend trimmed up my hair and waxed my eyebrows in my kitchen last night. The day before that, my one thing was trying to drive to the grocery store to pick up groceries. It was super hot. I got super dizzy. That one thing was almost one thing too many. Lesson learned.

Today's one thing was running the vacuum. My cleaning lady had to call off this week so it will be two weeks until she cleans again. The cat hair situation was becoming a bit much. Every day I come down from my bedroom to plop in my chair to try and amuse myself for a few hours before I fall into bed again to sleep more, I am distracted by the tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds of cat hair, blowing through my home, now that the windows are gloriously open and the breezes are flowing into my home. I had to do something about the tumbleweeds.

I did it. I vacuumed. I felt better. And I felt worse. This would be my one thing for today.

Today was a glorious day! The dew point is low and the temps are more fall-like than late summer. After my hair cut last night I was so tired, I forgot to eat. I was hungry this morning and even though staying in bed was tempting, I had to eat something. I thought for a hot minute that maybe I'd attempt to go out again today. Maybe I'd walk to the end of the block – see how I did. Maybe I would run to Target to get a non-slip shower mat (my stupid stick-on shower treads were an epic fail…they didn't last through even one shower).

But once I sat in the kitchen with the breeze flowing through the open windows eating a yummy blueberry muffin, I knew what I really wanted to do was to go back to bed. I needed more sleep. The sheers blowing in the wind in my bedroom relax me. The twinkling of the chimes that hang on the porch of my house and my neighbor's porch calm me. When the air is on, and the 17 fans I have running in my bedroom are running and the windows are closed up tight to keep the dreaded heat and humidity outside – I can't hear the chimes. I can't hear much of anything. It's like nothing outside of my room (or my house) even exists.

But today! Today was the kind of weather I live for. And while most people in the world would be outside doing outside things and having fun and traipsing around the city doing perfect weather things, like brunching and window shopping and maybe hitting up a farmer's market or a second hand store…I listened to my body and went back to bed.

I would like to tell you that I didn't feel badly about doing what my body told me I needed to do. I did have the passing feeling of regret that I'd waste this perfect day. I didn't waste it though. I had a lovely sleep. I had lunch with my mom (late lunch of course) on my porch. After lunch, I came inside. I ate a fresh peach and some cherries – my latest obsession since remembering that I love cherries and they were on sale on Thursday when I got my groceries. Of course I didn't know that, but my mom did. She's like a professional bargain shopper. I had forgotten how much I love cherries.

And then I attacked the cat hair tumbleweeds. Only on the first floor, mind you, I'm not a triathlete of home chores or anything. By the time I sat down to wind up the cord, one important chore completed, I realized how doing that one thing felt like working out.

I have to figure out how to do more than one thing soon. I mean, I can't stay home forever. I have to move around in the world. I have to try.

I can accept that I'm the tortoise. I always preferred the tortoise to the hare. The hare was a bit full of himself for my taste and it is the actual moral of the story by Mr. Aesop, isn't it? Slow and steady win the race. I guess I never realized how slow slow could go.

I'm going to try a few more things next week. I'm going to try to get myself to the office. My cat lady helper is only signed on through Monday. After that, I will have to handle the steps at least twice a day to handle the litter boxes. I am already training myself to accept that this might be the extent of what I can accomplish in a single day. If I shower, one or the other of those things will have to give since I'm down to one-a-day status. I can't help but wonder how long this snail's pace can keep up?

I see The Great Scott on Wednesday. I'm actually a little nervous about it. I am wondering what he's going to have to say about my whole stint in the joint and the decrepit condition of my body since then. It's been almost two whole weeks since I got out. I'm not dizzy 100% of the time anymore but I'm nowhere near pre-hospital levels – which in and of themselves were not really that impressive at all, if we're being totally honest.

I'm going to get a name for my PT so I can make an appointment with someone who knows MS and get that started, too. I wonder how I will have energy to do the things I need to do to make myself stronger when I'm in this one-thing-a-day phase. Where does going to physical therapy fit in? What will have to give (besides everything)?

Slow and steady win the race, said Mr. Aesop. I wonder if the tortoise had a chronic autoimmune disorder? I wonder if he resented his inching along the race track, noting every pebble, every twig, every leaf on every bush planted low to the ground while he kept his little tortoise eyes focused right in front of him so as not to get too overwhelmed by the task at hand. I wonder if he knew he would win the race in the end..Or if maybe he learned that the race isn't really meant to be won. It's meant to be experienced and maybe even learned from.

I wonder if he was ever afraid that he was going so slow, he was barely moving at all?

But how about this weather, folks! It's glorious. It's what my mom used to call perfect sleeping weather. I guess it's a good thing then, that I am going to be doing a lot of just that. Very soon. Again. I will lay in bed and read my scary book and remind myself that the tortoise actually wins the race in the story. He just does him (he always looks happy in the illustrations). The other forest animals cheered him on the entire way. He gets there, when he gets there.

I guess I will too.

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.

Tales of an elderly shut-in, episode 1

Funny things happen when you spend a lot of time alone. Your brain goes places long ago left behind. You start thinking about every little thing.

I find it odd, specifically because I have always spent a lot of time alone and I have also always enjoyed the crap out of that fact. Maybe it's because I get so much of people in my work? By the time I get home from all of the managing, talking, maneuvering, game-of-thrones-playing and otherwise interacting with my team, my clients and my colleagues I am fairly well talked out. I make a nightly call to my mom on my way home from work so that once I finally walk in the door, I don't need to talk to another single human until the next day. It's kind of glorious.

Even though I've been home for over a week dealing with this vertigo mess, I've had more visitors than I usually have and a lot more social visits – even though most of them occurred in my bedroom with visitors gazing down upon me lying flat on my back, I still got to see people. It was nice. But now that I'm facing down another Monday and likely a week where I will be working from home, it's starting to motivate strange thoughts in my brain. Like…why am I so happy alone?

Am I trying to protect myself? I mean, it's possible. I've not chosen very wisely in my long years of relationships with men. Probably because most of them weren't men so much as boys. My husband and I were as opposite as opposites get. He was fun-loving and happy, the life of every party – I was intense and responsible. Once he was gone, I took it on myself to make up for his absence by being as "fun" as I could be (you can interpret that as you will, but I think you know what I mean). I had a particular weakness for bartenders, ideally under 25.

I had a few bigger relationships, sure I did. None of them were what I would now call very real. I was looking to fill a void, change my own perception of myself, or even just experimenting to learn more about myself. Filling time! Having mindless fun.

The last big fling was such an unmitigated disaster (I was around 43? I think? It's hard to remember) that I haven't gone back to the plate since. I have no idea why I'm using sports metaphors. I literally hate sports. I also literally hate being in relationships, based on my reflections of late.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook tonight about how long she'd been single and how it might be time to head out there again. This is a really good friend, which might seem odd because we've never actually met in person but to say that she has become one of my best friends in such a short time would not be an understatement. She is my MS guru. My sounding board. She makes me laugh. She understands when I cry. That post of hers today made me think how long it's been since I've been in anything even resembling a relationship and it's a damn long time.

Like 8 years???

The funny thing is, even now that I have been diagnosed with a life-long chronic illness that makes living alone a challenge at times, I sincerely believe that the only thing that could make this whole experience worse would be to have to go through it in front of another human.

When I'm so low that I can only crawl up the stairs; When I'm so sad I just lay on the couch and sob while four animals lick my face trying to get my tears before they dry up; When I'm so tired I can only roll over and cling to my body pillow and close my eyes for a few more hours; there is nobody to pressure me. Nobody to urge me to try harder. Nobody who cares if my bedhead is so bad that it's officially become performance art.

When I need help, I've found ways to get it. Friends and family get the nod for being awesome just because they love me and believe me when I tell you, I've needed them. When things happen that aren't practical to bother friends and family for, I do what every single woman of a certain age must do. I HIRE SOMEONE! If it can be delivered, I order it. If it can be hired out, I do it. My current staff includes the following:

  • Cleaning lady
  • Yard guy
  • Window and gutter cleaning lady
  • Tree trimmer guy
  • Bug spraying guy
  • The usuals like plumbers, electricians and other handy people
  • Grocery stores where I can order online that put my groceries in my car for me
  • The people who make me feel better on the outside (hair girl, nail girl, massage guy – I have the general maintenance covered).
  • Various Postmates drivers (who may actually count as long-term relationships now that I think about it).

None of this is cheap, of course, but it makes life so much easier especially when your body seems intent on making life as hard as it can possibly be. Then there are my people at work who I can rely on for just about anything be it food for lunch, delivery of medicine, meetings in my living room while I can't stand up so good, general comradery – it's almost more productive than actually being in the office.

But I've been in this house for more than a week now and my mind wanders to strange places where I find myself wondering…why is it that I'm so happy alone?

I prefer my singular strangeness, quirks, bizarre habits and rituals when they are mine alone. Having so many people in and out all week has proven this to me. It makes me squirmy to explain to people all of the strange things/routines/rituals I have in my house day-to-day. Why everything looks super spiffy on the outside but the drawers are a disorganized mess. Why I put the cat bowls where I put them (in the same positions every single day). How I thoroughly scoop the litter boxes as if I'm being judged by a highly critical board of experts. How I make my bed the way I make it – and make it again before I get into it, if for some off chance I was too tired to do it that morning. How I fluff the pillows on my couch before I go to bed each night. How I only read in bed and how I've seen every episode of Law & Order SVU at least 500 times and can likely recite each one of them for you.

These things don't make me sad. They make me intensely happy. I feel the most me that I ever feel when I am home alone. Sometimes I think it's because of what I've done the minute I've gotten into any kind of relationship throughout my entire life. That would be immediately start trying to change myself into who some guy thought I should be. Or more accurately what I thought some guy wanted me to be. It has never not happened. Wait. That's a lie. It has happened at least once. Maybe twice. But each time there were other reasons so concrete why that dalliance could never go anywhere at all, it was never really that much of threat to my singularity. I knew I'd be back before long. And I'd have the same overwhelmingly familiar feeling when it was over.

Relief.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Oh Beth, stop, you just haven't met the right person yet! You're putting up walls to keep others out! You aren't really happy you just THINK you are and that's so sad!" But those of you that know me well will definitely understand. You get how being myself, and only myself, is so important to me, so hard-won a battle, that I've just not met the man yet who would be worth the risk of even losing a tiny bit of me in the making of a couple.

I'm not sure that man exists and to be frank, I'm almost glad of it. What the heck would I be doing with him now? Making him carry litter up the stairs? Take out my trash? Fix things that are broken? Make me happy when I feel sad?

Nobody can make me happy when I feel sad. Only I can do that. I learned that a long time ago. I found peace when I stopped looking outside of myself for that thing that would make me whole. I found peace in my solitude.

I guess that's a good thing, too. In my convalescence, I have a new member of my staff this week who I've already fallen in love with. She's my new cat helper, Kathy. I found her through another angel of a friend who knows what it's like to be a crazy cat lady with four cats and temporarily incapacitated.

My new cat sitter comes twice a day to feed and scoop. In the mornings, it's the most amazing thing! She gets here amazingly early (before the kitties have started their morning ritual of pouncing on my sleeping form to wake me for feeding time). I sleep right through it! I've gotten the best sleep of my life these past few days. While I am still dizzy as hell, I am starting to feel a little better. I can see better. I can read! I can sit upright for a few hours and not feel like I'm going to perish. It can't be long before I can leave the house, right? Things are looking up!

Tonight, when she came by for dinner hour, I was gushing all over her about how grateful I am for her help. It eases my mind more than you can imagine to know that I don't have to bend over, use steps and generally take my life in my hands in order to keep up with my rather um, extreme, kitty care standards, I told her. She is a wonderful human. She scoops like it was an Olympic sport! After I got done gushing, she said how happy she was that she hadn't woken me up this morning when she got in to do the morning shift.

"I was trying to be super quiet," she said. "I know how much you need your rest and I would have hated to wake you. I had some trouble with my key this morning and I was worried that it would disturb you but then I got the door open and headed up the stairs and I could hear you snoring, so I knew you were fast asleep! I was so relieved!"

I COULD HEAR YOU SNORING?!?!?!?

So there you have it. I snore. I had no idea. I thought maybe I snored occasionally, and when I did it would be tiny little snorts sort of like an adorable baby piglet would make and they certainly wouldn't be heard all the way from the steps. OH. MY. GOD.

I've added to the list of reasons why I'm happy to wallow in my solitude. My joyful, peaceful, calming solitude. My personal quiet sanctuary where I can be fully myself and nobody else. Maybe when I stumble across the man who can embrace all of that (AND the fact that I snore) I'll be willing to open the door a little. Or maybe not. I mean, unless he happens to stumble into my living room, it's highly unlikely that Mr. Right for Beth is going to make an appearance any time soon.

Unless he's the UPS guy. Who also loves cats. And chicks who snore.

 

 

Life is made up of a whole lot of steps

Think about the average day. From the time you put your feet on the floor beside your bed in the morning to the time you lift them off that same floor again when you finally lay down to sleep. Whether you’re a person who wears a tiny computer to tick off your ten thousand steps or whether you’re just an average under achiever like me (before MS) and you hovered more around 5,000 – in any case, that’s a lot of steps.

Steps aren’t all created equal. You probably take a lot of your steps for granted. The steps you take to get your coffee in the shop up the street. The steps you take in your house between rooms. The steps you take to the bus stop. The steps you take walking to and from your car. Those aren’t “big” steps but they’re steps just the same and until you face a time in your life where you can’t take a single step for granted, you probably aren’t very aware of them at all.

I got cocky. I know, I know. I do it every time.

I have a day or two that doesn’t completely suck and I get all over confident and start to think that maybe this isn’t really happening. Maybe I’m going to just keep feeling better and better and maybe I really don’t need all of these drugs I take every day…Maybe this has all been one big long bad dream that I am now going to joyfully wake up from and go back to being the average middle aged woman (who considers herself rather happily lazy). But no. That’s actually not the case. This is hella real.

I decided to do an experiment today and skip my morning dose of Ampyra to see if I really did need it. I mean, so many things have gotten a little bit better in the last week or so that I thought it was possible, at least conceivable, that maybe I didn’t need the miracle walking drug. I’ve been wishing I could cut down on my daily drug cocktail. I don’t really walk that well sometimes even when taking the walking drug, so I talked myself into the possibility that maybe it wasn’t really working so well at all.

I had a meeting this afternoon at a local high rise downtown office building not that far from my office. I didn’t set myself up for failure. I knew walking to that meeting from my office a couple of blocks away would be pushing my luck so I didn’t even try. I worked from home in the morning. To be honest, I felt rather exhausted today for the first time in a week or so and I felt like I needed the extra rest that would result from not going into the actual office before the meeting (fewer steps…it makes sense). I drove myself to the meeting but as soon as I stepped out of my front door I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

I’d forgotten how bad frankenlegs can be!

I was walking in my head, but the messages were definitely not getting to my actual legs. My legs were dragging. My gait was wonky – as if I’d spent the morning drinking strong hooch and not resting up for a client meeting. I was walking into walls and banging off of trash cans. I tried to park as close as I could to the entrance to the building but even in the parking garage under the actual building, the number of steps you have to walk just to get inside of a high-rise office building is more than you’d think. The handi-spaces aren’t very close to the elevators at all (the close parking spaces were all marked “reserved” and I can almost guarantee they were occupied by able bodied walkers). The entrance I went through was a little further away than the usual one I go into and that meant more (guess what?) steps.

When I parked, I realized I had to pee. I wasn’t sure where the closest bathroom would be (the bathroom that would require as few drunk steps as possible) but when I finally got to the elevator I noticed with joy that it was located one floor down on a lower parking level. I pressed the button down, and not up, where I was actually going, hoping the extra steps to get to the bathroom wouldn’t be too many for me. I saw the bathroom door just outside of the elevator doors as they opened and I heaved a sigh of relief! Not too many extra steps. It was a single. I tried to open the door. It was locked. I waited about ten minutes. I knocked. It wasn’t occupied it was just locked. Awesome.

I head back up the elevator to meet my team in the upper lobby by the security desk where you sign in for meetings. The escalator to get to the upper lobby moves at some insane break-neck speed that required me to focus and concentrate really hard in order not to break my neck whilst jumping on. People are walking very fast all around me. Some of them are obviously annoyed with my hesitation to get on the escalator. They have places to be! I ignore them. I’m used to being in the way of other people who are used to walking anywhere and everywhere without any effort as fast as they please. Don’t they think I’d LIKE to walk faster? Probably not. They assume I’m lazy or just in their way.

I make it to the top of the escalator and explain my leg predicament to the three co-workers I was meeting and told them I was going to be walking extra slow because my legs just weren’t, well, super operational. They were extremely understanding. They walked slow (really slow) with me. I was surrounded by support as I stumble walked to the elevator to the 57th floor. If you’re wondering, that’s a lot of steps between the escalator and the elevator bank to the 57th floor.

When we arrived on 57, there was yet more walking to the conference room where our meeting was to be held. My co-workers, again, were awesome. They stood around me like a fortress, making it almost certain that if I did fall on my face, one of them would break my fall and probably help me back up again. I was grateful for the support and embarrassed that I needed it. I’m supposed to be in charge. I’m the leader! It does a number on your psyche to hobble to a meeting. I mean, I’ve done it before. I’ve done it a LOT in my recent past but it never gets easier. It never stops being frustrating, embarrassing, and just plain annoying but having people around you who get it does make it a bit better.

I made it to the conference room but then I remembered I had to pee. Guess where the bathroom was? Right. Exactly. It was around the bend, through the kitchen and to the left, which is exactly the path I just stumbled to get to the conference room and now I would be doing it three more times. Mandy, one of my co-workers, offered to walk me there. It’s humiliating, no question about it, but I was in no shape to turn down an escort to the ladies so I gladly took her up on it. Bless her. Really. Life with MS would suck (even more) without understanding people.

We had a great meeting. I’m still me (especially when sitting down). My addled feeling stopped the minute I sat my ass in the seat around the conference room table.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. Walking, not very far, is a fundamental part of life! What would have made this experience better? I started to think about it. What walking aid would even help me in this situation? A cane won’t help my legs remember how to be legs. A rollator would make it even harder to navigate escalators that move at the speed of light. A scooter? Would I have to get an old lady car to accommodate my giant scooter so I could scoot from the parking lot to my destination (somehow) following the signs that indicate that you have to go completely out of your way to get where you’re going if you happen to need handicapped accessible pathways? None of these options seem workable to me.

Thank god I had some Ampyra in my bag and I popped when once I got to sit down but I still had some time before it would smooth out the walking signals and I know the whole concept of medication needing to maintain therapeutic levels to be effective. I got even more pissed at myself for experimenting with something so important. I walk funny WITH Ampyra. Without it, turns out, I can barely walk at all. Color me informed.

This is on my mind because I have some potential work travel coming up and I’m trying to get my head around how I’m going to manage that in my current state. If driving to a meeting in my own town causes this kind of consternation, imagine what happens when you add in a couple of airports, a southern climate (my travel would be to Atlanta. In July. FML). I’d have to be in good enough shape once I arrived to not only function but to engage, interact, be delightful even. Or make words in sentences that make sense, at the very least.

I thought I’d be farther along by now.

This disease isn’t moving at a speed that I find acceptable. I got cocky. A couple of good days had me booking airline tickets and throwing caution to the wind. A really bad day made me realize how bad an idea that is, right now. Right now? Right now I can manage only the fewest possible steps. I have to plan every detail of every day like a military operation focused on efficiency and minimizing foot traffic as if my life depended on it. When I’m home, I know where to park, where the paying machines are, where the bathrooms are, who I can call to help me, what my escape routes are in case of extreme distress…all of it! It’s not easy but I do it.

Toss in a trip down south for a day of executive training and all of that goes to hell. Will a cane help me? A rollator? A goddamn segway? Good lord. Imagine the damage I could do to myself and possibly others on a segway! I shudder to think of it.

I’ve already reached out to explore my options for attending remotely. I know people will understand if I can’t pull it off just yet. I think so, anyway. How long will that patience last? How do I not consider that question? It’s valid. But I don’t have room for it in my broken brain right now. There are too many other things to consider…like what I’d do if I happened to pee myself while hobbling around at super slow speed in search of a bathroom on unfamiliar turf.

Here’s what this cursed disease is teaching me.

Don’t get too cocky. You will be knocked on your proverbial ass. Keep trying, by all means keep trying, but also be realistic. Your B cells are still being killed off in droves and your body isn’t reacting well to the process so give it some time, girlfriend. Patience is a virtue and it’s also not an option in your life just now so suck it up, buttercup, your steps must be numbered and that’s just the way it is for the time being.

But while you’re doing all of that, don’t lose hope that every step won’t haunt you for the rest of your life. This will get easier. You will get used to it OR you will get you a goddamn segway. One way or the other, it has to get easier.

Oh. And stop experimenting with your medication, Einstein! The world is full of so many steps. Stop making things harder for yourself for the love of all that is holy.

And it continues. Sigh.