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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where you guys come in, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS Life is Chock Full ‘o Irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F.M.L.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

 

 

I finally had a massage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Michael told me what happened to Max.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not.

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

The blog post that almost wasn’t

Not my real desk. Not my real writing. I actually journal with an app these days. I’m so tech savvy.

By now, if you’ve read anything of this blog you know that I am a daily writer. I’ve written in a journal for over 20 years. I have stacks and stacks of paper books full of my scribbles. These days I use an actual app and I journal on anything – my phone, my computer and my iPad. Along with my Precious (aka my therapist Cheryl), I don’t have much hope of remaining quasi-sane without daily journaling.

Writing is cathartic for me. It’s something I do because I need to do it – not because I want to. I can’t not do it. So imagine how happy it makes me when you guys tell me you like reading something I’ve written. It’s beyond anything I could have ever wished for.

I started putting my personal writings on this blog because I needed a community. I needed to find people like you all that I could learn from. Real people with real MS who were bound to be so much better at managing this disease than I am at present. I have great doctors, I really do, but it shocks me to this day how The Great Scott, while clearly one of the very best among MS specialists out there, still doesn’t quite get it. I know this every time he asks me, “When did you last walk a mile, Maribeth.” I resist throttling him mostly because I like him and I need his big brain.

Unless you have MS, you can’t possibly understand what it feels like to have it. You can empathize and listen and love and help. I’m grateful for all of those around me who do these things consistently every single day. But you also need a community. So I found one. Props to http://www.trippingonair.com/ for being my original inspiration to take my writing public. You should check her out. She wins awards and stuff and is one of my personal favorite MS bloggers out there.

All of that said, I still write in my journal things that I need to deal with in writing first and foremost for myself. Things that are private (believe it or not, I do keep some things private. Not much! But a small few topics). After infusion #2 of the new goo (Ocrevus for the newbies) I found myself struggling to write Musions on My Newest Infusion #2, which would have been the next logical blog post. I went to bed, tired to the bone from the juice, but not able to sleep. So I did what I usually do when that happens. I wrote in my journal.

This morning, when I’d read over what I wrote to myself last night it made me realize that I needed to share it here with you all, as well. It was the best description I could give about how I felt about this infusion #2. So I’m repeating it here (verbatim, no editing so there’s probably a million writer mistakes included).  I should first apologize for this marathon long blog post. Folks that get through the whole thing might just be super human! People generally like short pithy posts, or tips or hacks or whatever. That’s not me. Oh well. Gotta be me.

So here it is:

It was infusion day today. Big number 2.

I haven’t blogged about it yet but wanted to talk about it here, with myself, because I’m already in bed too late for getting maximum rest before attempting to both shower AND get to the office tomorrow but my brain is in overdrive. (Probably that tiny pinch of steroids injected into my bloodstream today is making sleep elusive.)

It would be notable if I accomplished those amazing feats I mention above but I’d been hoping to get the same little boost I got from Ocrevus the last time (really the first time) and when I’m feeling unrealistically optimistic, I do stupid things. Things like emailing my entire staff and telling them I’m going to be focusing on getting into the office more after infusion day number 2 is in the bag. I may or may not have committed to being in the office tomorrow. The very first day after my big nearly 8 hour day at Allegheny General’s infusion center.

Not all that smart, am I? No you aren’t that smart, Beth.

I feel like I need to kick myself in the ass. Hit restart. I gave myself until this day, big infusion day number two, to stop believing this body simply can’t operate in the outside world as a regular, if slightly ability challenged, human. Today will be over in a few hours and I feel like I have to try harder to make it happen, to stop my brain from undermining every single little thing in my life.

The trick is, figuring out how to do that without trying so hard that I kick myself back into relapse again. Or fall (again). Or end up in the hospital (again). It’s really difficult to determine where that line is. My nose is still a bit purple! It’s literally as plain as the nose on my face, one might say, that pushing too far without realizing it can have dire consequences.

How far is too far? I honestly don’t know and that scares me. But there’s a feeling that comes over me. The feeling of a good day. I haven’t had one in quite a while but it hasn’t been so long that I’ve forgotten what it feels like.

It’s not specific to any symptom. It’s not just how I feel when my feet hit the floor in the morning and I walk a little easier. It’s not a sudden burst of energy. It’s not a lightening bolt when you look back on the day and realize you weren’t popping Advil like Skittles. It’s more like a slow realization that the pain suddenly is not quite as painful. It’s a feeling of lightness. A feeling of safety. A feeling of peace. It never lasts very long, at least not lately. But it’s the good place.

Those are the days when my MS is quiet.

The thing I always fail to realize on a good day is that the constant noise in my head is somehow not there. It usually runs on a loop in my brain daily. “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t…what if? what if? what if? what if? always always always always always… it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts I won’t I won’t I won’t I won’t I won’t…” Repeat. That voice allows MS to put a veil over life that makes everything slightly less vivid. Slightly less clear. Slightly less appealing. Slightly less possible.

I don’t know how to stop that voice. I’m probably stupid to give myself some kind of clear line in my own personal sand to test myself. To force myself into action. To present myself with an actual date.

Take a shower. Leave the house. ON THE SAME DAY. Believe it works and it will work. Allow yourself not to be scared.

It all sounds so inspirational and like so much bullshit. It could actually BE too hard. I might get out of the shower tomorrow and feel like my limbs are suddenly made of over cooked pasta. I might fall down when my feet hit the floor when I get out of bed. The world around me could suddenly be spinning like a crazed whirly bird. I might throw up again. I might have something entirely brand fucking new like not being able to see right or one or the other side of my entire body suddenly going completely numb.

Any of that could happen. That’s what this crazy ass messed up disease actually does to our bodies. And it’s entirely unique and different for each of us. We can relate to each other (us who are in this strange club called multiple sclerosis most of whom are my digital friends, but not all). It helps to know that someone else had a similar thing happen to them that one time…but that only goes so far. Your MS is your MS and until you look it in the face and make some kind of friends with it, every day will be a complete and utter surprise. I literally have no idea from minute to minute, second to second, moment to moment what my central nervous system has cooked up for me with her girl Friday (my immune system). I have to just accept it. I am almost two years into this mess and I’m shocked that I still haven’t accepted it.

Listen. Here’s the bottom line. Every day is a complete and utter surprise even for people that don’t have MS. My unpredictability is almost better than theirs, all of those normals I mean, because mine has a name.

Theirs is just called “life” and holy shit that’s the scariest disease of all because it also changes moment by moment. I used to be one of them (a normal) and i know how I felt. I thought I knew how my life would change for a million different reasons…I had a plan. I was reasonably smart and I worked so very hard and made such important plans. I would tell myself that by being a good, kind, loving human being I would have my happy little place in the world. Things would go my way. They had, for the most part, so it was an easy myth to believe…But I didn’t know. None of us has the first fucking clue what’s going to happen on any day of the week. We just think we do. I know!

Maybe when I look my named disease in the face and accept all of that chaos I will begin to accept that disease isn’t always ugly. It has facets and eccentricities just like we all do. I think I know what it’s going to do. It’s going to destroy me. It simply has to. That’s why it exists! But maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe disease can be a teacher. Maybe I can learn how to stop thinking the teacher is a mindless dolt, and start listening to her.

Or maybe I can’t. I honestly don’t know at this point in my own personal evolution. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. And neither does anyone else. This might sound crazy but that’s the part that makes me feel better. That I know that fact to be gospel-according-to-beth-truth. We never know. We never have known. It’s always been a complete crap shoot. And it still is.

Will I shower and go to work in the office tomorrow to triumph over the gauntlet I threw down for myself?

The truth is, I don’t know. I know I will try that’s all I know for certain.

Post Script:

My original plan was overly ambitious, after all. My day started today with phone calls at 7:30AM and then call after call after call until it was 3PM and I still hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth. I did make some important things happen with all of those calls so it didn’t feel like a failure to me. I just had to suck it up an accept that I was being overly ambitious.

It’s a good thing too. Because I did finally shower around 3:30 PM and that shower kicked my MS-having ass. I never would have been able to get done what I got done today had I attempted to go into the office after an early shower, as I so foolishly planned for the day after a rough infusion experience.

I know it will take some time before the new goo makes it’s magic. I’m there in my head now. But now that I’m finally physically clean? I’m going to the office tomorrow. Baby steps are still steps in the right direction. I’m giving myself a much needed pass on not holding to my commitment to be there today. In the end, I’m trying. I’m trying so very hard! That has to be enough.

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.

Technical difficulty: LOW (or is it?)

A metaphor for life with MS.

So I thought today was a simple day. I had meetings all morning that were best done on the phone from home (whew). Then I happily noticed that it is indeed Tuesday, and based on my last post, my 3PM appointment on Tuesdays was even more critical than usual for it was with my precious, otherwise known as Cheryl, my therapist.

I woke up feeling dizzy again. I called Nurse Carol and begged for more drugs because more times than not this week, I get the dizzies then I get the sickies and that kind of puts a damper on leaving the house (which implies moving around which appears to be the thing that makes me even dizzier). I took my meds today since I knew there were more meds waiting for me at the pharmacy and I no longer needed to ration the glorious puke-killing pills. Another great reason to leave the house!

I was feeling shaky though so I decided to depend on my new friend Stan, my very sophisticated but simple black cane.

There were crews working outside at two houses across my street and I didn’t relish the idea of getting from my house to my porch to my car (a relatively low difficulty task) but there’s a rather longish stretch of grass to get to my car without a railing to hold on to – and, well. I wasn’t willing to face plant in front of two teams of remodeling men.

I used Stan. I got to my car. I turned on my car and realized I didn’t have my mobile phone (“Beth’s Iphone cannot be found” my car informed me)…Well dammit. I had to do it again – the low difficulty trek from my car TO my front door. My legs are now tired. Then it hit me…my phone was actually upstairs on my second floor. I had to climb the steps.

OK then! I can do this. I climb the steps on shaky legs, holding onto the railing to keep from falling, and grab my stupid phone. By now I’m running a little late for my very important date. I realize when I get to the front door (again) that Stan is looking at me from the passenger seat of my car. Ok then (again) it’s not that far! I can do this.

It was just about to the curve of stones that signify that I’m almost close enough to hold on to my actual car on one side and my actual house on the other side, when my legs kind of lost their will to be legs and I started to go down. Now, if you are a human who falls often (whether or not you are luckily enough to have MS) you know that there are good ways to fall and bad ways to fall. My friend Sandy throws her purse to the ground with great vigor as she’s going down. We’re not quite sure why (perchance to have both hands available for maximum impact support) but I’ve witnessed this with my own two eyes and it is nothing if not an impressive strategy. I have nothing in my hands but my keys and my iPhone. I panicked.

In no particular order the following thoughts raced through my broken brain;

  • omg I’m going to fall in front of not one but TWO teams of construction workers. IN MY FRONT YARD.
  • omg one of them might have to carry me to my porch like that one time that moving company guy told me not to worry when he attempted to pick me up – “I was gonna move couches all day, lady, I think I can handle you.” Um. Right. So not a compliment, dude but thanks anyway.
  • OMG I AM GOING TO END UP BACK IN THE HOSPITAL THIS CANNOT HAPPEN.
  • omg I am going to miss my appointment with my precious and this also CANNOT HAPPEN.

My lizard brain took over. My feet started some bizarre combination of random jump moves that may have resembled someone having a fit and trying to tap dance simultaneously. At the very same time, my arms begin to windmill because somehow, my obviously broken brain thinks this will help save me.

My arms and my legs are now moving in many directions all at the same time trying to keep my face from hitting that little strip of craggy concrete that is my driveway. From my mouth is coming a sound something akin to a squeak, or moan, or some animal noise that I am trying not to make too loudly so as not to attract the attention of the teams of construction workers.

I didn’t fall.

It was a goddamned straight up MS miracle. But I didn’t succeed in not attracting the attention of the construction workers at both houses who commenced to applaud. Had this been an actual Olympic sport, I’d probably  have seen them hold up cards giving me low scores for technical difficulty but all 10’s across the board for artistic interpretation of falling on your ass in your own front yard.

I get to my car, my heart is racing and my hands are shaking. Stan looks at me from the passenger seat and practically laughs. I text Cheryl to let her know I am on my way but I may be late because I had yet to pick up my drugs at the pharmacy and I may or may not have legs that will allow me to both get to the pharmacy AND TO  Cheryl’s office. I suggest we might have our session by phone.

Not a second goes by when I get a response: “Oh my…and what’s worse (not really) I’m in Paris, mon amis.”

Um. Yeah. She definitely told me about this. She planned this trip as a re-do of her birthday celebration that she was not well enough to enjoy when it had been her actual birthday. I’ve told you before that Cheryl, also by coincidence, has MS. I cannot tell you which milestone birthday she was celebrating because she’d probably fly home right now and kill me, but rest assured we had discussed this schedule change in our last session (you know the one? I cried for an hour straight).

I knew damn well about her big trip to Paris. We talked about my own trip to Paris not that many years ago. I completely forgot all of those details until I got her text.

I took my life in my hands for nothing. I walked like a hard core afternoon drunk into the pharmacy to get my drugs for the dizzies and the sickies. I just couldn’t wait for those drugs. Those drugs are currently vital to my days and nights. Then I had to conquer my fear and get myself back in my damn house taking the opposite path as pictured above without once again providing several construction crews with yet even more comedic material.

I take so much for granted. I just think…of course I can do that! But when I can’t? I really can’t. There is exactly zero gray area. The problem is, it’s also impossible to know when my legs are suddenly going to turn into useless, twitching lumps off uselessness. It kind of just happens. And here’s the kicker! Stan doesn’t really help. If he did, I would take him with me everywhere I go! But I did use him when I got back home again and I was concentrating so hard on how to walk with Stan in my hand, that I almost straight up tripped up my front steps. Thank goodness for that very sturdy (and quite pricey) wrought iron railing I had put in a few years ago.

I’m really ready for my next infusion, thankyouverymuch. Bethy Bright could use a break that doesn’t involve one of her legs or facial bones. And there. I probably did it again. I cursed myself by complaining, acting as if things just couldn’t get any worse. Believe me. I know they can and in a blink of an eye. I see your posts and comments about sudden symptoms that have you not able to walk at all! It can always, always get worse.

But here’s to hoping that I will still have it in me to find the humor in those situations when it does get worse. Cause I still have moves. As it turns out.

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.