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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where you guys come in, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS Life is Chock Full ‘o Irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F.M.L.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

 

 

I finally had a massage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Michael told me what happened to Max.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not.

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

My expensive Internet slippers tried to kill me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I actually did this just a few short days ago.

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

The slippers of death.

But I digress. Back to the story at hand…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When words fail the writer

Rest in peace, Daddy. You did good.

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

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

I remember that now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Passing the Open Windows

Finally a real top down day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A visit with the wizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I actually made TGS laugh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And SCENE.

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

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

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

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

One more tiny piece of news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess I will too.

Don’t call it a comeback

I got cocky again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from the puffy village

That's it up there. The puffy village. The place I love most in the world, where I come for comfort, where I lay my head when the world out there becomes too much. An old boyfriend dubbed my overly comfortable bed the puffy village a long time ago because he said it was so insanely comfortable you could live there happily for all time. The boyfriend is long gone. The puffy remains.

I take a lot of care making her as comfy as possible. I choose my sheets and bedding with obsessive care the way I used to select designer shoes. Currently, I'm in a mixed print phase.
Just looking at this picture makes me happy.

Mostly.

See, I've spent a whole lot of time in the puffy since being sprung from the hospital on Monday evening. I mean, I'm glad I got out. I couldn't stand the idea of that hideous torture chamber they call Allegheny General Hospital for even one more second. I guess I thought it would be better at home. I'd feel better. The ruse I performed for the overly attentive PT team would turn out to be real and I'd go back to being able to stand up, walk around, bend over touch my toes and do a little jig. But as I'm sure you've figured out by now, things actually haven't gotten much better at all.

I'm so dizzy it's ridiculous. I can barely remain on my feet. I hold on to anything and everything in order to do basic things like walk to the bathroom or down the steps to the kitchen. My legs are weak on top of the dizziness I feel in my brain. I feel like my house has been transformed into a fancy house boat that happens to always traverse super rough waters.

The antivert I'm taking for the dizziness makes me tired and doesn't seem to help the vertigo much at all. I haven't left the house since getting home Monday night. I've been asleep approximately 85% of the time since. I'm still in pajamas all day and I've yet to risk the shower. I'm deathly afraid of falling and ending up in the hospital again – and lord knows, that's just not gonna be something I allow to happen.

Family and friends are at my beck and call to handle chores, to feed me, to make deliveries and make me laugh. Mostly they're there to help me up and down the steps and take care of my very spoiled menagerie of felines. Damn, I have a lot of cats.

I can't read because my right eye is wonky. I can type if I keep one eye closed. Television is hard, again, because of the wonky eye. My list of things I can do consecutively has grown shorter. I'm down to one thing at a time before I need to rest. I used to have at least two things in me, sometimes even three.

It's hitting me hard because I'm finally realizing that this just is what it is! The part I thought was the worst, where I was waiting for the magical drug to kick in and make me more human, that was the good part! I thought it was the bad part. I thought I could only get better.

Turns out, it's super easy to get so much worse. I wonder how long it's going to take me to bounce back from this episode? What will my new normal be? Will I ever get back to my doing three small things in a row self? How long will I be the queen of the puffy village?

At what point do I simply cease to exist?

I know. I'm super dramatic. Spending so much time alone in deep thought whilst listening to one's body fail all around her will do that to a girl. And that pisses me off even more!

I'm the queen of the loners! Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you how much I enjoy my own company. It's probably a giant character flaw but it's true. These last few days I feel like I'm in the twilight zone where I'm walking from familiar room to familiar room, holding on to walls and chairs, looking for the person I used to be and not finding her. There's someone else here now. She can barely stand up and her hair is atrocious. Don't even look at her eyebrows! The horrors.

I keep telling myself this too shall pass. That's what everyone, literally everyone I know both in real life and in MS life, has told me and I believe those people. They're so much better at this MS thing than I am. They've gone to the darkest places and clawed their way back. I keep thinking I've accepted this thing in my life then something happens that turns my life ass over teacups and I'm back at the beginning looking around thinking, "what the hell just happened?"

I just want to not be dizzy so badly! I want to will it so with my broken brain. I want to sleep the sick away and wake up magically feeling a little worse for wear but generally just a little gimpy and slow. I thought that was the bad part! I thought things could only get better. As if I didn't know the truth.

The truth is that was probably as good as it gets. That whole time before this hospital incident when I felt like I'd hit rock bottom wasn't even close to the bottom! I'm looking at getting my first assistive walking device (form tbd hopefully with the help of some outpatient PT once I feel a bit more able). Once I get a cane, I'll probably need a walker soon after that. The wheel chair can't be too far behind right? At least a scooter…

I know how lucky I am to have the luxury of sleep in the world's most comfortable bed. After being deprived of sleep for so long, being in the puffy feels almost like heaven. And yet the whole thing changes a little tiny bit when you realize you're not in the bed by choice. You're in the bed because your body flat gave up on you. No combination of high thread count mixed print sheets can help you in that situation. You just have to suck it up. Try to be grateful and go back to sleep.

Every time I close my eyes these last few days I have this intense hope in my heart that when my eyes open again I'll be off this houseboat version of my life and back to my happy place where a shower isn't life threatening and awesome sheets are enough to make me feel happy.

Until then, here I lay. Flat on my back. Cultivating happy hopeful thoughts and functioning as a speed bump for my very many cats. It could be worse. It could be much worse.

Remember the hospital? Exactly. Shivers.