Random thoughts while waiting for my car to de-ice

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

You know my constant debate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did just that.

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

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

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

Where was I?

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

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

Where was I?

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

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

Ever.

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

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

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

The search for peace (or pain relief…I’m not picky)

It’s been a little more than two full years since I was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on December 1, 2015.

The contents of this entire blog are a summation of my struggle to accept or even understand what that information actually meant for me and serve as a kind of proof that this crazy shit is actually really happening. Let’s face it. These have been two rather shitty years. I got my diagnosis. I began to go downhill. It made me wonder if the mere function of knowing somehow made my body kick into disability mode. Like ignorance was my friend, and now that I was enlightened, my body was throwing a disease party and my entire central nervous system was invited.

Limbs were useless. Fatigue made me a living zombie. I learned, for the first time in my life, what real anxiety feels like. I changed into a completely different person almost over night. I stopped recognizing myself when I looked in the mirror. I stopped going out at night almost entirely. It was just all too hard. All of it. All of the life I had before December 1, 2015 became too fucking hard.

You guys already know all of that, but it’s important to understand the mental affects this disease unleashed on me to understand why these last few weeks have felt so downright amazing.

Formerly outgoing, see-and-be-seen Beth, the girl who could handle anything turned into home-bound, never-want-to-be-seen Beth who lived in mortal fear of somehow not being able to think let alone walk. Sometimes this was a physical thing. Most of the time if was a physical thing but I’d been ignoring the entire mental side of what was happening. I tried and failed to look at the bright side. I swung back and forth between dire despair and insane denial. Cheryl, my therapist, and me just keep reassuring each other that we just had to believe it would get better. We just had to.

Then the pain started.

I was just getting back on my feet after the Great Relapse of Summer 2017 (I call it that in my mind, like a title of a movie), when I was trying to get back into some kind of routine with my life. Getting myself to the office at least a few days a week. Trying to function. Trying to try harder. In the middle of all of that, I started to feel this intense fire in my body. I’d never felt anything like it before. I think I have a fairly high tolerance for pain, but this was something different.

I would feel it creeping up my spine around 3PM while I was sitting at my desk. I would begin to feel desperate knowing where it was heading. I knew I could rely on Sandy, my BFF who also happens to work with me, to help me get to my car but then I had to get in my house, do my daily cat chores. Get myself to bed. The mere physical effort it took to get me out of my house and to another location rendered me basically useless because my body was riddled with fire. I got a fancy new ergonomic chair! It’s amazingly comfortable but it didn’t help with this newfound pain.

I’d drag myself home. Drag myself up and down and down and up a bunch of stairs. I’d lay in bed in tears, my entire body on fire from the base of my skull to the bottoms of my feet to my fingertips. I was eating 800mg of Ibruprofen every four hours or so (way too much). It didn’t help me even a little bit. I’d start to think about how the next day was likely going to be more of the same. It was becoming pretty consistent. Sometimes I woke up in the morning with the pain already in full force.

I was starting to feel desperate. If living any kind of “normal” life led to this kind of pain, I was beginning to panic. How could I do this? I do pretty well acting normal in the real world, but I’m not that great of a pretender! I was toying with the idea of asking The Great Scott if there was something I could take for pain.

The minute that thought crossed my mind I shuddered. NO MORE DRUGS. Those words echoed in my head. I cannot take a single additional prescription medication. I mean, there has to be some point of diminishing returns, right? I take so, so many meds. I’d list them here but you’d probably have a hard time believing it. Also, pain medication just scares me. I’m definitely the type of person who would be inclined to abuse medication like that. If one pill helps, I bet two pills help so much more! I just know myself. It’s not a good idea.

I started to feel pretty dark. I think you could probably tell from the posts throughout 2017. I tried to keep my humor about me. I always reminded myself that there are people who have it so much worse than I do. That I should be grateful every minute of every day. Thinking those very true things didn’t really help much. Knowing other people are suffering doesn’t make your pain go away when your pain is a physical, menacing presence like a fire burning inside your skin that nobody can see but it feels like it might consume you. It just doesn’t help.

Friends I’d made online suggested to me that I consider trying cannabis for my pain.

I mean, I’ve read and researched a ton about this possibility and I truly believed it had merit. I already used some homemade cannabis edibles to help me sleep at night (I will never reveal where I get them but suffice to say, the person who makes them for me is a literal angel on earth).

Then there’s that one small detail I couldn’t get around. Cannabis isn’t legal here in Pennsylvania. I know we’re in the process of legalizing medical cannabis but that’s a process that takes a lot of time. I’d heard a bit about how hard it was to not only get the card you need to become a patient but then to get supplies from a very limited number of dispensaries. Oh. Also, as you might suspect, The Great Scott (my MS specialist) is 100% against medical MMJ across the board. Shocker.

But there is more to this struggle than those very factual, legal hurdles.

There is the fact, proven over 50+ years of life, that I freaking hate weed. I hate how it makes me feel. I hate how it smells. I hate smoking anything (except for that very short spurt with menthol ultra lights in my thirties when I was drinking my face off five nights a week…that was fun). I found weed basically repellent. It had a terrible effect on me.

It used to be a thing between my husband and I, when he was alive, because he smoked pot every day of his life. He knew I hated it but not because of any ethical or moral reason but simply for the fact that as soon as he took one hit of a joint he instantly became repellent to me. I can remember telling him, “You know, they call that shit dope for a reason. Gross.” And he would laugh and laugh. But I digress. Suffice to say, me and marijuana are not friends. I couldn’t really see it becoming a fundamental part of my life.

I watched how much it was helping some of my MS’er friends. Meg, in particular, inspired me. Watching her joyful face as she chronicled her daily walks on Instagram – noting that this new found joy for walking had been something she feared she lost forever! But not anymore. Meg credits cannabis with giving her her life back. You should read Meg’s blog. She knows so much more about medical MMJ and MS than I could ever share here. Check it out. But the smile on Meg’s face was making me really happy and haunting me all at the same time. I wanted to smile again. I wanted to smile again without the smile feeling like an internal grimace.

I remember telling some of my MS friends, “I wish I could get the benefit of the relief without the high! I’d do that in an instant.” Um. Guess what?

You totally can!

We’ll stop here and I’ll admit that I’m not entirely comfortable writing about this. I haven’t told many non-MS friends about this. It makes me feel funny – even though I’m doing something completely legal and non-psychoactive, it still bothers me. I haven’t broken this news to my mom or members of my family. I’ve told my closest friends, the ones I trust the most, but I’m not sure why this feels like such a dirty little secret.

I’ve been using CBD to relieve my pain and it’s hard for me to admit this in writing but it’s starting to really change me in all the very best ways. I started this whole exploration looking for relief from the pain and I indeed found that relief.

But I got a lot more too. Let’s start at the beginning.

I started with CBD oil from CW Hemp in Colorado. I had seen a story about these guys on CBS Sunday Morning years ago. Here’s a link to an excerpt from a CNN documentary that tells the story of Charlotte. This kid was having 300 seizures a week. The story is heartbreaking but it had a very interesting and happy ending. The CBD oil made by the Stanley Brothers in Colorado changed Charlotte’s life (hence the name of their company in her honor). It was worth squirting some pricey, nasty tasting oil under my tongue a few times a day to see if it could help my pain. AND IT DID. It took a while to come over me, but about a half hour after taking the oil, I felt the pain get quiet. It didn’t disappear immediately, but it got better. I started with their “everyday” product but it wasn’t strong enough for me. I progressed quickly to “everyday advanced” and that was much better.

Better was enough for me to dive into more research.

I discovered that for my kind of pain, the degree and severity, ingesting CBD oil is not the most effective way to get the Cannabidiol into your blood stream. By the time the oil is ingested and processed in your digestive system, through your liver etc. it’s down to something like 15% CBD. I’m fudging numbers here a bit but the reduction in concentration was distinct. I had to find another way to get the cannabidiols into my system without using the oil as the mechanism so the cannabidiol concentration would be higher.

This led me to another (100% legal) product called CBD shatter. Shatter is crumbly. A clear solid that breaks up into little pieces. To get the CBD into your blood stream most directly, I had to get a vape pen to use with it. Here was another hurdle! I know I had that short stint as a smoker in my thirties but it sucked. Literally. I hate smoking anything. I know I’m vaping (not technically smoking) but it feels essentially the same to me. I inhale vapor that comes from heating the CBD shatter in my vape pen. It looks very much like “dabbing” weed concentrates – but this is devoid of THC so there’s no psychotropic effect. I had been really skeptical about that so when it turned out not to get me high, I was super relieved. I found another form of even more highly concentrated CBD in the form of a wax.

Here’s the thing…I will share info with anyone that wants it in messages or emails, but I don’t want to do that here. I’m obviously  not a doctor nor an expert on anything related to CBD vaping. But I am here to tell you that I’ve felt happy for the first time in a months these past few weeks. I haven’t thought about taking a pain medication of any kind in over a month. I was buying Advil liqui-gels in bulk! Not anymore.

There was an even better after-effect of my new practice. That constant churn in my head. The fear that nothing will ever be the same. The constant “what ifs” that fly around my head quite literally 24 hours a day, even finding their way into my dreams. The ever present and sometimes crippling anxiety about what my future could hold…it’s quiet. It’s so very quiet.

That anxiety voice is still there, I know it is. It will probably never go away completely. I mean, when you have a disease that is chronic and degenerative that’s kind of the deal. Especially one as unpredictable as MS where literally things can change from day-to-day, even minute-to-minute. Having that yoke hanging around your very unstylish neck is a difficult business. Things that make that voice quiet have eluded me completely. And I’m a therapy expert! Ask Cheryl.

CBD vaping is helping me. It’s helping me a lot. I hate doing it. It still feels wrong to me even though I know it’s not. I hate how it tastes (some people actually love it! Go figure.). But I’m doing it three to four times a day to help me maintain my calm, quiet mind. To help me keep the fire in my body at bay. Even to help me loosen up these ridiculously spastic muscles that prevent me from moving around in a more natural way. It helps…nearly everything.

So there you have it. My dirty little secret. It’s really not dirty at all! I wish I knew why I’m so judgey! Mostly of myself. Maybe Cheryl will cure me of that some day but until then, I’m just trying to learn to accept things as they are.

And yes, I will be discussing this entire development with The Great Scott and I am already steeling myself for the medical debate that will surely ensue.

But here’s the thing. I’m on the mac daddy of MS drugs right now (Ocrevus). It’s not been the life changing experience I had been told it would be. It’s been just…meh. If something else helps me want to open my eyes every day, maybe leave the house a bit more, embrace the damn cane (sorry Stanley) and perhaps shower a little more often? I’m down with that. In all of my research I can find very little down side to vaping CBD. I’ve experienced exactly zero side effects. None.

It might not work forever. So I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. I’m going to deal with the fact that I can’t really carry it around with me – it might be legal but it doesn’t LOOK legal – so I can only be pain free for several hour intervals but hell, that’s more than I had before! I’ll take it.

I feel like that little tree, up there in the picture, a lot of the time.

I try to keep things light and airy but I don’t often feel light or airy. I make the jokes and brush off the badness. But I feel dark and alone so much more of the time (even while surrounded by people who love me, both near and far).

A little ray of light seeping in is most welcome! Even if I have to suck it in through my lungs. I’d eat rocks right now if someone told me they’d make me feel better. You can bet on that.

A very bright and dark Christmas

Some of my favorite memories of this very bright and dark Christmas holiday.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to any of my readers that I was not looking forward to the Christmas holidays this year.

I mean, I’m not terribly subtle for one thing. I’ve been quite outspoken about the open struggle that has been my 2017. It seems like this year, that was supposed to have the promise of a new miracle treatment and a new lease on life for Bethybright, has been one disaster after another. I’ve gone downhill so fast, its left me dizzy. I can count on one hand the number of truly good days I’ve had since going off of Tysabri in January 2017. This Christmas was going to be the one when I could look back on the time that has passed since I was diagnosed just before Christmas in 2015 and say to myself, “Wow, these past few years have really sucked but it was all worth it because now I feel so much better and I feel hopeful for the first time in a really long time!”

Yeah. Or not?

Christmas is usually one of my most favorite things. But like many of my reliable favorite things of the past, it’s complicated now. Just like everything is complicated now.  I want to feel festive. I want to help with preparations. I want to enjoy time with those I love most but the simple truth is that just the act of leaving my damn house is a major issue these days and it’s really starting to get old.

It snowed on Christmas eve. I woke up to a white Christmas morning and it was beautiful and lovely and quiet. I lay in bed snuggly warm enjoying the simple pleasure of the overnight snow outside, the warmth inside, a cozy bed warmed by four furry creatures who are generous enough to share their body warmth with me. It was early, really early because that’s when those furballs wake me to be fed so I got myself out of bed, down the stairs and fed the kitties. Scooped litter downstairs and before heading back up to bed for a little longer to rest up for the festivities ahead, I peeked out the front door to look at the pretty snow.

I noticed, the lid had flown off of my tub of ice melt on the front porch. I  opened the door thinking I better get out there and put the lid back on before the thing blew away when I noticed that my front porch looked shiny. It was a solid sheet of ice, rippled, like tiny frozen waves, made by wind that blew through the night. I gingerly stepped outside in my outside slippers, carefully grabbed the ice melt bucket lid, very slowly tossing some ice melt across the porch and down the steps to my sidewalk below, shivering all the while because I’m still in my pajamas. I crunched back to the front door being a little less in mortal fear for my life and went back to bed.

It dawned on me, though, that I wasn’t going to be able to drive myself and my mom’s to my sister’s house where Christmas day brunch was to take place. My sister lives high atop the world’s steepest driveway, affectionately dubbed Mt. Doom. Any snow at all makes the approach to my sister’s house nearly impossible without 4-wheel drive. I was supposed to pick up my mother and head up to my sister’s but I knew if it was icy at my house, it was definitely icy at my mother’s house. I realized that I’d be basically of no help whatsoever for getting my 77 year old mother from her house to my car while also carrying the homemade danish pastry she had to bring to the brunch, across sidewalks made of ice. The truth is, my mother is almost more capable than I am but neither of us should be out traipsing around on icy sidewalks.

Change of plans. We needed transport. My sister has a Suburu that would have no trouble getting us up Mt. Doom, safely and with the precious danish pastries intact. Alex, my nephew, came to pick us up and get us safely to the Christmas feast. All good! Disaster averted. Having an amazing family willing to drop everything to make things easy for you is kind of awesome. And yet, there I was sitting in my funk, thinking to myself how much I hated the entire situation.

Something as simple as the weather can fuck up my entire day. I’m so unsteady on my feet that even a little snow or ice renders me basically useless. When it’s too hot, I can’t function. When it’s too cold, I can’t function. Low-key stress-free holiday fun all delivered without my help or support should have been perfect (and in many ways it was) but it bugged me that I wasn’t able to help with any preparations at all. I didn’t hang one single ornament or bake a single cookie. I didn’t do more than wash a few dishes, and barely a few. I did nothing. Nobody asked me to do anything, of course, because they all know that it will probably be too much for me whatever the ask might be. Hell. My only job was to get my mother to the brunch and I couldn’t even do that because I needed help my damn self.

Earlier in the week, I had a hair cut appointment in a busy part of town during the holidays. I was feeling ok that day, not great but not terrible (otherwise known as my general state of being), so I headed out not at all worried about the task. How much easier can it get? Drive to the salon. Park. Get into the salon. Sit. The end.

But it was the Friday before Christmas so people were everywhere  scurrying about getting last minute gifts or meeting friends for festive holiday drinks, doing what normal people do during the holidays. I couldn’t get a parking spot in front of the salon like I normally do. The only handicapped spot on the street was an entire block away but it was my only option. I hadn’t brought Stanley, my cane, because I’m still not accustomed to the fact that I’m likely to need him if I have to walk any distance at all. I stumbled the one block to the salon. I was dizzy and shaky. I could see people looking at me drunk walking down Butler Street trying to pass me because I was moving so slow I was barely moving at all, feet occasionally dragging. I made it to the salon but I was on my last legs. I knew I had to repeat the whole thing in the opposite direction again once my haircut was over. I sat there wishing my hair cut could take longer. I didn’t want to go back out there again. I felt so far away from safety. It was unnerving. Safety was literally less than a block away.

I love that people make things easy for me. From work colleagues to family members to friends and neighbors – I am surrounded by people who want to help make things easier for me. I am truly #blessed (and I’m not even being remotely ironic this time). I just want so badly to go back to being useful, a helpful, fixer of problems, solver of challenges, someone my people can count on. Not someone who my people need to worry about, cater to, work around.

It strikes me over and over again over this holiday break how my mother and I are oddly in the same boat though we are nearly 30 years apart in age. Neither of us can do what we want to do all of the time. Both of us move pretty slow because both of us are likely in some kind of pain. Both of us want to be able to do more and we’re both pissed off at the world about our current circumstances. My mother, a new widow learning to live on her own for the first time in almost 60 years and me, the 50 year old woman who woke up one morning feeling more like 75, has been consumed with anger every minute of every day since.

I want to have an answer when someone I love asks me, “What’s new?” My answer this year was probably better kept to myself but instead when my niece asked me that very question yesterday at Christmas brunch my answer came spewing out of it’s own accord, “Oh, you know. Not leaving my house a whole lot. Different body parts stop working every day. I haven’t showered in almost a week and I haven’t been around actual human people in weeks. I didn’t bother putting on makeup today because I knew I’d be too tired when I finally got home later to take it off. I look like a fatter, older, uglier version of who I used to be…so. I guess that’s what’s new.”

Geez. That was a lot. Nobody deserves that but there you have it. It’s very possible I should keep those kinds of responses to myself. They slip out. As if they demand to be heard and acknowledged. As if doing that might take their power away. Saying things out loud makes them not as scary, right? Not always, as it turns out.

Every year on Christmas morning before I head out to my family’s annual brunch, I watch A Christmas Carol alone at home in my jammies with a cup of coffee. I like the George C. Scott Scrooge the best. I cued up the movie on demand and enjoyed it again this year. It hit me about halfway through. I’ve been visited nightly by my ghosts of Christmases past, present and future and I want to be a changed woman much like Ebeneezer. Alas, I just keep being visited by the very same ghosts over and over and over again. Like they’re lost or caught in some kind of loop where everything bad is on repeat. And I keep waking up broken, slow, pained and angry.

My family went out of their way to make this first Christmas after my father’s death as good and happy as it could be. I am literally in awe of what my sister is capable of doing. She puts up like 5 Christmas trees! Thank goodness because I haven’t put one up in almost 14 years. My mom kicked butt too with her cooking, preparing, and generally doing more than any recently widowed woman should. My nephew Alex continues to be amazingly helpful and a source of actual joy. That kid is hilarious. Everyone was a joy to be around. I am so very lucky I am ashamed by how much I hate this entire experience. I want it to be over. It will never be over.

My mom had a tough time this holiday season. It broke my heart. It broke my heart even more to know that I am yet another thing she will continue to worry about. I am another reason why her mind can’t be at peace.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I really did and I am deeply grateful for all that I have and for the wonderful people I am surrounded by (including all of you, my readers). Yet, I am simultaneously also grieving. I’m grieving for my mother but I’m also grieving for myself. I’m grieving for what I lost, which feels like most of me, things I can never get back. I’m not sure what to do with that reality.

So, yeah. I’m a big holiday downer with a side of desperation. I have a trip to make for work in late January. I have literally no idea in the world how I’m going to make it happen. It’s lurking back there in my mind taunting me, telling me I can’t expect people to be patient with me forever. Hell, I’m not even patient with me! When am I going to finally wake up and laugh about this horrible dream I’ve been having?

When will I finally stop being so angry? 2018…you’re facing a lot of pressure. 2017 set the bar pretty damn low. Don’t let a girl down, 2018, ok? Don’t let a girl down.

I got a new foot for Stanley

That’s me. Doing what I do best. Thinking too much.

Stanley is my cane. I dubbed him Stan upon looking upon him for the first time. I use his more formal name when I’m displeased with him. You see, I never use Stanley because he’s kind of frail and not very reliable. But when it arrived, this new more stable foot for Stanley, it changed all that. The new foot for Stan is so much better than the little one I used to have. It feels more stable and more like I will be less likely to kill myself using Stan, so I may use him more. I may actually stop stumbling around without support when there’s no handy friend, family, wall or grocery cart to hang on to. It also makes Stan able to stand on his own without me holding on to him (independence is important to me in a man). It’s a good thing in all ways. Well. In most ways, really.

Such a good thing got me to thinking. As you know, that’s never a good sign. According to my Precious Cheryl, therapist to the stars, I think way too much. Certain old ex-boyfriends might agree. When I get to thinking, there’s not a force in the universe that can get me to stop.

Let’s use an enormous hyperbolic cliche of a sentence starter, here, to describe what my new cane foot got me to thinking about: My descent into a brand new, much smaller life continues. With no end in sight.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes I feel completely OK with it. Sometimes I look around my new smallish life and I think, “Well, the truth is, this isn’t half bad at all. I have a nice place to live, I have snuggly cats that I love, family & friends that are crazy awesome and more than enough of most things I need.” None of that can be categorized as anything near bad.

Other days, I look around my new smallish life and I think, “What the mother fuck has happened to me? How can I find any joy in this existence? How can I accept the fact that there is more that I can’t do than I can on most days? How can I become OK with the fact that there are more days than not that I am un-showered, wearing comfy clothes (again) and not a stitch of make up and I truly don’t give a fuck? How can I live a life that is so very antisocial? I will miss people. I will miss laughing and drinking and dressing up to go out. I will miss it all.”

It’s all very dramatic and complicated and lets just face it, not terribly healthy. For once, I have experienced a turn in this life that I have literally no idea how to deal with. That’s also not entirely true since I felt much the same way the day I was told Chuck was taken to the hospital after collapsing at work. We all know what happened after that. I didn’t know what to do with myself after all of that insanity either and I behaved astonishingly badly but somehow life went on and so did I. This experience is so much the same and so much different. It has completely boggled my mind, plain and simple.

I had my two year MS-versary on December 1 and it came and went without much fanfare. I had to actually look back in my journal to see what day it was that my actual diagnosis came and there it was. December 1, 2015. I remember the holidays that year being in a Solumedrol-induced haze. My first time on the ‘roids. How grateful I was earlier that week to hang out, in a hospital, with one of my oldest friends from high school who came with me to the three-day outpatient infusions. I remember laughing, like not a single minute had gone by since last we laughed, when in reality it was more than 25 (closer to 30) years since we’d done so for three days in a row. I remember how she ran around the hospital looking for Lifesavers when the Solumedrol gave me that nasty metal taste in my mouth, also for the very first time. They were butterscotch Lifesavers and they were perfect.

On Christmas Eve a few weeks later, I wore green shoes with kitten heels (Fluevog of course) with a simple, swingy black dress (the harbinger of uniforms to come) and bare legs. It was unseasonably warm in 2015 in December and I remember being grateful that I didn’t have to navigate through snow. I remember putting on makeup before heading out with my giant bags full of gifts and thinking how everything felt the same but also completely different.

I can’t remember last year much at all. I guess I’ll need to go back to ye good old journal to see how I was feeling on Christmas 2016 but I don’t remember feeling very festive. Or maybe I did and I’m just projecting my 2017 melancholy on to that holiday memory.

Lately, I find myself uncomfortable around other people. I find myself wanting to be normal and not coming close. I find myself wanting to enjoy myself and laugh and be with friends and family – and at the same time, I find myself a fish out of water in nearly every one of those situations. Grasping for the strength or will or whatever it is that will make me feel anything like any of these people I used to know so well and at the same time trying not to let anyone see me grasping at anything at all.

In my old life, I could enjoy myself in pretty much any group of people. I loved being around people, being social, doing my social thing. Don’t get me wrong…there were just as many times that I felt outright antisocial back then, too, but I had the uncanny ability to fake it. These days, though, I don’t feel like I could even fake faking it right now. I’ve tried it a couple of times so far this season – like for my office holiday lunch and gift exchange – where I had such a terrible day physically speaking, the pain so intense, that I could barely focus on acting festive.

I felt like a bitter, sad, broken woman sitting in the corning flashing her best fake smile around a room of happy, healthy, festive people. That smile of mine probably looked more like a grimace and I knew it. I could feel it. I kept at the act for most of the party until I sneaked out when I reached the point where I couldn’t even sit without feeling pain. It made me feel like a failure as I stumbled to my car, just across the street to the hotel where I’d valet parked just a couple of hours earlier.

I read a lot this year. Thirty-three books so far. That’s one helluva lot of books. It will probably be 35 or 36 before the year is actually over. I read so much because it keeps my mind busy and away from thoughts about what’s to come. I also read so much because I just love reading. I resent this disease for intruding on my favorite things and somehow making them bad to me now. Things like staying home, being cozy, reading books and writing. I did all of those thing before my diagnosis and they felt good. Now they feel like giving up.

I’m going to tell myself what I usually do at this point in a time of so much discontent and that is simply this: it can’t last forever. It will get better. Things will even out or they won’t and my new cane foot that feels more stable will give me the ability to get out of my house (and my head) even on a bad day so I can accept whatever I need to accept and not give up. A stable cane foot can make all the difference, is what I’m telling myself today. It’s a little thing, but maybe it will help. Maybe something will help. Maybe something will change. Maybe I will change. But for the better, this time.

It’s all so cliche! Major life changes after a cataclysmic diagnosis (this felt at the time and continues to feel cataclysmic though it should probably not feel as such. I mean, there are lots worse things). Events such as this, though, typically create melancholy that runs its course at its own speed until it peters out into some kind of begrudging positive thinking that feels more like lying than anything else. But it’s better than feeling angry all of the time so one tends to give in.

I used to think about how lucky I am that this disease hit me after I had such an amazing time in my earlier life. How this disease hit me after I’d traveled, did impulsive things, lived for decades as an unfettered adult without a care in the world because I had no idea what was to come and I just wanted to enjoy it. That time I took a year off work and just…painted. And sewed and wrote in my journal. Those trips I took with my friends to tropical places. Those trips alone to various other places. Paris and Florence and Denmark and London.

How lucky I am that I had so many drunken happy hours when I laughed with my friends until we peed. The wins (and losses) in my crazy career in advertising. The men, mostly boys, who I allowed into my life, sometimes only to break my heart, until I booted them out again when I started to yearn for solitude once again. Or they booted me out and I thought I’d die then I never did and things went back to normal again. I’ve lived. I’ve lived a lot.

I’m not sure I know how to live now. No! This is not me saying I don’t want to live (I promise you), it’s me saying I don’t know how to live.

I keep trying to figure out how and what will make this new life happy again. Simplify/get rid of unnecessary stuff (check). Change routines (check). Eliminate unnecessary obstacles, (mostly check). Get a uniform (done). Slow down (like I had a choice). Alter perspective (Um…working on it). Ask for help (check). Accept help (check). I’ve done all of the things! I’ve taken all of the advice. Even the advice I didn’t know to ask for.

We used to joke, my friends and I, when I would ghost every now and then and have a weekend or a day where I just caved up, did nothing, and luxuriated in my solitude. They would say, “You’re spending time with your favorite person, aren’t you?”

And I would chuckle. I sure was. And I didn’t even care who knew. It was occasional, after all, a much needed rest from trying to be the happiest, most free, most successful, most full-of-life person I knew. That shit was exhausting. Who wouldn’t need a break every now and then?

So now it’s a disease that’s making my life exhausting. I have no idea why the reason for the exhaustion has such an impact on how I think about how to deal with the exhaustion. I have no idea why it’s so hard for me to accept that this disease has given me the rare opportunity to live the life I thought I wanted to live – the life with unlimited time for my favorite person.

Maybe I haven’t figured out how to allow this new, broken somewhat less shiny person become my favorite again. I’m so busy picking her apart inside and out, I never get the chance to luxuriate. I never get the chance to just be…me. The only way to change any of this is for me to somehow fall in love with this new version of myself, the way I did such a long time ago after having my heart utterly annihilated by the latest guy to let me down. It took time then. And it’s taking it’s good old time now! I’m just as impatient with the process now as I was then.

Everything is the same. Everything is different. Time is the only answer. Fa-la-la-la-la and all of that rot.

I’ve got nothing

So let’s try this thankfulness thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I am thankful for…MS Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

This is a happy post about fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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