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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where you guys come in, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

My expensive Internet slippers tried to kill me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I actually did this just a few short days ago.

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

The slippers of death.

But I digress. Back to the story at hand…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Technical difficulty: LOW (or is it?)

A metaphor for life with MS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relapse: the Post Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

-Robert Frost

 

 

The spaces in between might be the hardest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess I will too.

Don’t call it a comeback

I got cocky again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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