Random thoughts while waiting for my car to de-ice

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

You know my constant debate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did just that.

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

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

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

Where was I?

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

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

Where was I?

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

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

Ever.

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

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

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

Remembering to say…for now, for today, for the moment

Sometimes, I forget to make the best of (sh)it.

I think I’ve had my first bout of actual writer’s block. It’s been almost two weeks since my last post and while this bothers me intensely, I think it might also mean that I’ve found some new ways of coping. So, yay me?

Kind of.

The thing that keeps occurring to me, this past week, is how hard it is to roll with whatever is happening in this moment. Right now. At THIS time.

For example, as I wrote in my last post, I’d discovered a new way to manage my pain. That’s been a huge change for me, an astronomical shift in how I can get through the pain of every day life with MS. Here’s the thing, though.

You still have shitty days. I still have shitty days.

I literally can’t rely on myself from day-to-day. And by myself, I mean my body. For the most part, my mind seems to remain mostly intact so there’s that. Thank the universe for that. But my body? My body is fickle.

Some days I feel so good it’s almost like I’m inching closer to pre-MS me. I am talkative. I find myself laughing. I sleep soundly and wake up feeling almost ok. When those days happen (and they don’t happen that often), I have to force myself to not go flying over the rainbow on my glitter unicorn singing, “IT’S OVER! IT’S OVER! I’M GONNA BE OK!” Because chances are within 24 hours, or even less, I’m going to feel completely differently and wonder where the good went again (I’m a bit obsessed with Tegan & Sara, but you guys already knew that).

Some days, I am halfway up the stairs to my second floor before I remember to hold on. Other times I go to stand up from sitting and my body literally won’t budge. Some days I wake up in the morning before my alarm and I don’t feel like I need 10 more hours of sleep. Other days I wake up and feel like sleep was a big fat freaking lie and I cannot conceive of getting out of bed. Some days my legs operate as legs should, for the most part, and I find myself feeling silly for walking with Stan (my cane, my one and only man) because he’s become somewhat irrelevant (kind of like some of my last boyfriends). Other days, I lean on him like my life depends on him. And sometimes it does.

Sometimes these changes don’t even take an entire day. Sometimes things change moment to moment.

When I was diagnosed with relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis, I thought the spans of times when I would be either relapsing or remitting would be big long times. Weeks at least. Months even! I was led to believe that I’d have symptoms at times, at other times they would be worse, but I’d eventually level off again and get back to “normal.” Remitting means “cancel or refrain from exacting or inflicting (a debt or punishment).” Canceling or refraining is not what I’m experiencing. Waxing and waning maybe? Always on until it’s off? Firmly off before it snaps back on again without warning?

“Relapsing and remitting” might be the most deceptive term I’ve ever come across related to a medical diagnosis. It should be called “Constantly Changing and Keeping You Completely Off Balance MS” but I think CCAKYCOBMS doesn’t roll off the tongue so well, so they voted against it when choosing MS names.

The thing is, there is no normal anymore. One cannot become “accustomed” to having multiple sclerosis because one cannot ever get used to any one thing.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because my MS friends and I have been riding the roller coaster together. We text. We message. We talk online. We talk a lot and thank god for that because damn, it feels good to be 100% understood.

The day usually starts with “what kind of day is it for you today?”  Sometimes the answer is, “eh, not so bad.” Other times, the answer is, “Woke up with non-functioning legs.” Or, “Took a fall, feeling crappy, here we go again.” Or something similar.

We always forget to say “for now.”

Because it could be hours, days or weeks until your current state changes again or it could be minutes. This works in both directions, good and bad. Some days I wake up thinking I can’t. I just can’t do anything. Hours later, I’m grocery shopping and things don’t feel all that bad with a cart to hang on to. Other days I wake up thinking, I can and wind up flat on my face with dishes flying through the air and a purple-ish bruise blooming across my nose. You just never freaking know!

It’s a challenging way to live. My entire life is supposed to follow a schedule of some kind. I’m employed full time running a business. Meetings are a perfect example.

I used to plan meetings and feel nearly 100% confident that I’d be able to be where I needed to be when I needed to be there. I’m a reliable kind of gal. I like to do what I say I’m going to do. Consistently. Period. Now? Chances are 50/50 at best. I’ve nearly killed myself trying to keep to some kind of regular work schedule, in some kind of reliable way (either in the office or not in the office) but the fact is, I have to roll with what my body can handle on any given day and that’s just how life is now.

I might want to be there in person, but you might also get my tinny voice on a conference line instead. I might want to plan a trip to the home office to spend some much needed time with my colleagues down south – but I can’t tell the airlines I may or may not be able to make my flight and I won’t know until I’m walking out the door which it will be! I can’t tell my colleagues I may or may not be coming to see them in person, so just hang tight and free up some time for me just in case, because that’s not how the business world works!

But it’s how my world works. Thank the universe, once again, that I’ve somehow had two of the best years of my professional life these past two years since I was diagnosed with MS. The universe has a perverse sense of humor. But the constant threat of “what if I can’t?” takes a toll on us. Being a person with MS means never getting to really plan a goddamn thing.

The obvious up side to all of this is that we have to constantly remember, or rely on one of those trusty fellow MS buddies to remind you that whatever it is that feels so horrible now probably won’t always feel so horrible. It might last months (like after my first big relapse) and you might even start to get used to your new limitations, when all of the sudden something changes. You feel better. Or you just feel different. You will never see it coming but you can rely on one thing. It will change.

Sometimes I laugh to myself and think that MS is trying to teach me the secret to inner peace by proving to me that all we ever have in life is right  now.

Just as I type those words I got another right now but I might not have. I, of all people, should know that fact from my experience with young widowhood. But you forget! Time passes by and you start to feel normal again and you allow yourself to believe that there is such a thing as normal! You find yourself falling into a new routine and thinking it’s real but it never really is.

It is all about to change (or not) at any given second of any given hour in any given day (and so on and so on and so on). Or not.

It’s a universal truth and it’s universally ignored because there is truly no easy way to live without holding on to the delusion of control and remain a functioning member of our society that is built on plans, expectations, commitments and other silly things that are absolutely meaningless to me now.

I try to remind my friends (and at the same time myself), when we’re having shitty horrible terrible MS days that we have to remember to say to ourselves, “This really sucks balls…for now.” Or, “Fuck this…at this moment.” Or, “I love feeling so awesome…today.” Because good or bad, you kind of can’t count on any of it. And you have to be ok with that. Otherwise, you will straight up be in misery every day of your life and who the heck wants to live in misery?

I have to tell you…not me.

I’ve nearly gotten to the limits of my ability to wallow in misery. I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for me to reach that place, finally, and stop bitching constantly about how much I hate this entire experience! I was beginning to be concerned it would never happen myself. But there is a limit on how long you can feel hopeless and still find the energy to wake up each morning and play along. There is for me, anyway.

Reminding myself to put a shiny pink bow on a shit sandwich is important. It’s all gonna change! It’s not worth the energy it takes to believe any of it will last forever – now that could be your crappy legs, the rainy day or the month of January that seems without end. But it always comes to an end. And something new begins.

Now I’m not going so far into my commitment to misery-free living as to think I’m going to have more good moments than bad ones from now on. My experience of the last 24 months has not proven that to be the case. It’s just not true.

Yet. It’s just not true YET.

The effects of being broken

While watching one of my favorite Sunday morning shows, CBS This Morning, I always find something to inspire me, educate me or just widen my mind. We should be clear, right at the get go, that I record this Sunday morning tradition and watch it most often on Sunday afternoons when I finally wake up. Today was no different in many ways but the source of my inspiration this time came from an odd place.

It was an interview with Sharon Stone. Sharon Stone of all people! I think I had an impression of Sharon Stone in my mind that positioned her squarely in the place of noted kook, beautiful older woman, famous mostly for THAT scene in that movie where she showed the world her personal, uh, situation in that particular interrogation scene. I thought of Sharon Stone as a privileged, rich celebrity with an awesome life. This particular interview with Sharon Stone taught me some things and blew me away with how much I relate to this woman who is a movie star and completely unrelated to and entirely removed from anything in my decidedly non-celebrity life.

You can watch the whole segment here. I recommend watching the show in general, really, because today’s segments were so especially good, but we’ll focus on the segment about Sharon Stone. She said something, many things actually, that hit me squarely in my core but mostly this one thing:

“…Others are not that interested in a broken person,” said Stone.

She was referring to the time after she experienced a health crisis, a stroke that rendered her unable to walk, or talk or act in anything at all. She had to re-learn how to live. Then she had to figure out how to re-enter a life that seemed impossible to break into (again) even with all of her obvious advantages. The segment made me think differently about Sharon Stone but it spoke clearly to me of things I understand, now, since diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.

First things first, working in advertising has nothing on Hollywood but you might be surprised how much of what we do when we work in advertising is about appearance, performance and showmanship.

I always tell people that I can tell when I interview someone if they’ll be successful in advertising within five minutes of talking to them. There is something you can’t put your finger on or name really, but you can feel when someone has it. It’s that need to put on a show. It’s the need to command a room or want to be the center of attention. The ad business attracts creative people who revel in creative things but excel in leveraging creative ideas to persuade groups of people to do certain things. Believe something. Do something. Buy something (usually whether one needs that something or not).

But our ability to do all of those things relies on a basic theme: Confidence that you CAN. Confidence that you can do this better than someone else can. You love being the alpha (even if you hide it on the outside). You need to be in the room, have a say, share an opinion. You have to believe that you make a difference to a situation just because you and your brain happen to be sitting in the room. You have to believe in yourself as a problem solver. Someone people want to listen to. Someone people believe knows how to make magic happen.

It’s all a bunch of blowhard foolishness. We all learn that eventually, as we get older and wiser in this industry, that what we do is not quite as noble or cool as we once thought it would be but sometimes, other times? It still feels pretty cool. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that. I’m like the quintessential ad guy (girl). I need to be in the room where it happens. I need to be pulling the strings. I love my job even when I hate it.

Once, when I was really young in the business, I had a boss/mentor guy who said lofty things to me that were pithy and generally sounded true most of the time. One of those things that stuck with me was when he said, “You know what kid? The bottom line is, 90% of success in this business is just showing up.”

Christ, how that haunts me now!

Showing up is really hard for me now. It’s not only because of my mobility challenges, it’s the combination of the MS trifecta of challenges including intense general pain, trouble concentrating and crippling fatigue. All of those things contribute, oddly, to my ability to move my legs.

Imagine my anticlimax when I finally figured those things out recently! It’s all inter-related just like my nervous system controls everything in my body from top to bottom, inside and out. It’s all connected! It all keeps me from feeling whole. It leaves me feeling broken much of the time, while also feeling completely frustrated that I know in my literal cells that I am still me and that I can still do what “old me” used to do. I know this. So completely! I just have to figure out how.

I told the ‘showing up’ story to a colleague recently when we were discussing my inability to be physically present at times when I feel that it would be ideal for me to be so. I explained to him how this notion haunts me. It haunts me so much, in fact, that I have movie-like nightmares on the regular about terrible things happening to me in work situations.

I vividly dream about people I trust implicitly betraying me horribly in medication-induced detail and vivid color.

These dreams are so real, I wake up feeling shaken and unsteady. I wake up feeling sick. I can see the rooms, I can feel my legs struggling, I can remember facial expressions and what clothes people wore. On top of making me feel sick at the mere idea of something like my dreams actually happening to me, I also feel sick because I know for certain, 100% certain, that something like what happened in this particular dream would never happen. I am surrounded by people who want me to succeed. People who literally not only respect me but also love me. I am 100% certain about this, as well. So I wake up feeling sick and also guilty! How ironic.

Last night’s dream was a vivid representation of an event that will happen in real life tomorrow night. My boss’s boss (my boss’s title starts with a “P” and my boss’s boss starts with a C and ends with an EO), is coming to town to join me for dinner with clients. Tomorrow is actually a company holiday so I will be off work all day but it was the only day we could find that worked for all parties, so dinner on a day off it shall be.

This dinner only involves minimal effort. I need to get to the hotel where our CEO will be staying, pick him up, drive to the restaurant and eat dinner with people I genuinely like and respect, drive him back to the hotel, drive myself back home. Easy peasy!

In my very vivid dream last night all of this started in a blizzard.

In my dream, I was upset that I had to wear my winter boots to dinner instead of something more snazzy. That was the first sign that things were going awry. The second hit me when we arrived at the restaurant for our reservation to meet a large group of colleagues. I had never been to this restaurant before so I had no idea what to expect. As we approached, I saw what amounted to a multi-level tree house-like structure that had wooden steps, covered in snow mind you, circling all around the structure. Kind of like fire escape stairs? But wooden and running from floor to floor in a five story structure. The stairs had twinkle lights on them.

Our table was in a room at the top of the tree house, because of course it was. In my dream scenario, there weren’t clients at this dinner but people from my team and from our home office. They smirked at me as I clung to the wooden railings, dizzy and weak. I asked where the bathroom was and was told it was on the third floor (I’d have to go back down and back up the stairs again). I remember how painfully cold it was and how afraid I was of falling. I made it back to the table, out of breath and dizzy, and sat down but I couldn’t see anyone. My eyes had gone all blurry. I could hear people snickering. I heard someone say, “Yep, this is what we get now.”

Guys, it was so vivid! Wood grain on the stairs, sparkles in the ice where the twinkle lights hit the snow on the stairs, the numbness in my feet and legs, the tingling in my hands, the fact that my hair was sticking up in the back in the wrong direction and how embarrassed I was that I hadn’t been able to take a shower before my dinner meeting. I remember my panic thinking about driving home in the dark, in the snow, when I couldn’t really see anything.

I woke up shivering. I’d thrown the covers off in the middle of the night and I was actually cold in real life. I actually DID have to go the bathroom so I stumbled down the hall to pee. I shook my head to get the images from that crazy dream out of my mind.

This was the second similar vivid dream I’d had in a week about being “outed” at work for being useless. What is happening in my brain for heaven’s sake? I started to question my additional dose of baclofen that I’m now taking at night because that shit makes me have these crazy, movie-like dreams that freak me out. I know it will stop eventually as the side effects from the increased dose settle down but, damn. Dreams that vivid are scary as hell.

It occurred to me, then, how stressful it is for me to keep trying to figure out new ways to “show up” even when I can’t actually, physically show up. What doesn’t come out in my daytime thoughts finds a way out in my medication-fueled epic intense dreams. It’s me, again, not giving myself a damn break but subconsciously preparing myself to fail.

Here’s the thing. I do show up. I show up now more fully than I ever did before my diagnosis because I have to try harder now than I’ve ever had to try.

I used to do this job effortlessly, with barely a thought. It comes that naturally to me. I’m a born performer (hidden inside of a secret home-body). Now, I can’t always be in the room where it happens physically but I work really hard to be present, to make myself known, in other ways. I work harder. I talk on the phone a LOT (and I truly hate talking on the phone). I do my best to physically show up when I can and when I can’t, I do my best to prepare others to show up in my place.

It’s been working like a dream, to be honest. Things at work are still working. Our office is still successful. We’re still making money. We still do great work. I still show up. And even more gratifying is watching so many people I trust show up in my place and perform like the pros they are. It’s working!

Listening to Sharon Stone talk about how she is coming back to performing after years of working hard to physically come back, but this time in an entirely different time of her life, in an entirely different head space, spoke to me. I relate to that. I also work in an industry that worships youth and appearances. I’ve only been dealing with this come back of mine for a little over two years so I can’t really claim it to be a success. Half the time I sit back in awe wondering who’s life this actually is! But listening to Sharon Stone, of all people, made me believe that coming back is actually possible. Even when you think it’s way too late to even consider such a thing. I mean, Sharon Stone is over 60 and a woman in Hollywood. Those aren’t good odds even for someone that looks like Sharon Stone with all of her obvious financial advantages.

I know my real experience of this dinner meeting I have tomorrow will be nothing like my dream experience.

For one thing, I’ve already showered and we all know that’s half the damn battle. For another, I know exactly where I’m going because I took the time to Google that shit this afternoon, just to be safe. It’s weird to have a client dinner on a day off but even this detail actually works to my advantage! I get to rest all day, giving myself the best chance of holding my shit together for a few hours after dark, when I’m usually safely at home in my jammies.

This might be the best case scenario possible for someone like me to have a client dinner with corporate bigwigs. It’s all going to be fine! I will be fine. I will do what I always do and hold myself together while others are looking. I will show up physically and mentally this time. And it will be good. Nobody but me will know how hard it is. This is also good. It’s part of how I show up, now.

Oddly, the weather is calling for snow showers tomorrow night. I couldn’t get that lucky, could I? But I won’t be alone. I will have a supportive person with me and I will be dining with even more supportive people. I am almost as lucky as Sharon Stone (though I don’t live in her fabulous house with her fabulous wealth, but I do OK for a regular person). I’m pretty fortunate in more ways than those in which I am not.

I will keep showing up in as many creative and unusual ways that I can because I love my job, I love my colleagues and clients, and I need to hang on to as many parts of myself as I can, for as long as I can.

And that’s that.

Here’s an image I relate to right now, maybe more than the one above of the broken thing.

This is a very, very old ceramic tea pot. It belonged to my grandmother, I think, but I can’t really be sure. To be honest, I can’t remember. You might be able to see that it’s been broken several times and glued back together several times, as well. I keep it because I love it. I can’t explain my penchant for tea pots (and salt shakers) shaped like other things. I’m weird that way.

Now I will keep it for another reason.

New year…new me?

My new/old obsessions.

I’ve had a lot of time to think this holiday season since I took some left-over vacation days at the end of the year to allow myself to actually rest instead of just “pretend resting” which is what happens when I am working. When I’m working, I never turn off even after actual work hours because I’m too afraid of falling behind. When I’m really and truly off work, my constantly churning brain allows itself to slow down a bit. This only happens on those rare occasions when I’m off and my entire company and most of my clients are off too. Our offices close the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s like the best gift anyone could give us. Time off when everyone else is off too! Brilliant.

It’s all over now, the holidays are past and life goes back to normal for normals and back to something else for us non-normals. But while I was in that holiday limbo, I got to thinking about lots of things. One of those things I thought about was putting some serious effort toward finding my lost joy.

You guys won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve had a hard time this year thinking about anything but how horrid this disease is and how it was more or less ruining my life. It crept into every corner of my life, every hidden nook and cranny, before I knew it, it had become everything. Everything in my life was tainted by MS. I let it happen, sure, but I think we all find ourselves there sometime when the lows get really low, lower than you thought they could go.

Your ever shrinking list of goals gets smaller and smaller. At one point, my only goal was pretty simple. REMAIN EMPLOYED. All efforts were focused on that goal because it is the foundation of everything else in my newly complicated life. My first goal was to function with limited travel (my HQ is in Atlanta, my job often requires in person meetings with clients not in Pittsburgh). I told myself it was no big deal and I could make things happen from my office in Pittsburgh no matter what it took. Then that stopped working – my new office created new problems. I had to cross the street (harder than one would think while dizzy). I had to get myself to the office but then once I was there I was good for nothing because I was so exhausted by the time I arrived, it felt sometimes like my brain stopped working (to say nothing of my body). That isn’t good. I get paid for my brain. I had to think of another plan. Again.

I decided to do my best to keep things moving, rolling and functioning but I would try to do that from my home office instead of my actual office. My body didn’t work so well but my brain still does! I could do what I do without putting my life at risk crossing the damn street. The only way this would work is for me to make 150% more effort to make sure I stay involved, relevant, impactful and useful. I had to build relationships over the phone – not as easy as actual face-to-face interaction. I had to support behind the scenes (direct, tweak, re-focus, support) to enable others to do what I couldn’t do. It works, it really works, but holy crap is it tiring. By the time I got to the extensive holiday time off I had planned (a little over two weeks off) I was depleted. I looked back at the last six months and felt very demoralized.

This didn’t leave much time for joy. I couldn’t remember what made me happy. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt actual happiness. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I thought surely, this too, is normal and I just need to ride it out until happiness comes back some day! But maybe that wasn’t right. Maybe they were right.

“They” were two people, primarily, that I interacted with over holiday break.

The first was a woman on the internet. She read my Christmas blog and took the time to comment on the post. Her approach was new to me – I haven’t gotten much negative push back on my writing so far, mainly because I think I attract like-minded MS’ers. I try to find people who aren’t motivated by what I call the “sunshine and roses” blogs – “the MS-doesn’t-have-me” crowd. I know that whole thing works wonders for many people, but I think it’s obvious that this disease took me to some places where thinking on the bright side became impossible.

The woman commented on my blog and said (I’m paraphrasing here) that my real problem was that I always think negatively and I feel sorry for myself. She told me, with all good intentions I believe, to always remember that there is someone out there who has it worse than me. Huh. OK. I thought on that a minute or two, debating a few snappy come backs, and eventually decided to leave it be. Her intentions were good. I knew that. This is the price I pay for putting so much of my emotional baggage out there for the world to read! I let it go.

But it nagged at me. I wanted to explain to her that I knew what she said was probably true, and yet focusing on people much worse off than myself as a means to make myself feel more positive didn’t really work for me. It gives me no joy to think about how bad other people have it. In fact, it makes me even more sad. I want to fix things for all of those people. I want to make them better. And I can’t. So it’s just not that easy for me. Not yet anyway.

Later in the week, another interaction, this time a positive one, got me thinking about my approach to my lost joy again.

We had a post-Christmas get together with some dear, dear family friends. My mother’s friend Norma from childhood has two daughters and a son who have been part of my life for literally my entire life. As we got older we got closer and our moms remain dear friends to this day. We have an annual holiday get together that we call MMDDSS (or “mother mother daughter daughter sister sister) usually hosted at one of our homes, usually involving much laughter and a most excellent white elephant gift exchange. You may remember it as the night I stayed out past midnight! Of course I had to post that accomplishment on Facebook based on it’s sheer remarkable wonder.

My sister is a fan of tradition. She has always been the one that holds all of our family traditions together to the point where I jokingly refer to her as Tevya (Fiddler on the Roof? Anyone?). This year at MMDDSS, my sister wanted to start a new tradition. The thing is, we’ve all had some pretty shitty things go down in our lives this year. Our mothers both lost their husbands. We’ve all had relationship challenges, health challenges, challenges on challenges you could say and we all felt kind of over 2017.

My sister’s new tradition idea was inspired by the notion of people using sage to rid their environments and their lives of bad juju. Saging, or smudging, is a way to remove negative energy from your space and essentially your life. My sister’s plan was that each of us would write down the things that sucked about our 2017 on a sheet of paper. We would sprinkle our sheets with sage, fold them up and toss them in the raging fire in my sister’s living room. By doing this, we would ensure more positive energy for 2018.

I loved the idea but it stumped me too. My struggle was showing on my face…My mom’s friend looked at me and said, “You could probably write just two letters on your sheet to cover a whole lot of things, right?” And she was right. I was stumped because throwing my saged sheet into the fire couldn’t really change a goddamn thing about me having MS. I got a little twisted up trying to generate some actual positive thinking but I wrote my list and I sprinkled my list like everyone else. Actually, we sprinkled our lists with oregano since my sister didn’t have any sage, but as Italians we talked ourselves into the idea that oregano is probably good enough to erase our negative Italian juju. So oregano it would be!

I had a great night that night. Not physically. I felt like crap physically and I was worried I’d put a downer on the entire gathering by having to bust out early or sitting in a corner scowling like I usually do at holiday parties. But I did neither. I rode the wave of the laughter surrounded by people I love and I had a really good time. I felt happy. I thought I was just playing along, throwing my list into the fire, but it worked. I found myself vowing to try harder to feel happy more often. I vowed to try harder. I might not be able to rid my life of negative energy with a bit of oregano on a list thrown in the fire but I could try to change the way I think.

I’ve tried a couple of things to make it happen, some of them (photo above) are presents to me. Little things that make my life easier or that give me some kind of small happiness – whether big or small. I procured myself a little pile of happiness in the mail (presents for me! hooray!) and I remembered what it was that I used to love about my quiet, rather solitary life…

First, a new pillow. I am physically not able to resist advertising for the perfect pillow. I’ve tried them all. I’ve bought them, slept on them and subsequently stacked them in a closet when I eventually hated them. And yet, I still succumb to the idea of the perfect pillow that will lead to pain-free sleep.

This time, I bought myself a Talalay pillow. I would make 2018 the year of comfort, just like the ad said! You might think that I would be immune to outrageous claims in ads, what with being an advertising professional myself, but you would be wrong. I am the ideal target for these kinds of claims. I cannot resist them. The pile of supposed perfect pillows in my linen closet are proof of that! Talalay was going to be my ticket to a year of comfort delivered directly to my front porch.

Next…I might not dress fancy or work very hard on my “look” like I used to with glamorous makeup and high-effort fashion but I love to smell good. Smells make me happy. One in particular is as close to perfect to me as a smell can get. A small whiff makes me feel happy. People ask me all of the time what scent I’m wearing. Sometimes, in elevators, people tell me I smell like cookies. I mean, this might mean I use way too much perfume on the one hand but on the other hand, who doesn’t want to smell like cookies? Exactly.

Vanilla-based perfumes make me happy. I scour the web to find the best of the best. I use perfume every day – even when I don’t leave the house. It’s not for anyone else. It just makes me happy. I got myself two new ones to try, pictured above, at my favorite perfumery Lucky Scent. They sent me a bunch of little new vanilla perfume samples in the box, too, so it’s like a double dose of happy.

My next love to come in a box was from Barnes & Noble. You guys know I’m a huge reader. When I was dizzy all of the time late in 2017, watching TV made me nauseous. I was stuck in the house. A lot. But TV and computer work made my head swim so I dove into books even heavier than usual. In 2016, when I started to spend a lot more time at home after diagnosis, I challenged myself to see how many books I could read in a year. I read 30 books that year.

My goal in 2017 was to beat that total and with the health year I’ve had, it was pretty easy. I read a LOT. My grand total for 2017 was 35 books. I’m looking to beat that again in 2018. Since I’m a lover of actual books, a new stack like this gives me actual joy. Reading can go back to making me happy now, if I let it. It’s not going to be that thing I do because I can’t do anything else…it’s gonna be the thing I do because I freaking love to read. Thinking = changed. Boom.

The little item in the front, the magnetic mirror tag for my handicapped car placard was inspired by my friend Kara’s post on one of the MS Facebook pages I follow. I’m always worrying about ripping my placard. It’s crazy! I know. I pull it off and put it on a bunch of times in a day and it gives me actual anxiety. I can’t stop thinking about what I would have to do to get a new one should mine get destroyed. Yeah. This is a good example of my over-active brain over-thinking every little thing about every single action in every single day. A magnetic, plastic handi-capped placard holder? Why, yes, yes I will thank you. One less anxiety in my life for a mere $11.95!  It totally counts. Not all joys are big joys. They still count.

Next, there is my begrudging acceptance of the Ugg boot. The poster-shoe of basic bitches everywhere (those pumpkin spice latte loving, velour sweat pants with a word across the ass wearing girls with bouncy pony tails in colorful scrunchies and big hoop earrings). The Ugg short boot, is an eternal and likely permanent force in my life. I have denigrated the Ugg boot every time I wear them. They’re so…ugly. They’re so…NOT fashiony. They are so…for people who’ve given up on life and don’t care enough about their footwear, thinks Old Me. (I also love sweat pants and hoop earrings so I’m a total hypocrite, too.)

Guess what? Uggs are horrid but they are also comfortable, flat, furry and freaking warm as hell during a bomb cyclone. My black Uggs have seen better days so I got myself a new pair. I still don’t have a slogan across my ass, but I wear the crap out of my Uggs so I got myself a pair with bows on them. Bows make me happy! Even if nobody ever sees them. I see them.

I know you can’t buy happiness. I know that joy cannot come in a box. What this is really about is me giving myself permission to stop being so judgemental about what and how I should be living my life. I’m going to try and stop beating the joy out of every aspect of my existence.

I will smell good. Be comfortable. Read many books and protect my placard. It’s not much. But it’s a start.

P.S. I didn’t love the damn pillow. My eternal quest for the perfect pillow goes on! I will not be thwarted.

A very bright and dark Christmas

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

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

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

Yeah. Or not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The blog post that almost wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here it is:

It was infusion day today. Big number 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the days when my MS is quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

When words fail the writer

Rest in peace, Daddy. You did good.

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

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

I remember that now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Passing the Open Windows

Finally a real top down day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a happy post about fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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