Category Archives: Symptoms and Treatment

Thanks For The Reminder, DWP

reminderI saw my lovely neurologist last Friday for my yearly review and to check how I was after my last Alemtuzumab treatment.

I was feeling fairly well that day, having taken the previous day off work as I had an early appointment. Just as you do, when you have MS? We learn to build in ways to … manage.

So, we chatted about the appalling time I had had from February until May, and the still-lingering symptoms. We discussed my fatigue, and sadly, the medicine that could have helped enormously has been taken off the market; so I’ll have to keep on dealing with that as best I can.

I got home (in a taxi as I can’t cope with the stress of parking at the hospital), and went back to bed. At 10am. It’s what we do? I cope best by being prepared, factoring in sleep time, down time, can’t do anything time. It feels so normal now, I hardly give it a second thought.

The next day, the DWP letter  ‘inviting’ me to apply for PIP arrived on my doorstep, and everything changed.

When you know you will have to go into excruciating – and at times highly intimate – detail about every single aspect of your illness (and your life), reality smacks you right in the face.

I gloss over many of my symptoms, maybe laugh them off. They’re part of me now and I cope as best I can, and a lot of the time not very well. But I’m still here. Writing everything down is a depressing exercise in negative thinking and now I can’t help but play a running commentary in my mind.

Take yesterday: I called in sick to work. I simply could not cope with the stress of these forms. I was in a pretty bad way and shut out all contact bar this blog (and of course The Teenager, natch). I shut down and shuffled from my bed to the sofa and back again.

This morning, the commentary kicked in as soon as I woke up. Balance, dodgy hands, balance again, dropped stuff. Tripped over the cat, the rug. Attempted and abandoned a shopping list. This is my life now. But to have to catalogue and write down every single thing is horrendous. It’s now glaringly obvious to me just how much life has changed in the last six years.

My life is very, very small now. As a former proud globetrotter, for my horizons to have shrunk to my house and the passenger seat in the Boss’s van is depressing at the best of times. My life is extremely limited but I try to appreciate the beauty in simple things.

Not now. My living room window, through which I view life going on outside of my own experiences is now a window in a jail cell. My house, my safe haven, is now unsafe and at risk.

I thought I was doing the right thing, maintaining a positive attitude after two years of deep depression, still working (albeit with someone who accepts it’s completely normal for me to nod off mid-conversation). This all feels blown to pieces. Do they want me to give up? Call in Social Services? Admit I can’t cope?

Because, it’s beginning to look a lot like that.

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Isten Hozott Magyarországon

danubeI think the title means, ‘Welcome to Hungary’?

I can’t be sure, as Hungarian is the one language that has completely flummoxed me.

Yet ‘welcome’ is the best word I can use to describe my trip to Hungary over the weekend, to speak at a neurological conference about my MS treatment option.

From the chaos of Budapest airport to the stunning hillside of a remote hotel on the curve of the Danube, I slept well for two nights in a row for the first time in months.

I had my speech ready, I had a nap beforehand, I polished my shoes. I had been told it would be a small conference attendance as I was due to speak at the end of the main day. Excellent. 60-odd people? I could handle that.

I met a translator, who had worked for NATO Generals, no less, so I felt a little feeble, clutching my print-out, scribbled-out speech in my hand. Luckily, he had also translated for my fellow-Glaswegian Alex Ferguson, so I knew I was on solid ground. Apparently, according to Hungarian people, I speak really, really fast.

Sadly for me, and my first attempt at a sole speech, it was a packed house, and we were running late. So I sat through three incredibly interesting presentations in Hungarian. Then it was my turn and nobody left the room. Everyone took up their headphones for an instant translation of my ramblings. Right. Ok. I could do this.

And so I began.

I gave my speech. People nodded and clapped. Then I moved from the lectern to the stage and sat with a fabulous Hungarian neurologist and answered questions. I felt a lot happier on this ground and chatted away, feeling sorry for the translator who had to explain  my ‘uumms’ and ‘ahhs’.

People clapped, and I left, a little shaky, but certain that I had done the best I could have. I was instantly whisked away to speak to a journalist from the only magazine for MS peeps, translator at hand. I had my photo taken and could feel his disappointment as I know I look a lot bigger in white tops.

Anyway. Hungary. What a beautiful country. I lived for a while not so very far from there – in Austria, for almost two years. But that was over 25 years ago.

To be back there was just perfect. The changes have been immense, and it was a joy to see a country I love blossom.

On an MS note, it was fantastic to speak to the movers and shakers in the Hungarian MS community, and hopefully, this will trickle down. And then some …

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Expert By Experience

speechI’m ever so slightly nervous.

I’ve been invited to speak at a neurological conference, about my experience of MS treatment: in my case, Lemtrada.

I’m nervous on two counts:

  • I’m not a hugely experienced public speaker
  • It’s taking place just outside Budapest, Hungary (and I’m going in two days, eeeek).

However, I am going and I will do my absolute best – it’s a topic I’m passionate about and if that means conquering my MS-travel-related-anxieties, then so be it.

I’ve written (and re-drafted) my speech and I think it comes from the heart. In it, I discuss my decision-making process in choosing the treatment I had and the benefits of it. And also the downsides.

It it empowering to have a voice and to discuss in public the importance of choice. Reflecting back over the last couple of decades of my life, my voice was somewhat quashed; whether through experiences or through people I allowed into my life, with all their notions about how I should act, what I couldn’t say. It’s kind of poetic irony that my first relapse affected my speech.

So MS may have taken away my speech with one hand but it gave me back an attitude – a desire to create change – with the other. Blogging has been a huge part of this – from meek beginnings, where I hid my identity for fear of ridicule or prejudicing the legal case against employers who sacked me for having MS, to my more strident posts, yet always trying to demonstrate a balance of how life actually is for a small family coping with MS.

However, finding a voice is also about listening to other voices, and the thousands of comments on my posts I’ve received over the years have proved that, over and over again. You guys have sanded off my sharp edges, picked me up when I’ve been down and virtually held my hand through Teenager crises.

And that’s why a large part of my speech is devoted to you, and the power of support. When I took The Teenager to Uni almost two weeks ago, I didn’t feel alone, even as a single parent. I really felt that you guys were there with me, every step of the way.

And it’s also why we are all ‘experts by experience’ – a phrase mentioned to me by a fellow blogger, Patrick. We both agree that the usual, ‘expert patient’ can still make us appear as passive recipients of care, whereas ‘experts by experience’ emboldens us, allowing us to stand up and say, ‘yes, amongst everyone here, the neurologists, the physiotherapists, the researchers, I’ve had the treatment and I am the expert too.’

So, listen to me?

It’s me who went through the lumbar puncture, the MRI’s, the blood tests, the initial steroids to ward off relapses, the actual treatment, administered in a drip. I’ve been completely floored and got back up again. The different tablets for weeks afterwards to ward off infection. The fatigue, the weakness, the all-too-quick-recovery back into work before time.

We’re symbiotic – the health care professionals and us, the patients.

We work together?

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Don’t Believe The Hype

lifeI was wandering around the supermarket yesterday and accidentally went down the Baby aisle.

With the last 18 years of bringing up The Teenager fresh in my mind since taking him to Uni, I felt a bit of a pang.

I gazed upon the rows of feeding cups, teeny tiny outfits, creams, ointments and the inevitable ‘How-To’ books.

Someone once said to me, when I was heavily pregnant and reaching for my second ice cream sundae, that babies don’t come with an instruction manual; probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever had.

In a way, having a child and being diagnosed with MS are weirdly similar, and having been through both (and survived to tell the tale), I can quite confidently say, ‘MS does not come with an instruction manual.’

In the beginning, I thought it did. Similar to being pregnant, when I was diagnosed, I was bombarded with stories (both good and bad), told to do this, told to do that, take this supplement, eat this raw bark by the light of a full moon. I read endless articles online, mostly grim, and I envisaged a similar future. The few positive stories involved wildly expensive treatment and/or jumping out of a plane for charity.

When I had The Teenager, I constantly referenced books, other people, forums, random strangers – ‘why won’t my baby stop crying?’ Whilst the deluge of advice was welcomed, it wasn’t helpful. Just like MS, every baby is unique. What worked for me (draping my baby over my arm and rocking him in tune to The Verve, a completely accidental occurrence), didn’t work for others. We found our own groove through trial and error.

MS has a virtual cornucopia of symptoms and none of us are the same, just like those tiny week-old humans. You can read as much advice as you can, you can pin your hopes on a miracle cure, just like I did to cure The Teenager’s colic. Nothing worked until I found my own solution to our own unique problem.

Being diagnosed is about finding out what works for you. Your symptoms will nudge your life in different ways, to cope with various symptoms, be it fatigue, cog fog, mobility and all the rest. When you seek advice, take what you need from it and discard the rest. It’s your life and your life with MS is not the same as anyone else’s.

I’ve found my MS groove, just as I found my Baby groove. I don’t drape myself over anyone’s arm, but I’ve re-calibrated certain aspects of my life which work for me, but which I would never foist upon anyone else.

I know when to sleep, when to do paperwork, when to shop, when to go to work. I know when to be extra careful going up or down stairs and I now know how to cope with dark days. All this works for me, but probably won’t for you.

Examine your MS and find out how to play it. It’ll take time, trial and error and blind alleys.

But you will find it.

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Being Ill – Not For The Faint-Hearted

fabWhat’s it this time?

A relapse? An ‘exacerbation of symptoms’? Or just the usual?

Whatever your MS nurse, neurologist or doctor calls it, you feel pretty bad.

Worse than that, you feel dreadful. Terrible. Horrible. And everything else in between.

But wait, your colleagues and friends will make you feel better:

‘Wish I was you, would love a week off work, dossing around, watching telly.’

‘A week in bed? You serious? Eaaaaasy life.’

Yeah. When you’re in fairly good health, a week off must sound like bliss. When you’re truly ill, it’s evil, and no doubt you’re wishing you’re well enough to be in work as anything is preferable to how awful you’re feeling right now.

What most people don’t realise is, being ill is extremely hard work. It’s certainly not a cushy number; my last relapse showed this only too well. I was ill. All I could do was lie on the sofa. Nice? No. The nerve pain gnawed away at my legs while the fatigue bashed my head in. Everything hurt. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t concentrate. All I could do was … lie there. Being ill.

And all the while, rushing through my head was a stream of things I couldn’t do, but had to – the laundry, the cleaning, the shopping and cooking a basic meal for myself. The latter tortured me. I could taste the boiled egg, but it took me over three hours to get up up and do it (I have one of those six-egg electric egg boilers – couldn’t find the energy to turn it on).

To be frank, I can be as guilty as the next person. I never really understood people who had the flu, until the one and only time I had it, two years ago. I literally, quite literally, could not get out of bed. It was a relapse x 10. And extremely frightening, especially as I was the only responsible adult in the house. In some ways, the mental anguish was worse than the aching limbs and complete inability to sit upright.

Someone once said to me, quite soon after my diagnosis, that you have to be strong to cope with MS, and, boy, they weren’t wrong. If you let it, it can become a full time job. Constant pain, constant fatigue, immeasurable fear of what happens next. Plus, there’s no end-point.

You know that chic trend for ‘pop-up’ this, that and the other? Shops, stalls, cafes? For me, MS is a bit like that, except not as nice. They appear one day and are gone the week after, having cashed in their pain tokens and left.

And even when you’re Not Very Ill, there’s the constant undercurrent of symptoms, most of them invisible. Going to a Port-a-Loo six times a day when there’s eight men on a site isn’t pleasant. However, lying down on a pile of plasterboard and nodding off is, so perhaps I now look for the silver lining.

I find it bizarre, at my age, that I’m coping with an endless barrage of symptoms, day in, day out, and have been doing for the last six years. I should be thinking of other things now that The Teenager is off to Uni next week – taking up Salsa (lol), learning how to make sushi, immersing myself in Yoga for Complete and Utter Beginners.

Next time someone says how cushy it is to be ill, take my advice.

Ignore them.

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