Hunkering Down In Lockdown

I was off work for a week during the dramatic escalation of Coronavirus here in the UK and had felt quite cocooned, my usual MS problems combined with a trapped nerve I was receiving treatment for having kept me at home.

Going back to work was unreal: it was the same building site, luckily secluded with only one other person working, but everything was different. I looked around, remembering the Good Old Days when my main concern was picking up milk on the way home. It was utterly impossible to take in, that the world had changed so much and in such an unexpected way. Driving back through an emptied capital city just reinforced this. Life would never be the same again.

I cried. I cried on site and I cried when I got home. Watching the news and seeing country after country across the world close down was utterly beyond comprehension.

Fast forward a couple more weeks and my son is now home from University, still studying online and now working as a housekeeper with the NHS. He makes his bed in the morning and cooks for himself but I am banished from our living room when he works out, huffing and puffing with my weights and kettle-bell that served just fine as a doorstop for many years.

There is much talk about the ‘new normals’ – something all of us with MS have had to adapt to over the years, regardless. It is heartening to see so much online and, wow, accessible. For once, the world is perhaps coming to us. So this is a very unreal situation for those of us who are quite at home with being, well, at home, because we have to.

For me, I have strategies in place. Concentrate on small pleasures, make a list, watch the clouds go by. Now we are all doing the same thing, it’s quite wonderful. The media is full of ideas, hints, tips, opinion columns, all aimed at Me. Us. Suddenly, museums are open, there are online lectures, I can travel the world, dip in and out of talks with the cream of authors. In a way, it’s amazing.

Yet, can this last? If you are on furlough, are worried about your job or have you always been at home, what happens next? Will these wondrous interventions such as tele-medecine continue? What we thought could take years, has taken place in a matter of weeks.

So, it looks good for us? Or does it? The benefits system has yet to catch up. A lot of us cannot access carers. There are no groups, no access to the work we once took pride in. Where do we figure in this seismic change?

We cannot be forgotten during this. I know there are a huge amount of fantastic interventions in place, but there are always people behind the figures and we cannot forget this. I can’t think of a time that is more pressing for an understanding of MS, bar my dad being diagnosed back in the 70’s.

MS charities may go under but we need them more than ever. Engage, if you can, take part in discussions with them and if you have the energy, fundraise. They need us as much as we need them.

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We’ll Do What We Do Best

If there’s one thing I know about the MS community, is that when the chips are down, we all pull together.

And never more so than now.

If I’m honest, it’s strange to be doling out advice to normally-healthy people stuck at home, climbing the walls.

Yup, I’m the one now doing the ‘sad face tilt’, murmuring gentle ‘hmm hmm’s’ and suggesting ways to keep engaged and less isolated. Except now, it’s all of us in the same boat, an entire country, a huge swathe of the world.

It’s heartening to see a veritable outpouring of resources previously inaccessible to us – working and studying from home, celebrities bringing us everything from cello lessons to live work-outs and dreadful song compilations – Gal Gadot, I’m looking at you.

New programmes devised and on our telly within days. Tips and hints for staying at home are abundant, a flood of all the resources we have campaigned for over the years. Can’t get to the theatre or ballet? It’ll come to you. Same for the museums of the world, the cinema, online learning where you can pick up wood-whittling amongst many other things. Newspapers are now full of great ideas for lessening the isolation, and not before time.

Are we all disabled now, in some way?

Opinion columns are full of shocked and stunned op-ed writers aghast at being without a cleaner, a playgroup, a holiday, their Boden order. Ok. I feel your pain, although somewhat ironically.

Back to MS, and it’s awe-inspiring to see how our community has come together to keep us informed. From the MS Society, MS Trust and Shift-MS, to the Bart’s Blog, we are kept right up to date. And this is despite a truly dreadful time for charities.

I had my shielding letter on Friday, followed by a letter from my MS team yesterday. I feel cared for and protected. However, my landlord may not feel the same way, which is why I have to continue to work, with only one other person, the long-suffering Boss, as long as I can.

It’s not ideal. I miss my son terribly, and my partner. Me and The Boss are looking at each other and thinking, ‘really?’ Are we the two people we’re going to see for the next few months? I feel more sorry for him, to be honest.

I listen to his Sky TV Planner list, he listens to me wittering on about medical humanities. He wants a Baby Yoda for his birthday and I don’t quite know what to say, always aware that we are in this for the long haul, Baby Yoda or not.

Pandemics and Other MS Problems

You’ve all seen the news.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to it, waiting for specific advice for those of us who live with compromised immune systems.

And just like me, you’re probably disappointed.

Instead, thankfully, we have our own trusted sources to rely upon during this incredibly confusing time – MS Trust, MS Society and many others have been quick to keep us updated.

If you are finding it difficult to get out and buy food, please don’t panic. If you can, ask friends and family and if not, there has been an amazing lift in community measures to make sure no one is left behind – look into the NextDoor app and your local Facebook pages.

In the midst of all the terrible news, there are, at this moment, three good things to take away:

  • First, when this is over, and you ask your Boss if you can work from home, they’ll have a much harder time saying no. If we can mobilise half a nation to work from home within a week, why has this not happened before? After all, ‘reasonable adjustments’ are enshrined in law?
  • Second, self-isolation is second nature to most of us with MS and we have honed and perfected our techniques over the years since our diagnosis. Let’s share our lessons with others. I know it’s tempting to yell, ‘it’s not Christmas or a snow break!’ but be kind. They know no different. We can teach them.
  • The final point, although more intangible, may be that other people might realise just how difficult it is to be at home, day after day, week after week. We weren’t moaning unnecessarily after all!

Wow.

This is unprecedented – we have no rules to follow, but let’s be kind, look out for one another and stick together.

What is the alternative?

Self-Isolation? Just Ask An MSer

Pre-MS, I could never imagine a day I did not scoop up my kid and take him out.

The very idea of being stuck at home was absolute anathema. I collected cut-outs from newspapers, leaflets and magazines with a zealous streak, not wanting him to miss out on anything.

Post-MS, it was a very different scenario; devoted rugby mums would collect him and bring him back brimming with mud, injuries and victories. My friend attended parents evenings and took copious notes on my behalf, which she then relayed to back to me.

Those were dark days.

When you can’t take your Teenager to the beach as you know you’ll be weak and miserable, with a massive dollop of heat intolerance is distressing beyond belief.

I waved him off, a smile on my face, but inside I was crumbling.

Eight years down the line since my diagnosis, and three courses of Alemtuzumab later, I am in an ok-ish place.

And now we have this virus, which we may, as people with MS, be a little more susceptible to. I say this gently, as we are not yet aware of the whole picture. What I do know is that to have an MRI, which I do yearly, may show more lesions, and this could be the year for another course of Alemtuzumab.

If this is the case, I cannot see it happening for me, as it would reduce my immunity to near zero. And that is ok. I’m still working, still studying, I’ll get through this blip.

But the one thing us MSers are brilliant at is self-isolating, after all, most of us have been doing it for years.

So, let’s turn the tables and give others the benefit of our experience?

  • Home shopping
  • Friends leave cake outside your door
  • Twitter
  • Netflix
  • Stay in touch, whatever way you can
  • Learn something new

I’m actually amazed that our Government hasn’t yet called upon our superior experience in this matter, but we live and learn?

Just Be … Kind

We all know life is short, but sometimes it takes a famous person’s suicide to bring this home.

I have been lucky, just one troll in all these years, and they were swiftly dealt with.

To die at 40 is horrendous. There are no words for her family.

And her family is all that matters at this point – not the usual suspects popping up to give their opinion on daytime telly.

Bit late?

Why am I saying this?

Anyone who is in the public eye, who voices an opinion, is culpable. I don’t want to hear about her last Instagram, her last photo. Her last meal.

She died alone, as all suicides do, without their family and friends.

It breaks my heart that someone so full of life could feel there was no other option, when all around them, they were surrounded by love.

We’re not here for long; if you know someone who is struggling, reach out, if you can.

They are not manipulative, seeking attention or playing games. Suicide is real, for far too many people , who are left forever wondering WHY.