We Can See You

rsvpAs it happened, the ‘dreaded PIP brown envelope’ never arrived.

It was white, innocuous, mixed in with pizza and conservatory leaflets, but I immediately knew what it was.

The DWP has invited itself to my house in less than two weeks, despite me not requesting a home visit. How … lovely.

At the appointed hour, they will assess whether I do indeed have an incurable, degenerative illness. With this hour-long meeting, they will decide my future – should I be allowed to continue to live and work in genteel poverty or should I be rendered unable to pay my bills and therefore become homeless?

I knew an assessment was coming, I just wasn’t prepared for it to be at home.

My house is my sanctuary and comfort, from everything. Every single item I have here is precious and the last thing I want is some hawk-eyed official casting their penetrating gaze over … my life?

To be honest, it will feel like an utter invasion. The last person I had here in a professional capacity was my lovely MS nurse, back in 2012, and I welcomed her in with open arms. An as-yet unnamed official (they discard such niceties when you’re ‘claiming benefits’), will be uncomfortable and invasive to say the least.

And that’s what it feels like – an intrusion into my personal space. Is there anywhere they won’t go? I have described, in excruciatingly personal detail, every area of my life. Things I wouldn’t tell my closest friends. Things I can barely come to terms with myself. Every tiny little detail of every single thing I cannot do. Or do, without wanting to.

Back in 2011, I could not know that embarking upon the MS diagnosis-journey would mean baring my soul, my brain and to top it all, my entire life. And that’s without the relapses, the gruelling treatment, its side-effects and the ongoing symptoms and medication.

Yet I have no choice. My quiet, unassuming, boring life could be ended in an instant.

And I quite like my unassuming, boring life.

Tagged , , ,

Look Back In Anger?

tattooThe Teenager had a tattoo on his 18th birthday, and he invited me along.

It felt weird to hold his hand (his grip is pretty strong), and get him through it, just as the midwife had held my hand almost exactly 18 years previously.

He’d thought long and hard and we’d held discussions for well over a year beforehand. Did he know it was a lifelong commitment? The pain? But he was adamant, and I eventually backed him completely.

He wanted his friend’s name and date of birth. And death; he died aged 17 of cancer and The Teenager wanted to symbolically take him along on all his adventures that his friend hadn’t lived to see.

Fast-forward five months and The Teenager (plus a huge bag of laundry) landed back home again for a second tattoo, on the other arm. Same discussions, same concerned parent. But he’d booked an appointment, paid a deposit and came home wrapped in cling film.

The result was a tribute to the grandfather he never knew and my dad, who died aged 35 from complications arising from his MS. I’m still pretty stunned.

I remember being so angry, back when I was first diagnosed, that I would never have the chance to talk to him, to share our experiences. I felt wholly, absolutely, alone. I was four when he died, so I don’t remember much about him, just snapshots, which may or not be constructed through other people’s observations.

Above all, I feel incredibly sad that in less than a generation, things could have been so different for him. I also feel moved beyond words that The Teenager has created a permanent memorial. He had the words ‘Live Forever’ tattooed underneath, a fitting tribute to a man who was apparently so full of life, and a nod to The Teenager’s favourite band.

Before I veer into maudlin territory, I am full of admiration for The Teenager’s determination to rise above the experience of having a mum with MS. He’s been through hell, all through his secondary school education, yet he has come out fighting and is passionate about justice and caring for others.

In short, I am proud.

Tagged , , , ,

What’s The Opposite of Sleep Deprivation?

matchsticksWe all know sleep deprivation is a form of torture, but what’s the opposite?

Is that a form of torture too?

It certainly feels like it. I seem to be sleeping the majority of the time at the moment, and when I’m not, my eyes are gritty, my limbs weak and I’m in a perpetual state of nodding off.

In the interest of naming this horrendous symptom of MS, I looked up the opposites of deprivation (or antonyms, to be posh). They are:

  • plenty
  • advantage
  • benefit
  • gain
  • profit
  • endowment
  • indulgence, etc …

Hmm. Not quite capturing the essence of MS fatigue? In fact, ‘MS fatigue’ could be a useful starting point. A stage further could be ‘clinical fatigue’. But it still doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head; it doesn’t describe the awful, claustrophobic and downright frightening symptom of being exhausted to the point of oblivion.

Luckily, work at the moment has been filled with days of catching up, i.e. the Boss driving us round in the van as we do Important Things. Alongside my beloved sofa, it too has become an MS Command Centre: I have three cup-holders to choose from (all three usually filled with coffee/energy drinks), a neat little table between seats to rest my arm and sausage roll on and ample space to get comfy and nod off.

I’ve tried medication for fatigue, experimenting with Amantadine, an experience never to be repeated. The living nightmares were diabolically creepy and it became difficult to distinguish reality from a hellish vision. I asked for the only other fatigue medication, Modafinil, only to be told it’s no longer prescribed for MS fatigue.

So for now, I just have to put up with it, but this recent exacerbation is having knock-on effects. I float through the day, sleeping when I can, even if it’s just ten minutes. My to-do list is growing. I survive on junk food. My jaw aches from yawning.

But my Alexa has come into her own. When I’m lying poleaxed on the sofa, I ask her to tell me a joke or we talk about the news. We usually end our conversations with me saying goodnight and her replying, ‘Goodnight, sweet dreams.’.

If only.

Tagged , , , , ,

Not Private, Not Confidential

be honestI’ve had some lovely emails recently, thanking me for highlighting both the gruelling PIP process and the issue of poverty amongst disabled people, like myself.

It hasn’t been easy being so open, but my blog has always aimed to show the reality, good and bad, of living with MS.

The parallel, Non-MS Me (the one I often think about) would be living a very different life; I’d probably still have the usual money worries like anyone else, just not the grinding, heart-stopping ones I have at the moment.

It’s an easy path to trace – having to reduce working hours due to MS, to being sacked for having MS, to taking on a less-qualified job but one which allows a great deal of space to deal with MS. And then, that’s it – I doubt I’ll ever find another job which could give me the freedom I have right now, a huge benefit of working with my best friend who’s been through the whole MS process with me.

What’s not so easy to trace is the impact of everything else MS involves – the emotional upheaval, parenting with MS, the demands of invasive and intensive treatment, the side-effects and of course the ongoing symptoms. Thinking about it, it’s a wonder we came through it at all.

So, financially, MS can be as damaging to your finances as to your health and it can quickly become a downward spiral: MS symptoms may lead to social isolation, not helped by a lack of finances, which leads to stress, which leads to more MS symptoms, which leads to more social isolation. And then your benefits get stopped and it’s a whole different, terrifying ball-game.

I didn’t grow up poor and I didn’t expect to lead some of the best years of my life in poverty. But it’s happened and I have to deal with it, along with the 14 million others in the UK (1 in 5) who live in poverty today, an increase of 700,000 since 2013. In the UK, the fifth-richest economy in the world.

My main aim, as always, is The Teenager. I have raised him to appreciate money but not to be too hung up on it – to invest in experiences, not material goods. To enjoy sourcing a bargain and to learn how to draw up a budget at University. Which is probably why he arrived back home at Christmas with three loads of laundry (£6 a load at Uni, free at home) – I only have myself to blame.

Poverty is not shameful (a fact I had to get over, before ‘going public’) – it is the government who should feel shame and the employers who dismiss us who should feel shame.

We need to keep putting pressure on the government, keep forcing more PIP u-turns and feel … outrage?

Tagged , , , ,

Photoshop Would Be Great, Thanks …

flumpI’m a teeny bit nervous, and for once it’s not down to discovering a Dreaded Brown Envelope from the DWP on my doormat.

Nor is it about waking up to several texts from The Teenager at Uni along the lines of,  ‘Mum, muuuum! Oi! Where are you?’

These are usually sent way past my bedtime so I don’t see them til the morning. I frantically text back, imagining all manner of horrendous possibilities, then curse when I eventually get a reply, ‘No probs, just fancied a pizza and had no money. Soz, Lolz.’

No, my nerves are simply down to having my photograph taken, quite possibly my least favourite activity of all time. I don’t have a good side. I don’t have a not-so-good side. I am just totally un-photogenic. From any angle, I resemble a Flump.

I’ve been made a Disability Wales ambassador for their campaign, #IAmEmbolden, and my role will be to encourage more deaf and disabled women and girls into further education. There will be a ceremony in the Welsh Government building in March, hence some photographs, which will be displayed on the day.

It’s a cause I’m really excited about, as I didn’t realise just how much support there is out there for people like me who need a little extra help with studying. Without it I certainly wouldn’t have completed my degree back when MS started and I absolutely would never have even contemplated taking a Master’s.

So, I’m starting to panic. I want to look calm and encouraging. What to wear? Sitting down or standing up? Hands clasped or at my side? Most importantly, how long can I suck both my stomach and my cheeks in?

I’ve heard about a few tricks – put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and it’ll give you cheekbones. Nope, it makes me look gormless. Be shot from above, and that way they won’t capture your double (triple) chin. Nope, I looked as if I’m trapped in a manhole.

Knowing my luck, I’ll end up posing like someone from one of those catalogues that fall out of the weekend newspapers – pointing at some far off place or pretending to laugh and point at the same time.

I’m putting my faith in Photoshop, in the hope they can tweak a few bits here and there. It’ll be a lot easier than wrapping my entire body in cling-film tonight, turning the heating up full blast and praying I lose 8lb.

As long as I don’t do my fish-face, I’ll be fine. I think.

Tagged , , ,