Tag Archives: brain

To PhD or not PhD …

etc… that is The Question.

I have had an incredibly exciting day, visiting a Post-Graduate University event, feeling very, very old, collecting my bag, freebie pen and numerous leaflets before being ushered to various stalls.

Where I collected more pens, leaflets and a head full of ideas.

Weirdly, there were bowls of sweets and plates of biscuits at every stand, but I was polite and declined all offers, yet afterwards I wondered – was it a bizarre initiation ceremony? Had I somehow failed by refusing the tempting Jammie Dodger  or Gummi Bears at the Student Union stand?

After whizzing around the stalls (the peeps were beyond helpful and enthusiastic), I had a couple of hours break when I went home to rouse The Teenager from his pit, today being his day off school.

Long story short, I let him sleep (easier), put a wash on, sorted the recycling, had a coffee and headed out to the talk about Creative Writing PhD’s, before heading back to my Uni for a tutorial about the book ‘Omega’, which I read a couple of months back and therefore couldn’t recall a single interesting thing to say.

I waffled.

When I got home, hours after leaving the house, I offloaded the industrial quantity of bananas for The Teenager and told him off for giving the cat a dangerous dose of catnip – she’s currently racing through the house, climbing anything she can find and bouncing off the sofas, wide-eyed and lethal, much to The Teenager’s amusement.

Anyway, my journey to this point has been weird and wonderful – being sacked for having MS, contacting the inspiring author M J Hyland, who encouraged me to start blogging over three years ago, to you guys who nudged me in to publishing a book, to taking a Master’s, to now. And next? PhD?

Am I suited for academia? I don’t know the language, but I have a passion . Is that enough?

Or am I fated to spend my days measuring concrete in square metres and advising customers about the benefits of vinyl over block flooring?

Let me know what you think – and if you offer Gummi Bears as an incentive, I’m all ears …

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The Perks Of Being A Goldfish

goldfishThere’s nothing much happening in our little cottage since I’ve been convalescing from my third course of Alemtuzumab, so I’ve mostly been Thinking, which is always a risky undertaking.

Uppermost in my mind is, well, my Mind. In other words, my Goldfish Brain.

This is best explained by my risible attempt at New & Experimental writing at Uni:

I had to ‘write a sketch  in which the gender of the narrator and/or characters is obscured or manipulated in some way’.


So I did what any pretentious peep with literary leanings would do and wrote a sketch using only titles from the top 50 bestseller list from a popular bookstore – sample line: ”It was always Personal, always about Us. Where My Heart Used to Beat, there is only Lamentation”. Counter-culture or what? And I even called it ‘Water & Stone’. Yup, I am that tragic.

Anyway, I polished it, posted it on our forum and promptly forgot about it. Which probably wasn’t a bad thing.

This got me Thinking. MS has taken a giant eraser and smudged out a whole part of my brain. At first this was pretty frightening, as you can imagine. Words failed me, jokes died, anecdotes withered in the middle and post-it notes bloomed all over the house.

Looking on the bright side however, I decided to write a list of all that was positive about this, and here it is, taken from my scribbles:

  • Supermarket home delivery is a joy, every single week. I completely forget what I’ve ordered, so when I unpack the bags I stare in wonder at the gluten-free pasta and think, ‘wow, I needed this! How fabulous’. Digging through the bags is exciting and just like Christmas. Especially when they pop in a free sample – ‘yay, a small pot of spinach-flavoured yoghurt, just what I wanted’.
  • I am the Best Ever Friend. I’m the friend who can not only keep secrets, but also promptly forgets them. Result.
  • Every day is a whole new experience. I wake up refreshed, having forgotten the traumas of yesterday. If I’m reminded, I’ll deal with it. If not, I enjoy my coffee.
  • I can’t argue any more. This may sound like a bad thing, but believe me, it’s an unexpected bonus. People will attempt to bring me into long-standing grievances/arguments/slights and I’m like, ‘oh, really? And when did that happen?’ They will then start talking really slowly in a very loud voice to me and try to explain. I forget.
  • I’m never bored; I gaze at my pile of books by my bed (just the books I want to read, how amazing), I admire my friend’s notes from Uni (was I actually at that lecture? Wonderful, let’s read the notes and enjoy it all over again). Hey, someone’s put more loo-roll in the bathroom and it definitely wasn’t The Teenager. How thoughtful.
  • Last but not least, I forget how much chocolate I have eaten.

Mind you, I’ll have to rein in this Goldfish Brain as I start back at work in a couple of days.

Apparently I’ve met with The Boss for coffee several times over the last week for a catch up and debriefing. If you remember what we talked about, could you send me some notes?

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Please Excuse My Brain, It Doesn’t Know What It’s Doing

memoryI was formally introduced to my brain after my very first MRI.

There it was, in all it’s lesioned glory, glowing brightly on the computer screen. I was entranced and tried to take in what the neurologist was telling me as he counted up the little blobs of white amidst the grey.

I used to like my brain and we got on quite well; it saw me through lots of adventures, exams and crises. And Trivial Pursuits. It could always be relied upon to make snap(ish)  decisions or mull over a myriad of options for any given situation.

Lamentably, it has decided to strike out on its own, making a bid for devolution and taking a lot of important bits with it. Now my short-term memory is atrocious. I repeat myself. I also talk about the old days, but that’s probably an age thing. I repeat myself.

I frequently apologise on behalf of my brain and it can become quite awkward. Say I’m standing in front of a huge cafe menu, chalk-boarded behind the increasingly-impatient barista. I am blank. I literally cannot think what to order. Likewise menus in restaurants, shampoos and conditioners in Boots, colours on paint charts and which wrapping paper to buy for Christmas (someone told me it was soon).

I forget the most basic facts so chatting with me can be a journey into charades. I can’t remember names, conversations or dates. I point to stuff, use my hands to describe things and say ‘aggggghhhhh, you know, that, that, um, thing with the spouty bit?’ ‘Oh, yeah, thanks, kettle.’

However, let’s look at the upsides. For one, I no longer brood on things. Drawn-out arguments are a thing of the past. I could have one on the Monday and bounce into work like Tigger on the Tuesday, all forgotten, unless I’ve blogged about it. Then I brood, meh.

But having a short-term memory means I re-experience wondrous things again and again. It’s almost as if every day is new. I get up in the morning and think, ‘wow, what a lovely day! Oh, great, I can have coffee! Wow! And the cat, isn’t she just gorgeous?’ Until, thwack, I veer into the bannister and it all comes rushing back.

That aside, I will continue to count my blessings. I equate it with a computer and how refreshing it can be to delete and send to the trash bin all that junk that’s been hanging around, and that’s got to be a good thing?

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What Have I Done?

scooby snackWell, my MS-versary passed without major incident. I ended a very pleasant evening out still talking fairly intelligently to my friends rather than random trees or street signs (it has been known).

Life was looking good. I was in a good place, feeling, um, good.

Until an email pinged on my phone. A weighty document from the university, detailing a reading list, term dates, rules, regulations, how to get a student ID card (yay!) and plagiarism warnings.


Have I been a bit too hasty in signing up for an MA? Will my brain have the last laugh? I scanned the book list, the phrases ‘developing effective analysis and argument’, ‘critical thinking skills’, ‘Harvard referencing’ leaping out at me. Assignments include a 6,000 word novel chapter, a 3,000 short story and a 10,000 word dissertation.

Perhaps my expectations have been a little on the low-expectation side. I imagined Creative Writing to be, well, creative and artistic. I had a vision of myself scribbling important thoughts in a battered notebook with a lilac pen. I would be sitting in a dingy cafe wearing fingerless gloves and studenty clothes. Me and The Teenager would cook beans on toast and lentil curry on alternate nights, warmed by the glow of our last candle. Perhaps we would visit the market at the end of the day to pick up plums and turnips that had fallen on the floor.

The last time I critically analysed anything, it was a letter from my neurologist detailing the sorry state of my brain, and even then I had to Google the long words. This course would be a whole different brain-game. Am I really up to it?

In a bid to calm down, I listened to my ‘You Are Intelligent and You Can Do It!’ relaxation thingie. Unfortunately this left me more stressed as I couldn’t count down my Stairway To Success without losing track of where I was. And when the American voice told me I was a worthy and special being, all I heard was ‘you are a special bean’. I snorted with laughter and missed the next bit about creating compartments in my mind where I could store important information. Gah.

In a fit of optimism,  I ordered everything from my reading list and I have a pot of freshly-sharpened pencils on my desk. Am I ready for September? About as ready as I was for my lumbar puncture….

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I’m Not Failing, I’m Sleeping…

sleep tightI had one of those earth-shattering, life-changing  moments of clarity the other day.

I closed my eyes at 10am, just to have a quick cat nap.

Two hours later, I woke up. I was incensed, maddened by the sheer waste of time and looked with dismay at my unaccomplished ‘To Do’ list.

As I stumbled into the kitchen to make a cup of strong coffee, tripping over the cat (she’s tiny but deadly), I stopped in my tracks. MS fatigue. I expect everyone else to take me seriously about how debilitating it can be, how much of a real symptom it is. And yet… I don’t.

Instead, I see it as a major inconvenience, something to be tolerated if I am to get through the day intact. It’s a distraction, holding me back from my real life. Or is it? I take my other MS symptoms seriously and factor them in, so why don’t I do the same with my most significant symptom, fatigue?

Over the last two years, I have railed against the pointlessness of all this sleep. I flounce to my sofa in anger, utterly fed up at yet another hour passing me by with absolutely nothing achieved. This had to change.

Rather than getting angry, I am now going to start respecting this fatigue, just as I accept that nerve pain, foot drop and stumbling are part of my life now. I can’t change it, so I will accord it the same respect. The fatigue is my body’s way of telling me to slow down, my brain needs a rest. I will view it as a valid symptom, not a major annoyance.

I tried out this new way of thinking yesterday. I had some things to do in the morning, and could feel the fatigue creeping up. Back home, my brain shut down. The To Do list was put to one side, I got my duvet out and fell asleep. I woke up feeling better, accepting that this is my life now. I can’t change it, but I can change how I approach it. I can absorb it into my life or I can go on forever feeling angry and a failure.

And you know what? I feel that in some way I have made peace with myself. I’m not failing any more.

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