Tag Archives: MS

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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Overcoming Obstacles

Shockingly, I haven’t had a bath for over nine years.

Where once I liked nothing more than wallowing in boiling hot, heavily-scented water with a good book to hand, MS heat intolerance has rendered this a sepia-tinted memory.

The only problem is, my shower is over this bath, a pre-MS relic. It is also very curved, very high to step in to and completely impractical. My feet are never quite flat in the bath, I’ve fallen out a good few times, once cracking my head on the toilet (very unglam) and now I live alone, taking a shower each day is a persistent worry. Despite my friend installing a couple of grab rails, it’s an obstacle course.

I am my own worst enemy, in that I rarely ask for help. Instead, I muddle along, accommodating way beyond what is reasonable. Desperation drove me to apply for a Council Disabled Facilities Grant and I didn’t hold out much hope. The plan was to take the bath out and replace with a large walk-in shower, something my paltry income would never extend to.

A wonderful Occupational Therapist visited me at home, chatted through everything with me, had a good look at the offending bath and agreed we had A Problem. The relief was intense. She filled in forms for me, contacted my MS nurse and asked the Council to visit me for a Financial Review. This took place last week and I had every single piece of paperwork to hand, with the upshot being that I am poor enough to qualify for help.

I cannot describe the utter relief that something I am increasingly finding so difficult will now be made so easy. I think all of us constantly scan obstacles and work out how to make them easier – I took my kitchen door off its hinges when I walked into it too many times. I have a cordless vacuum after tripping over the cord far too often. I ignore dust, batch-cook when I have energy and live off re-heated meals when I don’t. I don’t work when I can’t and I do when I can. It’s all about being flexible.

I wish I had asked for help much sooner, but pride got in the way. Now, I can’t wait to not worry about having a shower. It sounds so simple?

If I have any advice, it would be, don’t wait until you put your health in danger as I did, ask. You may be knocked back but just keep asking.

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What Is Grief?

I’ve written about the MS Grieving Process in my blog; our health is compromised, our lives change and we need the chance to mourn.

It’s a terrible, horrendous time more often than not, especially as we’re usually fairly young when we’re diagnosed.

I thought I knew how grief felt – because of MS, I had already lost my dad at a very young age to a rapidly evolving form of MS back in the 1970’s and then my partner and my job disappeared when I was diagnosed.

Now I know, I knew nothing about grief

The grief of losing a sibling is beyond anything I have ever experienced.

My brother died two weeks ago and we are heartbroken.

In my head, I race through memories, his quirks and his mannerisms. I can conjure him up in the blink of an eye. I can hear him speak. He was so utterly vibrant, it’s difficult to imagine him inanimate.

We spent 46 years together. And now, he is gone. The realisation that he no longer walks on this earth is bizarre.

Grief is cruel, breathtaking and vicious.

We are all living in a new world now, one in which my brother does not exist. And that blows my mind. His Celebration is two weeks away and he will be buried in a woodland near to where he found true happiness.

I last saw him in July – he’d driven up from Down South and we had a fantastic catch up. He was full of plans for the future, asking lots of questions about starting a blog where he could share everything he had discovered over the years. He had helped so many people through his quest for enlightenment.

I’m in the shock stage. I know he is gone, but am finding it hard to accept.

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Honestly? MS, Again and Again and Again

Just when I think I’m doing a pretty decent job of faking it with MS, I discover that no matter how hard I try, it will always make its presence known.

When I say ‘faking it’, I don’t mean denying I have this illness, it just means that I try to hide stuff from the people who mean the most to me.

Yesterday, this hit home in an unexpected way; I had been at work and once back home, I put the fan on to cool down the house.

When The Teenager came home, he found me semi-relaxed, reading a book and being blasted by a formidable Arctic chill. So what followed was surprising:

‘You ok?’

‘I’m great! Fab fan! You ok?’

‘God, it’s depressing.’

Hmm, did he mean something had happened when he was out? Or was it the state of the world? Politics? No.

‘I just feel so sad that you have to sit in front of that thing to feel ok. It’s depressing.’

I tried to explain it was all good, I felt fine, I was just dealing with a symptom.

‘Still crap.’

I understand where he’s coming from – he’s had a fair old journey as the child of a single parent with MS which hit right when he started high school. He knows my MS foibles inside-out, but no matter how much he’s witnessed over the years, I’ve never relied on him as I wanted him to blossom and grow despite MS. The same wish I have for myself, I guess.

Of course, he will always have this hanging over him, as I am his main parent. He reads too much on the internet and stores it up until it explodes in fear and anxiety. I will always provide a safe harbour for him to come back to when he needs to.

I guess I am the Great Pretender. I refuse most offers of help, I push myself to the point of exhaustion and in some ways, I gain a lot of satisfaction by doing that and stuff the consequences. Yet within myself, I have somewhat calibrated MS to suit me;¬†I go to work when I’m at my best MS-wise, I catch up on paperwork when I know I can engage my brain, I write randomly, whenever I can and I now accept that when I can’t, I can’t. No matter how frustrating.

When that happens, I’m stuck on the sofa, or in bed. Lying flat in a cool bed sometimes brings more relief than any meds. I realise my life has shrunk, but in a bizarre way it’s also grown. Without MS, I could still be in a dead-end job with a dead-end partner, cycling through life with no real care or direction. Life has been honed down towards what is most important, and that’s been a huge learning curve. I’ve discarded all thoughts of what I should be doing, could be doing, ought to be doing. I now choose.

So yes, MS happened. It’s not the best, it never will be, but I will try for as long as I can to continue to be the best parent I can, above everything. If I could only reassure The Teenager more, I would be happy forever.

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Public Speaking and Other Horror Stories

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a public speaker.

It’s something that has always terrified me.

I trace this back to moving from Scotland to Wales when I was 14, and asked to talk to my English class in a new school about some topic I was passionate about. The girl before me spoke about The Body Shop and smashed it.

I mumbled and stuttered through an excruciating two minutes and swiftly sat back down again, cheeks flaming.

Since that time, I vowed never, ever to speak to an audience again.

Until MS.

Why did MS give me back a voice I lost?

For one, accent doesn’t matter. Second, a slick speaker is all well and good, but sometimes it is just as important to hear from someone like me, an average person , saying it as it is, mumbling and pauses accepted.

During my work in raising awareness about MS, I have been fortunate enough to speak at MS conferences in Hungary, Greece and Denmark. When I say speak, I mean talking with passion to audiences, voice wavering. I always keep in mind that if I can survive a two-hour lumbar puncture by a Doctor who has never done one before on a live patient, I can survive anything (true story). 

And that’s the thing about passion – at my last conference, we were talking about Patient Focused Priorities, something I’m, well, passionate about. We had all chatted beforehand, ran through some scenarios, but to be live (it was live-streamed), to be there, at the conference, for that twenty minutes, I wanted to give my all.

It could have gone either way. I blow-dried my hair (taming the unruly curls), I dressed in smart black trousers and a grey top and made my way to the conference room. I was led to a bank of dials and switches and mic’d up (bit embarrassing, muffin top). Then I sat down, heart pounding.

It seemed a good idea weeks before, so we agreed, as I was in Scandinavia, I would explain my background. In Norwegian. A language I used to speak fairly fluently until MS blasted me with a massive relapse of the speech part of my brain, which I’ve been told is quite unusual.

However, me and my wonderful Norwegian host began…

Reader, it was amazing. My Norwegian was awful (to be expected) but our rapport carried us through,

Looking back, I think it is the same for all of the conferences I have spoken at. I’m not coached, tutored or subjected to a round of interviews: I’m invited because I am me, living with MS.

I would like to think that a genuine speech about someone living with MS is more effective than any PowerPoint slideshow.

I may mumble, stumble and fumble, but I get my point across.

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