Surfacing~

I’ve been trying to come up with the words to describe this for months; though come to think of it, it’s probably more like a year. This inexplicable thing has been bouncing around my head, periodically coming together to make a sentence and then falling back into individual words that I can’t remember or feelings I can’t explain. It seems fitting to have this figured out before the year’s end. (Which happens to be moments away.)

So here goes:

For me, living with MS is a fluid experience. My changing abilities wash over me like the tide and leave me disoriented. My body defines and redefines itself with the ebb and flow of my disease and my emotional response is a balance of denial and strength. The current pulls me around as I’m dodging fears and rising to the challenges to keep moving forward. I search for solid ground to find perspective. But until I get there, I forget what normal is.

Each day rolls into the next with changes that are often very subtle. And after more than two decades with MS, I have learned to accept what is for the day, the week, the month. I don’t spend a lot of time examining the specifics of how I feel. I just cope. And part of that coping is to avoid looking at the big picture. While “I’m soaking in it,” I can’t see what may be obvious to others.

See how confusing this is? I feel like I’m contradicting myself! Ok, let’s back up a bit.

My symptoms fall into two categories. There are those that I’ve dealt with on a daily basis, since I was diagnosed. Many of them are manageable with my prescriptive cocktail, others I have learned to live with.  For the sake of the metaphor, let’s call those symptoms Barnacles. The second category consists of the symptoms that come and go and come and go. Let’s call those Shells. Oh wait, did I say two? There are actually three categories. The third is the attacks. (Okay, I could go all shark metaphor here, but won’t over-do it!) The sudden onset smacks me with an unexpected wave and leaves no question about what is or isn’t usual. And while I am afraid that some of these new symptoms may go barnacle, I rarely lose sight of who I am outside of the relapse.

So, here are some examples of the parasitic barnacles I live with. Including, but not limited to: foot drop, difficulty walking, dizziness, poor balance and hmmm, what are those other ones… oh yeah, incontinence and an inability to pee. How could I forget them!?! These tenacious little buggers have been clinging to me for so long that I can’t remember a time when they weren’t a part of my everyday.

So you ask, how does this fit in to the inexplicable-thing category? It’s those elusive shells. They roll in and roll out and as I chase them up and down the beach, the water overtakes me and my defensive denial kicks in. Leaving me even more dizzy than usual. When I finally resurface, I can’t tell where I am.

I’m getting lost in metaphor. Maybe a real example will better convey what I’m trying desperately to say.

This year I noticed that I couldn’t stand for very long. The amount of time required to load the dishwasher or heat up a microwave feast eluded me. And because it came on so gradually, I barely noticed it happening. As the months went by, my standing time continued to decrease and all of a sudden I stopped and scratched my head. Have I always been this way?

From the outside this must seem ridiculous. How could I not know that this debilitating symptom is out of the ordinary? As I speculate further, I find myself standing in moving water. The next thing I know I’m submerged in a tide that was at my ankles a few moments earlier. And as the water touches my chin, I tread, trying to figure out who and where I am.

It’s usually my husband who reels me in. He helps me find perspective without lingering on the thoughts that are counter-productive in my coping. Realizing that this symptom isn’t a barnacle, set off internal fireworks over the Hudson.*

So the year is at its end. The next one is imminent and as is the case for all of us, I have no way of predicting how the tides will turn. Maybe now that I have the words all together in one place, I will be less likely to go adrift again. Though I must say, denial, when used reasonably, can be a very comfortable flotation device.

*Oh, and btw, “my long-standing-ability” has greatly improved or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Ampyra.” Does anyone get that reference?)

Hear the voice behind the words~

I was recently interviewed on blogradio by Rae Edwards of SwaggahBoi RaeDio. Please take an opportunity to listen. Put it on your ipod to hear while you commute… mill about… eat … sleep… think. Wherever it fits!

“this” ability

It’s official.

With a June exacerbation my perspective changed. The dizziness intensified and I was unable to move without finding myself in a turbulent ocean. It was as if waves were pushing me in both directions, a sensation that is by no means easy to describe. That, in concert with a number of other challenging symptoms, landed me on 5 days with methylprednisolone- the classic treatment for an MS episode. One that I became all too familiar with since long before disease modifying drugs hit the market. With a synthetic burst of energy,  a convenient side effect, I celebrated my 41st birthday and 21st anniversary of my MS diagnosis in one day. And for once, a side-effect was appreciated… allowing me a state of being beyond my normal abilities. I milked it for all it was worth- went out to eat for every meal and enjoyed many moments on this significant day that fell in the middle of this unfortunate episode. And beyond the steroid boost, I thrilled as the numbers grew on my facebook-birthday-fundraiser for MS SoftServe.  Matching the frequency of my accelerated heartbeat, each one of my digital re-introduced friends wished me well. A positive reinforcement only known in modern social-networking. And as is the case after any all day party, I was left tuckered-out with a virtual house to clean.  Coming off the 5-day intravenous treatment was more challenging than any post-party metaphor could convey.  When all of my natural adrenalin rushed to the empty space that the steroids left, my system crashed. For over two weeks I slept and slept and slept. I’ve had many experiences with the steroid shock treatment and none of them ended like this.

When the neurological dust settled, I was left with considerable movement-based-dizziness in addition to the other symptoms I carry like luggage wherever I go. But this was different than the episodes that have preceded it and not only because of the symptoms that are now constant. In this case I realized something that I hadn’t known before.

The post-episode halt left a space for conversation and understanding at new levels. A system reboot- a defrag- reconnecting lost signatures.  Apparently every day that I left my house with foot dropped, vestibular disturbed, movement compromised, he feared the worst. This most optimistic man that I married feared that I wouldn’t make it through my work-day without injuring my self. And every night that he was teaching and late commuting- he heard in my voice the exhaustion that prevented me from being the mom I needed to be while he wasn’t yet home. This drive in me to persevere no matter what MS threw my way, was in fact weakening the fortitude that kept my foundation strong. My perseverance was compromising every thing and every one.  I don’t know where to start in this long list of ironies.

So through his eyes, I was able to see that working every single day for 7 hours plus the commute to NYC was not evidence of how much I could endure- how MS didn’t own me. But was instead the ingredients that compromise my ability to function at the level that all three of us deserve. I wasn’t spitting in the face of this disease, I was giving it control over the wrong parts of my life… and by taking myself out of the most visible realm of accomplishments “…and I work full time too!” I could concentrate on the most important one… being at home and awake for my family.

And so, as the papers are finalized and my role with the university completed, I’m finding new abilities in this label. My limited energy is now made available to my magical daughter and my dear husband. We all deserve more than what wasn’t left at the end of the day. And with that I’m learning that this ability- is the greatest of all.

I look forward to finding more than I expected with this “official” disability. Something that could only to be realized when I stood still long enough to see what they had been pointing at all along.

//

A Stable Life, Despite Persistent Dizziness

Did I post this article already??

It was so significant to read as it ran a few months after my dizziness began… feeling as though I’m not alone in the unstable journey. I happily read “Multiple Sclerosis” as a cause … “Here it is”.. I showed everyone, as if they doubted my experience. Yet I still feel that need. Here I am, entering my 5th month with “persistent dizziness” trying to explain it to anyone who will listen. My family and friends are cursing this damn disease that leaves me this way. My 6 year old daughter complains daily that she is dizzy too. My colleagues at work help me to laugh through it as I need help getting things off shelves as the sensation increases when I look up. It’s all good, in spite of how absurd it feels not to be able to do the little things. It brings overt helplessness to this disease that I’ve been struggling with invisibly for almost 20 years. I suppose there are some good sides of that.

Since I started walking with my stabilizing stick I have daily conversations about MS… telling people who didn’t know and educating those who need more information about the variable nature of MS. It often requires a little armor on my part. Deflecting the long details about the people they know with progressive cases that keep getting worse, or those who say diminutive things like “well you must have a mild case” not knowing what they can’t see.

It’s been a rough ride these last 5 months. An experience that has warranted some big changes for me. An opportunity to exert control in a life where I’ve had so little. I will detail those shortly.

For now.. I’m getting off at the next stop.

LOL ag

It is…no, it isn’t….yes it is.

Just home from the visit with the Neuro-Ears Nose Throat expert. After a brief synopsis of my almost 20 years with MS and balance issues…emphasizing the Vertigo of 1989 and ending with the most recent bout of dizzy/off-balance/ambiguity.

I am now told that contrary to the prior consideration that yes,  it is my MS.

Okay.

Not sure why I’m always feeling that I should have known, or seen any of this enigma disease coming. It’s because I’m constantly thinking and analyzing and trying to make sense, or have control of this lot in life. I think I’m hard wired that way. As fate would have it…this completely unique, totally variable and unpredictable condition is like a CarTalk episode stagnating at Stump the Chumps.

Just when I think we (me and my treatment team) have a handle on it… we turn out to be throwing hypotheses around the room haphazardly. And that leaves me thinking…meta-thinking actually.

If only I could sit back and let it play itself out.

I’m scheduled for a test with a Dr. Dai. It’s a visual/aural test that I am told will likely leave me extremely dizzy. I was instructed not to eat 1 hour prior. Vomiting is a common side effect of the test and they apparently prefer dry heaves over content.

Since my appt with Dr. Cohen, I have been very expilary (a word my daughter made up-meaning more than very) dizzy. Now I need to figure out how to get out of the city at rush hour while experiencing said dizziness.

Looks like a job for Dr. Verter!

more later….

Sticking to it.

My dizziness has seriously improved. Dr. Verter comes through yet again. So, I have a much better position on the earth… not completely stable…but one that is far more secure than I began 2008 with. I’m not sure how soon after I left his office that things really kicked in for me. It’s a subtle and gradual process that has left me feeling completely different..in inexplicable ways.

So I began to reconsider my trusty stick. Do I still need it? My balance is by no means perfect, but that has always been the case. So I did some tests without it. Rode the subways…slowly walked up the stairs sans stick, and I realized what I think I already knew. The stick is an important announcement and a reminder. For the prior…the world at large is the audience and for the latter the target is me.

It has been a significant help to make my invisible condition..disease…identity (what is the right word here?) present…apparent… evident. People rise to the occasion in ways that I didn’t expect. Be it a subway seat or holding an elevator… In many ways it let’s the societal cream rise to the proverbial top. There is a lot of good out there and if people are given the opportunity, they crack open the solitude of commuter stance to reveal the person behind the mask. I hadn’t realized how much power there is there. It makes me feel good about the people I’m sharing the planet with.

Then of course there is a certain level of empowerment in taking charge. I thought that by using this walking assistant I was admitting defeat. Not consciously of course, but on a deep emotional level. As if I was making a statement to the world that MS has me in some way. What happened was really quite the opposite. The stick has given me power. The power to bring out the best…and the confidence that I can walk farther and faster without kissing the sidewalk.

There is also the reminder I aforementioned. It reminds me that I’m not the same. That I do need to take special considerations. That I need to slow things down and be more concerted in my efforts. And although I only use the stick commuting in and out of my building at NYU it has encouraged many conversations with people about Multiple Sclerosis. People who I’ve worked with for almost 5 years that had no way of knowing.

A common response for so many people is “Oh, you must have a mild case that doesn’t affect you then”. To which I explain, My symptoms are every day, all the time- it’s just that they are invisible. Sometimes I say more, sometimes less…but everytime I feel as though I’m educating one more person about the many faces of this disease. Adding to the list of people they know with MS, hopefully making it easier for the next person they come in contact with.

This walking stick is as so many things. I’m not sure I’ll ever give it up. I think I’m starting to love it.

Don’t ever ASSuMe…

So this week Dr. Miller, by way of Jenn Decker (his nurse practitioner) told me that his latest thought is that this dizziness isn’t my MS.

No Way.

That caught me completely off guard, but it is exciting on a number of levels. The fact that it didn’t seem to be affected by the steroid treatment sent my mind in so many directions. Is this ever going to go away? Is this my new normal? I shutter to think.

But if it isn’t my MS, then it can be treated… it isn’t likely that it will be permanent.

But wait a minute….rewind 19 years to Baltimore.

Back in 1989 , my first year with MS, I was in film school living with 4 other girls in a town house off campus. After a few days with a virus I woke up to find my clock spinning. This was followed by a trip to the ER with a waste bucket between my knees. I remember the day vividly. When we got to triage I threw up in their garbage can and proceeded to do so at ever stop I made from there on in. After 17 hours in the ER on an IV, listening to very colorful stories of my neighbors behind the sheets serving as walls, unable to move my head with out losing my cookies- I was given a room. Being sans family in Baltimore left me little desire to go home. No one to take care of me there. My Dad and Linda came from NJ to visit me and my friends from UMBC art dept brought cheer and a mirror so for my three-day stay that I could see people entering the room.

When the doctors determined it wasn’t my MS and gave me a patch behind the ear. I didn’t question it. I used this little circular trans-dermal motion-sickness-aid while in Israel in 1985, in order to tolerate those hairpin turns on the buses. It worked then, as it did in this case.

As MS became less of an enigma to the medical community, I looked back on this experience thinking they didn’t know what they were talking about. Vertigo is now a symptom of MS …of course this bout was MS. To this day I have dealt with a quick turn of the head resulting in nauseas and dizziness…. I just thought it was a part of the me with MS. The part that is inseparable. After almost 20 years of this to have a symptom not actually be MS is mind blowing. I have so many crazy invisible symptoms going on and this fit in perfectly.

So I immediately checked in with my brilliant chiropractor. I hate to even call him that. He never cracks anything. (or I should say very rarely) His knowledge of how the body works, his instinct for areas that need release on a cellular level is beyond words, it’s impossible to describe the work he does. All I know is that Dr. Allan Verter needs to have himself cloned. It’s scary that all of this power to heal exists in only one person.

I’m not the kind of person that rushes to alternative medicine… I’ve been on Copaxone since 1993, and I’m on a number of other medications that clearly work for what the are there for. (that was an awkward sentence!) But the treatment that Dr. Verter provides defies explanation and it is successful. So once I learned that this dizzy head might not be my MS I couldn’t wait to tell him.

And he went to work. And my sense of stability on this planet has improved. And the people rejoiced. (or at least my people rejoiced!)

So now the question is…do I continue to carry this stick? It has served as such an important identifier on my commute. I’m not sure I should give that up.

Tune in next time for this, and a million other topics that will be addressed!