Tag: ms

“But you don’t look sick.”

I read an article earlier today which raised the point of being asked to give up a priority seat on the train. It stirred something in me and I felt the need to share my take on this story. 

Not long after I was diagnosed, I was on the tram in Nottingham during rush hour. I was knackered and my balance isn’t the greatest – especially on the tram! I also struggle with sensory overload and I’ve found that crowds, like when you’re squashed in like sardines, really unsettling. I’ve come close to experiencing panic attacks in those environments. So on this day, I chose to sit down in the only available seat. A priority one, which we all know are for disabled people, pregnant women or children. If we are sat in one, we know we should move for someone that gets on that needs that seat more than us. 

I really needed that seat that day. But someone got on with crutches and a broken leg. So I immediately got up and let them sit down. But the question is, should I have? But then how do other people react to that if I don’t? People certainly look at you with a certain amount of judgement. 

Recently it was brought to my attention that someone had questioned the fact that I park on site at work but I can also drag myself to the gym. Which in fairness I haven’t done for a while as I’m struggling with fatigue. Again, it’s that same judgement as on the tram. At work, we’re only allowed to park on site permanently if we are working a late shift, or if we are a blue badge holder. The alternative is that we park a short walk away on the Bolton Wanderers stadium car park. It’s roughly a 7 – 10 minute walk. No, I’m not disabled enough for a blue badge and I wouldn’t want to be disabled enough for one. I wouldn’t wish that upon myself or anyone. But what I can say, is I wouldn’t in a month of Sunday’s park that far away from my destination anywhere else. It hurts me to walk continuously for anything more than 5 minutes. The pain varies. Some days it’s like my calves are on fire, on other days my right ankle is really tight and causing a lot of pain. If it’s not that, I’m just bloody shattered and it’s a walk that I just don’t need. My legs feel like they’re being dragged through treacle.

But back to the gym. It’s not like I’m running on the treadmill. In fact I barely go on the treadmill. If I am in the gym, I’m generally lifting weights, in an attempt to keep my strength up. As it tends to be static, it doesn’t cause the same pain as walking can. And if I’m having a bad leg day, I just work the top half of my body. If I’m tired, I just don’t go to the gym but might do some yoga at home. The bottom line is, if you don’t use your limbs, you might just lose them.

The point is, when you have an invisible illness you’re constantly being judged. Yet it feels as though no-one takes the time to understand. Choosing to remain positive about your condition can be a poisoned chalice too. Because if I’m smiling, I surely can’t be struggling, can I? Yes. Yes I can. 

Actually, “how can you go to the gym, but need to park on site?” is an absolutely fair question. Without being in my shoes, I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Same as the priority seating on public transport. The message to take from this blog, is if you have a judgement about someone, seek to understand. And that’s whether it’s about an invisible illness or otherwise. 

Going Strong

Although I go for appointments every month I only see Danny once every three, and today was my day to see him. The last couple of times I’ve been to see him I’ve been feeling pretty fed up, but today it was nice to be able to go in with a smile on my face. 

I vowed not to get too hung up on my lymphocytes (white blood cell count) because it’s normal for it to fluctuate month on month. There are also theories about the slower it building up, the more effective the treatment. I didn’t want to get obsessive about that and wanted to do my best to remain calm and to just let Danny let me know if there was anything to worry about. I did however give in today. After a bit of a cold that I recovered better from than the rest of the family over Christmas, I was a little concerned and it made me want to check in.

My white blood cell count is at 0.6. For the average person, that’s rubbish, but for me, that’s good. The idea is that they get back up to 1 (which is the low end of a normal person) in time for the second round of treatment this year. So six months on and I’m just over halfway there which is a good sign. I’m glad I gave in and asked!

I’m feeling good so far this year I don’t tend to prescribe to the whole “this is my year” vibe, but I actually feel like this year could be. Who knew?! Certain aspects of my life feel a little odd at the moment but they’re definitely not dulling my sparkle, which is all I can ask. All in all, there’s no January blues to be seen here, and I’m feeling really uplifted.

I’ve started my new shifts at work now too. Today’s my second Wednesday off since going on them but it’s way too difficult to tell if they’re working for me yet. Surprisingly though, working until 6 is not as grim as first anticipated. Last Thursday and Friday it would be fair to say that I was just as bloody knackered as usual, but after 18 days off over Christmas it’s no real surprise. So I’m not calling it a failure yet!

For anyone who isn’t a friend of mine on Facebook, you might not know that I have been studying an HR qualification – Advanced Employment Law. The assignment was due around about the time that I went blind in my left eye, so I ended up deferring it. That was 18 months ago. The CIPD (who I studied with) have been great and continued to let me defer it, but in October I decided that after roughly 15 months, I needed to just knuckle down and get it done. I found out on Friday that I’d passed it which I’m over the moon about. It’s a stress off the list and it’s another string to add to the bow. Prior to being diagnosed I was really keen to pursue a career in HR case management. It’s still not a complete write off, but I guess my desire to further and develop my career is not a priority at the moment. I’m really just happy doing a good job in my current role in Learning and Development. MS had made me realise that a career isn’t the be all and end all. And at only 32, there’s nothing stopping me picking it back up again when I feel called to do so. 

I feel as though I’ve spent my life developing myself academically, and right now I’m enjoying developing myself in terms of who I am and how I am. I’m enjoying pursuing mindfulness and meditation. Exploring my spirituality. On Saturday, I’m doing my Second Degree Reiki which will make me a Reiki Practitioner and that’s really exciting too.

When people ask me how I am, I often say plodding along. But right now, it’s fair to say I’m skipping! 

Hey there, it’s Yogi (Bear)

Happy New Year! Hope you’re feeling good. Promise me you didn’t say “new year, new me” and said “new year, same old awesome me!”

Anyway, as luck would have it, my endless weeks of fatigue which have seen me not step in the gym for roughly two months has come to an end. So obviously, just as all the usual January hordes are turning up, I get my mojo back. Bloody marvellous. It’s ok though. I have a cunning plan for the next 30 days. THEN I’ll go back to the gym!

Last January, I signed up to Adriene Mishler’s 30 day Yoga journey. Because I never see ANYTHING through, obviously I didn’t complete it. I think I did about three days, decided it hurt too much and I couldn’t make time for it, and gave up. This year however will be different. This year I want to continue to just work on my spiritual, mind and body connection and I feel like Yoga is just another step in that journey. And this year, if I miss a day, that’s ok. I’ll just pick it back up again the next day. No-one, anywhere specified that it had to be completed in 30 consecutive days so I literally have no idea why I put that level of pressure on myself!

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This years journey is called “Dedicate.” Which I fully intend to “dedicate” myself too (I’m here all week!) Today was Day 2 and just like yesterday (and last year) it was really bloody hard. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I loved Yoga and was also a huge fan of Les Mills’ Body Balance. I was also about five stone lighter and three dress sizes smaller. And a lot more flexible. And MS hadn’t broken half of my nerves that help with balance!

It’s really bloody hard when you know how easy you have found it historically. It’s really frustrating. Something that I have previously found peaceful and calming is (did I mention) REALLY BLOODY HARD!!!!! Trying to find peace in all that huffing, puffing and complete lack of grace feels pretty impossible.

BUT!

This is a marathon. Not a sprint. Today was easier than yesterday. And my next session will be easier again. I’m on Day 2 of 30. Day 3 of 365. So what if I’m feeling more “Yogi Bear” than Yogi. We go on.

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In other news, I mentioned a few blogs back that I was exploring options to help manage my work-life balance better. Now that it’s agreed, I can say that I’ve compressed my hours. So I will be working four long days with a Wednesday off which will give me a little relief mid week. I start on Monday, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it might help me. Some people have asked me why I haven’t just dropped a day, but that would result in losing 20% of what I earn. Which is a lot! I don’t feel as though I want to do anything quite as dramatic as that just yet. Not until I’ve tried other options. And I really feel like this one will work for me. So I’m feeling quite positive.

I’m due to see Danny (my MS Nurse) in a couple of weeks for my three monthly appointment, and I have my blood test at the same time. I’ve resisted getting obsessed over my lymphocytes up until this point, but I’m going  to ask him where I’m at when I see him. I’m also planning to get back in touch with the counsellor as I want to get started on sessions. Although I feel in such a better place and feel as though I have turned a corner, I feel like I need to tackle any demons that are lurking. I might just be suppressing them.

Finally, I’m so excited to say that I’m going on the next part of my Reiki journey on 19th January. This will enable me to call myself a “Reiki Practitioner” and send it over distance. I’m so excited about this as I’d love to be able to send it to my parents who live a good 250 miles away from me.

All in all, I’m going into 2019 feeling really positive, and I hope you are too!

MS and Depression.

A few weeks ago, it came to my attention that I’m not as ok as I thought I was.

Dave came upstairs to find me curled up in bed crying my eyes out. I always say that he’s the kind of guy that you want around in a crisis, and he was true to form this time. He climbed into bed with me and gave me a big hug, letting me cry it out.

The conversation when I finally calmed down went a little like this:

Dave: “So, what’s up?”

Me: “This. Everything. Why me. It’s not fair. Life sucks. All I do is work and sleep. I don’t want to live like this. And I’ve not actually had a relapse since I found out I was diagnosed. I wish I was still going on, blissfully unaware, because I wouldn’t be feeling like this.”

Dave: “Your body has been through loads this year Joey. We knew it would be tough but it will be worth it in the long run. It’ll be ok.”

Me: “It doesn’t change the fact that life is so boring. I’ve lost my zest for life and I don’t know who I am anymore.”

Dave: “It’s ok. I don’t mind. We’ll be ok.”

Honestly. Always the voice of reason and I don’t know where I would be without him. He’s absolutely right. What’s really getting me down is that I’ve been using lots of annual leave to just sleep. And my weekends are just spent sleeping, apart from running a couple of errands. I sleep, and I work. Not the life I signed up for, and I imagine it’s certainly not the relationship that Dave signed up for. There’s a lot of guilt around the impact on him.

After spending some time reflecting, I’ve come up with some options for how I can make this work as we go into the New Year, but right now, I don’t know the feasibility of them, so watch this space for an update on that.

Other indications that I’m not as alright as I could be is that I have neglected my blog. I just haven’t felt up to writing. A lack of creativity is definitely apparent. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own. I’m the kind of person that as soon as you text me, I’ll respond within minutes, but I’ve just not been up for getting into conversation. Generally a supportive friend, and happy to coach people close to me through difficult times and give advice, I just don’t feel up for taking on other people’s problems. I can’t be bothered to engage in trivial conversation. I prefer silence. If I’m honest, I’ve just not been feeling like me. I’m spaced out and so tired all the time. Dave’s working away a lot which is making me feel sad because I miss him, but it’s also giving me much needed space on my own which is good for my soul. Apart from the people closest to me, I’m just not feeling very “people-y” right now. It’s nothing personal. It’s just what I’m going through.

On paper, I’ve got all the symptoms of depression.

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Depression is common in people with MS. The first (and perhaps obvious) reason is that dealing with symptoms can really get you down. When people ask how you are you have options. Just gloss over how you’re feeling, in spite of feeling physically awful. Or you can be honest. Either option messes with your head. However you approach it you end up feeling rubbish. If I choose to hide it, nobody actually knows that I’m struggling. But then I’m mad that they’re not being mindful of how things are for me that day (yes, yes I know. Not their fault. I should have been honest.) But if I tell the truth, I risk sounding like a broken record. Because I’m always dealing with something in varying degrees of severity. Even on the good days. I honestly feel like I can’t win!

The second reason that people with MS suffer with depression is because the nerves relating to mood are damaged and sending the wrong signals to your brain. This ends up making you feel depressed for no apparent reason. It can do with this all sorts of moods, not just depression and people with MS are prone to dramatic and unexplained mood swings.

When I last saw Danny (my MS nurse), he gave me the details for an MS Counsellor. Through talking, he suggested that perhaps I’d not gone through a grieving process yet. I need to grieve the health that I’ve lost. Maybe future possibilities too. At the time, I didn’t really agree, but just a few weeks later and I’ve done a complete U-Turn on that. I definitely need to do some work on coming to terms with the past year. Whilst I regularly think of so many positives that MS has given me, I can’t help but think that they’re distraction techniques. So much of my positive approach to what I have been through has been about how I’ve distracted myself from tackling this head on. And maybe a little bit of denial. For a long time, it felt surreal. It didn’t really hit me. I’m thinking about it less now, but when I do think about it, I’m a cross between disbelief and distraught.

So what’s next for me? The medication I’m on for neuropathic pain, is also an anti-depressant. I’ve been in touch with the MS Counsellor and will also explore options through the employee assistance programme at work. I’m finally ready to work through accepting my condition.

 

MS: Business as Usual

Last time I wrote about MS, I talked about how I was working to be less defined by having it, and the response I got from people was overwhelming, as always. Although I don’t want to have it as the main “thing” that I always talk about, I also recognise it’s why I started this blog and many followers of it are here to get some insight into life with MS, so I thought I’d post an update on things that have been happening in life and how MS has impacted it.

About the title of my blog. I cannot remember for the life of me who it was so I can’t give them the credit they deserve, but they summed up it up both perfectly and hilariously that MS is just BAU*. And it really is. It’s not the new thing. It’s not the main topic of conversation. It’s just BAU.

We’re going through a restructure at work at the moment which has included a lot of people taking voluntary redundancy. I’ve chosen to stay. A huge part of this is that my current employer looks after me so well. Add to that the (admittedly simple) adjustments I need along with a blood test slap bang in the middle of a Tuesday every four weeks for the foreseeable future. Yet I’m not made to feel like a pain in the backside. I wrote a post not so long back about my fear if I ever had to change jobs. I get that any employer would have to make those adjustments by law, but I’d hate to be made to feel that it was done begrudgingly. The other key reason is that I actually love my job. So right now, I see little point in rocking a boat that doesn’t need to be. Granted, it’s an uncertain time. We’ll inevitably have to change the way that we work but how that shapes up remains to be seen.

Whether how I’m currently feeling is being exacerbated by the current situation at work I have no idea, but my fatigue seems to be through the roof at the moment and it’s the one symptom I find hardest to just ignore. Oddly enough, as long as I’ve got something to keep my occupied, I’m ok. As soon as things slow down though, I need some matchsticks to keep my eyes open! This was apparent when I had to take myself off home an hour early on Friday. I’d done everything that I needed to do and I just needed to get home to bed. I’d thought that perhaps I’d out slept my fatigue last Monday. I felt great and smashed the greatest gym workout in a long time! I was back in my happy place with an Olympic bar. On days where my ankle hasn’t been feeling so bad, I’ve even managed to run a bit. I’d crashed again by Tuesday though and I’m just learning to not feel bad about not being so consistent with the gym these days.

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Happy Place!

I saw Danny for my monthly bloods last week. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since the last day of Lemtrada and I was feeling pretty pathetic in a hospital bed. It was nice to see him and have a chat. He was really reassuring and said that I’m doing good. I probably needed to hear that. I have no idea what my lymphocytes (white blood cells) are at though! Many people who go through Lemtrada can get a bit obsessive with it, but I’ve chosen not to get hung up on the numbers. They mean naff all to me anyway since I’m not a medical practitioner and I just trust Danny to let me know if there’s anything amiss. It’s easier to just forget about it and let the people that look after me worry about it!

In other news, I was “supposed” to be doing jury service this week and next. Those that know me and my background will understand why this was so exciting for me. I know you’re not supposed to talk about jury service, however on the basis that the defendant ended up acquitted before we’d even set foot in a court room coupled with the fact that there were no further trials for us, I think I’m pretty safe. In amongst the disappointment I’ve got to admit that there was a shred of relief. I mean – bowel urgency in a court room ain’t gonna be a good look! Plus, with no sign of my fatigue going anywhere, I was worrying about how well I would be able to concentrate on the case. In fairness, I was honest with the woman that looks after the jury early on (she’s got a proper title but I can’t remember it for the life of me!) and she was amazing about how we could manage it. So if you have MS and get called up for jury service, my advice would be to be open and honest. They want to support you as much as possible.

In more positive stuff, I am absolutely LOVING Reiki. I’m going to talk about it at length in a future blog post because it deserves lots of words and attention spent on it! I’ve also finally had the chance to write my blogs for MS-UK, who asked me to guest blog for them about three months ago. In an attempt to redeem myself, I sent them a couple of posts that they could publish. They’re edited down versions of blogs I’ve posted on here, as they only have a 400 word limit. As soon as they’ve gone live, I’ll link them up here.

All in all, I feel like I’m coming to terms with my MS more and more everyday. On the days when I’m not overcome with fatigue, I feel as good as I get. And I can’t complain about that. It’s still shit. It’ll never stop being shit, but I’m starting to notice the gifts it has given me. Which is a story for another time…

 

*If you haven’t got the foggiest what I’m on about, BAU stands for “Business as Usual” and it’s a term used in the corporate working world for you normal, everyday work. There’s nothing special, exciting or exceptional about it. It’s just your average day.