It’s getting to that time of year again when you start to reflect on the last 12 months. It was no exception at this month’s Red Tent on Tuesday. For those unfamiliar, Red Tent is a women’s gathering on or around the New Moon. It’s … Continue reading A Thank You Letter to MS
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.
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.
The cloud is shrinking. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt great. I’m back in the gym and working hard. As long as I keep it static, I’m ok. Too long on the treadmill and that ankle pain flares up. I still have other aches the day after, and they’re not your typical gym related aches, but they’re MY gym related aches. And I’m ok with them.
I mentioned in my last blog that it is now my time to stop dwelling on what’s happened to me, and just get on with life. This week is National Inclusion Week (in the UK) and in the run up to it, at work, there have been requests for people to film segments of video – just a couple of seconds holding a piece of paper saying their name and a fact about themselves. The idea is that we’re celebrating how diverse we are as a workforce. Your sign didn’t have to specifically relate to a protected characteristic (i.e. a disability, sexual preference, race, religion etc). It could be something that you do in your spare time.
I really think that this is a great initiative and I was keen to participate. I was happy to wave the flag for MS and invisible chronic conditions. For one reason or another though, I missed the deadline.
A week or two later, I was approached (along with others) about recording one of these videos referencing my MS (or other protected characteristics in the case of others). And I chose not to do it.
You might be asking yourself, why would I refuse? I’ve been really vocal and open about my journey. I’ve talked about raising awareness. I want people to have a better understanding and to not feel shy about asking me questions. Why on earth would I pass up the opportunity?
It’s simple really.
I don’t want MS to define me.
I want my #ThisIsMe statement to be something completely unrelated. I want to be the girl that people describe as “you know, the one from Essex” like I’m pretty sure has been the case since moving from down south to up north 8 years ago. Not “you know, the one that’s got MS.”
So here’s my #ThisIsMe statement, for the record:
I could go on 😉
I’m in the process of trying to restore some normality to my life. On Tuesday, it was a year since I got told that I might have MS. Obviously it took another couple of months until I found out for sure, but I now feel that I’ve had my year of it being at the forefront of everything, and now it’s time to just get on and live with it.
To do this, I’ve been making tentative steps back into the gym this week. Dave joined the same gym as me, which is helping with motivation massively! I’ve been so nervous about going back since Lemtrada and with the ankle pain I’ve been having. I’ve learned that the ankle pain is triggered by walking for more than five minutes though, so it hasn’t actually stopped me training. As long as I’m doing more static stuff, I can train easily. I’ve had three sessions in the gym over the last week and I’ve been enjoying them. It feels good to be back. So here are my Top 10 tips for exercising with MS.
1. Be kinder to you!
I was always so tough on myself in the gym. If I skipped a session I’d feel guilty. If I had a bad session, I’d beat myself up. If I couldn’t hit that new personal best, I’d dwell on it for days. But these things just don’t matter anymore. They’re not the be all and end all. Now I’m so much nicer to me. If I don’t hit a personal best, as long as I’ve tried as hard as I can that day, that’s all that matters.
2. Be honest
If you have a personal trainer be honest with them. Let them know how your MS impacts you in general, but even more so how it’s impacting you that day. They can’t be an expert in MS, but with your honesty, they can tailor your training to fit how you feel on that day. It might also be worth being open with them up front, that you might need to cancel your training at short notice if you’re feeling particularly fatigued that day.
3. Listen to your body
Get to know your body and what it’s trying to tell you. Tune in to it. If your body is telling you that you can’t train today, listen to it. It’s ok to skip a session if you’ve not got much fuel in the tank. Some days you might just need to change the way you train. If your leg is causing you a bit of pain, don’t run so fast, or train your upper body instead. Maybe you need to reduce your weight and go for higher reps. You might need to take longer breaks between sets. Do what you need to do.
4.. Drink lots of water
We all know that with MS, controlling your body temperature can be a nightmare. I’ve literally overheated in the gym before and seen stars because I’ve got that hot. Drinking lots of water while you’re training will help keep your body temperature down. And on that point…
5. …Train near the air con
It keeps you cool and stuff! I find that wearing layers in the gym can be really helpful because as quickly as I get really hot, I can go freezing cold. Keep your temperature comfortable – it’ll make training so much easier.
6. Change the time you train
I used to go to the gym straight from work, but I find this really tough now. Many people don’t have the motivation to go back out to the gym at 8pm at night but this has two advantages for me. I get to have a bit of a break after work which helps to recharge my batteries. Add to that, training later makes me tired right before bed time so I get a better night sleep. You might find changing the time you train means you can have a better session.
7. Change your goals
I was always chasing a 100kg dead lift. I managed to get to 90kg, but it only happened once. Generally, I struggle to get over 70kg as my grip fails me. Grip is something I struggle with because of my MS, and I’ve learned that that will probably hinder me in achieving that particular goal. What I am good at though, is high reps. So my goal has now become less about strength and more about stamina and achieving higher reps. And I’m good with that.
8. Don’t waste time worrying what other people might be thinking
The other day, I was finishing my workout with a 3.5km/h walk on the treadmill. And the guy running next to me was looking at me as if what I was doing was kinda pointless. Before that I’d been dead lifting a 16kg kettle bell next to a girl lifting 75kg. I couldn’t help but think she thought I was pathetic. Firstly, it was unlikely that either of them were thinking those things, and secondly even if they are they don’t know that I have MS and anything someone with MS does in the gym is pretty damn awesome.
9. Remember you’re bad ass!
You really really are. We aren’t MS warriors for nothing. We grin through pain, fatigue and everything else we get stuck with. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 1k or 10k, or lifting 5kg or 50kg. You are bloody amazing for even being there, working out. As long as you can always be honest that you’ve tried as hard as you can on that day, you’re an absolute rock star in my opinion.
10. Don’t Stop!
My number one tip is “Don’t Stop!” When I was told I might have MS, I was physically no different to how I was when I was none the wiser. So there was no need for me to stop. I didn’t need to change how I trained in the gym (at that time). I did stop for a while which looking back, I regret. I should have carried on! It’s so important to stay active for so many reasons. It releases endorphins which can really lift your mood and it helps you to keep your strength up. There’s evidence to suggest it reduces relapses and flare ups. Most importantly, for me it has helped me to feel like “me”.
I’m suffering from writer’s block at the moment. I’ve just not really had much to say or write, but I’ve also been enjoying spending my time reading A LOT! I’ve also been starting to read a bit more about Reiki Healing as I’m so excited to share that all being well, I’ll be doing my Level One attunement on the 15th September!
I know that many people who follow my blog are people who want to know what to expect from going through Lemtrada. With this in mind, I thought I’d give a summary of how things have gone for me over the last couple of months. Trying to get a picture from my other blogs probably gives you more of an idea on how my mood has fluctuated more than anything! I’m moving towards a better head space now which means I’m way better positioned to collate my thoughts!
So, where am I eleven weeks on, apart from sat eating a veggie burger with sweet potato fries and suffering from writer’s block?
The intense “MS fatigue” I was suffering in the run up to treatment has more or less lifted. I can’t say that there aren’t days when it’s not there but it had got to the point that I was suffering every single day. I’m still shattered though and sleeping ridiculous amounts. I think this is just because my body is working hard to increase the bit in my blood that Lemtrada wiped out. It’s different to MS fatigue. I actually do feel refreshed when I wake up in the morning and getting ready for the day doesn’t feel like the plight it was becoming. As a result of my exhaustion not being even close to what it was, the Cog Fog isn’t so bad. Sure, words are falling out my head like it’s going out of fashion, but I’m definitely finding it easier to remain present in a conversation.
I can count on less than two hands the symptoms I’ve had to deal with as a result of going through treatment. And most have worn off now. For three weeks after I felt like I was coming down with flu and slept a lot. By five weeks after (just before I was going back to work), I started suffering with a bit of anxiety, but that disappeared by being open about it and having Reiki therapy. I’ve had real issues with stabilising my body temperature, but since the weather has cooled down, I feel loads better. It’s difficult to tell if that’s MS in general, Lemtrada, the fact that it’s been disgustingly hot and we’re ill equipped to deal with it in the UK, or a combination of all three. I suspect the latter. I was struggling with an iffy gut every other day at first, but my stomach of steel seems to slowly be working it’s way back to normal!
Then there was the itchy scalp. This still hasn’t really let up and I’ve tried changing shampoo and all sorts. My hairdresser said he can’t see a rash and my scalp looks in great condition. Whatever it is, the occasional anti-histamine when required seems to keep it under control.
Finally, there’s my legs. This is really hit and miss. Today, I’ve had no bother from the pain in my ankle in spite of the fact that I’ve been dragged round a car boot sale in the pouring rain. On another day however, with no explanation, it’ll reduce me to tears because the pain is so bad. Or the weakness means I can’t face using the stairs. I’ve started parking on the site car park at work which is making a difference to both the comfort levels of my legs, but also in managing my energy levels. I feel at the end of the day like I’ve got enough energy to go to the gym after work. Or at least I would have if I didn’t have the pain in my leg! I really want to get back to the gym actually. It’s getting me down a little at the moment that I’m in too much pain to go. I’m hoping to try going this week though on the basis that I might be surprised by what I can do.But that’s it.
Tiredness. Dodgy Gut. Flu-like. Anxiety. Unmanageable body temperature. Unreliable legs. Itchy Scalp.
That’s really not a lot is it? Not in the grand scheme of things.
It was getting me down though. To the point that there was a suggestion that maybe I’m depressed. I categorically disagree with this. I’m miserable, sure. I’m not disputing that but do you know what? I have every bloody right to be. I’ve been diagnosed with MS. I challenge you to find someone who wouldn’t feel at least a little bit pissed off!
I think what’s triggered it, is now that I’m through the diagnosis and the treatment, everything has just…stopped I suppose. It’s almost a come down. Not that I was on a high, but I can’t really find the right words to explain it. Things have changed though. Nobody is calling me brave or inspirational anymore so I don’t have to worry about living up to that (I’m ok with this by the way! I’ve said before, it gets kinda annoying because I’m only doing what anyone else would do in my shoes). But life is more or less back to normal now. What that means is it’s time for me to come to terms with everything. I’ve found the trick is just not think about it and to bury my head in the sand but I’m not sure that’s productive. I’m now allowing myself to feel my emotions whether that’s anger, sadness or confusion. A sense of “why me?” This means that emotionally I’m on quite the roller coaster right now. This could be being mistaken for depression.
Just on this point, I’m pretty sure that the place that the suggestion came from was 100% a place of love. I’m grateful for being looked out for like that actually. I’m not dismissing it entirely as depression is a well documented symptom of MS. I just don’t think it’s something I’m suffering from right now. I think I’m just fed up and need to work on my self-care to get me out of that place.
On an unrelated note, someone who didn’t yet know about my diagnosis found out last week. And he gave me the most honest response I’ve heard from anyone. He looked at me and just said “I’m so sorry to hear that Jo. That’s shit innit?” He said the one thing that couldn’t be closer to the truth and he didn’t run scared from it. It was genuinely music to my ears, to get such the response that I got. There was no trying to empathise, and there was no sympathy either. He just said exactly what it is. It just felt so real.
Maybe we can all learn a thing or two from that.
Reading back my last couple of posts have made me feel really sad. I’ve obviously not been in the greatest place in recent weeks. In spite of the amazing self love summit that I attended which really did leave me buzzing for at least a week after, things just haven’t felt right for me.
Tuesday was a bit of a turning point for me though. I had my second blood test done and it presented me with a bit of an opportunity to just “offload” a little. And I am so glad that I did. Firstly, being asked to list all of your current symptoms was quite humbling. A list of five, which aren’t really that big a deal certainly put some perspective on things. The nurse that I saw told me that there was a tablet she could ask my GP to prescribe for me that would tackle the pain in my ankle (which hasn’t let up), the itchy scalp, my up and down temperature and the thigh pain. Possibly even help to lift my mood a little.
It feels weird to accept medication. I rarely even reach for the pain killers when I have a headache, but if it can help all of those things, I’m game. Although I’m still awaiting confirmation that my GP knows to prescribe it to me, it feels like a weight off my shoulders just to know that there’s something that can give me a little relief.
Honestly though, my mind has been heading into dark places over the last week or two. It’s not being back at work. I’m happy to be back actually. No, it’s about the pain in my ankle. I recall, somewhere some years ago a similar pain. Back then, of course I didn’t know it was MS and even now I’m only just making the connection. I probably put it down to dancing the night away in cheap high heels. You know it’s no good for you. I don’t remember it ever being this painful and unrelenting though. Certainly not enough to give me an occasional limp.
I was warned that post Lemtrada, because my body has had a bit of a battering and it will take quite some time to recover, some of my old symptoms would resurface. What nobody warned me of, was that there was a chance they would come back worse than when I first had them. But that seems to be a common occurrence. I didn’t know that. Lemtrada has also made me all kinds of irrational, so obviously I started to fear all sorts. As it’s taken so long to diagnose my MS I wondered, is there a chance it’s been misdiagnosed as relapsing, and is actually secondary progressive? I feel more or less comforted that this is highly unlikely, having spoken to others that have experienced worse symptoms than the original relapse.
On top of all of that, the irrational mood? The spontaneous crying? Generally feeling pretty miserable? All comes with the territory but I’m assured, it does eventually lift.
And I’ll tell you what’s helping my mood lift. Autumn is definitely on its way! I could practically smell it yesterday morning. The slight chill in the air, dew on the cars and the sun a lot lower. All that’s missing is a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks!
Thinking about how much I love Autumn, made me start reflecting on what else I love. What else fills me up? What makes my soul happy? What is it that I need from a self-care point of view? I’ve accepted that for the next couple of years things are going to be up and down. That sounds defeatist, but I see it as a pragmatic approach. I’m going to do everything in my power to keep a smile on my face and make myself feel good.
I love writing, so starting this blog has been a huge thing to keep me happy and I have some great ideas of how I can branch out with it. I’m really keen to share the stories of other MSers. I tell you time and time again that it affects us all differently, so coming soon, I plan on sharing interviews with others affected by MS.
Through this digital age we find ourselves in, I have realised that I no longer read anymore. When I was a kid, in the school holidays I’d be at the library every other day getting a new haul. I’d complete the summer reading challenge several times over. But now there’s always a Netflix series to watch, a social media notification to respond to or my lives have refilled on whatever mindless game I’m playing. So less screen time for me, in order to give me more time to get lost in a book, which is all I ever did before those distractions existed.
I’m contemplating participating in “Scroll free September”, but depriving myself seems like an extreme thing to do. I’ve realised that I’m so all or nothing about everything and because of that, it always ends up being unsustainable. I end up trying to do something positive in my life and it actually ends up making me unhappy, stressed or left feeling like a failure. What I’d rather do is set some principles around how I use my phone. I’m thinking along the lines of “no phones after 9pm”. That kind of thing. Restricting Netflix binges to a couple of episodes a night. Nobody likes to admit it, but it’s only when you really take a critical eye to yourself that you see how addicted you are to your smartphone. I want my smart phone to add to my life and be useful. Not something that takes over my life.
I LOVE music. Any music. But I’ve realised how much calmer and in tune with myself I am when I listen to classical piano. More of that please.
I love being crafty, and I love being warm. So I’m going to finish my patchwork blanket. I’m so close to it being completed so that has got to be an absolute priority.
And finally, I love learning. I’ve had a couple of Udemy courses sat on the back burner for a while, so I’m going to pick those up once I’ve finished my blanket. I need to get better at doing one thing at a time and following through.
But most of all, I need to get better at doing more of the things that make me happy.
We all should.
For reasons that will become clear, this blog post wasn’t an easy write. I’m still not even sure I’ll press the publish button yet. We’ll see.
I’ve been back at work for two weeks now. I’m glad to be back (in spite of the anxiety I was feeling in the run up), though I’m still on my phased return. This is good – I’m definitely knackered by Thursday so not fully committing back to my full time hours yet is definitely something I need. I genuinely feel so blessed that I have such an amazing and understanding employer.
In recent weeks, I’ve been wondering what would happen if I decided that my job wasn’t right for me anymore. This isn’t unusual, ever since my diagnosis, I’ve thought at great length about my career options. What if I chose to go elsewhere? Would I find an employer as understanding, that would look after me as well? Or would I just end up a burden? If I was upfront and honest about having MS when I applied for a role at another organisation, would I end up somehow being shafted before I’d even got my foot in the door? You’d like to think that this stuff doesn’t happen in this day and age, but I’ve worked for the same company for 16 years and it terrifies me thinking about what could happen.
Anyway, you can probably see all this building up to a less than pretty state in my head.
My head is a fucking jungle.
Honestly, since Friday I’m constantly on the brink of tears. And not because I went into meltdown thinking about my future! I’m fed up of this stupid bloody heat, I want to stop sweating. I have developed the itchiest scalp I’ve ever encountered and I can feel loads of small spots under my hair. And if I walk for more than five minutes, there is a pain in my right ankle that feels like someone is stabbing me with a burning knife. Which if I really deserve a treat, spreads up my entire leg. Yay!
Thing is, unless we’re REALLY close, if you ask me how I am, I’ll probably tell you I’m fine.
If you notice the slight limp I’ve developed on occasion, it’s unlikely I’ll tell you just how sore it is. I’ll probably brush it under the carpet.
I’ve come to realise, that there’s a lot of pent up anger in me at the moment. That “why me?” anger that so far I’ve only experienced fleetingly, is here in full force. I feel emotionally vulnerable right now. And I think the spontaneous crying is because it helps me to release some of that anger. I feel great after a good cry. It’s like nothing has happened!
Ultimately, right now I’m just really bloody fed up. I’m not feeling very “people-y” and actually, I don’t even feel like slapping on the positive outlook I keep being complimented on.
I feel like the reality of my situation has hit me like a ton of bricks. I keep having to remind myself how much worse things could be. And they really could be. I have nothing terminal. I still have my mobility. I need to gain a little perspective.
Before I stop writing, I need to share this. It landed in my mailbox this morning, and the timing was just so perfect.
It 100% sums where my headspace is at right now.