We’ve all been there. Whilst thinking we’re on death’s door from all the sambucca shots last night we’ve sworn we will NEVER drink again. But within a few days it’s forgotten and we’re making next weekends plans.
Granted as we settle down, those night’s out are probably less frequent, but the bottom line is that the majority of us are still willing to have a hangover to end all hangovers in exchange for an awesome night out.
And why wouldn’t we? I think they call that living!
So how is this relevant to MS?
Well, I have to make decisions similar to this everyday. Earlier today, I was explaining to a friend how you often feel that when you make a decision to walk the dog, go to the gym, dance around your kitchen or indeed go out partying or drinking, people are judging whether you really are struggling or not. Because surely if you can do that, you’re fine, aren’t you? Right?
It’s a big decision, whether you do those things or not. Going to the gym is something you might do, not because it doesn’t cause you pain and is easy, but because you know that if you don’t, your disability will get a hell of a lot worse.
You might decide to walk the dog because the dog needs to be walked. It’s unfair not to.
You might dance around your kitchen because you used to love dancing and your condition has robbed you of being able to do it for more than five minutes anywhere else. And you might still go out because you want to retain as much normality as possible, you’re still human and enjoy socialising and if you don’t, chronic illness can be really bloody lonely.
You make those judgements for your own sanity and because you’re not going to let your condition rob you of living. You decide to do it because even though you know you might pay for it for days afterwards, what it will do for your soul, far outweighs the pain and fatigue that will come after it. It’s a conscious choice to have fun knowing full well what the consequences are.
I’m really scared. Scared for the future. I’m going against all my rules feeling like this. I tend to prefer to not dwell on what might happen with the progression of my MS. Because that’s just it. It only ‘might’ happen. There’s just as much a chance that everything will be ok. Which is why I see little point in wasting time worrying about it. That isn’t effective 100% of the time though. Like now for instance.
I’m not really sure what’s triggered it. I returned to work last Monday after six weeks off following my second round of Lemtrada and it was ok. As I’m on a phased return, I worked four hour days last week, today I managed five hours and tomorrow I’m going to try for six. And for the most part, since about two weeks ago I’ve been feeling considerably better than I usually do.
This weather is not helping at all though. Yesterday, I felt terrible. And all I could think about was the fact that I really needed to clean my bath. But I just didn’t have the energy. I could barely stand up for 20 seconds without feeling like I needed to sit down again. And still….”the bath needs cleaning Jo,” said that little voice in my head. All I could think about was that just for once, I’d like my whole bathroom to be clean at the same time. Not just the toilet, or not just the sink, or not just the bath.
But I left it. I just couldn’t do it.
Today. I’ve been into work and had a good day. And although I’ve had a bit of an upset tummy since I got home (this happened last year – damn immune system. It literally reacts to the slightest thing) I’ve been full of energy. To the point that I’ve done a load of washing, changed my sheets, vacuumed and guess what? Cleaned the bathroom! THE WHOLE BATHROOM! I’m sat in my bed now in an attempt to recover from that mass expenditure of energy, but I felt good whilst I was doing it, so I don’t really regret it!
Dave and I are in the process of buying our first home at the moment and it’s really stressful waiting for a completion date. But we’re having ALL the grown-up conversations in the meantime. The current debate is over having, or not having a cleaner. Because I can’t even begin to explain how knackering cleaning that damn bathroom is. And I can’t just wait for a random day where I have energy like I do today. It could be months before this happens again! And actually, even if I do have the energy levels for it, I’d rather use it on going out for a nice walk or on some other quality time with Dave and Poppy.
It’s conversations like this that are making me fear for the future. I don’t know if it’s the very real responsibility of having a mortgage and desperately trying to find an insurer that will give me a half decent quote on life insurance (*NEWSFLASH*: getting a decent quote with MS – not easy. And don’t even bother with critical illness when you’re already considered critically ill). It could equally be that I read a story about a 46 year old woman who is living in a care home with residents that are mostly in their 80’s and living with dementia*. The system has totally failed her. It’s heartbreaking. She didn’t inflict MS on herself. She didn’t chose to have it. I know that life isn’t fair, but nobody deserves to live how she is living. And it just seems to have hit me that that might become my reality and it scares the living daylights out of me.
I know that right now I’m in a little funk that’s completely normal when you have a degenerative condition such as MS. In a matter of time, whether it’s days or weeks, I’ll snap out of it and start living in the present again. But sometimes I just need to let this emotion come out, rather than bury my head in the sand. The trick is remembering to stand back up and march on.
I’m ok. I really am. On a rational level I know that this is just something I need to go through, but I also know that there’s light on the other side and it’ll be ok.
*I didn’t go looking for this story. I tend to avoid it because I know that half the time the media only tells half a story anyway and is meant to sensationalise and make us all worry and fear everything. This was posted in an MS Facebook group though and I guess curiosity got the better of me.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted about my experience of Lemtrada Round 2 and now seemed like a good time to check in. Mostly because I’m sat in the doctors waiting room (again) with little else to do.
So last time I wrote, I ‘probably’ had cellulitis and the rash wasn’t abating. Since then I’ve had a course of penicillin which seems to have done the trick on the cellulitis.
Thing was, I was taking 25 tablets a day and quite frankly the thought of another tablet made me want to throw up. So despite the rash, I decided that just for a day I’d knock the anti-histamine and paracetamol on the head. As it turned out, the next day the rash did finally subside so I didn’t bother taking them anymore after that.
On Monday however, my itchy scalp (remember that from last year?) started, so I figured I’d just take another one of the anti-histamines that I was prescribed in hospital (chlorophenamine, which is basically piriton). Within minutes my skin flared up. I broke out in hives almost all over my body. The very same rash I’d had that I was trying to combat.
So the medication I’d been taking to beat the rash was giving it to me. Oh the irony.
Much to the amusement of many of my friends on Facebook, after a bit of googling for home remedies on Tuesday morning, I had a bath in porridge oats. It has anti-inflammatory properties and much to my surprise really helped. Once I was out I slathered myself in what was quite frankly an offensive amount of aloe vera gel and ended up spending the majority of the day sleeping.
By Wednesday, it hadn’t shifted. I popped into a local Pharmacy which suggested trying a different anti-histamine but nothing has changed. If anything it’s got worse.
Overnight has been horrendous. I’ve never sweat or itched more. It’s unbearable and I’ve now given up on waiting for it to ease on its own and am now sat waiting to see the doc.
Today has resulted in a full scale pity party. I feel terrible. I’m pissed off that I’ve got MS, I’m pissed off that I’ve had Lemtrada, I’m pissed off that I haven’t stopped feeling lousy for two weeks nearly now. I’m just pissed off.
So, since my last blog last Wednesday, what’s been going on? I was discharged from hospital by about 5pm. I felt pretty chirpy and just generally ok. Legs felt really whoozy though. If you remember, last year, I’d managed to get quite a bit of time off the ward so I’d managed to retain the use of my legs a lot more than this year.
I spent the majority of Thursday sleeping and just generally aching but for the most part I was ok. Friday was reasonably ok too – I even managed to go out for a couple of hours.
Saturday saw me at Poppy’s play date for a couple of hours, then sleeping the effort of that off all day. Same for Sunday, minus a playdate.
Sunday night, I headed back to mine and pretty much, all was about as I’d expected.
So far, my experience was mimicking what had happened last year for the most part.
But then Monday happened.
Following a terrible night sleep, I had to stay awake for my Tesco food shop to be delivered. Given the three hours sleep I’d had, this proved difficult. And the temperature really increased. When my shop did arrive, I was the hottest, sweatiest mess I’ve ever been!
The sheer effort of unloading my food shop made me want to throw up, and I found myself horizontal on the ice cold kitchen floor, desperately trying to feel cooler.
Monday night was another night with very little sleep (but that could have been because I stayed up reading a book).
Tuesday was a terrible day. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I barely moved all day but when I did I was seeing stars, dealing with waves of nausea and my heart rate spiking from taking three steps. I wasn’t good. I never felt this bad last year.
I was beginning to realise that perhaps I was lucky last year for Round 1 and how much it had affected me. I admitted defeat and got a taxi back to Dave’s. I couldn’t look after myself. Every effort to just made me feel worse, but I have to eat and stay hydrated.
I want to say that Wednesday was a better day. And in many ways, it was. I didn’t feel as sick or weak. But Dave spotted a patch on my arm that didn’t look like the rest of the Lemtrada rash that was slowly taking over my body. I usually like to give a visual representation but you definitely don’t need to see my rash. Think hives.
The short version is I ended up seeing a Doctor, not from my regular surgery as they close on a Wednesday afternoon (coz people don’t get sick on a Wednesday apparently). He said it looked like I had early onset of cellulitis around the site of my cannula. He prescribed me a course of penicillin to add to my already offensive list of medication.
Overnight, it definitely hasn’t got worse and it’s less red in colour now and more pink.
Today, I’ve just slept. Then woken up eaten and gone back to sleep. But I’ve got a confession. I have also had a proper wobbly today. A real “why me, why MS” angry strop. I cried my eyes out. I try and avoid doing this too often, because for me personally, it’s counter-productive, but some days putting on a so-called brave face just gets too much. And nobody would blame me for it.
I feel so weak for doing it though. I feel like I’m not living up to how people perceive that I’m coping. In life, it feels like crying is seen as weakness. But I truly believe that strength is not in your reaction, but how you recover. So it’s ok to cry and let it all out.
Or it could be the emotional rollercoaster of steroids and I had no control over it.
In short, whatever I thought I knew about going through Lemtrada has completely reversed. Last year I felt under the weather. This year I can barely move with every limb and joint aching. I have a horrendous rash, I’ve ended up with cellulitis and I can’t stop sweating.
However, if you’re reading this, waiting for Round 2 yourself, please don’t let this scare you. All this proves is that this is so different for everyone and there’s no way of predicting how this will go for you. And please remember. There’s a greater good behind all of this. It could be leading you to a day where you don’t even think about the fact that you have MS.
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!
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.
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.
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”.