Thursday, July 7, 2011

Carnival of MS Bloggers #92

Welcome to the Carnival of MS Bloggers, a bi-weekly compendium of thoughts and experiences shared by those living with multiple sclerosis.

Poetry, Honesty, and Golden Advice

Legacy
by Nadja of Living! with MS
I had a nightmare last night.
In the corner of a dump
Hundreds of plastic laundry containers--
Even in the dream state, I recognize them.
Their contents spilled on the ground,
A graveyard of glass syringes.

That is what I left behind?
Piles of plastic and glass—

Glatirimar Acetate
During a double-blind, placebo-controlled pivotal trial, COPAXONE®reduced relapses by 29% vs placebo over 2 years in patients with RRMS (Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis) diagnosed using Poser criteria.

No note to mention this drug only helps some people,
No guarantees.
Try Rebif, Avonex, Betaseron or Copaxone
Try hope…

No note to mention
Some never find a drug that helps--
There is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

Teva pharmaceuticals packages hope in blue, rectangular boxes.
30, prefilled glass syringes,
1mL Glatiramer Acetate.
Individually sheathed in smooth plastic casing.
Stacked in rows of 5
Soldiers battling disease?
Nestled beside 30 alcohol swabs
Individually sealed.

Cremate my body.
Only ashes remain.
My legacy—
Just comb through my trash.


The Five Biggest Mistakes I Have Made Since Learning I Had MS
by Marie of MS Renegade

I am a relatively smart person, but I have made some pretty dumb mistakes in my life. A lot of the dumbest of the mistakes came after finding out I had MS. I thought if I listed the top five, it might save someone from repeating my blunders.

MISTAKE # 1Not immediately making long term financial plans.

I was eight weeks into a brand new job in 2005 when I was hospitalized with Transverse Myelitis, which would subsequently lead to my diagnosis of MS. I should have looked into disability right away, even if I wasn’t ready. I should have learned everything I could have about it.

But because my benefits hadn’t kicked in yet, and because I was in complete denial (more about that later), I went back to work way too soon and focused on keeping my job instead of maintaining my health. For almost two years I worked like a dog, twelve hour days, on call 24/7, determined to prove I was going to be the best director in the system despite having MS. And I was. Unfortunately, that did not stop them from eliminating my position the week after I applied for intermittent Family Leave for my MS treatments.

So did I pursue disability then? No, of course not. I found another job within a month, this time commuting into New York City. Ramp up the stress factor! They also eliminated my position within a week of my asking for an accommodation.

So, now I checked into disability, right? No, of course not. I got another job, still pretending I was going to work until retirement, just like I had always planned. After almost two years in that job, their mismanagement caused a huge layoff. Unemployed again. Only now I couldn’t ‘pass’ anymore. Now I needed assistive devices, cane or a walker, to get around. Huge red flag for hiring managers, though of course there is almost no way to prove that.

After a year and a half I am still out of work and, realistically, unlikely to ever return to the work force. My condition has significantly deteriorated and I cannot walk any distance unassisted. I am finally looking into disability, now that my savings are gone and I am in dire financial straits.

MISTAKE # 2:  Not immediately looking into more accessible housing.

I adore my little Craftsman cottage. It is my dream house. I bought it completely on my own with no help from anyone and I have been inordinately proud of it. When we moved in my girls were still in grammar school. I pulled up ratty carpet, painted every room in marvelous colors, pulled down vertical blinds to let in the sun, spackled, planted, repaired, you name it. It is a lovely, sunny, charming place that people settle into and are reluctant to leave, it is so comfy.

It is a relatively big house, four bedrooms, three baths, sunroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, full basement, patio, side yard, front yard, separate garage. I could blow through the house in an hour cleaning it. While running a few loads of laundry. While setting the sprinkler out for the garden. While dragging garbage out to the garage.

I never anticipated that one day it would take herculean effort to get up the three stairs from the back door to the kitchen, which is the only way into the house from the back.  There are even more steps in the front.

Except for those three, which I have to slowly, painfully drag my feet up one step at a time, I can no longer do stairs. Or clean the house. Or dig in the garden. Or paint or do any of the things I so reveled in when I bought my house. I, quite simply, cannot take care of it anymore.

If I had made plans early on to move to a smaller home or apartment, one that would be easy to clean and could accommodate my wheelchair, my life would be so much simpler. Yes, I will miss my house and mourn it forever. But the stress of trying to maintain it is sucking the life out of me. And now the market is horrendous, I will be lucky to get any equity out of it at all.


MISTAKE # 3: Not having an honest discussion with my children about my illness in the beginning.

 I have four children who were ages 18, 20, 28 and 29 when I first got sick. They are good people with good hearts and I know they love me. But I have done both them and myself a disservice by not forcing us all in the beginning to sit down and talk about what MS is, what might happen and what we were going to do about it. I have always been The One In Charge, strong, bossy, doing it all. My husband died when the kids were little and I have misguidedly tried to shield them from pain ever since. What I’ve done is caused even more pain.

My oldest son at the time very gallantly told me if there ever came a time I needed a place to live, he and his then girlfriend, now wife, would have a place for me. But I couldn’t help noticing when they bought their first house, there was no bedroom on the first floor. And what’s worse is, he has pulled away from me and now no longer even speaks to me. And I don’t know why.

My second son will do anything I ask him, fetch things in his pickup, bring over my grandson for visits, anything but talk about how sick I am. On the off occasion something comes up that is unavoidable he says, with genuine feeling, “I’m so sorry Mom”. But any other conversation is taboo.

My youngest, whenever she is confronted with the reality of my illness also says “Oh Mommy, I am so sorry.” But otherwise will not talk about it.

My third child, my oldest daughter, lives with me, with her family. She has become my caretaker. She does the wash I can no longer do, she does the cleaning, I do some of the cooking, but she really manages the house. She works full time and has a five month old baby. She sees my steady deterioration but we don’t discuss it. She is getting burned out.

So do whatever you have to in order to get your family on the same page and to an understanding of the potential progression of the disease. You might never get to a really bad place, but being prepared, together, is so important.

MISTAKE # 4: Not taking people up on their offers to help.

 My amazing friends and my sister have stood by me for decades, through horrible losses like my husband’s death, through joys like new jobs and buying my house, through other crises like losing aforementioned jobs. And through MS. They were there for me in the hospital and afterwards. Always, always, always offering help. “What can I do?” they will ask. And what have I said? “Oh, nothing, I’m good.” I have said this when I am up to my eyeballs in laundry, dishes and housework that was getting harder and harder for me to do. Church asked, “Can we bring you communion? Me: “Oh, no I’m good.”, thinking of all the people who were sicker than I was and needed them more.

It has taken me years to finally admit I need help. And lots of it. I am incredibly lucky that everyone is still around offering, because those offers do tend to fade as time goes on and people tire of asking.


MISTAKE # 5: Not taking care of myself.

I found out I had MS. Did I start eating really wholesome food? Did I do whatever exercise plan fit my abilities? Did I take my myriad of medications regularly and carefully? Did I rest and avoid stress as much as possible? Did I make sure I got plenty of sunshine and fresh air? Did I force myself to get out and socialize so I wouldn't get depressed?

No. No, no, no, no and no.

I kept working incredibly stressful jobs and hours. I did not focus on nutrition. I swam for a while, until I broke my shoulder. But when I couldn’t swim any more, I did not look for an alternate way of staying fit. I avoided friends and stayed in my room, in my bed, with the blinds drawn. Medication?!? Tuh, (I spit on the floor), I don’t need no stinkin’ medication.

D. E. N. I. A. L. Oh, and stupidity and stubbornness as well. Yeah, really helpful coping mechanisms.

BOTTOM LINE : You don’t need to panic, but do yourself a favor and make plans. You might never need to use them, but get your safety nets in place. Ask for help. Let people help you (they really like to!). My denial has cost me dearly and is going to cost me more in the long run.


The Best Things I Have Done Since Learning I had MS
by Marie of MS Renegade

Well, the biggest mistakes I made were all pretty big and pretty dramatic. The best things I have done pale in comparison, mostly rather small and practical, but things that have helped all the same.

Best Thing #1: Writing my Blogs

Hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, period.

I have been writing since I was old enough to know what it meant, but I never made the time or had the courage to put it out there. Oh, in high school I would write suspense stories on the bus. They would get passed from person to person as I wrote the each page. That was fun. In college I did write for the literary magazine. But that was it for ‘publishing’.

Then came blogging.

I had been thinking about writing a blog for a while, but I was really nervous about it. What if people hated it? Hated me? Then I came across a really funny piece on Wiki How called “How to Dissuade Yourself from Becoming a Blogger.” With helpful comments such as “Consider that your voice, even if it is truly a good one, is a tiny peep against the massive wave of tripe out there.” and “Rest easy in the knowledge that it's perfectly okay and respectable to not have a blog at all. Not everyone is cut out to write things that are readable by everyone. The last thing you want to do is contribute more dreck to the universe.”, my insecurity went into overdrive.

Exploring the blogging world I did indeed find awful, awful junk. But just as often I found marvelously written, funny, interesting work. A LOT of self-help blogs. I was in the process of losing weight for my son’s wedding, so in 2008 I took the leap and started a blog with the idea it would be a support system for people losing weight.

Re-reading my earliest stuff, I cringe. I HATE the name, Nourish. The writing is turgid and self-conscious. I am someone who loves to laugh and kids around all the time. This was positively grim. It just wasn’t me. Then, about a month and a half in, I fell and broke my shoulder. Not a usual source of hilarious material. But I wrote about it as a catharsis and that is when I started to find my real, genuine, goofy, voice. And it took off.

I have the best time writing that blog! I have met wonderful people who have become true friends. I have received comments and feedback that is so touching, so kind, so encouraging it has been a real gift. I’ve made myself and others laugh. I eventually started two others, one talking about books and this one, strictly focused on MS. They are a little hard to keep on top of, but still incredibly rewarding.

Writing is something that everyone can do, even if it is not a passion for you. It is a really good way to organize your thoughts and identify feelings. It is a great outlet. And I believe everyone has a fascinating story. So I encourage everyone to write down what is going on in their head, even if it is for no one but themselves.

But my bigger point here is do what you love. You deserve it. It’s time. I love to sew also, but with working and taking care of a family and a big house, just never had a chance. Now I am like a fabric junkie and sew every day. It just makes me so happy. I learned how to knit too. I can never sit still. That wasn’t a problem when I hit the ground running every day, but all that has changed as I become more and more immobile. To use up my energy, I always have knitting with me.

So that is what we need to do when we have a chronic illness. What is it you love to do that has been on a back burner? What is the passion that you have been too busy for? This is the time to cultivate the things that are most meaningful to you. Hey, you deserve it, you have a shit disease!

Best Thing # 2: I acknowledge what my body is telling me.

Me? Listen to my body?!? hahahahahahahaha The only thing I ever listened to was the voice in my head that was running persistently in the future: “I have to do this and this and this and this and after that, this. And then that again.” pant pant pant “And then and then and then…” Never. Stopped. For. One. Minute.

For many of us with MS, we struggle with a fatigue that defies words. There is literally no way that I, even though words are my thing, can convey to someone who has not experienced it what this feels like. Tired, exhausted, spent, none of these even approach it. It is like trying to walk through a wall of mud, almost all the time. Or like all your limbs and your head are attached to weights pulling, pulling, pulling and you have to constantly struggle not to fall over from the pressure. That sort of gives an idea of what it is like.

And then, for me at least, there is the spasticity. The muscles in my legs tighten to the extent it is agony to stretch them out. Especially if I am in the same position for even as short a time as ten minutes. And should I mention the dizziness? A disorienting reverberation that echoes through my body with any movement.

Sounds like fun, huh?

In the beginning, I ignored these symptoms. I DEFIED them. Kept working, cleaning, shopping, doing, doing, doing. And paid the price with regular relapses, needing a course of IV steroids to get me functioning again each time. And having more and more residual deficits each time. It took forever, but I finally allowed myself if not to accept these things, at least to respect them.

So I do the ‘bank’ thing. I am a bank account with a certain level of funds available. Each action I take, getting dressed, taking a shower, fixing a breakfast or lunch, is a withdrawal. I know now I can only make a certain number of withdrawals in a day before I am over drawn. So I budget myself. I rest, I limit. It often feels as though I am indulging myself, but realistically that is not accurate. I am being practical when I rest for an afternoon, because being overdrawn means not being able to move at all. Don't get me wrong, it is hard.  I give up a lot.  It is a huge concession for me, but the payoff is staying functional and suffering less. Less suffering. Hmmmm. I think that is worth it.

Best Thing # 3: My Overbed Table

Go ahead, laugh. It is, after my laptop, my most treasured possession in the world.

Before I got my table, because I have to rest so much, I was juggling everything on my bed and nightstand. Juggling unsuccessfully, I might add. So a friend suggested getting “one of those tables like they have in the hospital.” Now I am a nurse. If you are a nurse who has ever worked in a hospital, you have seen unspeakably disgusting things on bedside tables. I can cope with these things professionally. But I certainly didn’t want that memory lingering over my own personal bed.

As I am wont to do, I resisted. And spilled things and lost things and sat on things because my bed was a disorganized mess. So, taking baby steps, I priced them. And was delighted to find they had a different name: laptop tables!! Well laptop tables never had emesis basins full of puke or bed pans full of poop on them!! What is more, they were reasonable priced. So I bought one. And I love, love, love it.

Ok, I'll admit, it is hideous.  But handsome is as handsome does. It has a tilt top side for my laptop, a solid side for books, cups, plates, etc. and wheels that allow it to be pushed out of the way. The wheels are probably the weakest link as they will not roll over anything thicker than a human hair, but that is just a quibble. I stitched up a big tote bag with half a dozen pockets that hangs over the side of the table to hold my knitting, my i-pod, my mobile phone, CD’s, pens, note pads and unopened, six month old mail. ha ha  Just kidding. It’s really seven months old.

Best Thing # 4: Reach-y Thingies

Even if I wasn’t crippled, I’d still be short. Hard to reach things when you are short. I am also clumsy, whether because of the numbness and weakness in my hands or because I am simply clumsy, I do not know. I just know I drop and/or knock over everything. And, because of being so spastic and weak, I have the darndest time picking up the things I have knocked over/dropped.

So, brilliantly, I bought several reach-y thingies. I do believe that is the technical name for them.

I bought ones that fold in half for the kitchen and bedroom, with wide, rubberized tips so I can pick up a variety of things. For the den, where I sew, (this was extra brilliant) I bought one with a magnetized tip because I am sick of playing 500 pick-up with the cups of pins I am perpetually knocking over. Voila! Now all I have to do when I need a pin is stick my magnetized reacher on the floor and I come up with a dozen pins. I usually come up with a dozen other things as well, but we won’t talk about that.

Best Thing # 5: Admitting I have MS

Crazy, huh? That having MS would be on any sort of Best Things list?

Having MS certainly isn’t the best of anything. I know there are worse diseases out there, and I am grateful not to have one of those. But this one is still pretty bad.

However, by admitting I have it I am free to take better care of myself. Denial is a great protective mechanism for a while. It is a good place to hide while the shock registers in your brain. But, when you’re in it, it is really hard to discern when denial goes from protective to destructive. For me it was destructive when I wasn’t taking care of myself because I refused to accept that I was sick. MS has no tolerance for not taking care of yourself. It is a punishing disease that punishes you even more if you defy it.

Also by admitting I have MS I let other people in.  I am not thrilled with other people knowing.  I hate being what I perceive of as 'weak'.  But the fact is people are good and have been especially good to me in light of my illness.

I still cannot accept it. Acceptance to me suggests consent or approval. Consent? Never. I will resent this disease and everything it has stolen from me until the day I die. So I can't accept it, but I can acknowledge it. I can acknowledge the toll it takes and find a way to balance it. That is how I can be good to me.
__________

Those are my Five and Five, five good choices and five terrible choices. However, I believe no matter what choices we make, we need to cut ourselves a break. All we can ever do is the best we can do. Sometimes we choose something that seemed like a good idea at the time. The important thing is to be willing to reconsider when things are not working out so well.

Please let me hear from you about the choices you have made in managing this disease, or any other chronic illness. The more we share the more we can help each other out.

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This concludes the 92nd edition of the Carnival.

The next Carnival of MS Bloggers will be hosted here on July 21, 2011. Please remember to submit a post (via email) from your blog of which you are particularly proud, or which you simply want to share, by noon on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Thank you.

MS Bloggers A-D

MS Bloggers E-L

MS Bloggers M

MS Bloggers N-S

MS Bloggers T-Z

MS Caregivers and Loved Ones

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