Our Era of Intolerance

intolerance

I follow some of the social networking groups for people with MS, and a lot of what I read is sad, but not in the way you might think. Yes, it’s hard to read the about the plight of others who deal with physical pain, but it’s reading about those with emotional pain and scars that is especially rough.

I’m referring to the torment men and women feel about not being the kind of spouse or parent they think they should be. Then there are the single people who are alone and lonely, lamenting the bleak prospect that their disability might make them a social pariah for eternity. I’m also talking about people who lose the ability to sustain a job because their physical limitations prevent it, or their employers put so much pressure on them regarding unscheduled absences and lack of dependability that it isn’t worth the relentless emotional strain.

What I find incredibly sad, however, is reading posts from people whose friends and family question their integrity by suggesting or implying that they aren’t really sick, and that their symptoms are psychological.

Is this kind of callousness the exception or the rule? I’d like to think it is the former, but am afraid it is becoming or has become the latter.

For some of us, our disability is obvious. All you have to do is see the way we walk, or how we navigate our walkers or wheelchairs to recognize we are dealing with something that prevents us from being whole. Your senses provide proof that something is wrong, which makes our condition understandable and acceptable.

But for many, the symptoms are less obvious. You can’t see pain. You can’t see crushing fatigue. You can’t see cognitive fog. You can’t see depression or the general malaise that can emerge from constantly fighting a losing battle. These are not tangible things, so it’s easy and convenient for able-bodied people to be derisive and dismissive.

While I think it’s bullshit, I understand how people who are unrelated and unconnected to us can make those kinds of judgements. After all, we live in an intolerant age, at least in this country, where the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue practices and promotes this kind of thinking. What I can never understand or accept is how family and supposed friends can be so unsupportive and cruel.

Perhaps these attitudes have always existed, and I was blind to them until MS opened my eyes to the plight of others. After all, people who have been living with mental illness or who are not neuro-typical have been dealing with this kind of prejudice for ages.

Still, why is it so hard for people to accept what their eyes can’t see? What makes individuals so dismissive about anyone who is less than whole, who may be odd or quirky, or who simply beats to their own drum? Why is someone who struggles with a physical or mental/emotional illness considered flawed, damaged, and therefore less of a person. Don’t we all deserve a little respect?

Is it insecurity? Do individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened by what they don’t understand? Or do people have the need to prop themselves up by tearing others down?

It’s sad to think that people are more supportive if you are stricken with something like cancer than dealing with a condition that isn’t as obvious, as easily understood, or curable. I hope I’m wrong about this, and am allowing the grim scenarios some of these posts describe to color my judgement about the world we live in. That would be ironic, because I don’t watch news programming of any kind for that very reason. The news is so negative, and paints such a bleak picture of society today, how could anyone who constantly exposes themselves to that message not be pessimistic about the future?

Maybe I should take a respite from these sites.

I was a child during the turbulent 1960’s, so I didn’t understand or feel the civil unrest that existed during that decade. After watching a recent documentary on the year of 1968, I concluded that I would have thought society was coming apart at the seams had I been an adult back then. I also would have feared for my child’s future.

I don’t think we have bottomed out to that degree yet, but it does feel like we are experiencing a renaissance of the 1960’s and heading in that direction. Our current level of social discord permeates everything, and perhaps feeds the point of views that allow people to conclude that our symptoms are all in our head, and all we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves, suck it up, and get with the program. Kindness and empathy still exist, perhaps more than we think, but it is drowned out by all the other noise, and seems harder to find.

Whatever it is that is driving this mean-spiritedness, I hope it dissolves in the not so distant furture, and we all emerge relatively unscathed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Magic Words

Happy

“I love you,” are not the three words men most yearn to hear. This may have been the case early in our courtship when we were drunk with love and romance, and the mere mention of these words would make our hearts flutter and groins stir. No, as the relationship matures and the question of love is no longer debatable, those three words are supplanted by a new trio. These words always turn our heads away from the television, the I-Pad, or otherwise remove our focus from whatever world we currently inhabit.

These words have the same effect as a cold shower, but in a positive, refreshing way. Instead of pretending to pay attention but only hearing wah wah, wah wah wah when our wives or girlfriends are talking, and our attention is divided between whatever it is they are saying and the sports page, we snap out of our stupor in a nanosecond and focus like a laser beam on the conversation we were mostly ignoring. What are these magic words? You….are….right!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing the significance of “I love you.” I never want the day to end without saying those words to K or Shodan. Even though we sometimes say them with the same gusto as “honey I’m taking out the trash,” they are nonetheless meaningful, and shame on the poor fool that takes them for granted.

But to hear, “you are right”… is almost orgasmic because it’s so rare. Not winning the Powerball rare, but more akin to witnessing the perfect sunset, observing an underground lake, or discovering crop circles, where an intrinsic feeling of wonderment and awe overwhelms the senses. It puts a spring in our step, gives us reason to have faith, and otherwise makes us feel that perhaps we not as obtuse are we are led to believe.

Most women I know would derisively scoff at this premise, flatly stating that the reason we don’t hear this very often is not because they are loathe to admitting this. No, the reason we don’t hear these words very often is simply because we are right about as often as you’ll see polka-dots on a zebra.

I don’t remember that last time I had to choose between being right and being happy, primarily because I don’t keep score. If I’m rational, I will choose happiness, be satisfied in knowing that I’m right, and not belabor the point. I’d much rather concede the issue and keep the peace because I know that if I let my stubbornness get the best of me, and it’s usually over really stupid inconsequential shit, I may win the battle but lose the war. You see, the thrill of victory is fleeting and once the narcotic wears off, the hangover sets in. I’ll realize I’m deep in the doghouse, and for what?

K will still think I’m not only wrong, but an insensitive flaming asshole to boot, and is now doubly pissed that I disputed her omnipotence. I’ll cower like a scolded pup, wonder how the hell I did this to myself (again), apologize after an appropriate cooling off period, and swear upon everything I hold sacred that I won’t put myself in that position again.

Later on when the dust has settled and I’m alone I’ll replay the events, be my own judge and jury and render an unbiased verdict on the matter. More than half of the time I’ll concede I was wrong, but the ratio is a lot closer to 50% than 0%.

In the end it doesn’t matter, and all I can do is wait for the next time those three magic words are offered without prompting or hesitation, and bathe in the warm glow of redemption.

 

The 3 Day Quote Challenge – Day 2

Shawshank

Now that I know what I’m doing, here are the rules:

1. Thank the person that nominated you.

2. Write one quote each day for three consecutive days (3 quotes total)

3. Explain why the quote is meaningful for you.

4. Nominate three bloggers each day to participate in the challenge

Thanks again to Angela, who writes the Fuck MS blog, for bestowing this honor upon me. Please check her out at:   https://fuckms.ca

You may have already figured this out from the picture, but TODAY’S QUOTE IS (drum roll)……… Get busy living, or get busy dying.

This is a quote from Andy Dufrense in the movie The Shawshank Redemption,  which might be my favorite movie of all-time. It certainly is in the top three. It’s theme of of hope and perseverance under unfair and adverse conditions, is inspiring. I love it when the underdog wins, and the acting and screenplay is superb! I’ve watched it so many times I’ve lost track. I can’t imagine anyone not knowing about this flick, but if you don’t, do yourself a favor. Go on Netflix and look it up. You will be glad you did.

The reason this quote has so much meaning is because it epitomizes my attitude since I was diagnosed. MS, or any significant disability/affliction for that matter, changes your life and, in my opinion, leaves you with two choices.

You can either accept your new reality, confront it head on, and make the best of a bad situation. Or, you can curl into the fetal position, say whoa is me, lament about all the things that you’ve lost, become obsessed with the shitty hand you’ve been dealt, and wither away. In other words, you can get busy living or get busy dying.

Today’s nominees to participate in this challenge are:

Walt who authors Walt’s Writings is a poet, an old salt with a romantic soul. His poetry resonates with a hopeless romantic like myself. He paints images and evokes emotions we can all relate to with his simple words. I highly recommend you give him a look.

I don’t know the name of the person who writes Damn Girl, Get Your Shit Together, but I love her style and attitude. All you have to to is check out this ditty  https://damngirlgetyourshittogether.com/2018/04/05/oh-fuckery/ to see why. I’m really curious to see what her quotes might be.

Last but not least is Grace, who authors MS Graceful…NOT! Brutally honest and funny, Grace doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, she’s already been nominated, by Alyssa I believe, but I’m nominating her again because she is either not paying attention or avoiding the issue. HELLO GRACE! Time to get your coffee and get to work!  https://gracefulnot.com/blog

See you all again tomorrow

My Restless Leg

Restless leg

The potpourri of symptoms I’ve previously chronicled include a severely drooping foot, no leg strength from just above the knee, an ankle that constantly wants to turn sideways, and occasional cramps in my toes, the arch of my foot, and my calf. And let’s not forget balance, specifically the lack thereof. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a strong and sudden gust of wind can cause a loss of balance and an unexpected fall.

The one symptom I’ve never mentioned before, which happens to be the most annoying, is something called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

Here is a quick definition: RLS causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs, creating an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours, and are often most severe at night when a person is sitting, resting, or lying in bed.  They also may occur when someone is inactive and sitting for extended periods (for example, when taking a trip by plane or watching a movie). There are a variety of sensations that generally occur within the limb that prompt the jerking movements: crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, and a feeling akin to an electric current. Research shows that people with MS are about four times more likely to have RLS than people in the general population.

In the scheme of things, my RLS isn’t a big deal. There is no pain or discomfort whatsoever that alerts me to its arrival.  Nonetheless, it’s aggravating to the extreme.

First of all, I can’t control it. Without warning, a jolt electric current surges into my lower leg, causing the toes to curl upward and the foot to lift. Sometimes it’s a quick twitch, and other times it lasts a few seconds, where the big toe is trying its damnedest to touch my shin, or the leg sticks straight out with the heel pointing forward, before it flops back to earth.

Secondly, when the twitching begins, it can occur as many as three times per minute. Do the math. It’s hard to enjoy anything when your leg acts like a flopping fish desperately trying to find its way back into the water.

I’m not self conscious about the way I walk or things of that nature, but I am about this, primarily because I think it looks bizzare. When someone parks in a handicapped space or you see someone with a cane, you expect to see them them walk differently or have a more difficult time getting about. Imagine sitting next to someone who looks perfectly healthy at work, in a movie theater, a sporting event, a wedding, or sitting in their living room over drinks, and their foot/leg begins to spasm and doesn’t stop. If you get too close, you might even get kicked.

The spasms always occur when I’ve been sitting for extended periods of time, like right now as I’m writing this piece. They can and do occur at work, but all I have to do is get up and walk around to make the twitching disappear. I don’t always do that because the spasms don’t impact my ability to do my job, but there are other times where getting up and walking around is impossible, like when I’m driving.

I have to be extremely careful when the leg starts flailing while I’m driving, because my bad leg is the right one, which controls the accelerator and brake. Try accelerating or braking  when your foot is trying to curl backwards. I’ve learned to brake with my left foot if necessary, and most of the time I can coast the few seconds during which the spasm occurs. If I’m on the highway when this happens, cruise control comes in handy. Nonetheless, my next new car is going to have to be equipped with hand controls whether I like it or not.

If I am at a public event or gathering of some kind, I don’t stay on my feet for extended periods of time, which means I’m usually sitting. In these situations I try to make sure there is some distance between me and the person I am sitting next to or across from, and do whatever I can to hide my legs. Sometimes, I’ll cross my feet to prevent the leg from protruding too far should the spasms start.

Then there is the issue of trying to fall asleep when RLS is active. In K’s recent post, she rightfully said that I don’t get enough sleep, but one of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t seem to matter what is going on with the leg when I’m dead tired. I’ll still fall asleep in five to ten minutes. Otherwise, the twitching, which occurs almost every night night, makes it hard to get comfortable.  I become restless, annoyed, and eventually wide awake. Of course, I could walk around to make it stop, but it takes more than a brief stroll for that to occur. Either way, it takes a while before sleep comes, and I get even less sleep in the process.

These are some of the reasons why I find RLS so annoying, but it is not the reason

K lamented that I do a lot of things that Shodan can and probably should do. Why? Because it gives me a sense of control over my tormentor. From my perspective, giving into MS by letting others do the work I am still capable of doing is like conceding to an enemy that wants me  to wave the white flag of surrender, which I simply refuse to do. So even though snow removal is very difficult, and I do stuff in the yard that my son could do more easily and in a fraction of the time, I find ways to compensate, which allows me to complete the task. This is all about my will being stronger than the MS, and not letting it get the best of me.

None of that works with RLS.  It’s as if the disease is taunting me. “So you think you can ignore me? You think you have control?” it whispers. “Let’s test that theory while I fuck with your leg for a little while. See how that works for you!”

I am absolutely impotent in this situation, which serves as a not so subtle reminder that I’m denying this inconvenient truth: if and when MS decides to throw the hammer down and takes control over everything I stubbornly cling to, I will be powerless to stop it.

And that is what bugs me the most.

I’m not sick…I’m healthy impaired

I don’t recall exactly how I came across Billy Mac. It was either through a fellow blogger (probably Grace) or he happened to stumble across one of my posts and liked it, which prompted me to peek at his blog, Superman Can’t Find a Phone, where I read this.  https://goodtobealivetoday.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/hell-what-do-i-know/

I was hooked and have been following him ever since. Billy is a hell of a writer. He’s insightful, brutally honest, self-depreciating, and laugh out loud funny. I love his perspective on people and life, so much so that I extended an invitation to him to grace the pages of my blog with his candor and wit. While I have never met him, although I hope to some day since we both live in New England, I consider him a friend who is among the band of brothers and sisters I have met through the blogging community.

If you have never read his stuff before, please take the time to visit his site and take a look. You will be glad you did.

Thanks for sharing Billy.

 

My name is Billy Mac and I am honored to have been asked by Steve to guest post on his blog. Steve is an excellent writer and a supportive member of our blogosphere and I am happy to have discovered his little corner of the internet. We faithfully read each other’s work, share experiences and there is always a positive takeaway from our back and forth. Although it tends to break convention, I think of him as a friend though we have never met in person. He’s a good guy with a great story.

As with most connections, the question may be asked: “How did you and Steve find each other?” The answer is simple, we have a common connection, and that is Chronic Illness. Steve has MS, did I mention that? Steve’s blog is about the trials and travails of living with MS, it’s right there in the title. I didn’t lead with it because it’s only a part of who and what he is.

As a relative newcomer to the Chronic Illness community (I’ve actually had Kidney Disease for decades, but I only just accepted it on, what time is it? Yea, not that long ago) I am drawn to, and consequently follow many Chronic Illness bloggers. Many of these blogs were initiated by people like Steve and I, who have a condition that has affected our lives so profoundly that we want to share it, to inform others of it, or just reap the cathartic benefits of “putting it out there” to a world of anonymous, faceless strangers to read. Many bloggers with Chronic Illness are considered fine resources for their respective conditions with personal expertise in symptom management, links to journals, studies, and news updates. But if one were to bypass reading a blog because it is tagged “Chronic Illness” you would be passing on a great opportunity. I liken it to watching the evening news, seeing a teaser about a positive, uplifting human interest story and then changing the channel. You’re missing out. They tell a great story.

Sure, we write about our illnesses. But not exclusively. We write about our lives in all of its mundane details. We have jobs, we have families, we have social lives and we write about them just like everyone else. The twist of lemon, the ingredient that makes these blogs special is how our conditions impact, shape and affect us as we live our lives.  For example, Steve recently posted about the Blizzard that he (and I) had to clean up after last week. He told us about the ordeal of shoveling all of the snow. No big deal, right? Not really, until you remember that Steve has MS and that not only is he prone to fatigue but he has recently dealt with the minor nuisance of one of his legs simply giving out unexpectedly. It’s just another symptom to Steve, one more challenge in his daily life. But to the reader, his shoveling of snow just graduated from an ordinary chore to a goddamn human interest story. You will find such examples of illness permeating the everyday lives of normal people in all of these blogs. It’s easy to call them inspirational. They are, but at the end of the day, they are just regular people living their lives and not giving in to the challenges their illness throws at them. The resilience of the human spirit simply leaps off of the pages as they write.They are defining their situation before it defines them.

I am the author of Superman can’t find a phone booth and I”m a great story. I’m a great story only because I’m looking down at the dirt and not up. You may wonder where the Moniker of Superman came from. I assure you that it’s not born of inflated self-image. It is instead a very unflattering nickname sarcastically bestowed upon me by a loved one in recognition of my Superhuman ability to deny my illness. I was sick for decades but I didn’t take it seriously. I put on a good face for my family (to not worry my kids) and I dealt with my symptoms. My doctors said that I was in denial, they would later say that it worked for me. On the verge of dialysis, I received the best gift anyone could ever give, the gift of an organ donation. I had a kidney transplant and went on with my life. Then, out of the blue, the new kidney began to fail. And here I am, at the end of a long, downward spiral. I named my blog Superman can’t find a phone booth because I see myself as a strong person on the inside but without an outlet to express and release my inner self. With no phone booths in sight, I turned to the blog. Despite losing my house, my family and my career to my disease, I now find myself in a good place. With nowhere to go but up, I have a whole new outlook that I am sharing with anyone who visits my blog. I have accepted my illness and I am embracing the changes that I and my fellow bloggers with an illness are experiencing. I am part of a community. One that understands me, supports me and has watched me grow. I, in turn, support my peers and monitor their growth.

What are the takeaways from immersing yourself in the daily life of one with a chronic illness?

Here are some of mine:
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You either get busy living, or get busy dying
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

Be grateful.A dear friend of mine, who also has MS once told me that having MS was a blessing of sorts. I initially rejected this notion but I have come around. It has taught her, and myself, to be among other things grateful. Grateful to be alive, to be in a position to be a resource or maybe even an inspiration to another, grateful to understand the value of things that others take for granted.

Every day of your life matters. My doctor recently told me that I, with the help of modern medicine, may live 20 more years. The clock is ticking. This makes sitting around doing nothing a massive waste of precious time. No matter what I am capable of doing today, it is unacceptable to do nothing. Set goals, try to reach them. Better to reach for the stars and drag your feet on the rooftop than to reach for the ceiling and drag your feet on the floor.

Do something with your life. I would rather live 60 fulfilling years than live to 92 and have done shit with my life. Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall of your own funeral. What will people say about you? How many people will show up? Will you be remembered as a burden or an inspiration? Did you die the friend, husband, wife, son, daughter, co-worker and citizen you envisioned yourself to be? Write your own eulogy daily by cementing your legacy in every transaction.
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Leave nothing on the table. This is not just for the chronically ill. Some of us have a fast-moving Chevy meant for us. Don’t wait for tomorrow to do what you can do today. Make that call, take that road trip, pretend that “rainy day” is today. Tell people how you feel and leave them as if you’re never going to see them again. Talking to their stones simply sucks, granite can’t talk back. Everyone in my life knows what they mean to me.

Enjoy the moment. When you have your own mortality on your mind, even shoveling snow can be a moment. While I was shoveling snow last week I stopped to take a break. My heart was racing and my back hurt. As I collected myself I looked around and took a deep breath and truly absorbed my surroundings. It was a beautiful day, I wasn’t cold and it occurred to me that I didn’t have an unlimited amount of these moments, so I breathed it in and savored it.

Be your own advocate, but believe in hope. With advances in modern medicine, there is a potential cure for every disease, and I really hope for one for everybody involved. Steve has written extensively about being your own advocate, knowing your condition and learn all that you can about your condition. Sometimes doctors get it wrong. When I had my transplant, I was given a lot of information of what to expect. I was not told that my disease could potentially attack my new kidney and put me back to square one. Well, that is exactly what happened a mere 5 years after my surgery. I was furious at first, I felt like I was given false hope. But then I reflected on what I accomplished after my transplant. I attacked life. I rode a mountain bike and crashed it gloriously time and time again, every time I got up and kept riding. I hiked, I worked out, I treated my body like I wanted to live forever. If my doctors had told me about the potential to lost it all, I may not have done any of it.

Don’t focus on the “used to’s”. The “used to’s” are a major downer for the chronically ill. It is tough to reflect on what you used to be able to do before that you can’t do now. It is a reality we have to contend with. But at the end of the day, it’s dangerous thinking. Focus on what you can do today and do it well. When you can’t, you will deal with it.

Deal with it. At the end of the day, it comes down to one thing, how well you deal with what life throws at you. Some people out there clear some pretty major hurdles in street shoes just to get through a Tuesday afternoon. When I wake up and I only have brain fog, nausea, leg cramps and fatigue from waking up 10 times the night before it’s a good day. And that is nothing compared to the struggles of some.

Chronic illness has changed who I am. I am not only a different person, I am a better person. I listen more than I talk. I appreciate more than I criticize. I do more and procrastinate less. In the time since I started blogging, I have grown from a state of despondency to one of purpose. I think I am where I belong. I am working less and volunteering more. Wanting less and receiving greater rewards. In the process of downsizing I have achieved the real, the quality I have been searching for in my life. The prospect of death has improved my mortal campaign. I don’t fear death anymore. But I am simply terrified of the prospect of not living a full life.

One of my favorite quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
As a firm believer in this and an avid people watcher, I always look at a person and wonder what their life is like. But like most, I can’t always tell who is struggling and who isn’t. That’s why you’re encouraged to be nice in the first place…you don’t know. But if you had a way of finding out wouldn’t you want to know their story, maybe find a little inspiration? Something to make your own problems a little more ordinary? You can. Just by going to WP reader and punching in “Chronic illness”. You will have at your disposal as many “human interest stories” that you can handle.

We don’t want pity or sympathy, we just want our stories to be heard. What you take away from them….well, that’s up to you.

Does It Matter What People Think?

outside world

I wasn’t self-conscious about my “disability” or even thought of myself as having one after I was initially diagnosed. Back then, I moved around pretty easily. I had a slight limp, my balance was only beginning to get a little shaky, and I occasionally stubbed my toe on uneven surfaces due to the foot drop. But I wasn’t using a cane yet, and could still get from point A to point B quickly and in a straight line.

Nonetheless, I obtained a handicapped parking tag. I remember thinking, if I’m going to be saddled with this I may as well get some perk from it. After all, having access to parking spots closest to a building’s entrance was convenient, and I could fall if I rushed, so why the hell not?  Be that as it may, I had not yet entered the stage of being self conscious about my appearance. That changed the day I stepped out of my car to enter a local grocery store, and noticed a disdainful look from an anonymous passer-by that screamed, “why the hell are you parking there, you fraud!”

To be fair, I had never liked seeing someone who I didn’t think was disabled park in a handicapped spot, thinking it was selfish and self-centered. In fact, I never parked in one thinking it was bad karma, and that the Gods would somehow give me a reason to have to park there if I did.

But my vehicle clearly had the tag hanging from the rear view mirror, and I still got that dirty look, one that said “you’re not really sick.”

This self-conscious period didn’t last long because it soon became obvious I had an issue, and I had become so absorbed in what was happening to me that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about how the general public viewed me. Plus, once the shock that someone might actually think of me that way wore off, I soon came to realize I wasn’t the one with a problem, and never gave it another thought.

I remember this now because I’ve read a lot of chatter recently about the how general public’s attitudes and perceptions can make us self conscious about our appearance, and influence our self-esteem. This makes me very sad, and very angry.

So forgive me as I climb on my soapbox for a moment.

Reflecting on all of this has made me wonder what those who don’t know me think when they see me. Do they think less of me? Do they pity me? Does the sight of me make them uncomfortable? Do they notice me at all? Most importantly, do I even care?

Above all, I don’t want anyone’s pity, and I don’t need their sympathy because I’m fine with the way I am. And I don’t take offense if the sight of me makes people uncomfortable, because I think it subconsciously reminds them of their own mortality, which is scary.

And if my disability somehow reduces my status as a person in the eye of the beholder, they are a shallow ignoramus in my book who, in the immortal words of my basic-training drill sergeant, I wouldn’t give the sweat off my balls if they were dying of thirst.

The bottom line is I really don’t care what the outside world thinks, and haven’t for a while. Friends and family are different, but the general public? Nope!  I am who I am, and if that isn’t good enough, tough shit! But………..

It’s easy for me feel this way because I didn’t begin coping with my condition until I was in my late forties. I was well-established career wise, happily married, and wasn’t concerned about a roof over my head or food on the table. I’ve been blessed to have a spouse that is a genuinely nice, loving person, and not once have I worried she would kick me to the curb. My mobility wasn’t significantly impacted until my son was already in his teens, so I never lost the privilege of playing with him when he was young.

I still have my issues, not wanting to be a burden chief among them. I’ve been guilty of doing too much, and not asking for help. Those close to me, and K in particular, are already doing more than they should, and need a break. But I also see the pain and concern in their eyes when they see me struggle, and know they want to help. Maybe it’s because they feel helpless, and need to so something. It made me put myself in their shoes and imagine how I would feel. So my hardest lesson has been to learn it’s okay to ask for help, and show vulnerability, because doing the opposite does not make us closer. It disconnects us.

And since I am firmly entrenched as a middle-aged person – I hate to admit I’m getting old – I have the benefit of a perspective I would not have had in my twenties or early thirties.

I would have freaked out if I was stricken at that age. I’d think of myself as damaged goods, and probably do everything in my power to hide or downplay my symptoms so the opposite sex wouldn’t run and hide. After all, who is going to want to hitch their saddle on a broken horse? Nobody wants to be alone, and we especially don’t want to be alone because of something we never asked for.

That perspective also knows this would have been a fool’s errand, because presenting ourselves as something we aren’t is a betrayal of trust, and only leads to worse heartache down the road.

In a perfect world, everyone would understand that living with the physical burdens of a chronic condition does not change our core. It (hopefully) doesn’t change our personality, our sense of humor, our integrity, or any the things that make us who we are. Those attributes are what is most important, and should be the only reason someone chooses to  like us, love us, be our friends, or want to hang with us. Sure, the packaging is important, but lasting relationships are built on more than that. It’s sad to think this might be lost on some, but it’s sadder to let outside opinions change who we are, and lose ourselves in the process.

So my message, particularly to young adults, is I’m not minimizing that it hurts knowing our condition could influence how a person thinks or feels about us in a less than flattering way. It could also be the deciding factor when considering whether to take a risk and share a life with somebody. This reality is unfair, and can make anyone feel angry, frustrated and hopeless.

But it’s their loss, not ours. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but it shouldn’t change how we feel about ourselves.

 

What The Hell is Happening to Me?!

scream

My response to the treadmill incident was to ignore it. I had no idea what had just happened, instinctively knew it was bad, but my inclination has always been never to worry about something unless I absolutely have to. The episode was short-lived after all and might never return, so why bother?

Two weeks later curiosity got the best of me and I returned to the treadmill, the same thing happened, and I still ignored it.

This ignorant bliss came to a crashing halt several weeks later when I ventured outside to mow the lawn for the first time that spring. I don’t have a big yard, but the house was built on a slope, so the terrain is slanted and the landscaping made the lawn better suited for a push mower. So I grabbed the trusty self-propelled mower, ventured outside and experienced something I will never forget.

I had to stop several times because I lost control of the limb like I did on the treadmill, but it was infinitely worse. I was not on smooth, flat terrain you see, and I rolled the ankle over on three different occasions, once so bad I thought I might have sprained it. When the job was finished, I literally dragged my leg and the lawnmower to the garage. It took much longer for the symptoms to subside, but they did not completely go away this time. I was left with a slightly drooping foot and a very slight but discernible limp.

My bubble had been burst. Fear and panic began to worm their way into my comfortable cocoon of denial, and I wanted to scream. What the hell was happening to me? When I was in the throes of whatever this was, I didn’t have any pain, but the limb simply didn’t function. I didn’t have any point of reference in regards to what this could be, but I knew I had to do something. So I went to an orthopedist.

Tight hamstrings. That was the verdict after I explained the situation and he finished putting me through the paces and examined me, which took only ten minutes. My reaction, although I didn’t say it, was “are you fucking kidding me?” It was humiliating because the guy obviously didn’t have a clue but couldn’t admit it, and probably thought I was a hypochondriac. Being the dumb ass that I was, however, I religiously performed the stretching exercises he gave me for a couple of weeks and it did absolutely nothing in terms of improving my limp or foot drop.

By now I was really beginning to panic. I sensed it was something muscular, and for some reason grasped upon the thought this might be the beginning of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), which terrified me. I rarely obsess, but could not get this thought out of my head.

By this time, K was becoming concerned as well. I had hidden the entire thing from her until the lawnmower incident, but fessed up afterwards because she could obviously see what was going on. She also tends to worry more than me, so I did not share my ALS concerns because I didn’t want her to go down that rabbit hole.

I knew nothing about neurologists at the time, admitted that I didn’t know what to do, and she suggested I see my chiropractor. After all, he had always helped my occasional lower back issues. Maybe he’d have some insight that more mainstream clinicians didn’t.

So to the chiropractor I went, explained what had happened, including the ortho disaster, and he spent the next hour examining me in a variety of ways. When it was over he said I needed a MRI, and it would provide the answers we were seeking. He also referred me to a neurosurgeon he knew, and told me to make an appointment. I didn’t know it at the time, but he suspected I had a tumor on my spine that needed to come out.

Two weeks later, he called me with the MRI results, explained what they showed, used the term “lesions” and “demylination,”and told me that should I cancel with the neurosurgeon and find a neurologist instead. Afterwards I looked up both terms on the web and saw they were fingerprints of MS.

Although I had not yet been formally diagnosed, in my heart I knew I had MS, and was glad to finally have a name to what was ailing me. Although I knew nothing about the disease, I honestly thought it wasn’t a big deal, and minimized the implications, just like that first time on the treadmill.

What a fool! After I was formally diagnosed and the symptoms became progressively worse, I realized this disease wasn’t to be taken lightly. Once I found the neurologist I’ve been with for about eight years now, I was able to get a handle on it and retard the progression. It obviously has not stopped, but the pace of the progression is nothing compared to those first three years.

Knowing what it was with forced me to plan for a future that had suddenly possessed a lot of uncertainty. But at least I had the keys to the car that would take me down that road.