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Have I done “this” to myself?

The great unanswerable question.

What if I have?

I created this blog to try to keep me honest (if not sane). I wanted to share my tales with you (note to self – get some real friends haha). Maybe some of it will resonate with you, maybe it won’t. Feel free to let me know. But be constructive, please; there are enough real bitches in my day-to-day! As with most folks, in my experience, my skin is thick and thin. Some days negativity just washes over me and other days it sends me quivering into the corner with alcohol of choice to contemplate why everyone hates me and is it because I didn’t do (fill_in_the_blank) when I was six?! So, be constructive, be pleasant, be funny, be quirky, be you. Just don’t be nasty for the sake of it, please – you’re free to jog on to the next blog any time you like.

I’m 47 and yes, I should know better. I have no kids, 3 cats, a mortgage, crippling anxiety,  epilepsy, MS, credit cards and a 9-5 that is never 9-5. I don’t have a criminal record, I have travelled some and my sarcasm is more than occasionally off the scale. I’m overweight, I have a potty-mouth and opinions coming out of my ears. But, I’m not nasty. I care about people more than I let on and though I often believe I prefer animals to humans, I’ve never been outrightly or deliberately cruel to any living creature. Basically, I’m an ok person. I have neither celebrity nor notoriety. I’m not poor, yet I’m not financially rich. I have lost my way a little in life. I have a need for a reset. I believe “focussed” has a double-s and I was always taught there are 2 spaces after the full stop at the end of a sentence. However, language is fluid and while I will never resort to a single-s focussed, I have bowed to single-space-after-a-full-stop pressure.

Recently, I decided to start having an organic meat and veg box delivered weekly. All part of me trying to be healthier, cut back on single-use plastics and enjoy lovely, fresh, local produce. Awesome. So, the delivery arrives a couple of days ago, jam-packed with fresh greens, grass-fed beef, natural yoghurt, eggs…you get the picture. I felt a swelling of joy and healthiness just welling up in me as I gazed at my bounty. Yesterday, surrounded by this wonderous nutrition, I decided to have toast, peanut butter and red wine for tea. The glass of red wine turned into two bottles and today I felt not just jaded but disappointed that I couldn’t be arsed to rustle up a quick whatever with all the gorgeous food I had or even stuck to the glass or 2 rather than the bottle.

Have I done “this” to myself? This is the question that is keeping me up nights at the moment. A throwaway comment, an endless supply of medical opinions, too many books read with too many differing approaches, too many conflicting ideas and my perceived intelligence is just not cutting it. I do the research, I read the opinions, I ask the questions and still, I can’t help wondering if there was something I could have done differently that would mean I would not be suffering from MS.

Epilepsy, it took a while, granted, but I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve learned to live alongside it. I don’t like it but compared to MS its a known quantity. I know it will hit me out of nowhere, it will knock me on my arse, I’ll spend a fair amount of time depressed and then I’ll pull myself together, get back up and move forward. MS though? Nope, I don’t know which way is up.

Maybe its because I sort of grew up with epilepsy, google didn’t exist and I wasn’t tying myself up in knots trying to figure out which scientific, peer-reviewed journal piece is the most reliable. MS hit me. Hit me hard and then ran away laughing. I feel like a baited bear sometimes. Chained. Tormented. Beaten. There is nowhere to run and the groups dedicated to saving and supporting can only do so much. MS is the stick, there is no carrot.

As is often the case when my mind is in overdrive and I’m desperately trying to find a way to answer a question that can’t be answered; I’m thinking about the past. Particularly friendships. I’m a big believer that not everyone who comes into your life should stay forever. Yet there have been some people that have been in my life for a period of time that I can’t quite come to terms with how they left my world. Sometimes, people just drift away naturally. Folk move away, get married, travel, whatever and they drift out of your life. There is no deliberate severing of ties, no harsh words, no event that causes a fracture. It’s all very natural and perfectly normal. Then there is the intentional ending of a friendship. There is a specific event or series of events that means the relationship is no longer healthy, reliable and productive. Then there is the loss that you don’t really know what happened or how it happened.

It’s this last scenario that has been on my mind a lot of late. I don’t really understand why some folk left my world and why I allowed it to happen. Now, there aren’t many that fall into this category, only 3 in fact. But I’ve never quite been able to understand what happened with the friendships. I wonder if they feel the same way. It doesn’t do to rake over the past. Yet, for me, the past holds the answers. It’s like I have this need to look back before I can look forward. I need to understand where I went wrong. And, in the same way, did I bring MS on myself?

Could the issues I have that fall under the scarred umbrella of MS, have been prevented. Did I do something wrong? Could I have ensured the health of my genes? If I can find those answers, could that mean I can reverse the damage done? Or is it too late? Is all I have left acceptance?

Unanswerable. Not unquestionable.

I’m reading this back through and it’s so disjointed. I apologise for that. I’ve opened my mouth and let my tummy rumble. Heyho.

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The moon’s a big white football…

The sun’s a pound of butter,                                                                                                                              The earth is going around the twist,                                                                                                            And I’m a little NUTTER.

Thank you, Kit Wright, for one of the only poems to have stuck with me for almost 40 years! This was my favourite poem from the book Rabbiting On which I got as a kid. I recognise now that it was a joke gift, I didn’t understand at my tender years, that reflected how I was always, well, rabbiting on. I still blame having my lips stitched together as a child for causing my love of my own voice.

Yep, you read it right. I had a puppy-induced incident about age 3 or 4 that rendered me speechless for a couple of weeks while the inner sides of my lips were stitched together. Skipper wasn’t the pony that I had spent months stamping up and down the stairs requesting at the top of my voice. And actually Skipper wasn’t even his name. He was called Bosun but I could only say Snoban, so he became Skipper. He was my constant companion until I was about 14. Anyway, Skipper the Boxer was as excitable a puppy as I was a toddler. Mischief was our middle name. One fine day my dad was building a set of bunk beds for me and my bro. I decided to use one of his dust masks as a hat and toddled gaily out into the garden to play with Skipper. Skipper loved my hat immediately. He bounded up to me, placed his front paws on my shoulders and attempted to grab it from my head. Oh what jolly japes I thought (probably, but I can’t really remember) as I fell sideways, giggling (again, probably), until my face connected with my Dad’s coldframe and the corner of it pushed my cheek in so far that though the skin didn’t break, the inside of my cheek ripped apart with a tremendous explosion of blood. I don’t really remember what happened next. I have vague flashing images of teatowels being pressed to my face and slipping in the blood on the vinyl backseat of my Dad’s Cortina. Apparently my folks couldn’t actually tell what had happened to me, such was the amount of blood. So, it wasn’t until I was in hospital that the extent of the injury became clear. Although the skin hadn’t given away (thank the lord for soft, bouncy, toddler skin), the inside of my mouth was a bit of a mess. In order for it to heal, the inside of my cheek was going to have to be stitched together and that meant stitching along the inside of my lips too. I was left with a small gap at the side of my mouth where I was fed through a straw. My brother took great delight in poking salted peanuts through that space knowing full well that a) I couldn’t scream and b) there was a possibility I would choke to death. I’m sure he loved me really…

So, that is the story behind my belief that I have never stopped making up for the fact I wasn’t able to talk for a couple of weeks. The scar is still visible on my lips. I see it every time I look in the mirror, but I doubt anyone else really notices it.

But, I’m not a kid anymore. More’s the pity.

I have viral gastroenteritis. I won’t go into details. It’s on its way out now (pun intended), but boy has it been a bitch! My wonderful immune system is so busy chewing the fat from my nerves, it forgot it has a far more important job to do! A virus is a nasty little bugger and most of them are incurable. Unlike bacteria, it has no structure to it, so it attaches itself to something living (me! or rather the cells inside me) and it causes illness. This should provoke an immune response, but it seems my immune system was otherwise occupied with my nerves. Such was the sickness, I couldn’t hold all the various meds I have to take down and this, in turn, led to a bit of trauma when I was, finally, able to keep them where they are supposed to be. There are side-effects of my MS drugs that I have shared…glowing bright red twice a day for example, but there is another effect that only a few close friends know about. Until now. They play havoc with my digestive system. And yes, that’s the polite way to put it. I’d kinda got a handle on that side of my new MS life, but what I hadn’t anticipated was that having only been unable to take the drugs for a few days, the side effects would appear with a vengeance, acting as if I’d never taken the drug before, once I could take them again. To say its been distressing is actually a bit of an understatement.

My childhood was rough and tumble. Always scrapes, bumps and oh so many stitches. No staples in those days. I still have the scars. I don’t remember having many bugs, viruses or whatever you want to call them though. Colds, chicken-pox and sometimes a stomach pain induced by not wanting to go to school, but nothing to write home about. Until I got epilepsy. And then MS. The ailments I never had, are all catching up with me now.

The moral of the story? Enjoy what you have while you have it; you don’t know how long you’ve got it for.

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Epilepsy, Janet & KitKats…

I was supposed to be in Krakow last week. Instead, I was at home, hiding in my family tree where I made a discovery of another epilepsy-related death in the family. This time on my mother’s side of the family. The not travelling thing is something I’m going to have to deal with quite soon. My confidence is just shot to ribbons.

Anyway, I’ve written before about GGG Agnes, she died during a seizure in 1914. GGG Agnes was my Dad’s great-grandmother. Janet, my Mother’s second cousin, died during a seizure in hospital in 1933. I wonder just how different their deaths were. What was it like to die at home in 1914 compared to a hospital in 1933?

Today, I spent another long day at the hospital, thankfully courtesy of a scheduled appointment, rather than my usual drop-in-uninvited-via-an-ambulance visit. More scans, more blood tests, more eye examinations, more questions. No more answers. No reasons as to why my body attacks itself. Nothing to help my mind understand so that it stops attacking myself.

I wonder if answers are what its all about though. I mean, it only really matters if the answers enable a resolution? Understanding the why is only part of the story. The next chapter is fixing the why; the prequel is prevention. For me, though, I need to understand the why. I don’t mean the “why me?”; I just mean the why. It’s the only way that I can sort of come to terms with my situation, even if I may never be able to change it. I participate in clinical studies fully in the knowledge that any discoveries made are unlikely to be able to help me, but they could change the life of another human being.

The consultants went to great lengths to explain that I didn’t do anything to give myself MS. On an intellectual level, I kinda get that. I want to get that. But, there is a niggle. An itch that can’t be scratched. With my epilepsy, I spent a long time believing it was the solely the result of a terrible skiing accident. My brother spent a long time believing it was solely the result of him breaking a snooker cue on my head when we were kids. My parents never offered an opinion and it wasn’t until I found out they knew about GGG Agnes that I understood their lack of opinion. In actual fact, it turned out that I was genetically pre-disposed and that in all likelihood the near-death experience in the Alps had simply triggered the faulty gene. It is virtually impossible that the snooker cue incident was the cause.

There are at least two incidences in my family tree to confirm the genetic disposition to epilepsy. I wonder how common it is to have at least one incidence of death by epilepsy on both the maternal and the paternal side of a family? Of course, knowing these relatives died during a seizure is different from knowing how many of my kin suffered from epilepsy but died from an unrelated cause.  I find myself looking through the death certificates amassed for my family to see if I can find anything that may point toward MS. I know its probably a futile exercise and I know that it would be virtually impossible to prove a link, but I feel like I have to do it. It’s a kind of compulsion.

MS can be genetic. You’re apparently more likely to get MS if someone else in your family has it or had it. So, I wonder if I will find that link, whether the gene is inherited or whether I’m just bloody unlucky. If both conditions are inherited then perhaps it’s a good thing I can’t have kids.

It’s interesting, to me anyway, to look back and see what kind of medical research was going on throughout the ages. Given that 1914 and 1933 seem to be featuring heavily for me at the moment, this is part of what I found (paraphrased of course!).

Most of the interest of the day seems to centre around electroencephalography. In 1912, a Russian physiologist, noticed the electric changes in the brain during experimentally induced seizures. In the same year, Pravdich-Neminsky, a Ukrainian physiologist, published the first animal EEG and two years later the first photographs of electroencephalography of a dog were published. Important discoveries in electroencephalography were made during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924, Berger, a German neurologist, recorded the first human electroencephalogram. His results brought controversy and scepticism within the scientific community, but he was not ignored and his results were confirmed later. In 1932, Berger reported sequential postictal EEG changes after a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, and in 1933 he published the first example of interictal changes and a minor epileptic seizure using an EEG. Also in 1912, Alfred Hauptmann was able to synthesize phenobarbital, one of the first anti-epileptic drugs. Fascinating times and great strides forward being made in the clinical side of epilepsy, unfortunately, the social side was still lacking far behind.

So far, in my family research, I’ve not been able to find any clues as to whether MS has played a part in any of my family history. Apart from those deaths during seizures, there has been a worrying amount of heart disease, one “burned to death” in 1834 (must investigate whether she was attached to a stake at the time – the dates would fit with epilepsy=witch!) and an unfortunate dock worker who was hit on the head by a falling wooden beam. Nothing suggestive of an MS symptom, but there is much out there still to research about my relatives…

So, I’m left knowing I need to spend more time in the hospital next week. More tests! I do wonder if its worth it sometimes. I wonder how things would be if I didn’t have MS in particular. I don’t know what “normal” should feel like anymore and I miss knowing myself. It feels like the questions are designed to catch me out. Yes, I’m so very very tired, but I don’t know how much of that is related to the MS, depression and epilepsy! Why aren’t the doctors able to answer that question? Why does it seem to be down to me to know that answer? It’s frustrating in the extreme. I didn’t go to med school. I don’t know the answers and whereas I’m fully aware there is very little definitive info that can be given to me, I want to hear the consultants’ opinions and reasonings as to what is going on. It’s hard to know there are no answers. Phrasing questions like “could it be that…?” – well, of course it bloody well could be anything, but I don’t know! That’s why I’m here asking you the questions!! It’s like saying to me “well, you’ve highlighted there is a problem here, but how would YOU fix it…”.

Ok, so I’ve established I’m frustrated. Tired and frustrated actually. Stressed out? Yep, tick. Burning red twice a day? Yep, tick. However, on the positive side, so far at least, I’ve not burned to death; I’ve not been crushed by a log (my bro tried that one, when we are kids – didn’t work then, won’t work now); and I’ve discovered the wonders of Dark Mint KitKats. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat as many as I have, but to date, my hand-to-mouth co-ordination has not been affected by either MS or Epilepsy, so I’m bloody well going to make the most of it!

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Rotten luck…

So, just to add to my sad little tale of woe, it appears I now have dry rot. Well, not me personally, but my flat. Although, it seems like quite a good analogy for my brain!!

According to Wikipedia (all hail google and Wikipedia), dry rot is “wood decay caused by certain species of fungi that digest parts of the wood which give the wood strength…”. Yes, this is very much sounding like the MS & epilepsy that ravages my brain and body on a constant basis…And the treatment? Removal of the offending, affected wood and chemically treating the surrounding areas. Sounds a bit savage, but that is the “cure” for certain types of epilepsy and both afflictions are “controlled” chemically. Oh and no, it’s not covered in a standard buildings and contents insurance policy.

The whole dry rot condition is brutal, devastating and requires treatment. Expensive treatment. Epilepsy and MS are much the same. If you’re lucky though, the treatment is free.

Dry rot tends to be an invisible condition. Usually, you don’t know you have it until you want to redecorate or renovate some part of your house (or, as in my case, your neighbours do). As with epilepsy and ms, it’s usually something significant that triggers the eventual diagnosis of the disease. You can’t always guarantee a person’s health based on their physical appearance. These are just 2 so-called invisible illnesses, there are so many. In my immediate family, there is epilepsy, ms, depression, congenital heart defects, Sjogren’s Syndrome, arthritis and dementia. Everyone knows someone who suffers from an invisible illness, although they may not know it. Diabetes, lupus, lime disease are just a few others, but it’s mental health issues that spring to most people’s mind when the term is used.

The last few weeks have been hard. (I seem to say that a lot at the moment!). The dry rot situation left me teetering on the brink of I don’t know what last week. I was meant to meet the builders but instead, I begged my brother. We were going to go together. My brother arrived at my house and I lost it completely. I had a meltdown of epic proportions. Floods of tears, hyperventilating, snot, inability to talk coherently and a steady unwavering conviction that I couldn’t take any more. My brother hugged me for the first time in 46 years (we’re not good at emotions in my family) and he went to the meeting alone and declared he would deal with everything, the builders will deal with him and all I have to do is move out when I get told to, oh and pay for it.

My brother seeing me in the state I was in was a helluva shock for him I think. We’re not good at emotions and we’re all guarded with each other in my family. I find frustration and anger easier to show than fear. It was that fear that my brother got the full brunt of last week. I don’t think for a single second he thought his sister would be crying on his suit jacket that day. This same brother who won’t sit on my sofa in case he gets a cat hair on him, was dealing with me dripping tears and snot instead. Kudos to him. He stepped up and was there when I truly needed him.

There is a point to this rambling about tears, snot and diseases you can’t see. We don’t always know what a person is going through. We don’t know what battles they face on a daily, hourly or minutely basis. We don’t always know what drives certain responses that are sometimes inappropriate. We don’t always show how we are truly feeling to those that really need to know. There is a myriad of reasons for this.

We are often quick to jump to conclusions and even quicker to judge. My house shows no outward signs of being ravaged by rot, but it is. I show no outward signs of being at the mercy of one disease that could kill me at any moment and another that could leave me in a wheelchair, but I am. My dad said to me many many years ago that I had ice water running through my veins. My brother saw last week that I don’t.