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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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Neurons, nerves, Lobelia and me…

I can’t seem to stop considering the notion/truth that Lobelia is me and I am Lobelia.

I know it’s only 10pm, so a little early(!) to be pondering these kinds of questions, but well, the voices simply don’t quit. So, Lobelia. Let’s consider for a moment if you would indulge me, what we are to each other. You, the grey matter. The control panel. The marionettist. The keeper of all the technical secrets. Me, the package. She who must be controlled. If you didn’t have me, then what would you have? If I didn’t have you, what would I be? Do I have a choice? Do you control whether I have a choice? Am I the conscious manifestation of the brain? Is the brain the subconscious, or does it just contain the subconscious? If I can tap into the subconscious, can I tap into the wiring? Is subconscious just wiring? Is it that which is felt so very deeply it can not be brought into consciousness? It’s there though. Like the networks that bring the internet. Invisible forces that are there and can be tapped into and even rerouted, but can’t be seen.

Bloody hell, Lobelia. You’re laying it on a bit thick tonight and we haven’t even reached the witching hour yet!

We can’t be apart and we struggle to live together. I don’t know if the struggle is real or imagined. There is a constant high-pitched, low volume sound that is in my head. I can hear it, but it’s not outside of me. It’s actually there all the time. It’s like a whistle that never stops. It’s the soundtrack to our battle. I don’t recommend it. What part of my brain is controlling my thoughts? When I say “my thoughts”, who am I talking about? Lobelia or Kirsty. If the brain is asking all the questions, then, if we are as one, why am I the one trying to answer them?

When the electrical activity in the neuron network gets to be too much, that’s when a seizure occurs. Neurotransmitters are the chemical reactions that carry signals between the synapses in the brain. Synapses are effectively a narrow gap, and boy do I mean narrow, between neurons in the brain. So, even though the seizures are the result of an electrical charge it’s the chemicals that carry the signals between the neurons. Neurotransmitters are either excitatory or inhibitory, meaning that the receiving neuron will be either be kicked into action or it will effectively be silenced. The main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain is glutamate, and neurons that release glutamate are called excitatory neurons. The major inhibitory one is GABA and neurons that release GABA are the inhibitory neurons.

Glutamate we know better as a salt. But in Lobelia it’s the anion of glutamic acid in its role as a neurotransmitter. GABA is another acid that is supposed to be kind of calming, I suppose, and it should reduce fear and anxiety. Hence it’s inhibitory function as a neurotransmitter. GABA can be taken as a supplement and salt, well salt is salt.

An incredibly fine balance between excitation and inhibition must be maintained in order for Lobelia to function normally. If there is too much glutamate, neurons can become hyperexcitable and a seizure may result but neurons can also become hyperexcitable if there is too little GABA released or if its receptors are not working properly, this can also make the adjoining neurons hyperactive and susceptible to seizures.

I only know all this because Lobelia won’t let me sleep!

So, the neurons are in the brain and the nerves, which are just a bundle of fibres, are in the periphery of the nervous system. So, that the bits that hang out of your brain, as it were, via the spinal cord. Whatever the neurons are feeling, excited or not, is felt by the nerves and the nerve impulses are what cause your muscles to move. Now, if you’re having a seizure, the neurons are over-excited and sending all sorts of signals down through the nerves. The signals are confused though. This is why jerking or twitching is often part of the seizure. The muscles are so confused by the signals that they try to push and pull at the same time, as it were, hence the jerking. This is also why the body feels pain, but the brain doesn’t. The nerve endings aren’t in the brain, but the rub is while it doesn’t feel pain, the brain gives the signal to feel pain in the rest of the body.

I need to butter Lobelia…she is on a roll!

And, this brings me to MS. There is a fatty insulating layer surrounding the nerves called the myelin sheath. In MS, this sheath is attacked by cells that strip off the layer and leave the nerves unprotected. Now, an unprotected nerve gets its signals confused. I suppose parts of the signal just drift out of the sheath into the bodily ether. So, sometimes the complete signal doesn’t reach the relevant muscle and so, the sufferer is left unable to move a limb for example, or the nerve tries to anticipate what the signal was trying to do and replicates a feeling that it had before. This means the sufferer may feel incredible weakness or a numbness. The nerve knows that they are common feelings, but it chooses to activate them at inappropriate times.

For me, all of this means that not only is there a problem with excitable neurons in my brain, it’s compounded by stripped nerves, confused as to what they are doing anyway, having to contend with an electrical surge too!

Bloody hell. No wonder I’m depressed! (Maybe I’ll get to that chemical reaction later…, although hopefully not tonight!)

But if I know all this, then so does Lobelia. Is this her way of trying to educate me in neuroscience so I can make better choices? If so, why can’t she just make me not want wine? Or think that kale is the best thing since sliced bread? Why Lobelia? Just why?

Lobelia and me. Chicken and egg. Perhaps even incompatible yet inseparable.

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. So said Albert Camus and so say I to you Lobelia.

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Dear Brain…prt2…

The last time I wrote an open letter to you, brain, I was on my knees and begging for answers. I sure as shit did not like the response.

I’m back again. Well, not that I really left. We’re intrinsically linked. I can’t live without you, but I do find myself wondering if you can live without me. I’m finding it hard to keep up with you, you see. You just never stop. You never give me a moment’s peace. That’s why I’m writing this at 11pm on a Tuesday night. The voices just won’t shut up!

Oh, not those kinds of voices. No, I’m not quite there yet. But someone rabbits incessantly all day, all night. It can only be you, brain. I need to find a name for you. I can think of several that are apt, but none of them look good in print. It seems bizarre talking to you in this way. Because I’m not really talking to you, I’m talking to myself. You are me and I am you. Could drive a person insane trying to figure that one out. But does make me wonder how I can shut myself up…

My brain. Lobelia.

Lobelia presents me with many challenges. She particularly likes to ask me difficult questions in the wee small hours. She knows I need to sleep, but apparently she doesn’t care. Fatigue leads to problems for my epilepsy. Lobelia knows this. Lobelia has known this since she short-circuited when I was 15. Please don’t get wound up on the gender identification I’ve placed on Lobelia. For the sake of clarity – I am woman! Lobelia is going to be a woman too, whether she bloody well likes it or not. Anyway, I digress. Lobelia was triggered into electrical action when I was 15. It’s amazing what a combination of a faulty gene and a skiing trip can do! Maybe Lobelia blames my physical body (which she controls) for this. I don’t know that answer. She only seems to like asking questions at inopportune moments (hours); she’s not really one for giving answers.

Anyway, Lobelia knows that fatigue and epilepsy are not great bed-fellows. One of them really should take the spare room. But still, she insists on making them co-habit. And to make things just that little more interesting, she introduced MS into the mix. MS is like the mother-in-law from hell who moves in, just as your already fractious relationship is teetering on the brink. Lobelia has got a really sick sense of humour. If I am her and she is me, then how come we can’t get along?

Lobelia is average weight – around 3lbs. She is about 15cms long. And she lives the phrase – “good things come in small packages…and so does poison”. She allows me to function on a day-to-day basis, but the price I pay for that is heavy. She leaves me exhausted, but won’t let me sleep. She relies on drugs to soften the hard edges of the living arrangements she created herself; but not the soporific type. She asks me questions that have no answers; she drags up my history and replays it; she loves to play the “what if…” game. She tells me just how tired I am and then sinks me into a depression that is immeasurable. She uses that state to get more drugs. Well, we call them medications. They’re all legal and above-board. Even though one of them gets delivered to my house in a grey package and it always seems a little weird to have that happen. I find myself looking around furtively to see if anyone is witnessing the transaction. I’m glad I don’t live on a street corner!

Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my days? Lobelia knows that she will live forever. Actually, we all live forever. Forever, can only be determined by an individual. Your forever, isn’t my forever. Has anyone ever promised to love you forever, only to leave you 5 years later? I rest my case. Cynical? Perhaps. Best ask Lobelia. Not that she’ll give you any answers.

Dear Lobelia. I am your physical shell. I hold in one place all of your nerves. I know you’re having issues keeping hold of the myelin sheath around those nerves. I know that according to Pakkenberg et al. the length of myelinated nerve fibres in you Lobelia = 150,000-180,000 km. That is a helluva lot of fibres. I know you started with around 20 billion neocortical neurons and I know you lose them at a rate of around 1 per second. I don’t know how quickly you can replace them. I know you pose these questions to me late at night. You throw them in there along with the frivolous musings and the rehashing of conversations I had 20 years ago that could have gone better. I just don’t have the capacity to think about these things anymore. There is no room. You can remember the random facts from a different life, but I can’t remember the birthday of my best friend. You want to torment me with the failings of a previous inning, but I can’t continue to function at a high enough level to keep the current one successful. Lobelia giveth and Lobelia taketh away.

Lobelia. We need to reimagine how this is going to go. What could it be like? What say you let me sleep for a few hours? Hold your questions and accusations for a dedicated time slot during the day? Will that work for you? I know, I know, I’m asking the question and you won’t want to answer. Think about though, please. My sanity depends on it.

What Lobelia doesn’t know is…I’ve donated her to research when my forever comes to a close. Hehehehe.

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The Dark Days of Summer…

I’m finding it hard to write at the moment. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just I don’t know how far I can go before I lose myself to the darkness again.

It’s ironic that the beauty of this UK summer is coinciding with the darkest depression I’ve had in a very long time. It seems that everything is coming together at once and the relentless waves I usually feel my depressions to be, have grown into an almighty tsunami. But I don’t know which metaphorical earthquake has triggered it.

I can’t lay the cause at one door. I’m not sure why I’m trying to. But I can’t just do the whole “acknowledge and accept and let it pass” thing. Forgive me if you will, but I just find that a little bit too touchy feely for my current raw state. My regularly burning skin is just far too sensitive to take any kind of manipulation and I really don’t want to explore what’s in the recess of my mind. I find myself scared of it.

I used to suffer a recurring dream when I was little. It involved the wardrobe in my brother’s room, the non-existent basement to our house and a carpet of writhing, hissing, spitting snakes. I believed that if I stood on the brass makers-plate on the floor of the wardrobe, it would open up and I would drop into the snake pit. I would scream and scream but no one came to help me. I never ever found out what happened to me because my screaming was real and I’d wake myself up. You’d think I’d have a problem with snakes given that nightmare, but I feel neither one way nor another about them. A certain fascination is there, in that I want to learn about them, but beyond that they hold no fear for me. I still think about that dream, a good 30 years since I last had it. I think the snakes were a representation of my thoughts and the basement is just the all-encompassing darkness of the mind. I spent the whole time we lived in that house terrified of a brass plate. It’s now the snakelike tendrils of the thoughts and processes of my mind that occupy my thoughts.

My soul isn’t doing somersaults at the moment, Rumi. Depression came to tea and appears to be staying for dinner. The heart sitting on my sleeve is telling blatant lies through rose-tinted lenses and I’m carrying a shroud of fear and hopelessness that I’m praying is invisible. Bit daft really, when I’m penning a post about how depressing depression is.

And yet, I still get up and function. Traditional descriptions of depression would say that the darkness is all encompassing, there is no functioning, there’s just black. However, this is the 21st century. Most of us who suffer don’t fit this traditional assumption of what depression is. There are just too many facets to it, to adequately pigeonhole all of us who live it.

Why am I able to go to a job and successfully do it if I’m apparently suffering from depression? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, it makes me feel more “normal”. Secondly, it’s a distraction. Thirdly, it’s my way of fighting back. These are the highlights for me. Many others don’t have the luxury of sick benefits – they don’t work, they don’t get paid. Many others are simply unable to get out of bed, get out of the house, get on public transport, deal with those so-called simple things that many don’t even think about, they don’t need to.

Depression isn’t a one size fits all illness. It strikes everybody slightly differently. Everybody deals with it slightly differently. We do what we have to do to get through each day. I make no apology for that.

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MS & Marionettes…

Today, I stepped off the bus and I didn’t know if my legs were going to support me. Tomorrow, I’m going back to the hospital.

As I write this, there is a red, angry rash covering my whole body. It’s caused by the medication I’m on and it happens twice a day. I know it’s the drugs and I know it will pass, but there is a tiny sliver of me that wonders if this will be the time when it doesn’t go away. The rash is accompanied by a burning sensation that radiates from my head downwards. It truly feels like I’m being incinerated from the inside out. The itchy feeling makes me want to claw at my skin. I just want it to stop. I try to see the funny side. I look like a tomato and feel like one that’s being grilled. I feel a bizarre empathy for griddled foods. But it isn’t funny and I’m not laughing. Quite the opposite.

I feel like a puppet and the marionettist hasn’t a clue what they’re doing. I walked from the bus stop to work and with every step, I felt a weakness in my legs. The only other time I really feel my muscles is after an intense burst of exercise. Then it’s generally pain. Today, finding words to describe it adequately is hard. My legs felt weak to the point it was almost funny. The sensation was that of overwhelming weakness but no pain at all. I’m fully aware that my gait is all over the place and I’m supremely conscious of every other person hurrying to get on with their day. I don’t hurry. I can’t hurry. I’m scared to hurry. The invisible puppeteer with his invisible wires is leading my legs on a merry little dance that has no rhythm and no grace.

I know where I want my legs to go. I see the path in front of me and I’m trying to walk in a straight line. I know I’m not. I’m lurching almost from side to side. An old ankle injury seems to be bearing the brunt of my weird walk and I can feel a yelp from the joint. Not an out and out scream, but more that it’s reminding me that it has a valid weakness and it can’t really cope with the extra weight that is being applied at a weird angle. I don’t know that I have ever been that completely conscious of any part of my body before. Other than my eyes. A year ago.

My eyes have been feeling a bit off kilter too. They seem to leak a lot more fluid these days than ever before. I think it’s what people generally call tears. I feel fairly certain that I’m losing more than my fair share of them and I wonder if tears form part of the myelin sheath that’s meant to be surrounding my nerves, but is, in actual fact, leaking out of my tear ducts at a sometimes alarming rate. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, but I was never a great crier. Until recently. Well, I say recently, but I mean in the last year or so. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been adverse to the odd crying session. Thankfully I’m not a wailer when it comes to the expression of tearful emotions, rather they escape silently, steadily flowing down my cheeks. I want to go back to the days when I wore my emotions on my face, but they weren’t accompanied by these hot little tears that are born of frustration, anger and fear. The problem with my eyes isn’t the tears though. I feel a pressure behind my left eye that makes it seem like it will explode at any given second. The fear that this is the beginning of a repeat of those terrifying weeks a year ago is bubbling through me. I wonder (or maybe hope) that it could just be a sinus issue and that’s what I’m feeling. Nothing to do with MS, but instead, a fairly common affliction that the vast majority of us have felt at one time or another.

I also have a, sometimes overwhelming, feeling of sadness. I’m still working that one out.

The feelings of muscle weakness that I have so inadequately described are accompanied by a terror that I try to pretend isn’t there. What if. I’m scared I’m on the verge of a relapse. I’m terrified because I don’t know how that feels and so can’t be certain. I don’t know if the weakness is just because I’m so very tired. All the time. Tired. I don’t know if I’m so focussed on every little thing my body goes through, that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. If I’m being really honest, when I try to describe these feelings to people, the blank looks and the sometimes fleeting expressions of disbelief make me feel fraudulent.

I can’t describe it. Others can’t understand it.

I used to understand my body. Epilepsy is an almighty pain in the ass, but I knew what to expect. I knew how I would feel. I didn’t always see it coming, but compared to how I feel every day now, I’m glad of that. It would hit me like a ton of bricks, leave me battered, bruised and depressed and then bugger off until it stored up enough energy to electrocute my brain again. Of course, I’m describing that in the past tense, but it is ever-present. Always in the background. Always watchful for the next chance to become the puppeteer.

Through the whole “woe is me” and the tears, I try to find the positives. My legs did support me today. I felt like a newborn-Bambi on ice, but I did make the short trip from the bus stop to the office. And I also successfully completed the return journey. Some would say I was worried over nothing, Unfortunately, that couldn’t be said until after I’d achieved the short walk to the office and the subsequent activities of the day. It went through my mind every time I sat down, that the last time I have stood up under my own steam, may have passed. Then I remember that I’m a drama queen and get over myself. But it is stored away in the cupboard that houses the electrical circuits.

At age 45, I knew me. At age 46, I’m a stranger to myself. What is it they say about strangers? They’re just friends we don’t know yet. It would seem that this stranger is going to become a friend I will have a love/hate relationship with!

Perhaps though, that will give me more cheerful things to write about!!

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Soul Mining…

I sponsor a goat. Her name is Ellen and she was rescued, along with 2 little friends, from a life of agony because of a disability. Ellen is a Nigerian Dwarf goat. Her illness is not hidden, but she was all but abandoned because her front legs are deformed. Thankfully, the owner of the farm where the goats were, agreed to hand them over to the Barn Sanctuary and she is being well looked after and having braces fitted to help with her deformity. Ellen is a lucky little goat. Someone saw her life and knew it needed to change.

I also sponsor, through Marine CSI, a Great White shark. Seamus isn’t deformed, but if you get in his way, you very well may be. Such is the nature of a shark to have to bite to know if it can eat you. The water is his domain. You’ve been warned.

It has been a very strange few weeks. Things just don’t seem right. It’s hard to describe what I mean, it seems that nothing is sitting comfortably for me and my feet are getting itchy. For once, that’s nothing to do with the MS! As well as dealing with all that comes with MS and epilepsy, sufferers also have to deal with the everyday ailments the same as the rest of the population. For me, this week anyhow, that’s been the dreaded stomach bug. There is no need to go into detail here, but I know you all get it. Well not necessarily the stomach bug, although…Anyway that, the fatigue which has moved in, unpacked and shows no sign of leaving, and the general feeling of unease, has left me unsettled. I don’t know what is wrong.

I don’t know if anything is wrong! Perhaps that’s the issue. Maybe everything is just too darn familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt, right? That could well be it. I know that I can’t take a deep breath, I know that I can’t shift the fog and I know that I can’t put my finger on what the problem truly is. Or maybe I just don’t want to. I search my soul a lot. It seems to be never-ending, but I guess that’s the whole point of a soul right? I search and look and pry and dig deep. I turn things over and put things back and return to familiar hunting grounds and see the same things. My soul is where I go when I need to research. My soul is my personal Google. I’ve been here before. Many times. The aching chasm of my soul that’s shrouded in mystery and yet alive in glorious, unashamed technicolour. It’s rich and deep and yet can be mean and shallow. It is comforting and frightening in equal measure. It sits on my sleeve and gossips with my heart. Then it retreats after it’s whispered its fears and joys, leaving me with nothing to grasp.

My soul. The keeper of all my secrets. My friend, my conscience, my harshest critic, my biggest fan, my brightest light and my darkest shadow. There lie all the answers. I know that because I believe, our souls – yes, all living beings have one – encompass everything you can’t touch or see but just know instinctively is there. Every book, every article, every column ever written about so-called self-help, tells how it all starts within. And that’s all well and good, but the only way you can start that process then, is to know what is within. Know thyself. I can’t remember right now who that phrase is attributed to, I think it was Socrates that probably coined it, but it could have just as easily been Plato. Thinking about it, neither of them probably said that phrase at all but their writings will have been a long version along the lines of how you can’t really know anything unless you know yourself. But, how can you truly know yourself? (That last sentence was put there by me, I don’t think either of them actually questioned it, but willing to be corrected on that point).

If we are ever evolving and I think we are. We all act and react differently to different stimuli and as we age our tolerances change with us and so we are always becoming something new. If we are changing all the time, then how do we keep up with who we are. Let’s take me for example. This time last year I was reeling from an MS diagnosis. Everything I thought I knew about me and my body was suddenly ripped away from me by those 2 letters. I was numb for a bit. Highly emotional for a bit. Terrified virtually always. Angry, stunned, confused, depressed and lord knows how many more adjectives could describe the feelings that coursed through me. I never returned to the Kirsty I was the day before. I tried to recover me. But that me was gone and I’m left to shape a new me. Ever evolving. What I knew to be true then, doesn’t seem to be true now. How I used to react to different situations and different people has changed. I used to know how I would react. I only know now that I won’t react in the same way.

Sounds a bit confusing and it is. A bit like the Titanic, my soul doesn’t want to give up all its secrets. I can find new ways to search it and develop techniques that help me deal with its depths and caverns, but it seems unwilling to yield to my constant requests for it to help. I know the answers are there, but I just can’t seem to dig them out. So, my soul has swallowed every old version there ever has been of me and so all that I need to know is there somewhere, but I don’t have the right combination of search terms to unlock them. Soul searching is hard to do. Any search will always uncover something you’ve worked hard to forget and bury. Soul searching will always point you in the direction that you need to go, but it doesn’t give you the strength to put your boots down on that path and walk it. Soul searching is best done when it’s been sat with your heart. That’s when the answers are closest to the top. Your soul can give you the directions, but it can’t make you take the journey.

The soul is never going to say the answer is 3 doors down on your left. (Although it could be, if that’s where your heart has told your soul it’s desire is…). The soul is going to give you the piece of unmoulded clay and an idea of what the finished article could look like. It is still up to the current you, you as you are now, to take the search results and action them.

As a matter of interest, as well as Ellen and Seamus, I also sponsor Amur Tigers through WWF, Rhinos through Care for Wild, dogs through Dogs Trust, a young girl through PlanUK, plus I donate to UNICEF and help remove plastic from the oceans through donating to 4Oceans and my cats consist of one adoption and 2 rescues. They all have souls and their souls all whispered to my heart.

And yes, I stole the title for this post from The The. Credit where credit is due.

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Weather, Cleaning and Lymphocytes…

I’m in the midst of dry rot repair, lymphocyte decrease and trying to kickstart a healthier 2018. Let’s face it, things can’t be as bad as they were in 2017. Surely.

January was always going to be a bitch of a month. I knew the repairs were coming, I knew I had to move out, I know that the next step will be a deep clean (bloody plaster dust!) and then a total redecoration. Then, just then, may my stress levels reduce. I was hoping to take myself, the cats and a crate of wine off to a lodge somewhere away from civilisation with a good friend. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. As a consequence, at age 46, I’m living with my parents.

Yes, it may be a temporary situation but oh my word, am I having to take a lot of deep breaths. To be fair, we are all trying to pretend we aren’t getting on each other’s nerves, but it was never going to be easy, so the sooner this bloody dry rot situation is fixed, the better. My father is obsessed with the weather and my mother is obsessed with cleaning. Neither of these holds any interest for me whatsoever. I like to watch movies, but Father is terrified I press the wrong button on the TV, so such is his level of anxiety when I go within 6ft of the set, I just don’t. The novelty of having the cats living with them wore off as soon as they decided to come out from under the bed (the cats that is, not my parents). My folks have wooden floors and the cats like to play with toys. Inevitably, this creates a level of noise. Nothing like the racket that my 6-year old niece creates, but a noise none-the-less and this is driving my parents to a level of annoyance that is pretty impressive. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, they’re doing me a massive favour and considering we haven’t lived together for almost 30 years, it’s not been as bad as it could have been! With luck, it will only be another 3 or 4 days before we can get out of each other’s hair!

That will, of course, depend on whether the repairs are completed. It is looking hopeful, but, well, I’ve felt hope before and been bitterly disappointed, so I’ve decided to err on the side of caution and assume that it could take longer to fix than I’d like. I’m all for positivity, but when life has beaten you down as much as it has me in the last 14 months, it’s kinda hard to look on the bright side. At least I’m finding it really hard to see the silver lining!

Just what the merry hell are lymphocytes? Another time I just shut down when a medical professional starts talking about something I simply can not process. I’ve been trying to get my head around an awful lot of things the last few weeks! What is going on with my right eye and why is the optic nerve deteriorating? Why does the neural ophthalmologist not seem to give a monkey’s? What does the thickness (or lack thereof) of the muscle around the nerve mean? Why is the neural ophthalmologist referring eye issues to an MS specialist, when the MS specialist refers me to the neural ophthalmologist in the first place because he is the eye specialist? And why oh why is ophthalmologist so darn difficult to spell!!

Sorry Wikipedia, you know I still love you, but sometimes only the scientific journals will do. Apparently, a lymphocyte is:

a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system. There are two main types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells. The B cells produce antibodies that are used to attack invading bacteria, viruses, and toxins. The T cells destroy the body’s own cells that have themselves been taken over by viruses or become cancerous.

That definition is from the National Library of Medicine, so I’m pretty happy with the description, but what does it all mean for stressed-out me??? Multiple sclerosis patients are at risk of developing lymphopenia, or abnormally low levels of immune defence white blood cells, called lymphocytes, according to a study that investigated lymphocyte counts in people with relapsing MS both before and after the start of treatment. The study, “Lymphopenia in treatment-naive relapsing multiple sclerosis,” was published in the journal Neurology. Lymphopenia may increase the risk for PML and perhaps other infections. And what, exactly, is PML I hear you ask? Or maybe I heard myself ask, which is not likely as I had to the look the answer up. Well, PML is the lovely little acronym for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy. And what is that when it’s in English?? Well, back to Wikipedia for this one, (the medical journals are too scary). PML is “a rare and usually fatal viral disease characterized by progressive damage (-pathy) or inflammation of the white matter (leuko-) of the brain (-encephalo-) at multiple locations (multifocal). It is caused by the JC virus, which is normally present and kept under control by the immune system. JC virus is harmless except in cases of weakened immune systems. In general, PML has a mortality rate of 30–50 percent in the first few months and those who survive can be left with varying degrees of neurological disabilities.”

Oh, what jolly japes and fun this is!! So, it’s very rare – great! Whoop whoop. So, all I have to do now is wait until the powers that be (I don’t know who that is – medical professionals, god, governments…?) decide whether or not they are bothered by how low the lymphocytes can go and what they’re going to do about it if they do go low enough to worry folks.

Waiting. Again. Always waiting. Patience. Is patience finite? I may have to ponder that one, but apparently, I have time while I wait so it will give me something to do!!

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A little seasonal rant…

One of the final dialogues in the 3rd Night at the Museum movie, always makes me think. Larry the Nightguard says to Theodore Roosevelt “I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow!” Teddy replies “How exciting!!”

Not everything has to be planned to the final second. Sometimes, a bit of uncertainty can be liberating. Perhaps we have all got a little too used to planning our time to the Nth degree and panicking when it does not all quite go accordingly. My plan for today, for example, went belly up when I fell back asleep after my alarm went off. I didn’t plan that. It threw me for most of the rest of the day because I couldn’t then persuade myself to start on all the things I’d planned to do. I ended up actually completely wasting my time doing nothing. I flapped and I let a small thing like sleeping in, mess with me for the rest of the day. Actually, it would only truly impact me for about an hour. The rest of the waste was caused by my reaction to even a minor detour from the plan! Ridiculous.

Yet, I need some structure. If I didn’t have at least an idea of what I’m going to be doing, and when, I’d truly never get anything done. And so it is, I find myself at 1.05am, trying to plan the rest of my life. Just tomorrow isn’t good enough for me. I like to make grand sweeping plans, so I can beat myself up when I don’t achieve them. This breaking goals down into actions shit, just doesn’t seem to happen for me!

I find myself in a situation whereby my home is falling apart, my body is falling apart and my mind is just blown. I can’t seem to see past my daily struggles and they’re getting pretty overwhelming for me. I don’t know how much of that is down to me being in all-out panic mode and how much of it actually is something I should absolutely be concerned about. I don’t want to talk to anyone in case I find out something else I don’t want to know. I answered the phone today to hear that my critical illness claim (you know, the one that is going to help me manage my future with MS) is certainly not going to pay out the amount I claimed for (and am insured for) because of small print and technicalities. I don’t know for certain yet that it will be paid at all. My GP surgery only sent my notes for this past year, the insurance firm wants to go back a little further and that apparently means they are waiting for the surgery to send on another 70 pages of my medical records. (Bet they’re glad they requested another 6 months worth now eh!)

The work on my flat to try to fix the dry rot is now scheduled for January. I have to move out with my kitties so the work can happen. I’m hoping to go and stay in a cottage far away with a good friend, a crate of wine and a log fire. I truly need that distance from reality right now. The past 12 months of my life have been far too real for my liking and I stick by what I wailed at my brother a few weeks ago – I can’t take any more. I cried a lot today. Now, I know that this time of year, in general, is pretty difficult for me. All the good cheer and festive fun, just makes me feel more depressed. Several aspects to that. First, it just brings into stark contrast the total lack of fun in my life right now. Secondly, I’ve never been a fan of this season. Thirdly, it’s all just a bit too wild and raucous for me in my middle-age! I really am turning into a pretty grumpy old(er) lady. I can’t really tell you when all these seasonal feelings started. I can’t really remember the last time in adulthood at least that I truly, out-and-out, thoroughly enjoyed Christmas. It just seems like the same stress as for the rest of the year, except its much more expensive and failure to provide the perfect present is simply not an option.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, Christmas Day, this year, was held on Boxing Day. That just served to prolong my agony. I just want it all to be over. In fact, I want it to be February. By then, the silly season is over, I should know the true extent of my poverty and I can berate myself about the plans I made at 1.05am being utterly inadequate for my position. Then I can make new plans, that I won’t stick to and I can repeat the cycle all over again. I find myself wondering when I will get off the hamster wheel and take action, rather than just talk and plan for it!!

Rant over.

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What’s the difference?

I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my epilepsy and how it affects me and therefore, potentially you. There are several reasons for this, the main one I admit is for a selfish reason – it is better for me if you know that I have epilepsy and so if you see me having a seizure you are less likely to panic as you know its “normal” for me. Secondly, I always offer to talk about the disease, the effect it has on me, my family and my friends; this, I believe, helps to raise awareness and go some way toward dispelling the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds the disease. I’ve talked about my own experience with stigma before (Epilepsy and Stigma…) so I won’t labour the points here, but it saddens me that it is still something that we have to cope with along with everything else. I also, selfishly again, like people to know that a diagnosis of epilepsy doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Although, I admit, sometimes it can feel that way.

Often, one of the first pieces of information a newly-diagnosed epileptic (yes, I know that in this modern world “epileptic” is a label that we shouldn’t use, but as far as I’m concerned I am epileptic, in the same way, that I am brunette and that I am green-eyed. It’s a descriptor in my book and not a bad word) is given, is a list of the things they can no longer do. Driving, swimming, diving, etc. Few, in my experience anyway, are given a list of things they can do. I like to believe that this is because the list of cans far far outweighs the list of can’ts. Even then, what we are told we can’t do is often a slight misnomer. For example. I was told I couldn’t swim anymore. I virtually lived in the pool. I swam every day for my club, I also was a regular high board diver. Being told that I could no longer go to the pool was devastating to me. And, it wasn’t true. I emphasise here, that there are many people who suffer far worse than me from their seizures and for them, perhaps, it isn’t safe. What I wasn’t told, was that providing I was accompanied by someone who knew of my condition and how to help me and that I informed the lifeguards on duty, then there was no reason why I couldn’t continue to swim. I did lose my driving licence and I’ve never been able to get it back. This is because my seizures can be unpredictable and while I have gone the required 12 months (it used to be 24) and so I could apply to have it reinstated, it would not happen as I can’t demonstrate that I am controlled and my GP would not sign it off. I think I miss the freedom that being able to drive would bring on so many levels, however, I balance this with the knowledge that I will never cause an accident through having a fit at the wheel and so potentially ruin another life.

Telling people I have epilepsy usually elicits two responses. The first, the most common, is that there is simply no acknowledgement of the information. That’s totally fine with me. I recognise that while I’m comfortable talking about it, others perhaps aren’t and for a myriad of reasons. The second response, is generally, “thanks for telling me that, it’s useful to know. Perhaps you can tell me about it?” Yet, what I only very occasionally hear, is “I have a friend with epilepsy” or “my xx has epilepsy”. In the 20 years or so that I’ve been extremely open about my disease, I can count on one hand the number of times that response has come. My experience sharing my MS diagnosis has been vastly different.

Telling people I have been diagnosed with MS has been a completely different kettle of fish, to announcing I have epilepsy. Firstly, it took so long to get a diagnosis, that I couldn’t tell people what was wrong, all I could give them was a range of afflictions of varying severity that it could be. The medical debate as to whether my optic nerve issues are MS or something else still rages on, but for the purposes of this post (and my mental well-being) let us pretend that it’s all MS related.

The initial similarities between the reaction to the MS diagnosis and the one for Epilepsy are actually pretty similar. Although, I guess that’s not really much of a surprise. Shock, terror, panic, tears etc were all present on both occasions in the early months following diagnosis. My lack of knowledge about both diseases was a factor. Epilepsy when I was 17 simply wasn’t discussed, I didn’t have Google (this was 1988 people) and I dealt with everything by internalising it. If I didn’t acknowledge it, it wasn’t happening. The classic, as my brother often describes it, sticking your head in the sand and hence leaving your ass exposed. I knew nothing at all about epilepsy and my knowledge of MS started and ended with horror stories, Jacqueline du Pre’s death springs to mind as being the only real story I knew of where MS was the destruction of her career and life. She was younger than I am now when she died. The only other exposure I had to MS was hearing about other tragic stories in the media. So my complete lack of any factual knowledge of either disease was total. As an adult, I think that I dealt with my MS diagnosis in a bit more of a mature way. At 17 I didn’t know what to ask and of who. Being as I’d basically shut down, then chances are I wasn’t going to ask anyway, but perhaps if I’d been pointed in the direction of a support group, then it may have changed things for me. Who knows? At 45, I asked questions. Sometimes, I didn’t get answers, sometimes I didn’t want to hear the answers, but ultimately, I had/have to face up to the facts as they present themselves.

When I did start to tell people I had MS, it usually elicits two responses. The first is along the lines of “oh shit” or “chr*st” or words to that effect. These responders are generally the ones that had the same negative exposure to MS that I’d had. The other typical response was a complete surprise to me. It’s along the lines of “my xx has MS” or “I have MS too” or “I know a couple of people with MS”. I did not expect this. Perhaps I was vain to think I was the only one!! It’s estimated that about 100,000 people have MS in the UK in 2016, while the figure for epilepsy is 500,000. It’s mainly for that reason that I was so surprised just how many people who I know and see regularly, have firsthand experience of living with MS or know someone who does. Given there are 5-times as many people with epilepsy than with MS, I’d have thought I’d know more people with exposure to epilepsy.

Does this mean anything? Does it mean there is less stigma attached to MS and so people are more likely to admit they either have the disease or know someone who does? Or does it mean that people with epilepsy are less likely to acknowledge their condition, especially if it’s well controlled? I don’t know the answer. I find it fascinating though.

The first person to be “officially” diagnosed as having MS – albeit posthumously – was Augustus d’Este, the grandson of The Mad King, George III. Although he wasn’t diagnosed during his lifetime, the diaries that he kept detailing his symptoms allowed for the diagnosis to be made. He kept diaries of his condition for 22 years, with the final entry being made 2 years before his death in 1848. However, the disease can be traced back to the 14th century to Saint Lidwina of Schiedam Although she died in 1433, historical texts tell of difficulties in walking, pains in her teeth and terrible headaches. This gave rise to the probability she suffered from MS. However, epilepsy has been documented as far back as 400BC with Hippocrates, no less, dismissing epilepsy as being no more sacred than other diseases in response to the belief at the time that epilepsy or the falling sickness was some kind of supernatural affliction.

There are long lists of famous people who have lived or do live with epilepsy. Bonaparte, Julius Ceasar, Dostoyevsky, Alexander the Great, Lewis Carroll and Prince to name just a few. Yet, I can’t find a similar list stretching through the ages for MS. The lists for those suffering MS seems limited to those currently living with the disease or those, such as Ms du Pre who have passed relatively recently.

I find the differences and similarities between MS and Epilepsy absolutely fascinating. The stigmas, the discussions and the history of both diseases being a source of both wonderment and inspiration.

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Sleep, Einaudi & escaping the prison…

It’s nearly midnight and I can’t sleep. Again. Not even the melodic strains of Ludovico Einaudi can soothe my soul tonight. I don’t think its even been a month since I last wrote about this topic. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life! The desire to sleep is there, the need to sleep is present but the act itself..? Nope. Not happening.

Someone suggested to me, that perhaps I’m overthinking it and that’s why it won’t come. It’s a fair observation and I said as much, but its hard not to dwell on it when you’re lying in bed. Awake. The sounds of steady breathing all around conspire to make it even more soul destroying. Who’d have thought breathing could have such an effect on another person!

If I think about it long enough (and I have, frequently) then I conclude that the act of not sleeping in itself, is not the issue. The real problem is the next day. This is when the fatigue really sets in, The inability to think clearly becomes apparent and the temper gets just that little bit shorter. All the while there is a niggle at the back of the mind that the situation is not only a repeat of yesterday, but perhaps it will happen again tomorrow. I understand the need to detach from the past and the future and just be present in the, well, present. Yet, I find it difficult and have not yet found a method of disengagement that consistently works for me. For example, I could listen to Nuvole Bianche on loop for hours and I would feel my shoulders drop and my mind sooth and my body sway. Calmness would reign supreme in my soul. The gentle tune lulled me to sleep and was often still playing when I woke. While I can still count it as one of my all-time favourite pieces of music and it has been for well over 10 years now, I can no longer guarantee the result. Yes, my fingers still airplay the notes and my mind strives to be still, but the elusive slip into sleep remains evasive.

I recently read Edith Eger’s book The Choice. She shares her stories of surviving the Holocaust and how she built a new life. She recounts her experiences with those suffering PTSD and how she helps others to face their traumas and heal. There are a lot of fascinating, disturbing, remarkable and uplifting experiences that she shares, but there are a few lines that have really stuck with me. One of them is “We can choose to be our own jailors, or we can choose to be free.” I’ve turned that phrase over in my mind a few times while I’ve been waiting for sleep. Our minds are incredibly powerful. Is Ms Eger correct? Unless we confront that which causes us suffering we can never heal?

That’s a big subject and maybe I’ll get to that one day. But, in the context of sleep, or lack thereof, I’m trying to find the root of the sleeplessness, so I can confront it, learn from it and then banish it.

I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent person, open to new ideas and the like. So, I have tried the usual initially suggested methods of trying to get more, better quality sleep. Quality is more important than quantity as is so oft the case. I’ve spoken about them before here, so I’ll not labour the point again. But, I’m still to find the piece of magic that will work for me. I know my mind is busy and I suspect that is the main cause of my inability to sleep at the present time. I can’t seem to stop my mind from dwelling on my current situation and much as I try to find the positives in most situations, I’m struggling to see how me and MS and me and dry rot, are ever going to be friends.

Epilepsy and I have come to a sort of mutual understanding. We live side by side in an uneasy alliance. But epilepsy is a jealous bedfellow. The fatigue MS causes, is antagonising my epilepsy. Fatigue is a pretty major factor behind my seizures, another reason, probably the main reason, why I need to get some sleep. I don’t think we even need to go into the whole stress angle of this situation! It is one helluva vicious circle that I’m caught up in. And, I just don’t know how to break it.

So let’s talk about drugs for a minute. Sleeping pills specifically. To pop or not to pop that is the question. I’ve always tried to avoid taking prescription sleeping tablets. I don’t really want to take them being the biggest reason! I’m a little scared of them if I’m truthful and I would rather find a natural solution to my troubles. That said, I recognise that they have their place and that they can be a helpful aid to sleep for some. Yet, I can’t help but think that the sleep they induce isn’t real sleep. It’s kinda fake. It doesn’t seem like a natural sleep, so while the quantity of the slumber may increase; what about the quality? About a month into the saga that has developed into MS (& still possibly something else besides) I wasn’t sleeping at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. At the same time, I was experiencing what can only be described as indescribably weird sensory issues. I was prescribed a medication that would help with the sensations (i.e. it would dull them) and as one of the side effects of the drug is drowsiness, it would help with my sleep. And it did. I slept for about 15 hours. I woke up feeling sick, disorientated, lethargic, scared and wishing I’d never taken the darn thing. A one-off perhaps? Maybe, but I don’t know that I’m willing to take that chance. Yet, perhaps desperation will take me there.

Well, I’ve got more questions than I have answers. I’m desperately trying not to worry about the rot and all that fixing that will entail. I’m trying hard to accept that MS is now part of my life and I just have to get on with it. I’m hoping that my epilepsy will settle down and stay quiet for a while. I don’t know how to deal with just these 3 things and still switch my mind off in order to sleep. Yep, I know I can’t control much of it and yes, the logical part of my mind says “if you can’t control it, then don’t worry about it” but the part of me that needs to understand just how to do that, is not getting it. Not getting it at all.

So, I’ll be the one who is awake with Einaudi, chamomile tea and surrounded by the sounds of steady breathing.