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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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Hidden Illnesses and the Kindness of Strangers…

When we hear the term “hidden illness” most of us think immediately about mental health issues. And yes, mental health has become somewhat of a poster child for the phrase. That’s actually a great thing, awareness about different mental health concerns absolutely needs to be raised and the topic needs to be discussed much more readily. But what about all the other conditions that you can’t see?

I’ve talked briefly about hidden illnesses before. But this time, it’s personal. Let’s take a look at my immediate family and take a little checklist of the qualifying conditions. Bear in mind, these are just those that I know about. My family has the absolute right, as do you, to keep their hidden illnesses, well, hidden. Private is probably a better word. So, there is depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, congenital heart defect, migraine, arthritis, cancer and anxiety disorder. Some mental health conditions, some auto-immune conditions, some wiring problems and some organ issues. If I lined my family up, you could not tell by sight who suffers from what. Hidden. Invisible.

What other afflictions, conditions, diseases, disorders are out there that you simply can not see? Diabetes, digestive disorders (Crohn’s, IBS…), chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, Aspergers, Endometriosis, Lupus, Lyme disease, spinal disorders, narcolepsy…the list goes on and on. Most of these are not just conditions whereby you take a couple of painkillers and you’ll be ok in the morning either. Many of these are actually classed as a disability. That entitles you to certain benefits and in the UK, sometimes even the hallowed Blue Badge parking permit. Yet, many suffering these disabling conditions are subject to abuse for it, because there are no outward signs.

The individual stories of my family members are not mine to tell. So, you will have to make do with me…

CPTWN

This is me about to cage dive with Great Whites in Cape Town – do I look depressed?

RARO

This is me trekking on a South Pacific island – do I look like I have epilepsy?

SKYDIVE

SKDV

This is me skydiving in NZ – can you see my MS?

BTRD

This is also me. Have I had an accident, was I attacked, did my partner beat me? No, I was on the receiving end of an unforgiving seizure.

Not so many months ago, I was in a shop looking a little worse for wear. My hair wasn’t washed, I was very pale, had huge dark patches under my eyes and I had bruises and needle marks on my arms. People avoided me. Why? They saw junkie; they didn’t see the after effects of almost a week in hospital on a steroid drip to try to save my sight. Judged by appearance.

I’ve been seen falling in the street in the middle of the day. I’ve been left there while people walked past me, assuming me drunk. They didn’t consider I might be ill. I didn’t look ill. There was no car that had hit me, no stone I tripped over. I was judged, again, by appearance. Strangers picked me up and helped me.

I don’t look sick; most of the time. A losing battle with epilepsy often leaves me bruised and a bit battered, but on the whole, I generally look ok. I smile, therefore I’m not depressed. I laugh, therefore I’m not in pain. I don’t use a walking aid, therefore I’m not disabled. I’m not wearing a cast, therefore I’m not broken.

I’m not a religious person really. I have a set of beliefs that I hold to me and I keep them private. There is one bible quote, however, that resonates with me. It’s from the Gospel of Matthew – “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you”. I feel that it’s actually not so much biblical but rather plain old common sense, and it matters not whether you attribute it to Matthew, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, the Dalai Lama or your Gran.

Don’t judge others, unless you wish to be judged yourself. And if you do choose to be judgemental, then remember that what goes around, comes around. We, in general, have very little clue what goes on behind closed doors, but remember what you physically see will never be the full story.

As an adult, still in control of my faculties, I’ve chosen to share with others my hidden illnesses. I do this for a variety of reasons. Some selfish, some selfless but in there is the desire to bring some conversations to the front and centre. I don’t believe that you have to spill your guts to all and sundry to be part of the discussion, but I do think we could all be a bit more forgiving with our thoughts and jump not to the conclusion that the person who isn’t walking in a straight line and looks like they may fall, might be drunk but they are just as likely to be ill and in need of assistance.

Would you be willing to offer kindness to a stranger?

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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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Sick and tired of being tired!

I am so tired. Yet, I can’t sleep. This is getting really old, really quickly.

Fatigue has always been an issue for me. I’ve written about it before and perhaps the dots are beginning to connect. I always believed this enervation was related to my epilepsy. Yet, it would seem that it may be a combination of having epilepsy and MS that is giving me an exhaustion double whammy! I looked up the definition of fatigue. It said all the things you would expect the dictionary to say, such as “weariness from bodily or mental exertion”, but I think the definition of fatigue as it pertains to civil engineering is actually more apt. Civil engineering says it’s the weakening or breakdown of material subjected to stress, especially a repeated series of stresses. My body and brain are the material and the repeated stresses are pretty obvious. Dealing with epilepsy is one stressor, dealing with a recent and raw diagnosis of MS is definitely another.

I spoke in my last post as having chosen to take control over that which I can. The constant tiredness is making that choice a difficult one. How do you explain to people that you are so tired, it’s a battle to persuade yourself to throw the covers back, let alone get out of bed? How do you describe the anguish that such a tiredness causes? I know that my tiredness is genuine. I know that I’m trying to find ways to try to combat it, yet I still feel like a fraud. I feel like people will think I’m just using it as an excuse. Don’t get me wrong, no-one has said that. It’s all down to me and my lack of confidence and assumption that I’m being judged. But, it is a real feeling for me and one that just adds to the weakening of my materials. No-one can fix that for me.

It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, so don’t worry about it”. We’ve all said it. God knows I’ve uttered those words on numerous occasions. It’s very easy to give that advice but no-one ever explains how you do it. How do you peel back the years of conditioning that has lead to a fear of being judged? I don’t know the answer to that. I guess years of counselling? CBT? I’m digressing a bit, I’m going to go back to fatigue and maybe get to those other issues later…

So, fatigue and what it does to me. I’m fairly confident that exhaustion, whatever the root cause, has the same effects on most people. Brain fog. Cloudy judgement. Memory loss. Can’t be bothered to wash my hair. Headaches (they’re a huge issue for me). Listlessness. Caffeine is a new best friend. I feel a strange heaviness. Yet, this is all coupled with then being too tired to sleep. My brain just won’t switch off. I’ve tried all sorts. Chamomile, lavender, salt, cool room, no electronics, no caffeine, nothing too stimulating, wine. All sorts. But please don’t suggest a warm bath with relaxing oils. I don’t have a bath. And before you say have a warm shower then…it, frankly, just isn’t the same.

So, there is a school of thought that no matter how horrendous the idea, exercise is the way forward. I struggle to find a decent argument as to why a bit of gentle moving about wouldn’t help, but I also really battle with the thought of actually doing it. I’m so tired I can’t think straight, how on earth am I meant to walk for 45 minutes?? I’m being a tad facetious by saying that, but the cold, hard fact remains that if you feel like you can’t get out of bed, how do you make yourself want to do some exercise?

I have tried to take control over that which I can influence. One of those things is to exercise more. I’m doing not bad at that. I’ve overhauled my diet too. (Actually, there’s another thing that I really am far too tired to do…the bloody dishes after another session in the kitchen)! I’m not seeing either of those changes, which are pretty major for me, having much of an influence on my sleep. I’m not going to stop doing those things, when I’m not so tired I know just how much they benefit me in other ways.

I’m back to work now and it’s a relief to be getting into a routine again. I’m so glad to be back. Things have changed at the office and yet they’ve stayed the same in so many ways. I’m trying to catch up. Truthfully, being back has been much harder than I thought it would be, in terms of how draining I find it. That’s a mixture of my brain starting to work again, worry that I don’t know what I need to know, fear that I’m being judged and trying to deal with the fatigue that I was suffering anyway. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – my work has been brilliant. They’ve been supportive and flexible. I’m realising that I’ve been too ambitious in my return to work plan. I find it so hard to admit that.

I’m being told by many people to be kind to myself. I always think that’s such a lovely sentiment. However, I don’t know how to apply it. What exactly is being kind to myself? A subjective question I guess. One for more pondering.

So, here it is in a nutshell. I’m not lazy, I’m just bloody knackered. I’m not a skiver, I’m just exhausted. I’m not a robot, I’m human. MS attacks every sufferer in a slightly different way. Fatigue seems to be a very common factor though. Epilepsy is slightly less random and constant fatigue is definitely a factor, but more worrying as a cause than a result. So, here’s my dilemma. Fatigue is a worry as it definitely makes me more likely to have a seizure. MS makes me fatigued. What the merry hell am I supposed to do?

Answers on a postcard, please.

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Rambling weebles

The past 6 months or so have probably been the worst of my life. Worse than the passing of a loved one? In some ways, yes, I felt like I lost my body, my brain and my self. Worse than breaking up with a partner? Yes. I felt like I was splitting from my health.

Recriminations were rife, even though I tried not to indulge. Looking for something to blame was common. “It’s not you, it’s me!” my brain was screaming at my body. There have been tears. Oh so many tears. There has been much rage and anger. There have been threats of giving up – what’s the point? There has been a darkness that I didn’t know was possible and some realisations that may well have come too late in my life. There has been a lot of soul-searching. A LOT of soul searching.

Epilepsy has caused me much anguish over the years and a lot of pain both physical and emotional. I feel like I should have been better prepared, in some ways, because I’ve already been dealing with a neurological disease for 30 years, so adding in another one, while not ideal, shouldn’t be that hard. Right? Wrong. Epilepsy knocks me on my ass and then I get up, go through the depression and get on with life. I’ve made my peace with the limitations it placed on my life. I don’t like them, but not being able to drive, not being able to deep sea dive etc, while not what I would have chosen for myself, have not proved to be the end of the world. It took me a long time to get to that place of peace and it’s not always been a stable place!! In some ways, because I’ve grown up with it, epilepsy didn’t/doesn’t hold the same level of fear that MS has introduced. As my life evolved so did my coping mechanisms. I haven’t always got it right, but the humour that I can sometimes find in the situations seizures have put me in, made things easier for those around me and that in turn made it easier for me. Sometimes, the laughter is hard to fake.

MS has caught me out. As you get older, you kinda expect certain things. The way everything goes south, the wrinkles that appear, the memory that’s not quite as sharp as it was, the tendency to utter the phrase “when I was your age…” and the knowledge that some debilitating conditions could appear in the future, But that future was my 70s or 80s, not my mid-40s. The discovery that MS may have been with me for a bit longer than the diagnosis is a shocker and the knowing that it could, and probably will, get worse is hard to stomach. My choices are stark. But they are choices and they are mine to make.

The way I see it, I have reached a three-pronged fork in the road and the time for dithering is passed.

I can go right. Right takes me to a field where I sit down, give up and wither with the coming of autumn and then die in the snows of winter. The bench I’d be sitting on is hard, the view is bleak and I forgot my scarf.

I can go straight ahead. I can take the drugs, heed the medical profession, not rock any boats and wait for the inevitable to catch up with me. This route would lead, eventually, to the same field that’s at the end of the right-hand path.

The third option is left. Left will mean taking control of that which I have power over. Left means that summer is longer, autumn is radiant and winter is crisp but faced with a scarf. Left means taking advantage of what is on offer to me in terms of treatment and supplementing it with what else I choose to put inside my body and hence my brain. Left means making my body and mind stronger. Even stronger than they had to be through the trials of not just epilepsy, but life in general.

That is the clincher. Life wouldn’t stop just because I’d decided to. Life goes on. Life finds a way. Sometimes its a crappy way, but it is a way. Why should I not try to take part in that? Would it really be easier to just give up? I know there will be days to come, when giving up is all I want to do. I’ve already tasted that. I’ve already come through some of that darkness. I know there are days coming up when I might actually not physically be able to get up. The numbness might give way to weakness in my limbs. My brother has a saying, that if you put your head in the sand, then you leave your ass exposed. How true. I’m aware of what my future could hold for me. I’m aware that there could be immense difficulties ahead. That lucidity means I damn well know that there could also be some bloody awesome times ahead. I’m ONLY in my mid-40s. My life isn’t over because of 2 letters! My life can still be what I make of it. My life WILL still be what I make of it.

This is where the vast amount of soul searching that has been done and is still to be done, comes in. You have to figure out what is important. I’ve had to work out what is important to me. What am I prepared to put up with and what am I not prepared to have in my life. That isn’t easy. That hasn’t been easy. It won’t be easier in the future. Yet, I have a backdrop to weigh it against. MS, Epilepsy and maybe Ocular Sarcoidosis. Thats my back drop. Thats my canvas. In the grand scheme of my life what is worth it and what isn’t. Is putting up with a nasty, vindictive person in my life a good way to spend my time? Yes, it makes it easier for other people to play nice, but what does it give to me? This is one of many questions I’ve asked myself. I don’t have all my answers. I don’t think I will ever have all the answers. But, again, that is part of my tapestry. That’s my jigsaw. My attitude towards the pieces that are laid out before me is changing. I’m ok with that.

There seems to be a helluva lot of bird crap on my path of life just now. Regardless of which road I choose to travel. I suspect there will be more to come. I try to remember that people pay money to spread crap on crops to make them grow bigger, stronger and healthier. The crap on my path is free, albeit I don’t want it sticking to my shoe.

Just as weebles wobble but they don’t fall over, well hell, I’m still standing!

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MS, Epilepsy and Cooking…

There has been carnage in Kirsty’s kitchen the past couple of weeks! I have made a few conscious decisions based on my health situation and it’s time to follow through.

Those who know me well, know I like my food. I enjoy my food and I prefer it with either coffee or wine. Yet, for the sake of my health and to feel like I have a modicum of control over my body, I have chosen to change my lifestyle and that includes reviewing my diet.

I have decided that I am going to switch up my previous carnivore ways and move toward a wholefood, plant-based eating plan. In case you’re wondering, this means no meat, no fish, no dairy and no eggs. Why? Why? Why? I hear you cry (unless of course, you’re already eating this way and are whoop, whoop, whooping instead)! Let me explain…

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was delivered news that put my world on it’s head. In all honesty, I was (& probably still am) devastated by the news that I had MS. Brave public face aside, I was/am crushed. All I could see were dashed dreams & tattered hopes. But, I chose me. I’ve decided not to admit defeat to a disease. I’ve resolved to do what I can do to make positive changes in order to have the strength to meet the challenges ahead, head on. One of the few aspects of life I can change is what I eat. My brain does have an input (think cravings) but it also desperately needs proper fuel to fight disease.

So, for me, moving toward a wholefood, plant-based way of eating is a way of having some control and an attempt to make myself feel better and stronger. The benefit to animals and the environment, I have to admit, are secondary in my thinking at the moment. This is all about me, me, me. I’ve known for quite a while now that my lifestyle didn’t really do me any favours, so regardless of whether the changes to my diet and the fact I’m working out with Edinburgh Fitness Solutions have any affect on my neurological afflictions, they should have a hugely positive impact on how I feel in myself. 

So that’s the “why”. The “how” is where I’m at!!

Changing a long-standing habit isn’t easy. Especially if, like me, you find it a struggle to “give things up”. So, I decided that I’m going to do things a little differently. This is where it is useful that I’m doing this for myself and not because I’ve been told to by any medical professional. As far as I understand, there is no proven way to eat yourself out of MS. So, that gives me both a comfort blanket and a safety net. It also means I don’t have to give up habits overnight. I’ve done my research and I’ve decided that for me, my body, my lifestyle and my health, trying a wholefood, plant-based way of eating could be beneficial. There is no guarantee that it would work for everyone, but I want to know if it will work for me. So, I’ve been transitioning.

I’ve sought out and spoken to people who choose to be vegan (yes, that’s the generic label), to find out their experiences and get any hints and tips. I’ve done some research and am fully aware that being vegan doesn’t automatically make you healthy. And that’s why I’m also reducing the amount of processed foods I eat and why chaotic carnage reigns supreme in my kitchen! One of the people I spoke to advised me not to think of it as giving up certain foods (cheese, milk & eggs being my biggest worry) but to regard it as an opportunity to try new flavours, textures and foods. That way, you will be less likely to feel deprived and that you’re somehow missing out. This is working for me. 

So, I’ve been going through this transition for about 3 weeks now. It’s going well, I think. I’m rediscovering my taste buds and some foods that I previously decided I didn’t like, I’m finding that actually when I try them, they’re not so bad. Meat and fish have been the easiest to let go of. The meat surprised me, as I thought of my self as a major carnivore! Cheese was a little more of a struggle, but through trial and error I’ve found an alternate that I can happily live with. Milk in my tea – wow. Tough!! Coffee, if it’s good quality, I can happily drink black, but tea? No way. Tea with soya milk? Bleurgh! Tea with oatmilk? No way Jose! Tea with hemp milk? Not a chance! Tea with coconut milk? Like hell!! Black tea? Well I’m getting there. I’m finding that rooibus is working black and my favourite, Earl Grey, if it’s good quality and bizarrely decaf, then yes, I can do that.

Most folks don’t know that I’m moving toward this new way of eating. I’m not being evangelical about it (there was no way I was missing out on a surprise Afternoon Cream Tea on Saturday) but the more people find out I’m choosing this way to eat, and the more eateries I discover to cater for this way to eat, then all the better.

The last blog I wrote stated “I choose me”. I stand by this. I’m doing this for me. So far, most have been supportive and those that haven’t? Well that’s fine too.

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Epilepsy and ???????

This is going to be a hard one to write I think. Although, the good thing is that, unlike with the last post, I’m actually not having to use voice recognition software. My sight has improved a little. What hasn’t changed, is that I have a second neurological disorder. In reality, I don’t know much more than I did when I last posted, but I need to write this down in order to get my feelings out and some of you have been with me on this journey from day one. If I can’t share it with you, then who….?

Epilepsy has been part of my life for nearly 30 years. I came to terms with having the disease (yes, I can call it a disease…Epilepsy and Words…), a long time ago. Of course, I still have bad days; days of “why me?”, but on the whole, I think I deal with it pretty well. The last couple of months, a new distraction has come my way. It turns out, final diagnosis pending, that I have a second neurological condition. Aren’t I the lucky one! Multiple MRIs, innumerable blood tests and antibody tests, medication galore, a stay in a hospital and the threat of a lumbar puncture later, I still don’t have a name for this new affliction. All I know for sure is that it’s degenerative, it’s cruel and it’s brutal. It tried to take my sight. It preyed on both my optic nerves and brought a degree of terror to my life that I haven’t felt for decades. My eyes aren’t the only recipients of this torture. Other parts of my nervous system have also been attacked. The severity of those attacks is still up for debate. Apparently, it’s “early days” and “too soon to be certain”. I’m still trying to get what’s left of my brain around that!

I’m still finding it all hard to take in. I can’t say I have fully come to terms with what’s going on. I think that’s mainly because I don’t really know what is going on! What I do know is this. I’m not the same person I was just 2 months ago. I can’t help but think I’ve been given a kind of challenge. My brain has thrown down a gauntlet; I have no real choice but to respond. How to reconcile the brain and the body? How to balance the head and the heart.? How to rise to the challenge, fight what is proving to be a bloody battle and not lose my essence? The past weeks have shown me some hard truths and tried to teach me some tough lessons. I say “tried to”, because I don’t think I have really come to terms with enough of this situation to truly be able to know what I’m being taught.

Epilepsy tried to teach me to be strong – but I’m not strong enough. Epilepsy tried to teach me resilience – but I’m not resilient enough. Epilepsy tried to teach my humility – but I’m not humble enough. Epilepsy tried to teach me to be brave – but I’m not brave enough. Epilepsy taught me so much, but it seems I have so much more to learn. I haven’t worked for 2 months, my sight isn’t good enough and another seizure floored me a month ago. Suffering a fit was no great surprise. A combination of stress and the, almost, total lack of sleep really made it a bit of a foregone conclusion! That being said, seizures always knock me for 6 and this one was no exception. I’d only got my chipped teeth fixed at the beginning of the year too!!

Anyway, as is always the case following a fit, reflection takes over at the top of my list of things to do. This time though, my mind was in overdrive anyway and I find that I haven’t been able to fully process the seizure and piece together the events that lead up to it. I’ve blogged before about how I need to be able to put together the timeline in order to start the process of acceptance that I need for me. So, while I know what the trigger for the fit was, I’ve lost time and I don’t know how to fill those hours. Maybe I’ll get to that later…

My jigsaw is featuring heavily in my thoughts at present. The corner pieces are still valid, 45 years worth of the big picture are in place, but what is next? Someone I trust said that you don’t have to have all the jigsaw pieces gathered to know how the picture is going to turn out. That’s very true. So, what do you do when you can see the pattern and don’t like what is forming? Well, you just pick new pieces and use those, right?!

Easy! Job done! haha – if only!! Picking up new pieces means forming new patterns and changing, what may well be, deep-rooted behaviours. For some folks, I dare say those changes may be easy, for others it may require them to embark on the toughest of journeys. It is true that some changes are easier to make than others and it’s also true that what is easy for one is another’s worst nightmare. That’s what makes us individuals. That’s what has been going through my mind. I look at the pieces already laid and I see patterns, I see a lot of habits that aren’t helpful to anyone least of all me. I don’t have all the bits, but I can predict what will happen if I don’t choose a new colour scheme for my brain!! So, it’s time to redecorate. Re-evaluate what is important and what is just window dressing and learn to adapt.

I’m removing toxic people from my life. If they don’t notice, then it proves they have no real place in my life anyway. I’m trying to care less about things of no real consequence; I’m trying to figure out what those are! I’m persuading myself to be open to opportunities and to stop letting fear (or laziness!) from making my life little.

None of us knows what will happen tomorrow, or indeed in the next hour. We can plan what we want to do and map out our days and hours by the minute if we want to, but we simply have no way of knowing what life is going to throw at us at any particular point. There is a saying I can’t quite remember how it goes but it’s along the lines of – “there is nothing more certain than death and nothing more uncertain than the hour”. In broader terms, death truly is the only real certainty in life, but when it will happen is anyone’s guess. So, this leaves the terms of life wide open really and it’s up to the individual how they choose to live it. Life throws spanners at us all the time. Some miss and some get stuck in the wheels, it is up to us to decide what we do about them.

I have achieved much in my 45 years. I’ve seen and experienced extraordinary delights, cultures, people and places. Adrenalin has coursed through my body and driven me to experience some of my wildest dreams. I want to stop saying that in the past tense. Epilepsy taught me so much; this new test will teach me so much more.