0

Ruminations with Rumi…

I feel like I’ve been fighting my whole life. There is a war that rages between my physical deterioration and my mental or emotional strength. The weapons used are cruel, there is little respite and the stakes are fricken enormous.

Rumi referred to emotions – all kinds of emotion – as “unexpected visitors”. Rumi thought we should let these callers in and let them visit with us for a while. Give them a cup of tea and get to know them type thing. This concept from the 13th century passed the stiff upper lipped British by. Why do we feel the need to be restrained and remain resolutely defiant when an emotion comes calling?

Rumi writes beautifully. Well, the way he has been translated from Persian to English is beautifully done anyway. I’ve only relatively recently been introduced to his writings and they resonate with me pretty deeply. I read all sorts for all sorts of reasons.

I read because I desire to understand. I read because I want to learn. I read because I need to get lost in a world that isn’t mine. I read because I long to escape. I read because I must. I read because I can. For now, reading is an ability that has escaped the tortures of my mind and body. Reading takes it all away. It’s my shelter and my comfort. It reaches into my soul and makes it laugh, makes it think, makes it feel invincible and makes it forget. Reading nourishes me. Language fascinates me. Evolving language, at once, gives me joy and makes me long for the days when Mr. Marshall taught me that “focussed” has a double s!

When I hear someone describing reading as boring, I can only think it’s because they haven’t found the right book yet. Going back to Mr. Marshall for a minute (he was one of my English teachers at school), he always said there was no such thing as a boring activity only boring people. I’ve turned that over in my mind a lot over the years between him first saying it (he said it a lot) when I was 14 and now when I’m 46. I came to the conclusion a few years ago, that what he was trying to say is that everyone is different and will feel differently about every activity, be it reading, playing football, singing…whatever. That means the activity in itself cannot be described as boring. Boring people, however, are those that choose not to engage in any activity at all. That’s what I think he meant. He’s dead now though, so I can’t ask him. I wish I had at the time. But, well, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Anyway, I’ve digressed. I do that a lot. So, why do we find it so difficult to sit with our own emotions and acknowledge that we have them? Are we conditioned to believe that we should only feel positive emotions? Are we only allowed to feel happy, excited, thrilled, delighted, amused, loved, loving? Why do we feel its ok to acknowledge that we feel angry about something but not that we feel hurt by it? Why do we feel it is a weakness to be able to show vulnerability, but at the same time not be shocked when we get hurt? Why do we see it as inevitable that if we display an emotion that is not perceived as socially acceptable that we will somehow be thought of as a lesser person? Who decides what is socially acceptable??

My experience of showing emotion has not always been positive. I didn’t show my true feelings for years after I was told that my tears were pathetic and weren’t going to be put up with. I was 15. In order to swallow down the emotions I felt (& god knows at 15 I felt them ALL), I built some bloody fantastic walls. My grandad, a builder, would have been mighty proud of my structures. The wolves were not going to huff and puff and blow my house down! My house. There was no door. There didn’t need to be. I wasn’t coming out and you weren’t getting in. Simple. I was described as having ice water running through my veins. Apparently, it was discussed at length by people other than me, that I felt nothing. I felt baffled by this. If I showed that I was upset or hurt or confused or in pain then that was wrong, but if I showed nothing at all then that’s wrong too?

As a consequence of this inner conflict, when my emotions burst out of me as they are want to do, they were generally inappropriate. I couldn’t control them. I tried to channel them in the various sports I engaged in, although I didn’t know at the time that’s what I was doing. I was young, I was scared and I felt alone. So, I stuck everything in my solid house, climbed out the one window and tried to live a life that wasn’t full of anger and frustration. And I did.

I’ve had many, many wonderful adventures in my life. I’ve seen a lot of things others can only dream about. I’ve done a lot of things that others can only wonder about. My memory bank is full to brimming with wonderous colours, sights, sounds, people, noises, feelings, music and laughter. The flora and fauna of many a country are stored away to be brought out in writings or in musings or just to give a little colour to my day. All of this is juxtaposed with my house.

It’s only been in the last 10 years or so, that the window to my house has been cracked open. There is still no door. So if you want in, you have to really WANT it. One of Rumi’s most famous quotes is “the wound is the place where the Light enters you”. I liken that to the cracking open of that window and allowing someone other than me have a bit of a wander around. It surprises me to this day how hard I find it to let people into my life. This blog helps me immensely in my journey toward sorting through my house and throwing out old rubbish. I know now and acknowledge that I’ve been suffering from depression for most of my adult life. Acknowledging that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but liberating at the same time. For a few years, it was only me and my GP who knew. (When I think about this, it isn’t so. I suspect a lot of people knew that I was suffering, but god forbid they suggested it to me.) When I decided to go public, it was done so casually that when I think about it now it makes me giggle. I would just drop it into conversations. As an adult, I’m better at knowing when it is and is not appropriate to do certain things. So while I would throw out this comment about “my depression” it was always in the right place in the conversation. It had to be.

So, my mental state is on one side and the deterioration of my physical packaging is on the other. The MS diagnosis is still fresh and raw and I struggle every day to find positives in it. At the moment, most days, I don’t see any bright side at all. Well, other than the one that lets me say “it could be worse”. I was at the hospital a few days ago and tried to get answers to the muscle weakness, the internal inferno, the other changes that are happening to my body. There are none. No-one can tell me if the weakness is a relapse. They think it probably isn’t, but they can’t be certain. No-one can tell me if the weakness is the beginning of my MS getting worse. Right now, there is nothing to be done. There is nothing that can be done. Although I feel the time is right to start saving hard for whatever future is ahead and what kind of walking aid I may need. I contemplated building an extension to my metaphorical house. I decided not to. I can’t always articulate my feelings, but I no longer want to bury them. Mainly because I simply can’t be bothered anymore. Its hard work pretending to feel something that you don’t and it’s even more exhausting trying to deny a feeling that is pervading every cell in my body.

So, I know to expect my depression to be with me. I know that the medication I take for it allows me to deal with it, in the main. I know that the medication doesn’t make the depression go away, but it does give me a bit more of myself (if that makes sense) to be able to cope. I also know that, for me, I have to sit with it alone for a while so I can process it enough to share it. I’ve learned there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dealing with depression. I know that what works for me, won’t work for everyone. I know that just because I’m willing to share my story, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to hear it. That’s ok. That’s actually how it should be. We aren’t all wired the same way. We aren’t all moved by the same things and we aren’t all disgusted by the same things.

Thank goodness!

So back to the words of Rumi…my body may seem meek, but my spirit does somersaults in the sky! At least it will when depression has finished it’s cup of tea and it’s visit is over.

0

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!!

0

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?

0

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.

0

If wishes were horses…

…beggars would ride, but it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

I love a wee idiom or two.

I’ve been trying to find an idiom I could use to make light of (because god knows there seems to be no reason) or would aptly describe my latest medical mystery. A sight for sore eyes maybe? That could, at a real push, be sort of manipulated to mean that an answer, a proper answer, an answer with a definite yes or robust no, would really be very welcome now. The situation is really getting on my last (optic!) nerve.

It’s not my last (optic) nerve yet. The prognosis doesn’t look encouraging though.

So the results of the tests that I talked about here, are back. Sort of. The X-rays were “clear”. Clear of what I’m unsure of and frankly too scared and tired to ask. This time I actually got seen by the ophthalmologist I should have been with on my last trip to the hospital! Maybe that’s the miracle I’ve been waiting for? More likely he couldn’t find a minion…Anyway, after announcing the “good news” about the chest x-rays – I have one, that’s good news and it’s “clear” so I should be grateful for small mercies; I thought the only way is up! I allowed myself to feel hope! After all, it was the x-rays and the bloods that were determining my future! The bloods were also claimed to be a combination of “fine” and “inconclusive” so I felt quite secure in my hope. Then, in the blink of an eye (haha) he ripped my comfort from under me.

Sod.

After examining my eyes. Again. Then repeating it. Then numbing the eyes with the horror that is the “yellow liquid”. He starts to make noises such as “hmm” and “well”. The cold feeling is back in my chest. (I suspect they can’t see a cold feeling on an X-ray). I wanted to weep. However, my eyes were already crying lemon tears and the numbness was having none of it! Apparently, the optic nerve in my right eye is deteriorating. This is new. It has always been the left eye that has the caused the most concern. The right, while not a particularly happy little bunny, was trying its best to be good. I asked the obvious question – what??? (Said in a slightly high-pitched, very unbecoming, almost screech like tone). You were only supposed to tell me that I don’t have ocular sarcoidosis, you weren’t meant to be introducing more problems!!

Apparently, he’s not sure why it’s deteriorating. So, he says we need to look at the previous images taken of your eyes. Sounds reasonable I think. Do a comparison. See what has changed. Until he asks me if I have them. Numb eyeballs are trying to do a shocked expression. I can feel the expression in my soul, but bloody eyes are yellow and not playing by the rules. No, I don’t. But they are right there in your little computer that houses my bloody medical records that are now resembling an A4, small print, pdf version of War and Peace, but with the emphasis very firmly on war! The numbness in my eyes spreads to my mouth. This is an unfamiliar feeling for me. I’m not often lost for words. He then seems to come to the same conclusion himself but decides he can’t really decide what the images are showing and he needs to confer with one of my neurologists. And there was me thinking I was actually in the presence of an ophthalmology god. Silly me.

So, my temporary dumbness dissipates and I ask him what it all means. Apparently, it all means jargon. Followed by a bit more jargon and with a generous sprinkling of not sures. It could be demyelination associated with MS that may require an intervention (I do not know how many times I’ve heard that term when describing my conditions) but if it isn’t that, then he doesn’t really know. They don’t think its NMO, they don’t think its Ocular Sarcoidosis, but it could be another type of optic neuritis, but what type remains a mystery. I wonder if they get paid by repeat visit based commissions….?

I wish I had an answer. Actually, any answer will do right now, as long as it’s the final one. It doesn’t even have to be a pleasant one, but this not knowing what I’m dealing with is just hellish. I don’t feel my sight has got any worse and I’m still dog-tired, so nothing much has changed there. So, this news came as a bit of a blow. And its news that has no immediate answer. I don’t know how to deal with that. If my nerve is going to continue to deteriorate and I’m going to lose my vision in that eye, then I want to know. Now. I want to be able to prepare. Train the cats to be guide dogs (then take them to the office as such hehe) or at the very least make a viable plan for the rest of my life. (Sounds dramatic, but it’s how I feel therefore it’s valid). As it is, I’m just about back to square one.

The only real difference between square one and now is that I do have MS, I do suffer from incredible fatigue (as opposed to the general knackered-ness I used to feel), and I glow bright red twice a day (thanks drugs!).

So, I wish for answers, but until I get them I shall continue to be that squeaky wheel that keeps making enough noise that it really irritates those that have to listen to it, but might be just loud enough for someone medical to do something about it.