Many scars

** No cats were injured in the making of this blog 🙂
Ed’s scars are more visible than mine so illustration purposes only **

So that was a hell of a week. As I’ve said before I have been feeling a bit rubbish with MS over the past year or so. I have been noticing decline in mobility and worsening fatigue that make everyday life more difficult and altogether more exhausting. The most worrying thing for me has been that my scans have remained relatively stable showing no new lesions or clear signs of progression. Whilst I realise that that sounds like a good thing I can assure you it didn’t do much for my mood or sense of self. I’ve been feeling weaker, more reliant on others and less independent – in other words needy, which I am not ok with!

It really starts to play with your mind – wondering am I imagining these changes or being overly dramatic. I don’t do fuss or drama usually so calling up my care team to complain about changes just doesn’t sit well with me. I’d much rather get on with things and power through – I’m such a trooper (or idiot, whichever)

Anywho, I had some changes that for me were significant and really couldn’t be ignored anymore. I was having a lot more problems with balance, struggling to get in and out of bed or the bath. Everyday tasks were becoming impossible and quite frankly dangerous so I relented and called my MS nurse last week. I find it really hard to make that initial step of contact and raising the alarm, which is crazy as the team really encourage you to be open. I think that on some level I feel a need not to acknowledge the change or escalate it as that makes it all too real and means I may have to face some harsh realities. It is an individual call as to what constitutes too much for you to cope with and I obviously hit that point last week.

My nurse arranged for me to see the registrar the next day and he saw the change in my physicality immediately. Martina got me added me to a cancellation list for MRI which I had on Thursday. I got a call on Monday to say a new lesion showed on the scan and to get myself into hospital for steroid infusions everyday this week (last one today – yay!!)

I’m so impressed with how quickly everyone reacted and looked after me. I feel very grateful that they got all this sorted but I do feel the need to point out that this is extremely unusual and perhaps the planets aligned or karma is responsible for the fact that I got the MRI appointment so quickly. Maybe I was just due some luck. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this is actually how  uick the HSE works normally.

I’m sure it sounds weird that I’m thrilled to have a new lesion on my brain but honestly the relief that there is something there and that I’m not imagining things is such a vindication. I was worried that I was slipping into a more progressive state of MS where there are less treatment options and probably more disability on the horizon. With a clear relapse I can take the course of steroids and discuss with the team treatment options next week to see what the most appropriate course of action is. Long story short, there are options.

So what have I learnt this week

  1. Don’t be a hero – talk to your team about any changes. Suffering in silence is overrated and there may be something they can do to improve things.
  2. You know yourself and your MS best. Stick to your guns, if something doesn’t feel right keep reporting it. Scans don’t show everything.
  3. Steroids rock!! I’m not a fan of being stuck with needles everyday but the infusion process is not a big deal once the line is inserted. You sit for about 60 or 90 minutes then you’re done till the next day. Have to say I’m feeling some improvement already but then I am full of steroids so we’ll have to see how the come down affects me next week 😉
  4. During the infusion you may get a nasty metallic taste but I found drinking flavoured water or tea helped a lot. Is there anything tea can’t help with?
  5. High dose steroids can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and mimic a kind of temporary diabeties (or something) so my initial plan of sweets or jellies to combat the metallic taste and to boost my spirits had to be avoided – poo.
  6. You may end up with rosy red cheeks for the week and overall I was really quite warm, but when going through a relapse my appearance wasn’t my highest priority.
  7. Depending on the time of your infusion it can be difficult to sleep. Early morning infusions give you the best chance of catching some zzzs at night but you have to take the appointments when available so I recommend having books, audio books and relaxation tools on hand to keep you sane in those sleepless hours and to help avoid the spiral of worry that will inevitably come calling.
  8. Share what is happening to you with friends and family. You don’t have to go into detail but they care about you and want to help so let them.
  9. You may be chock full of steroids but you do need to be careful not to overdo things too quickly. Give your body a chance to put all that pep to good use.
  10. Steroids help to reduce the inflammation of the relapse more quickly so results will vary as to changes or improvements you will notice so try to have reasonable expectations – whatever they are.
  11. Relapses suck, I found I went into a coping mode of just getting through it all but it is important to acknowledge that this is a crappy time and it is ok to be upset, disappointed or miserable. No one is strong all the time, cry, swear or throw things – whatever you feel like!
  12. Finally I think I’ve learnt a lot about myself this week. I always viewed myself as a realist with some serious pessimistic tendencies, however I have found that I am actually a secret optimist – who knew! Everyday I’m looking for and noticing improvements which are probably not visible to anyone else.

Sorry for the long post but it has been an eye opener for me and if I can allay someone’s fears of relapses or steroids then that’s all worth it. Overall I am battered and bruised but quite pleased with my new addition to my collection of lesions, just not eager to add any more.


MS and Fatigue

“Lazy Days”, or just days as I call them, are all too frequent with MS and fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, I love a feet up, popcorn and boxset day as much as the next person, it’s just that when they become a regular necessity that they start to lose their sparkle! I also get that this sounds a bit “my diamond shoes are too tight” and I do genuinely feel for everyone struggling with their daily grind. It’s just that my daily grind is different now.

Days for me generally start in the wee small hours of the night when I need to use the loo… See what I did there? 🙂 I then struggle to go back to sleep so I’m usually exhausted when morning comes. I take a muscle relaxant every morning to try calm the spasms in my legs but these make me groggy so I stay in bed till that wears off a bit. If I have no appointments or classes to get to then I usually spend the next few hours trying to convince myself to get up and eat something. And so it goes for the rest of the day.

It’s really difficult to make yourself do things when you know it’s going to be a struggle and you’ve woken up exhausted. Showering, exercising, going out or even preparing a meal become monumental tasks that you know you HAVE to do but just cannot summon the energy or will power for.

MS fatigue is not just tiredness after a bad night’s sleep. A rest and a nap won’t fix it. It’s more like wading through a bog, which I have experienced so I know what I’m talking about here. It feels like you are trying to function in a haze and even blinking is a chore.

So why this topic this week? Well I took a photo of Ed (the cat) and he just looks so exhausted. It got me to thinking, maybe cats understand MS fatigue. They snooze during the day, lie down a lot and are wide awake in the middle of the night. I have also noticed that they are prone to short periods of exertion and giddiness and then are laid out exhausted once again. Doesn’t that sound familiar? As I said mornings are generally not good for me but about 7pm I get a short lived burst of energy which I usually squander on something like trying to tidy up or hoover or some other task that I will inevitably fail to finish and then I’ll be wiped out for the evening, dejected.

So what’s the plan from here? Well I’m planning to try out a few things to see if I can regain control of my life regardless of tiredness. Some I’ve done before with reasonable success others I’ve picked up along the way from sources like my OT, the living well with a chronic illness course and others with MS. So have a look, see what you think or let me know what has worked for you 🙂

* To do lists – who doesn’t love a list and the sense of achievement when you tick something off
* Prioritising tasks – this month I’m prioritising exercise and eating a little better (lol, I’m having a cookie but I did some yoga this morning so that makes it ok, right?)
* Setting achievable goals – no point saying I’ll run a mile every day when walking is a struggle. I followed 2 seated yoga videos on YouTube today – much better
* Reducing the time I spend playing games on my phone and absolutely none when I’ve gone to bed (really bad habit!)
* Establish good bedtime routine – this one is from my OT. My routine will include diffusing lavender oil at bedtime and winding down before trying to sleep.
* Mindfulness – trying to live in the moment, be kind to myself and not make myself feel bad when I can’t do something

So I think that might be a good starting point. I’ll let you know how I get on 🙂

Life’s injustices

One of the biggest injustices in this world, in my opinion, is the fact that having a chronic incurable illness does not render you exempt from other illnesses. Ok, so it might not be the absolute biggest injustice, but just like Ed in the photo having to wear his collar so he can’t lick his latest war wound, it is pretty crap.

So what has brought on this line of thought now? Well I had a minor sniffle and cough last week. No I didn’t have the female version of “man flu” and wasn’t being over dramatic. The plain facts are that even a minor bug can trigger or exacerbate usual MS symptoms and make you feel pretty rubbish or even mimic a relapse. In my case last week my “cold” (it wasn’t even bad enough to warrant that word to be honest) meant that I was even more drained than usual, was struggling to sleep (thank you tickly cough) and as a result had less energy to do the things I need to do – like look after myself! 🙂

In MS the immune system behaves oddly and seems to attack itself and the body too much to have time to work on bugs and illnesses. My experience last week was just a tiny example of how extra ailments can play havoc with our lives. Factor in on top of all this the fact that most MS treatments dampen down the immune system and the misery of constant bugs seems inevitable.

But what happens when it’s not a minor bug? I had a vomiting bug, still only minor, but it caused such a big flare that I ended up on the bathroom floor unable to move and with no strength in my legs. These episodes are really scary and make you worry about the future and what could be.

Even still that is not as bad as it gets. I have known people with multiple chronic illnesses and this is where I think life is going too far. Some unfortunate combinations I have seen people coping with:
– Fibromyalgia and ME
– Diabetes and MS
– Cancer and MS

So I’m really not complaining about my 24 hour vomiting bug or my sniffle. That is small fry in the context of what could be. You just never know what someone else is going through so lets give each other some slack… are you listening life?? Enough already!

MS and depression

Life is hard for everyone in their own ways but it isn’t a competition. Everyone has their own version of that metaphorical cross to bear and I have no interest in who’s is heavier. We all motor on and cope the best we can with whatever challenges are current. When I was diagnosed with MS I was lucky enough to have access to counselling and therapy via my GP. I’m a big believer in talking things through, even when the problem cannot be solved (like MS for example), the act of venting gives some well needed release. “Better out than in” is another of my post MS diagnosis life mottos 🙂

Now that I’m back in Ireland I am again lucky enough to have access to a psychologist who listens to my woes and helps me keep things in perspective. Again there aren’t solutions for all my problems but it helps to be reminded that anyone would struggle with this and I’m not just doing this badly. I also have an extended care team in St James’ hospital that includes my physiotherapist, MS nurse, occupational therapist, social worker and consultant (that’s a lot of people to listen to me rant!). Honestly, if a problem shared is a problem halved then mine should be miniscule but it doesn’t quite work that way.

I see various members of the hospital care team fairly regularly so they know me quite well. They are worryingly good at spotting my mood changes, even when I think I’m masking it well and this is how my struggle with depression came to light.

Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not brave (as the spider in my bath will attest to) and not particularly strong. I try to look after my mental health through therapy as well as mindfulness and aromatherapy. However, we all have that potential last straw that can tip us over the edge. Mine was when my cat (soulmate, best friend, therapist… I could go on) died last year. He’d been my companion for 13 years and had been with me throughout my MS journey. No day could be all bad when such a beautiful soul loved and cuddled you. The thought of him not being around just destroyed me and all my “bravery” and “strength” were gone – see I told you, not brave, not strong!

I was distraught. I’d had a precarious little balance that kept me going but now I felt like life was taking the p**s. I was struggling and my care team noticed so now I have a psychiatrist too. To be honest he scared me at first. It’s the job title and the fact that he’s a tall imposing figure. He’s actually the loveliest person, he is so understanding and very gentle when he reminds me that I don’t constantly ask my neurologist when I can stop taking my medication 🙂

Under his guidance I started antidepressants last year. I was really reluctant at first, I thought taking them meant I had failed, was weak or just nuts. Well I am nuts but there’s no pill for that. My psychiatrist helped me to see it was just another drug to help me get through a tough patch

So has there been any change? Well I’m feeling better and engaging more in life. I think I am beginning to cope better with my changing (dare I say progressing) MS symptoms. I no longer think I am weak or a failure for accepting this next level of support.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Taking paracetamol for a headache is fine and so is taking an antidepressant when life feels overwhelming
  2. Listen to the people around you – family, friends, care team… they all spotted my flailing before I did.
  3. Take care of yourself and know what is normal for you. What is a deal breaker for you might seem ludicrous to someone else. In my case some would say losing a pet is minor but he was so much more to me.
  4. It’s rarely one thing – my MS was changing and so was my home life with the loss of my cat, there is no shame in having a limit to what you can deal with.
  5. It is really difficult to admit you need help, it’s even harder to ask for and accept it when it is offered.
  6. Don’t close yourself down to avoid the problem, talking helps but doesn’t have to be with a professional. Friends and family can take some of the burden, just don’t tell them it was me who offered their services 😉


MS and falling

Falling isn’t a part of everyone’s MS journey but unfortunately it has been part of mine. It started with tripping and stumbling but I wouldn’t actually fall. I imagine majestic, elegant pirouettes but realise I more likely looked like a toddler running down a big hill, rapidly losing control.

I vividly remember my first public fall. I’d gone to the local shop to get carrots for dinner. I was just at the shop when I tripped but my legs didn’t move fast enough to save me. I was mortified, I used a railing to drag myself up and went on for the carrots. I’d left the house on a mission and it seemed vital to me at the time that I complete it. So, home I went, carrots in tow. I opened the door and burst into tears. All thoughts of domestication gone. Still I had carrots! Success?

Most of my early falling stories end with a few tears. I think it is the shock of losing control and the inevitable fear of where this illness is taking me. Remember though, practice makes perfect and I’ve had some practice at falling! As much reaction as falls get from me now is a roll of my eyes and a string of expletives. It is, however, getting harder to get back up. I find it important to have my phone at hand so I can call for help if needed or more importantly as I recently discovered to watch Netflix on the floor until I can get back up.

Falling is a strange experience for me and I wonder if it is the same for others. In the few seconds between realising I’m going to fall and the event itself my mind seems to be able to run through a myriad of options that I don’t think would occur to me without out that sense of urgency.

  1. Can I save myself from falling (answer is usually no)
  2. Is there a preferred landing spot? Is there a sofa/chair within my fall radius?
  3. Just go with it!

Another issue about falling is who is around when you do it. I’ve fallen in front of my parents, my sister and my husband on various occasions. I have a friend who is very wary of me and insists I’m not allowed to fall on her watch, I’ll have to break her in sooner or later!

Falling in public is embarrassing but with strangers you know they won’t lose any sleep worrying about you but when you fall around loved ones it is tempting to jump up (as if jumping is ever an option) and reassure them that you’re ok.

So how do I want falling to go in future and how should my audience react?

  1. I don’t want to fall!
  2. If I do fall, do not laugh!! Husband has learnt the hard way that my falls may be spectacular gymnastic events but my wrath is pretty spectacular too.
  3. Do not overreact – an ambulance is not necessary, I just need to get up and don’t need the fire brigade to do so
  4. Ask me how you can help, don’t start pulling and dragging. I might want to milk the occasion for maximum sympathy