So, I was ‘voluntold’ yesterday by my youngest that ‘we’ were providing the vegan gingerbread house kit for her and a friend for the class contest on Friday. Ummm… okay? 🤣
I love that she knows I love to bake so assumed I’d be happy to do it. Happier that it doesn’t occur to her that I’m carefully pacing myself at the moment so I can make it through the holidays without the MonSter rearing it’s ugly head too far. One of the perks of an invisible illness when it comes to your kids, at least when you can…
But it’s always smart to remind yourself, chronic illness or not, that it’s not worth pushing beyond your limits. Everyone owes it to themselves to take time for self-care, to take things off their plate when necessary and to ask for help sometimes.
The whole season should be about being cozy and spending low-key personal time with your people. Let go of the consumer, commercial side of it and focus on what matters. You can only do what you can do, and good enough is good enough. Otherwise, you…
The best thing I’ve started doing since I finally got decent running shoes is getting my butt out the door every weekday for a 20 minute walk. Sometimes it’s a few minutes more, but never too much because in the past I would get back into ballet or yoga and go too hard, setting myself back several steps. So now I’m the tortoise not the hare, and I find I look forward to my walk each day and it sets me up well for the day ahead. There are days when 20 minutes doesn’t get me too far…
But I’ve only missed one day, when the wind was too much for my sensory issues, and then the last couple of days when I needed to brave the crowds to finish the Christmas shopping. Now I will get out there every day if possible because I know it’s the single best thing I can do to make it through our busiest Christmas season ever, and enjoy it.
Finally, chronic illness or not…
Depending on how things go, I may post one more time about the vegan gingerbread house. If it’s a total fail, maybe not, so…
Wishing you all a restful, joyous holiday and a healthy, peaceful New Year.
At the beginning of June, I celebrated the first year of my blog. It was a huge step for uber-private me last year but the response once I finally faced my fear and hit publish was unreal. I can’t believe I have over 500 followers. More importantly, I can’t believe the support I’ve received and the friends I’ve made in this wonderful community. I’m so grateful. Thank you all. 💕
On this day four years ago, I received my MS diagnosis in the morning before going back to school for the last afternoon with my class. I didn’t know it would be the last afternoon I would spend as a teacher at the time.
It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least. The physical symptoms, especially the fatigue, stopped me teaching but the mental gymnastics associated with being chronically ill really stopped me in my tracks.
Fear, grief, anxiety, depression, guilt. Oh, the guilt! Learning to say ‘I can’t’ – especially to my children, forcing myself to stop when I ‘should’ get a little more done, unable to enjoy the good days because I ‘should’ be working.
I’ve learned to mostly maintain perspective when the anxiety and depression hit because I know it’s temporary, no matter how black. The fear hits pretty strongly when my body does it’s weird party tricks. (numbness, tingling, burning, buzzing, dizziness, tinnitus, spasms, trembling, pain and the fatigue that courses through my veins. #msawareness)
But life is scary for everybody in one way or another. Perspective.
The guilt has been the nastiest of the negatives. It comes up over and over and I’ve struggled to gain the same perspective, especially on the good days. I’d love so much to be back in the classroom that when the uglies lessen a bit, I forget how bad they are and feel I should at least try to go back to work. When they inevitably reappear, I remember why I can’t do the job I love so much.
Four years on, I’m done with the guilt on my good days. I won’t compromise the health I’ve regained since I stopped working by forcing myself to go back to work. And I won’t waste the bonus time I do get feeling guilty anymore, dammit! So there, MS. 🤗 From now on, I’m doing ‘jazz hands’ any time the guilt creeps in – haha!
This day marks a milestone for each of our younger children as well. After knocking our socks off at her Variety Show on Monday singing ‘Defying Gravity’ – (check out my instagram or facebook for the video), our youngest is finishing her last day at elementary school. It’s truly the end of an era, as we started there an unbelievable 15 years ago when our eldest was in kindergarten. Not to mention that my husband and his mother also went to the same school!
Our son is finishing his last day of high school, heading across the country to study Economics at Western University in September. Needless to say, we are incredibly proud of his achievements so far and excited for him, but there will be a big hole in our family that will take getting used to. It’s all as it should be and we can’t wait to see where he goes with his life. This kid is motivated!
Finally, our eldest got her first car so now we have our own taxi 😉 she’s embarking on a whole new level of independence and financial responsibility. We have no doubt she’ll manage her shiny new car with her usual attention and responsibility, and have lots of great adventures in the years to come.
So it’s the end of June and the beginning of summer vacation. The garden’s in great shape, the kids all have exciting plans for the summer, and we have lots of camping planned in our new tent trailer. It’s going to be a great summer!
I want to talk about the journey to ms diagnosis. For some, the trip is brutally short. Bam! They wake up and their whole left side is paralyzed, or they’re blind in one eye. Terrifying. No question that any person would head to the hospital, or at least the doctor and they would be taken seriously.
Usually, a trip to the ER would mean an MRI, possible lumbar puncture (sooo glad I avoided that!) and subsequent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Some get picky and call it CIS (clinically isolated syndrome) until the monster rears its ugly head again, hence the multiple in multiple sclerosis.
I suspect many people in this position start connecting the dots of other strange symptoms they’ve had for years, once the inciting incident of the diagnosis journey appears, with the exception of those diagnosed very young, of course. I can’t really speak to that though, because that was not my journey.
What about those who present with weird virus-y symptoms?
The first episode of fatigue, brain fog and vertigo when I was 22, had me sleeping in the back of my orange Westfalia on the streets of Puebla, Mexico, alone, peeing in the sink for three days. I figured it was a strange Mexican virus – thankfully not from Montezuma!
The second incident two years later, in Lagos, Portugal, I was stuck in a tent in a cinderblock wall campground, with stereos blaring on every side, peeing (sometimes unsuccessfully) in bottles, in front of my boyfriend. I knew then he was a keeper! 😊💕 Okay, bladder issues are certainly an ms symptom but enough about urine!
I had one more relapse the following year, during my final teaching practicum. The monster’s timing is exquisite. The doctors that I saw during these times, in the early 1990s, checked for parasites and infections because of the travelling link but when they found nothing, they shrugged and pushed me out the door.
Then, the monster slept. With the exception of some ear-splitting tinnitus when we lived in New Zealand which was ascribed to stress (believable as we were living on a student’s income halfway around the world with a newborn), I had no relapses for about 13 years.
After the birth of our third child and subsequently returning to work part-time, I started having these weird ‘blips’, that I again thought was a virus. Pretty soon, I realized it was hitting me every six months or so, knocking me out for longer each time.
There was no paralysis. No blindness. No alarming symptoms that justified an emergency room visit. Just an exhaustion that felt like the power of gravity had increased ten thousandfold, a weird bubbly feeling in my head and an all over body ache that made me feel like I’d been poisoned.
I saw so many doctors during this time, and every single one of them listened to my symptoms, frowned, shrugged and told me to stop working so hard. Or maybe I was depressed. Or it was just a virus. Or it was idiopathic. That last word, meaning ‘they just can’t figure it the hell out’ was said by a very tall, male doctor looming over me in his office, forcing me to crane my neck to look up at him. The subtext of his message was ‘get over it, lady’.
I have two problems with this. First, the number one symptom of ms is fatigue, which was my number one symptom. Also, I live in Canada which has one of the highest rates of ms in the world (MS Society of Canada estimates 1 in 340 people), yet NOT ONE of the 15-20 doctors I saw ever mentioned it.
I don’t think this is solely an issue related to the difficulty of diagnosing multiple sclerosis because it is such a misunderstood, unpredictable, individual disease. It’s a women’s health issue generally. I have heard so many stories about women’s health concerns being dismissed or downplayed or worse, drugged by overworked, distracted doctors.
Why is this? Do doctors really think women have nothing better to do than come to their office to ‘whine’ about something that’s ‘all in their head’? I’ve gotten equally dismissive treatment from both men and women doctors, so it’s not a patriarchal problem. It’s as though those that enter the hallowed halls of physician-dom are doomed to condescend to women, believing they’re choosing to spend their lives pretending to feel like shit, just to get attention.
I never watched the Golden Girls, but this clip explains it brilliantly.
You go, Bea! I would like to go back and have it out with some of the doctors who made me feel ashamed and ridiculous for pursuing answers when I knew something was wrong.
I am sharing my personal diagnosis story today because awareness is still so lacking about this ugly disease, despite how common it is. When I was undiagnosed, I searched all over the internet for people sharing stories like mine and found very, very few. Also, I think women need to support each other in managing their health, and that starts with conversation.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing strange symptoms, don’t ignore them. Advocate for yourself, you know your body better than anyone else can. Don’t let doctors blow you off and don’t stop searching until you get the answers you need.
Doctors hate it when you use ‘Dr. Google’, and you do have to be really, really careful. But until we sort out a healthcare system where doctors aren’t working on an assembly line, it seems to be the most knowledgeable, and least condescending doctor around. No offence to any of the doctors out there with integrity, I just haven’t met any of you.
Do you have a crazy diagnosis story? Please share, I’d love to hear from you.
By the way, it was a naturopath that finally listened to my story and first mentioned the words multiple sclerosis. I was finally diagnosed 23 years after my first relapse.