Happy

Happy

Happy (adjective)
feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

These days I am finding myself happy (and healthy) and sometimes it’s hard to say that out loud for fear the other shoe will drop.

In December 2016 I started taking sertraline for depression. It was the first time I had a really bad, spiraling night, that wasn’t related to the multiple sclerosis (but maybe it is because it’s a central nervous system disease), or being treated for a flare-up. I recognized that I needed help. I reached out to a long distance friend who helped me for as long as I needed it. I went to bed and the next day I went to see my neurologist. And when it came to treating this issue, I couldn’t care less about any stigma that society has about brain health. I didn’t think twice about treating the multiple sclerosis or taking medicine for asthma growing up. My only issue was worrying about side effects. And although I didn’t turn purple, boy did I spend weeks insanely nauseous while titrating up to the full dose.

Fast forward 1.5 years later, and about a month ago I realized the sertraline (and probably age) is likely slowing down my metabolism, which already works backwards, so I decided to split the dose in half. I did this on my own without consulting my neurologist, because I know my body. I also now know how I should feel most of the time (say 80/20 rule). And I can recognize the shit for what it is, and frankly most of the time I just don’t care about stupid stuff anymore. I think the 20%, as Gaga would say, Baby I was Born This Way. And you know what? I’m good with that.

So a bit of a long about route to say most days I wake up happy. I enjoy what I do professionally (and the people I work with) and am having wonderful life experiences (on my own and with loved ones). I feel better than I have since before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years ago. I’ve been so leery about saying the latter out loud, especially with my once every 18 to 24 month MRIs coming up next month. Feeling physically and mentally great also allows me to be the best I can be for the people I love and care for as well.

I spend way less time these days wondering when the shoes are going to come tumbling and I happily give the middle finger to the shit that just doesn’t matter.

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Treatment

 

 

Treatment planTreatment (noun)
a session of medical care or the administration of a dose of medicine

Today is the eighth anniversary of starting treatment for multiple sclerosis. My math skills are fuzzy at best, but if you figure 52 injections a year times eight years, that’s 416 injections, give or take based on illness, birthdays, etc. But for the most part, weekly injections, for eight years.

At the time of my diagnosis there were only injectables or infusions, not the oral meds there are today. One of the things I’ve learned both professionally and personally, often times knowing what you don’t want is just as, if not more important than, knowing what you do want.

Given what I do for a living, I was able to review the clinical trial and usage data and whittle my list of treatment options down to what I was willing to do. Although my body was in turmoil at that point, I knew I wasn’t willing to inject more than once a week. Inject, it’s an odd concept. I also knew I couldn’t do nothing, or only treat holistically as some recommended. That.was.not.an.option. Complementary, definitely, alternative, no way.

For most people the notion of doing harm to yourself isn’t ingrained. Having to do something as violent as an intramuscular injection, that causes flu-like symptoms, even once a week, seemed so violent to me. I could easily do it to someone else, just like I loved watching brain and heart surgery, but to myself? Hell.no.

Once I decided on a course of action, I ran it by my neurologist here in the U.S. before setting the wheels in motion in Basel. We hadn’t anticipated a delay in starting treatment, which I’d mentally prepared myself for, but another week more separated the start date from what was originally planned. I didn’t fully grasp the whole long distance marathon thing at that point, given I never endeavored to actually run a marathon.

The onset happened end of March and diagnosis middle of April, by the beginning of June 2009 my body was so sick, that starting on treatment was not only a way for the physical healing to begin, but a way to take “control” over a life that felt very much out-of-control. Starting treatment was also a step in the life is unpredictable direction. One of the worst diseases a type A control freak could get IMO. I was incredibly scared of what was next.

When the decisions were made and drug ordered, J followed by N came over to be with me. Although it was one of the worst times in my life, looking back it also showed me that I can ALWAYS come out on the other side and be ok. A few more bumps, bruises, and warts, but ok just the same.

June 5, 2009 was 1/4 of the injection (you increase the dose over four weeks until the full dose). We practiced on an orange and these little pin cushion type contraptions. In case you’re wondering, none of them ACTUALLY mirror that of injecting yourself. Even hospitals in Europe don’t have the same level of aircon that we have in the U.S. and sitting in the little exam room, learning my new skill, and then having to execute, left me light-headed and near passing out. The first injection was administered by the nurse. We would try again the following week. I needed a STIFF drink.

A HUGE shout out to nurses, because the nurse I worked with, A, at the University Hospital of Basel’s neurology clinic, was beyond amazing. She took one of the worst times in my life and made it as tolerable as it possibly could be under the circumstances. I was 4,000 miles away from home, in a healthcare system vastly different from ours. I will be forever grateful to her.

When I moved home to NYC, she was one of the last stops I made to say good-bye. And when I returned to Basel last year for vacation, she was one of the first stops I made. Going back to where I was diagnosed was bitter sweet, but seeing her was a happy occasion. When you live in an area with a large expat population, your patients come and go. She told me that I’m one of the few that has kept in touch. I couldn’t imagine not.

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