Enough

Enough

Enough (noun)
occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations

This week was a marathon in not feeling like enough. I’m trying to figure out at what point in life do we a) know we are enough or b) it just doesn’t matter anymore?

I wish I could feel like either on any given day, but then I wonder if it’s tied to always wanting to do my best whether professionally or personally. And to this day it feels like so many others I know are more than enough.

Most days it is relatively easy to look beyond the mess and imperfections, but in the blink of a moment, something can cross your path in the course of a day, and a 180 happens, and it’s more than enough to feel like enough.

One of the things I often remind myself, that even in the throes of the worst MS flare-ups I’ve had, I have been more than enough, and more than most who don’t have my respective burden. But sometimes, even that isn’t enough.

So when exactly are we enough?

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Fear

Fear

Fear (noun)
an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger

There is so much to fear on a daily basis, it’s a wonder most of us can leave the house on a daily basis.

There are the types of fear that seem to lurk in the background, like dark spaces, spiders, snakes (both do I loathe the latter two!), and other things that go bump in the night.

Then there is the fear of speaking in front of people or going on a stage or singing in front of people. It’s interesting to me that when I speak with people who act or sing regularly about their ability to make themselves so vulnerable, I’m often met with responses that suggest low or lack of self esteem, which seems like such a dichotomy. How can a person willingly make themselves to vulnerable, and yet fear that very act of vulnerability at the same time.

The fear of losing loved ones and close friends, from long drawn out diseases, to sudden deaths, or just old age. The fear of going on without these people in your life.

We are moving into one of my favorite seasons, fall, although winter is my very favorite-est. And with that comes the fear of having a flare-up and living with a progressive, neurological disease can play tricks on your mind. The anxiety can help drive that fear. Different treatments like CBD or anti-depressants/anti-anxieties can help, as can exercising. Fortunately I’ve found a combination that works for me. It doesn’t stop fear from creeping in at highly inconvenient times, it just means that when it does, I have the tools and resources to help my brain realize that it is playing tricks on me.

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Afflicted

Afflicted

Afflict (verb)
(of a problem or illness) cause pain or suffering to; affect or trouble

Women being diagnosed with hysteria as a result of mental illnesses didn’t disappear from the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until – 1980! Yes, 1980. Hysteria was basically the medical explanation for everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women. And it continues to be a synonym for over-emotional or deranged behavior.

Some of you may be familiar with the new Netflix series Afflicted. I first came across it on Twitter the week before last as it was getting panned by the chronically ill community, including one of the people who took part in the “docuseries” who is living with an extreme form of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). ME often starts as a result of trauma, like a car accident. Some interchange it with chronic fatigue syndrome, but it is more severe, often leaving people bed ridden for months and years.

I’m assuming these people were approached by the producers who said it would help to raise awareness of these diseases that could be considered “all in your head.” While I haven’t finished watching it yet, I fall somewhere in the middle that a few may indeed be in their head, but others for sure in their body. Either way, people need genuine help. I remember having someone fairly close to me say, “it’s almost like you’re trying to find something wrong.” No, I KNEW something was wrong, and it was actually typically wrong for MS (weakness & numbness).

As someone living with multiple sclerosis a chronic (and sometimes acute) disease, I can appreciate how people “just want to feel better.” On the other hand, it’s also hard to see these people spending millions of dollars on avenues that lack scientific research. But you also can’t win in these situations, because people tell you to do “something,” but then when you do, it’s wrong unless it’s Western medicine. And since these diseases and disorders are so new, what Western medicine should it be? I do question why some of the people featured have turned down mental health support, especially given the whole mind/body connection.

Just like with hysteria in the last century, we have moved into a time of unknown illnesses. There is no doubt we are all exposed to more environmental factors, than even I was as a child 40 years ago. The show talks about electromagnetic sensitivity, as I look around my apartment to see: two laptops, a monitor, two TVs, wifi, cable modem, wifi speaker, and a mobile phone, it does make me wonder for a moment if the electric impulses I feel MANY times per day due to the paresthesia aren’t enhanced by all of the devices I have in a small space. Keep calm, carry on.

Several people in the series suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity. And around 25% of the general population reports essentially being allergic to life. All of the perfumes, mold, scents, cigarette smoke, animal dander, oils, gas, etc. can be classified as MCS. Those migraines you’re getting, asthma, allergies, sinus infections, strep, and the list goes on, could be classified as MCS depending on what you are exposed to on a daily basis. And we are also just delving into the gut microbiome in research, which is more and more starting to be attributed to the uptick of autoimmune diseases (and pointing towards the overuse of antibiotics). Also keep in mind that the better diagnostics get and the longer people live, the more likely there are to be diseases we’ve not yet heard of, just like a lot of cancers or cardiovascular diseases 40 short years ago.

As if having multiple sclerosis isn’t enough, I’ve also had allergy induced asthma for 45 years. Although the asthma is controlled by avoiding animals, the allergy/sensitivities to scents has grown exponentially since the MS. People always say, well try organic, but what most people don’t understand is there is no such thing as completely unscented. Organic doesn’t mean unscented, since herbs also have scents, and for me it doesn’t make a difference between the two, a scent is a scent. But ironically, the allergies bother me less in the city where the trees are fewer, than in the suburbs or country. Perhaps my immune system has adjusted to city life better. And also my heat intolerance has grown over time. I live in an apartmentcicle. And wherever I go, if it’s not freezing cold, I for sure have symptoms or pseudo-exacerbations, and while cooling down helps them go away, I often wonder what damage is happening in the process all during the hot months.

I felt compelled to do this post, as a result of this series, to say, while from the outside you might think an issue is “all in someone’s head,” it doesn’t make it any less of a health issue. And as a family member, friend, partner, child, as frustrated as you are, imagine feeling like shit 24/7 and not having anything to make you feel even a little better? So the next time someone turns the thermostat to meat locker temps, put on warmer clothes and be happy to spend time with them.

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Anxiety

Anxiety-600X600

 

Anxiety (noun)
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome

Today started out with loads of things on my to do list in advance of leaving for a business / personal trip tomorrow morning. Anxiety had different ideas for what my day would turn into. Anxiety doesn’t give you a reason, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s super inconvenient. Kind of like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving that everyone just wants to send home, but you can’t quite bring yourself to say see ya later, bye.

It’s probably been years since I’ve had this type of feeling. It wasn’t that kind of anxiety you feel before a talk, performance, or seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s the type of dread, and argument your gut is having with your brain, that makes you think, do I need to call / text someone, or is this an emergency room visit.

Anxiety forced me to alter my day to give into it, which made me feel even worse. I want to give anxiety the middle finger and move on from it, but things don’t work that way. I did all of the usual recommended things like rest, listen to a meditation podcast, go for a walk. Barring an anti-anxiety med, which has helped many people I know, I remembered CBD oil (cannabidiol) can help! Et voila, that I can do.

Over the last two hours I’m feeling a little bit better as a result. Anxiety is still sitting on my shoulder, but it doesn’t feel like my brain and gut are fighting with one another anymore. And I can get on with that to do list.

What do you do to fend off anxiety?

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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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Different

different51

Different (adjective)
not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality

Some say it’s not good to look back, but then how do we learn from our past?

For the last three weeks, I’ve been walking around scratching my head wondering what I did differently last year that didn’t result in having a flare-up. Why you ask? Be thrilled that it didn’t happen you say? BUT I want to know why, so I can continue doing what I did last year to avoid one this year, and hopefully in the years to come.

I also know that it’s likely impossible to come up with anything more than anecdotal. Some things I did differently last year:

  • I started a business and am working with people I absolutely 110% respect and learn from all the time, which leads to my better well-being even during stressful times of deliverables. And I look forward to working and helping the team to be successful.
  • I avoid public transportation during commuting hours. While it’s increased expenses, I believe it’s kept me healthy and less stressed, especially since this is the worst flu season since 2009. Or it could just be that my immune system works so well it can fight H3N2 more effectively than the average person.
  • I do quite a bit of walking, but haven’t been in a gym in months due to bullet 1 above. Yes, I know, not the best, and I’m slowly working it back in, but it’s definitely different.
  • I addressed the mental health side of living with multiple sclerosis in late 2016. In my head I knew that it comes with the disease, meds to treat it, and just really living with a chronic illness. I didn’t necessarily underestimate it, but most of the time it was due to having a flare-up and the meds to treat it. Treating your brain health is no different from any other part of your body.

While I will likely never know what I did differently, if anything, I’m just so glad that I didn’t. Which isn’t to say I don’t have symptoms most days, but it’s way different from having an acute multiple sclerosis relapse, which leaves you in pain, exhausted, and wondering if you will ever recover.

Today whatever that “different” is, it’s working. Today I feel good, happy, and productive.

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Stigma

Stigma concept.

Stigma (noun)
Medicine/Medical – a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease

I’ve been thinking about stigma through most of my career in healthcare communications. Having worked across just about every disease and disorder category you can think of, one of the things we’re often tasked with doing is to help “dispel” stigma around living with diseases. What I’ve learned during the 20 years in this area is that the only people who can truly smash a stigma on its head is someone living with that disease or disorder.

Now herein lies one of the problems with trying to do away with stigma, you have to talk about it publicly. It needs a face. People need to know that stigma is their partner, child, brother, sister, cousin, best friend. Whether it’s with close family and friends or on a broader platform. And in the U.S. at least, if you come out on that broader platform you potentially put your career in jeopardy. I deal with stigma every day whether someone knows I have MS or not. Stigma is all around us. In the media, online, in conversations. Our society favors the able bodied, fit, person.

I’ve seen people in wheelchairs talked over as if the person doing the talking automatically assumes said person in the wheelchair has brain damage and couldn’t possibly understand them. Or better, they shout at them. Now I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this somewhere in my life, but being diagnosed with a neurological disease magnifies those societal blips.

I have a unique story. If anyone has heard the actual way I received confirmation of my diagnosis, they know. It was funny in the moment, and it’s funny now. Combining my experience with living with MS and working in healthcare, I have attained the necessary skills to be able to help people who come after me. BUT I haven’t been able to be nearly as open as I would like due to the fear of said story-telling having a negative impact on me professionally.

Clearly my brain works, no really, it does. And in the past I have gladly accepted that even when I’ve gone through the worst of my flare-ups I can handle doing more professionally and personally then someone without MS. That said, even working in healthcare I couldn’t come out to my managers. There’s that silly stigma again. The idea that I would be looked at as less than if I made a mistake. And most times if I do make a mistake it has absolutely nothing to do with the MS. And if it does, it’s because I’ve worked too many hours and am incredibly fatigued. Under those circumstances everyone makes mistakes.

Another area of stigma surrounds mental health. For reasons unbeknownst to me we don’t treat emotional well-being as importantly as physical. And more often that not, issues with mental health are in fact physical. I don’t know too many people who would ignore having diabetes or cancer. So why do we ignore our mental health? Stigma!

People close to me know I am a total Britophile and eagerly watched Will and Kate get married, awaited both babies with baited breath and have now watched Harry come into this own. Over the last 24 hours he has given interviews detailing that he needed to seek therapy for depression. Remember when he was caught naked in Vegas? Or coming out of clubs in the wee hours? He never fully dealt with the death of his mum and his brother lovingly told him he needed help. When someone of his visibility comes out, especially in the English culture of keep calm carry on, many others feel they can as well.

One of the symptoms of MS is depression. And along with all of the meds to treat the disease and symptoms comes depression. And then you have a flare-up and you’re depressed about that! And then you’re depressed coming off of all of the meds. Screw serotonin! The depression I’d always experienced was either situational or related to being on treatment and follow-up for a flare-up. Until the end of November.

I came home from a grueling day of work and was just spiraling. I stood in my living room feeling as though I needed to head across town to the emergency room where I used to work. I could not stop ruminating. Fortunately a good friend, long distance, over instant message talked me through it. Given this was the first experience I had like this not related directly to meds, I knew medical intervention was a must. This was a Thursday night and Friday I had an appointment with my neurologist for the following Monday. A few days later I started on Zoloft. Hey stigma, how you doin’? Now how can something be a stigma when more than 15 million American adults are living with it?

Those first weeks the nausea was, well,  nauseating. One Saturday night after being out I was wandering the streets at midnight looking for Emetrol for the nausea.

I kept wondering when it was going to “kick in” harkening back to college days. Another friend assured me that I wouldn’t be turning purple or growing a unicorn horn, but that I would “just know.” Part of my fear of new meds is side effects. I would wreck any clinical trial I tried to participate in because I’m the person who gets the side effects. I get side effects no doctor has ever seen before. I’m that person.

Probably about a month into taking it, I started to feel happy. And I mean nauseatingly happy. Like the kind of happy my friends and I would make fun of. Full disclosure, I also started working out every day coinciding with taking the medicine. Fast forward several months and while yes, some say it’s a magic pill (I don’t disagree), but I was also ready for a change. And honestly, it feels GOOD to wake up happy each day. It’s allowed me to tackle something professionally I’ve wanted to do for years (saving that for another post). It’s afforded me the opportunity to start this blog and has cleared my head of “you’re not good enough” and imposter syndrome and most importantly not spending my days hating myself.

I’d like to think this is my little piece of helping to end stigma.