This morning, while being wheeled into work (because J is a freaking rockstar of awesome), we met up with a former coworker of ours. This woman is French, and has a super thick accent, and is very sweet. She hadn’t seen me for quite a while, and the walker was new to her.
“Good morneeng, Vashtee, are you okay? Deed you hurt yourself?”
“Oh! Hi! How are you?”
“I am good, but zees walkair, are you okay?”
“Oh. Uh.” I looked at J, who was no help. He was busy trying to get my wheels over the building’s threshold, something we struggle with every morning. “Not…really? I..have ALS.”
“I have not haird of zees ALS, what ees eet? Are you going to be ok?”
“It’s…” Ugh. What do I tell her? I’m gonna die, sorry we haven’t seen each other in awhile?
She misinterprets my struggle as reluctance. “Eet’s okay, you don’t ‘ave to talk about eet, eef you don’t want to.”
“Oh, no, no.” I settle for, “It’s a degenerative disease, I’m losing my ability to walk.”
Even that slice of information makes her sad. And it’s awkward. A new kind of awkward, a language barrier, subtleties of tone and subtext kind of awkward. Usually if someone doesn’t recognize the names of my disease, I can say, ‘neurodegenerative’ and they infer the ‘terminal’ part by tone and expression. And then we move on. But she doesn’t understand, and I don’t want to be so crass as to just cheerfully say “I’m dying” as I do with folks I know better, but there aren’t better and simpler words that are gentle. So I leave it there.
Delivering news of a terminal diagnosis is hard. I have complete empathy for doctors, this has to be the shittiest part of their job. But when the diagnosis is yours, and that relative/friend of the patient is a dear friend/relative of yours, not just some professional duty, it’s harder. It’s a strange and terrible combination of delivering devastating news and divulging a horrible secret. And watching the parade of emotions cross your faces, the ‘holy shit this is awful but this is HER dying so I can’t be selfish and grieve on my own behalf I have to be strong for her and not let it phase me but holy GOD, man I can’t believe she is DYING but she’s standing there looking like she’s sorry for ME..’ That part doesn’t get less awkward.
The worst time was when I told Danielle. She started crying, and when I reached over to comfort her, she brushed me off, dismissing her tears with a headshake and “It’s not about you.” I still don’t know what the hell that was supposed to mean. But I never asked.
Delivering the news hasn’t gotten easier. I’ve gotten better vocabulary, gotten a smoother delivery, but telling someone who has English as a secondary language was an all new difficulty level for me. It was an interesting experience.
So yeah! Part of my diagnosis cha-cha was getting a spinal tap – lumbar puncture if ya wanna be all techyface about it. It was primarily to eliminate the possibility that I had MS. Of all of the testing and poking and everything, this was the only procedure that I had any real nervousness about. I got some practical advice from t3h J03 who had been through one already, which helped, but I was kinda braced for it to be awful. I’d seen a lot of episodes of House, where they tell the patient to curl up on their side and brace themselves because… *dramatic sympathetic look* …it was going to hurt. I knew it wouldn’t be NEARLY as bad as House makes it look; I wasn’t afraid of the pain, but I had concerns about the possible side effects or complications and just kind of freaked out in general because OHMY GOD THEY ARE GOING TO SHOVE A NEEDLE IN! MY! SPIIIIIIINE!!! YOU HAVE A FINITE AMOUNT OF SPINAL FLUID AND IT COULD ALL LEAK OUT EVERYWHERE!! I COULD DIE!
Obviously I did not die.
It was actually a piece of cake. I’ve honestly had routine blood draws more painful. I wanted to post about it, for the curious, and also to reassure anyone who might need one. THEY ARE LEGIT NOT A BIG DEAL. Technology is amazing, and it’s not nearly as archaic as the tv shows make it to be, and it seriously did not really even hurt. Here’s how it all went down:
I was crazy early, and they also had some emergencies come through so they actually took me back 45 minutes late. They were playing The View on the little waiting room TV, which cemented my hatred of daytime television. So many screeching women talking about shit that doesn’t matter. When you have the former World’s Fattest Man on your show to talk about his amazing weight loss story and his reentry into society, and his girlfriend joins the panel, IT IS VERY RUDE TO ASK ABOUT THE MECHANICS OF THEIR SEX LIFE. Specially as he was so, so very British. I could FEEL the discomfort off of the television. UGH HOW DO PEOPLE WATCH TELEVISION.
So I was very happy to be taken back!
I changed out of my clothes into pants and gown big enough to swim in. My tech apologized that she did not have smaller pants, just do the best I could. I could have fit in them three times over. We went into the radiology room, where I had a bit of blood drawn for something or other, and I literally did not feel it. I watched him do it and everything, and commented on his magic touch. Blood draws aren’t particularly painful or anything, but it was weird to feel nothing at all.
The tech explained everything that was going to happen, step by step. Here is this big-ass table, upon which you will lie as still as you can, we will use live x-ray to see exactly where we are going, and if you feel any discomfort at all please tell us. The radiologist came in and did the same, and I signed the consent forms and crawled up on to the table. They had me lay flat on my stomach, and the tech was all “I’m just gonna pull these down a bit,” meaning the pants, and promptly exposed my entire ass to the room. THANKS LADY. HI HAVE THAT. They chatted amicably while they worked, about skiing vacations and everything while he washed my back down with iodine which I swear to GOD they store in the freezer. I was warned it was going to be cold but HOLY CRAP KIDS. That, I think, was the worst part of the whole ordeal, and really it was nothing. He marked the spot he wanted, and jabbed lidocaine under my skin. That pricked a little, but no big deal. He was watching himself work under the x-ray monitor to guide the needle through. I felt it push in, which was a weird jolt of pressure, and kept waiting for the pain, which never came. He pulled out a vial of maybe like, a tablespoon of fluid, and then three more vials of like a half teaspoon each. One of them would be tested for MS, and I’m not sure what other battery of tests were done. It was weird to see these vials of clear fluid and think that your brain is floating in that stuff.
And then we were done. I think I was in that room for twenty minutes, most of which was waiting for the doctor to show up. Maybe ten minutes on the table, tops. I was wheeled on a gurney to a recovery room, where I had to lay for twenty five minutes or so to make sure my spine wasn’t going to leak out everywhere. They gave me a sammich to eat while hanging out. I kinda expected to feel…something. But I was totally fine. No headache, no nausea, no dizziness, nothing. So I got dressed and we got out of there. Danielle hung out with me that afternoon to keep an eye on me, but I think she was a little surprised at how little I needed tending to; she even made a comment as she left about feeling useless. I was perfectly fine, and able to get around okay. The only result from the tap was eventually I got a bit of soreness across my lower back, which just felt like I was sitting too long, and the rare side effect of a spinal headache. I had actually resigned myself to getting a spinal headache, since headaches and I have such a close relationship, but most people don’t. Spinal headaches are strange; if you stand up, it hurts, but reclined in bed you feel perfectly fine. I was able to go back to work quickly, but I had to kick my feet up on the desk and recline for most of the day. It’s not a conducive posture to actually getting much work done.
All in all, I think it felt a bit anticlimactic, if anything. I was geared up for ….something, and it was totally nothing. No big deal. At all.
I had a 3AM epiphany after watching one of many, many, many nature shows. I’ve been on a Carl Sagan and Brian Cox kick lately, having completely exhausted all things Sir Attenborough. My mind latched on to the idea and wrestled with it rather than letting me sleep: people are like volcanoes.
No wait, stick with me.
Our outer shell is a hard rocky thing, but internal emotions are a seething, writhing mass of potentially deadly stuff. Some people bottle that up and become a tall cold stately thing, very impressive to look at but not all that interesting. Some people let emotions seep out all over the place until they are thin, flat, and stretched out to a similar on interestingness. Most of us though, keep it bottled in until it can’t be bottled anymore, and there’s an explosion. Sometimes there are signs for months or even years before the event that an impending irruption is eminent; irritability, depression, reclusiveness the equivalents of smoke and the occasional ash plume. Sometimes the eruption is sudden and violent, and nothing around it is ever the same. And once the eruption is over, we may become a stark hellscape of stripped trees, chartered earth, and acrid air. Or, we may become an amazingly fertile landscape of lush vegetation, the ash of emotional eruption fertilizing our lives afterwards. We can either be scarred by the experience, or renewed by it. And we can, if we are lucky, even use that emotional lava to build something new.
I suppose I saw it coming for weeks, this latest eruption. I had a serious bout with Sadbrain, to the point last Wednesday while having dinner with J, he repeatedly asked me if I was okay, because I clearly wasn’t. I didn’t know what to tell him. Of course I wasn’t. I’m never going to be “okay”, not ever again, but I can be okay with what’s happening. Occasionally. Right now, in this moment. Naturally sometimes are going to be rougher than ours, of course they are, but Sadbrain is another beast entirely. It’s born of, but not entirely created by, current events of course, but there is an insidious undercurrent of malignant chemistry in the mix to make things even worse.
He and I had had a chat about suicidal ideation lately, I don’t even remember how it came about. I told him I’ve never been properly suicidal, never really wanted to commit suicide, to which he immediately scoffed. I corrected myself that of course I’ve thought about suicide, everyone does, even if only in a sort of philosophical way. But I’ve never actually thought about killing myself. “I don’t want to kill myself,” I told him, “but …sometimes I just don’t want to be alive anymore.” Being alive is hard, and often it would be so much easier to just …not. I don’t have the impetus or the energy to actually end my life, and I would never want to, but I can’t help sometimes to just… not want to exist.
And, this is the space I was in. Everything seemed unnecessarily difficult. My job had thrown a bit of a curveball at me, physically of course things are continuing to decline, there was drama with my cat, bad things happening to the people I love, horrors occurring daily in the world which I keep failing to protect myself from hearing about, and my continued search for a living situation is so desperately difficult it deserves its own post. Which, I may or may not get up the emotional fortitude to create some day. And so, two days ago, I completely erupted.
I was working from home that day. I had a role-playing game session that night planned with my friends, and was kind of freaking out about just not wanting to deal with the outside world. Not that I didn’t want to see my friends, and it’s not that I didn’t want to play, but that the concept of existing I any capacity in the outside world seemed untenable. Jay gave me an opportunity to decline to go, but of course my social anxiety and sad brain told me that if I couldn’t even manage to go out and have fun, then I was truly worthless. I was determined to make myself go out, even if I didn’t feel like it. I was watching Cosmos with Carl Sagan while I worked that day and I listened to Sagan talk about our thousands of nuclear bombs and how one of them is the equivalent destructive force of the entirety of the destructive force of all the bombs used in WW2. And then he wistfully pondered how we could wipe out the entire world population in the space of “a lazy afternoon” instead of one small corner of the world over 6 years and I just …totally lost my shit and started bawling.
The next 30 to 40 minutes were spent sobbing like a heartbroken thing, wailing into my hands, hyperventilating, or staring at a space on the wall with tears spilling down my cheeks. I can’t even articulate why I was crying, or what I thought it would help to rub the scratchy hand towel into my face until it hurt instead of blowing my nose, or why it just seems natural to rock my body back and forth or hold my fists in front of me and just shake, but that’s what I did. For almost an hour. There was no one sore spot, no one trigger, just that everything was terrible and I was broken and I wanted more than anything to just… Not have to exist.
Needless to say, I did not go to game that night.
Instead I took more than my usual dose of Ativan, put on a nature show that had not a shred of social commentary in it, cuddled the hell out of my cats, and eventually tried to sleep. Eventually I succeeded. I guess that’s one blissful thing about mental and emotional breakdowns, they leave you so completely exhausted that it’s easier to get to sleep.
I feel that this particular eruption is not quite over, there’s still a little hiccups that keep happening. I came across an image today, posted below, and I kind of lost it again. Just for a minute. Molly woke me up at 5 AM this morning to be petted, and I’m probably projecting but she seemed frustrated that I can’t quite had her properly anymore. And this is the first post I’ve ever cried while dictating. Sad brain has a lot to do with this, but of course there are legitimate underlying reasons for all of my distress definite geological pressures to go with the mystical phases of the moon and planets aligning just right. I wish I knew what drugs to take, how many virgins to sacrifice, to prevent these eruptions from happening again, but I know they’re going to. For as long as I am physically able to draw breath, and think, and feel. All I can really do is monitor the seismic activity of my emotional state and declare a state of emergency when I feel interruption is pending. And do my best to mitigate the damage when these eruptions are sudden severe, and catastrophic.
And try my damnedest to make sure this results in a verdant forest instead of a hellscape.
It really doesn’t take much to tank a mood when you’re already predisposed to depression. I’m pathetically prone to frustration, as well, so it really doesn’t go well when I try to do something and am thwarted. Especially when it’s something simple, and I really ought to be able to Do The Thing, dammit, only Godzilla Disease says “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAnnnnnnnno.” I’m getting better with accepting physical limitations, but I’m still having a really hard time with accepting that I just don’t have enough mana to do a lot of things anymore. Like..the strength is there, but the exertion makes the thing impossible, or damn near. Or makes it impossible to accomplish anything AFTER Doing The Thing.
This comes up today because I was gonna do a video for you (really, honestly I truly was), but there were certain “beauty” regimens I’ve been completely neglecting and I’m FAR too vain to let y’all internet strangers see me with no hair extensions in and no makeup on. So I was doing stuff, and I wore myself the hell out even getting READY to take care of things, and then I got really frustrated and headachy, and my mood tanked. So rather than cry and feel sorry myself and sulk for the rest of the afternoon, I’m posting instead.
So here’s a list of things that wear me the hell out, that didn’t used to, and it’s frustrating as all get out.
1. Walking to my desk from the car when I go to work.
2. Restocking my minifridge with sodas.
3. Taking a freaking shower.
5. Feeding the cat AND getting food for myself in the same trip.
6. Putting on tights.
7. Shaving my head.
8. Going to more than two stores in one trip, even if I use the stupid little go-cart things that never work well.
9. Petting a cat for even half as long as they want me to.
10. Any stupid little repair/decorating thing like putting the poster back up that Molly knocked off the wall because she is a bitch.
Godzilla Disease is hard because it removes your ability to do things, but slowly, and gradually, so you can’t even get used to your new limitations because they are constantly changing. Which is DUMB and stupid and frustrating.
Anyway, that’s why you don’t get a video today. Soz.
..and the backlog of words waiting to be written backed up and I EXPLODED!
Okay, not really, but I’ve worked myself into that awful spot where updates are long overdue, but I can’t tell you about THAT because first I have to tell you about THIS, but it’s dependent on this OTHER thing for context, and I wanna talk about THIS but it needs to be a video but I really need to vlog about the cruise first, and then the wake…
And so for weeks I’ve posted nothing at all. Which is DUMB. So let me sum up some things, and then when I feel like I wanna say something, I can do that, and then fill in the back story as I can. The Cliff Notes version:
Clinic Days: Progressing as normal. Last time my breathing capacity was down a little, but it was still a strong normal. My hands continue to degrade. I made an appointment with Deb the Wicked Awesome PT who made me a Wolverine glove to hold my fingers up. I now have a wheelchair at home to get pushed around in.
Home search: Nothing. Despair.
Support Network: Lizzie is amazing and helps clean my place and I am VERY much enjoying the strengthened friendship that’s resulted out of the hangouts. She’s keen. Puce has become a freakin’ CHAMP-EE-UNNN in my life, to the point where he pushes me in my walker from the car to my desk every day. He’s amazing. Every dang day I am grateful for the people in my life who just kinda stepped into the roles I need, and I’m not at all sure what I did to deserve any of it.
Cruise: So much fun. You should do a cruise if you can.
Awake Wake: I literally don’t have the words. So many people, and so much love, and so much good food, and creativity, and hardly ANY crying, and SO MANY PEEPS OH MY GOD. My favorite part was sitting in the corner, watching all of my friends greet other mutual friends they haven’t seen in too long. It was the most uplifting thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’m so freaking grateful to everyone who came.
Vitamin shots: Don’t seem to be doing anything except make me pee pink, but I’m continuing them until next clinic day anyway.
Radicava: cautiously optimistic, but holy HELL is that expensive and complicated and..yeah. Every time I hear about it I think of Rikki-tikki-tavi.
Politics: Don’t even get me started. He wants to completely defund the ALS registry, which is the single most important tool we have to finding a cause and therefore a cure. I get angrier and more depressed with all of it every day, so I spend my days actively avoiding all of the news. It seeps in through my friends feed anyway, and I try to not be hateful and bitter. The world seems like a very ugly place right now, and I actively work to remain ignorant so that I can remain sane and functional. Bleh.
ALS Sucks: Someone else I knew with ALS died recently. I know his wife better than I knew him, and she’s an amazing person (seriously, caregivers are the unsung, underappreciated heroes of all time), but it brings the total number of people I know with ALS to….one. This is why I avoid the hell out of ALS forums. They’re seemingly all “EVERYTHING SUCKS” or “RIP So-andSo, who lost the fight with ALS today…” Meh. There’s only one cure for this disease, and it sucks.
Settling Affairs: Yeah, speaking of which I still need to finish that all up. It’s hard. I’m glad I don’t actually own anything of value.
Voice banking: Done! I have my digital voice and it is some serious Uncanny Valley stuff and I can’t wait to show it to you.
Work: I still have a job, I’m working from home two days a week now because it’s hard to do much of anything, and even getting out of bed and putting civilian clothes on and wrestling with myself to get in to work is a freakin’ challenge. But I still have to keep doing this because see: Home search.
So, that’s the quick (!) update. A lot. Realllllly need to post more. Soz. Soon. <3
I hope you're doing excellent things today.