Unsafety Net

I have Clinic next Monday, and one of the things I need to talk to them about is maybe upping my depression/anxiety meds. I’ve been having severe bouts with SadBrain lately, and while I have hella circumstances that warrant being sad, I don’t like being crippled by ennui just because a cat video looked at me wrong.

Last night, even though I KNEW BETTER, I watched a documentary about coral on Netflix. I knew it was going to deal with the devastation on our reefs caused by climate change, but I love coral and wanted some beautiful imagery. I wasn’t disappointed on either front, and when one of the guys involved with the project started crying over the devastation of his beloved corals, so did I. And I cried for a long time.

And I thought, not for the first time and CERTAINLY not the last, that I’m a little bit glad I’ll be dead sooner than later. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. And I honestly couldn’t tell if that was SadBrain or Cynicism talking.

Either way, both them bitches need to shut up.

Cry Me a River of Lava

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.

Completely erupted.

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.

http://thelatestkate.tumblr.com/

Bad Mood Bears

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.
4. Laundry.
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 then I waited too long…

..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.

Stabbity Stab Stab

One thing I love about being one of Dr. Goslin’s goslings is that she is super, wicked smart and stays on top of the latest research. Any time someone sends me an article about some new breakthrough or other, I am completely confident that she has already seen it and researched it to pieces. The upshot of this is that, when she suggests I try something, I know it’s a very well-considered proposal.

In our last Clinic Day, she told me about this article. Massive megadoses of B12 have been tentatively shown to maybe possibly potentially help with some of ALS’ stupid symptoms. She gave me the article, asked me to mull it over, and let her know if I’d like to try it.

Roadblock number one? Insurance won’t cover it. She told me it ran between $250 – $300. I could either get it in a vial with needles, or pre-filled needles, for more dollars. Now, I can manage to afford that now, while I’m unemployed, but when I’m not? Sucks to be me, if it works. I had me a nice angry meltdown on facebook about how stupid that is, sulked, and researched some more. My friends assured me that if it worked, they’d help me fundraise to get it, so don’t let that stop me.

Roadblock number two? Self. Administered. Intra. Muscular. Injections. Now, I’m tattooed, have multiple piercings, I am in NO fear of needles. But I didn’t know that I’d have the nerve to stab myself every day in the thigh. In the morning! And then there was the problems of mechanics, having enough hand control to push the plunger in. So, a mental AND physical challenge.

I decided to try; they recommend one month at least. I decided to go for it all three months until next Clinic, and I’ll likely still be employed all that time to afford it. I sent Dr. Goslin an email, she gave me the prescription, and thus began the Wacky Comedy of Errors. Holy crap.

First of all, only several pharmacies compound the stuff. For some perspective, the average over-the-counter supplement is 2.4 micrograms. This injection is 25 MILLIGRAMS. That is more than TEN THOUSAND TIMES the dose. Understandably, there’s a limited number of folks who make it that strong. So I had to *gulp* CALL A PHARMACY. IN PERSON. They got the prescription from Dr. Goslin. Then they called me to get my personal information. Then they called me back with pricing. A vial of it would run me $215, plus $30 shipping because it has to be kept refigerated and mailed cold. Oh. But they can’t ship it to Oregon; they’re not licensed to ship there, did I know someone in California or somewhere I could have them ship to, who could forward it to me? For another whatever-it-costs for overnight shipping to keep it cold? LUCKILY I have my dear friend Amanda in Vancouver, which is not so far away, and she was happy to recieve the package on my behalf AND dose it out into the syringes for me. Two days later, she got my vitamins.

With no syringes.

No big deal, she went to a pharmacy. …Who would not sell her any without a prescription. They gave her 4, though, so I could get started while I waited over the weekend for my doctor to send in a prescription. Doc Goslin was in a conference, turns out, so she turned the task over to her nurse, who mistook the instructions and sent in a scrip as though the injections were WEEKLY, so they only gave me 11. And to the wrong pharmacy, but that wasn’t her fault, DocGos didn’t tell her that part of my request. So I sent in an email to get it corrected and to the right pharmacy, only insurance now wouldn’t cover it because I was trying to fill the scrip too soon. You’d think the fucking things already have heroin in them, with how hard it’s been to get hold of some. FINALLY we’ve got it sorted and I can go pick up the rest of them tomorrow.

Theoretically.

I started the shots a week ago. You have to keep it refrigerated, take the shot out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to administration, and keep it in a dark place while it waits, because B12 is light-sensitive. And THEN you may stab yourself. It took a couple of tries, mind you. 1mL is a LOT of liquid to get in there. The initial stab isn’t bad, unless I hit a nerve, but sometimes it takes some doing to get the plunger all the way in. And sometimes some of the liquid comes back out when I withdraw the needle, which sucks because it’s a blood red liquid that stains. I was warned that it gets metabolized quickly, and I’ll pass whatever doesn’t get readily absorbed, so my urine miiiiiight turn reddish or pink.

It totally does. So, thanks for the warning.

I haven’t noticed a difference in anything yet. I’m still experimenting with where to do the injection, as there’s not a LOT of muscle left in my thighs, and it’s blanketed with fat. Shooting my bicep though, feels like an immunization shot and leaves my arm sore all day. I’m sure it will get easier. It’s still taking one or two false starts before I manage to work up the nerve to stab myself though.

I’m not sure what I’m hoping for, with this. If it does something, then I’m tethered to $245 payments a month out of pocket. And eventually finding someone to stab me with a needle every day. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be out a lot of money with nothing but soiled cupcake band-aids and self inflicted puncture marks to show for it. I mean, of COURSE I’d like it to do something, even if it does mean weighing the pros and cons of perceived improvement vs. cost and hassle.

I guess I’m just saying, this disease complicates everything. At all times. For everyone. It really SHOULD come with a secretary and a kitten.

And someone to do the shots for me.

April Fool

I’ve always, always hated April Fool’s Day.

I’ve only ever been – at best – ambivalent towards the holiday. I don’t generally like pranks, because usually what I see aren’t so much as pranks as people being complete dicks to an innocent person. It’s a really mean-spirited holiday. I believe in open communication and trust, and this holiday celebrates being awful to people. The general rule is, “if it’s not at least as funny to the victim, it’s not a prank.”

Three years ago, April fools became something else to me. It became Diagnosis Day. Sadiversary. Three years ago, I sat in a doctors office, and was told I was going to die. Horribly. I had previously joked about having this appointment on this holiday, joking on Facebook that regardless of the results of this appointment, no one was going to believe me. I now tell people that my diagnosis was the un-funniest April fools prank ever.

Three years later, I’m taking stock of everything I thought since then, and everything that has become. I knew that no matter what I thought was going to be the problem, my real troubles were likely to be things that never occurred to me. I was mostly correct. I’m a pretty smart person, and observant, so I saw a lot of my troubles coming. I’ve surprised myself with how well I’ve handled some things I thought would destroy me. The loss of my hands. The death of my 23-year-old cat. And, predictably, some things surprised me by how intensely I reacted to them. Or, as has usually been the case, how little I reacted to them. My first fall. That was kind of a, “well that sucked.” Instead of a nuclear eruption of emotion. Often times a completely excusable meltdown has instead been met with, “yeah, okay, there’s that.”

Tuesday, I had my second semi serious fall. As is mostly usual I can’t even tell you exactly what happened to make me fall. I can tell you that’s a major contributor is that I OUGHT to have been holding onto something, and I wasn’t. That would’ve helped. Instead, I went down like a ton of bricks and somehow twisted my knee. It hurt badly enough that I was nauseous for a moment, and had to lie there a moment to catch my breath. I can tell you exactly how I managed to twist my knee, but I did so. Just so. And so for the last few days, I’ve been having a taste of what it’s like to be immobile. I’m used to being able to walk around my apartment, simply leaning on the walls for support. I couldn’t put any weight on my knee at all. And living alone meant that in order to get to the bathroom, I had to swivel myself onto my Walker and push myself around the apartment with my good leg. It was really…

… Lonely.

I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting helpless, and frustrating, certainly. But it hasn’t really been the helplessness and being bedridden lately that got under my skin so bad. I’m a very independent person, and will fight to hold my own, on my own, until I am actually dead. It wasn’t really that I wanted help? But it was just as when I’m sick. I just wanted someone else around. Had I had a roommate at the time, I would have completely ignored them. As usual. But sometimes it’s pretty awesome just knowing someone else’s around. Especially when you’re hurt or ill.

Three years ago, I was completely able to stand up out of a chair on my own. Without using my hands, without even thinking about it. And now, when I try to get up off of the toilet I can’t even remember how my legs did that. How my body was able to just… Stand up. How I was able to run up a flight of stairs. It’s not even depressing so much as bizarre to me, that I have completely forgotten how to do simple things I used to do without thought. I expected frustration, anger at my ability to bend over, balanced on one leg, to pick something up off of the floor being taken away from me. But I find myself staring at whatever it is on the floor that is vexing me, baffled at how my body used to Do the Thing. Without will, without thought. Unthinkable.

It’s been three years since I was officially diagnosed. Self-inflicted injuries notwithstanding, I’m still on my feet. This is amazing. A lot of people with ALS would be dead by now. I’m losing the use of my hands, which is why I’ve been using voice dictation to create this post, but I can still do the basics. I can use the toilet by myself. I can go get myself a drink from the fridge, as long as I’m careful carrying it back. I can still pet my cats. For now. My progression is still very, very slow. And I am extraordinarily grateful.

I still hate April Fools’ Day. I can’t really blame the holiday for my diagnosis, or even the timing, because I was given the option to have this appointment on this day. I knew in my gut what this appointment was going to be about, by virtue of having been given the option to move the original appointment closer. I could’ve waited two days. But I already hate the holiday, so why taint any other perfectly good April day with an anniversary such as this?

Regardless of how you feel about the holiday, please treat your fellow humans with respect. Make sure your prank is funny, and not just you being a dick.

Life is enough of a dick as it is.

I’m still alive.

I have a lot to say, but not a lot of it is good, so I tend to not want to talk about it. Some days just suck. I’ve been in a state of..depression is not quite right, more like barely contained terrified panic, since the election. It just keeps getting worse. Thank you, everyone who voted Republican, for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, so I’m not entirely certain I’m going to have medical coverage when I’m forced to leave my job, because I have one hell of a pre-existing condition.

I had clinic recently, not much to report. Same decline, my hands are getting worse, swallowing and breathing are still normal.

My 23 year old cat is dying, and I feel like I want to, too, when I think about it. I’ve known him for more than half my life.

Christmas was…good and bad. I’ve had more falls lately.

That’s the baby update. There will be more; I have a lot to say and I promise to say it soon.

Dealing with (cat) Shit

I suck at asking for help.

I know, you all are alerting the media right now. OH MY GOD REALLY!? DID YOU ALSO KNOW THAT WATER IS WET? IT IS TRUE!!

I’m getting better at it I swear. I will give the soda bottle one good try and then hand it over to someone for opening. I allowed friends to help with cleaning my apartment. I’ve brought jewelry out to the car on our way somewhere, for J to help me put it on rather than just not wearing it. I trust folks to help me up a curb without feeling like I’m going to pull us both down to the ground. It’s hard, and it’s definitely going to be a continuous work in progress until I no longer have the OPTION but to let people help, but there are definitely areas that I have a harder time with than others.

Like the cat box.

I don’t know why that’s such a trigger. Because it’s gross? Because my cats are not technically part of ME and so admitting I need help caring for them when they are not a medical necessity seems …frivolous? Even though I would literally rather die in a house full of shit than live without them? Because my cat Parmesan is 22 years old and shits wherever he wants and right now my front room is so absolutely goddamned GROSS that I am mortified at the thought of someone else having to deal with it?

But I have to.

I got a notice of inspection when I came home Tuesday; they’re coming in to check the fire alarms. No big deal. But yesterday I had to clean the cat box area, because that’s the first thing you see (and smell) when you come in to my apartment, and it needed doing. I’ve got puppy pads spread out all over my dining area, because Parmesan does what he wants and I can’t stop him and I love him enough that it’s a price I will pay for his company. The carpet is …unhappy with its lot in life, at this point. And that’s a fair part of why I had laminate floors in my house, because once a cat pees on something it is RUINED FOREVER. AND EVER. Cat owners know this. No amount of Nature’s Miracle will ever completely get rid of the smell. And so I just lay out the puppy pads so that hopefully Parm pees on them and then Ianto will NOT try to bury it and drag them all over the place trying to scratch over it, exposing the carpet where Parm will inevitably pee again. J steam cleaned the carpet not long ago, but it needs doing again. Until then, the spotbot and puppy pads will have to do. It’s not easy for me to do this, because I can’t just bend down to pick up the soiled pads, and crouch down to scoop the box. I have to get on the floor, which is less like “getting down on the floor” and more like “a controlled fall”. Then, pulling out the tray from the litter robot (SERIOUSLY BEST THING EVER), replacing the bag, collect all the pads, put out new ones, scoop out the other box, somehow get up off the floor, heft the heavy bag of used litter into the trash can, and then put it outside.

It didn’t used to be a huge production. Twenty minutes, tops.

Last night demonstrated that I can’t do this anymore. I couldn’t carry the water tanks for the spotbot without dropping them. I couldn’t effectively scoop out the boxes. I had the worst time opening and levering a box of cat litter to refresh the boxes. My hands wouldn’t uncurl after grasping the puppy pads. I had to use two hands to spread them out instead of the casual flick it used to take. I almost was unable to get off the floor when I was done, and I was out of breath and dripping sweat.

I can’t do this anymore.

I had a really, really hard time telling myself this last night, as I cleaned myself up and waited to stop sweating. And I don’t know why I’m so stubborn about this, but it seemed like it was the end of all things. I know it’s not. I’ve had friends volunteer, cheerfully, to come over and help with the cat boxes. It just seems like a special brand of failure, to no longer be able to do this. When I adopted my cats, I promised to love them for all time, and to be responsible for their care. I feel like I’m failing them at it. I am losing the ability to give them head skritches, to play with them, and to give them a sanitary place to do their thing. And it’s the worst. I am failing at Cat Mom, and it bothers the fuck out of me.

I’m not dealing gracefully with this at all.

Death Cafe

I have always been a spooky kid. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the aesthetic of death, the graves and skeletons and ghosts, and later Victorian memorial photography and mourning jewelry. I was peripherally aware of death, of course, my whole life. We all are. It wasn’t until Jack Kevorkian came into the American consciousness that I learned that I had Definite Opinions about capital D DEATH as an absolute, as well as an aesthetic. I found that I strongly believe we all ought to have control over our own mortality, and had my first real experience with how afraid society is to discuss the subject at all. Later, when going through the Diagnosis Cha Cha, I experienced my first profound frustration with peoples’ willingness – and even their ABILITY – to discuss it at all.

Today I attended my first Death Cafe.

You can learn about them here: http://deathcafe.com/ It’s essentially a safe space to talk freely and openly about death, and it’s meant to be a really positive experience. I first found out about them through the Order of the Good Death; I’ve fangirled about Caitlyn Doughty and her Ask a Mortician video series before. I finally worked up the nerve to sign up and attend one; my hesitation was not at all about the subject matter, but about, you know…that whole show up and talk to total strangers. This is what I do here, of course, but in a more one-sided capacity. It was a space to get to know other death-curious people, exchange ideas, and finally -FINALLY – be allowed to talk freely about this whole ‘death’ thing.

We had a wonderful facilitator at the table, who was warm, inclusive, and knowledgeable. There was a young woman who had older parents and didn’t know how to talk to them about death, a wonderful older woman who had the same frustrations with being unable to talk to her loved ones about death, and an artist who works with the dying to design their own crematory urns.

FUCKING AWESOME, RIGHT!?!

…Damn right I got her contact info.

We all spoke for about two hours, about everything from death acceptance to memorial services and keepsakes to death-positive media. I learned about POST/POLST forms (a beefed up Advance Directive that is hot pink and you put it on your fridge so the ambulance folk know what you want). I got a very warm and supportive hug. I taught a delightfully sweary old woman the phrase “lalochezia”. I learned about support groups that aren’t support groups at all for the recently bereaved. We talked about how America doesn’t really have its own death rituals as a culture, and so when it comes to death, we are all at a loss as to what to do. I mean, wen someone dies, you show up with a casserole, but then what? We don’t have societal rules and custom for how to treat the dead, besides paying total strangers to come deal with it and sweep the whole thing under a clinical rug. We’ve become divorced from Death, and it is a damn shame.

I will definitely be attending more of these. It was a pleasant afternoon of drinking tea, eating cookies, and having a chat about things you don’t normally get to talk freely about. I highly recommend you seek one out in your neighborhood. The more we talk about this, the more normal it becomes, and the more healthy our attitude towards death as a culture becomes. And this is a good thing. It helps the dying to not feel so alienated. It helps the grieving to not feel so alone. It helps us all to know what to do, how to have these conversations while we still can.

Knowledge is power, indeed, and by talking about death, we destroy some of its mystique and its terror. We make it normal, and we help each other through impending loss – be it even our own departure. I want to be able to have these conversations with my loved ones, but until that becomes normal and okay, I can have these conversations with strangers.

It’s almost as good.

sadbrain

I’ve had depression most of my life. I’m really, really lucky in that it’s a super high functioning depression; most of the time I can still convince myself to Get Shit Done. I know many, many people who aren’t that lucky. Most days, I can get out of bed even though I don’t want to and my brain asks what is the point, even, and my anxiety tells me a million lies a day that I can usually push aside and do things anyway. A lot of folks with depression are like this; we’re not all like the commercials show you.

Some days though.

Some days it really IS like that. The days you call in sick because you literally just….can’t. The days you cry, the whole day, for little or no reason at all. When you spoon food in your mouth and it sits there, unchewed, for like five minutes. The days when your cat looking up at you and meowing (as he has a million times) is suddenly the worst thing ever and you just shake in frustration because you don’t know what to do. About the meowing, about standing in your kitchen, about being alive at all. And then you go to bed and the next day it’s fine, and it’s like you were possessed. If you’re lucky and female, sometimes you realize that the depression is PMS in disguise and somehow just knowing that takes the sting out. It’s temporary. It’s going to be okay, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Which of course is the same thing you tell yourself the OTHER days, too, but with nothing concrete to point at, you never believe yourself.

Depression and terminal diseases are tricky. Because you have a PERFECTLY legitimate reason to be sad, but you know in those slumps that it’s not why you’re crying. When they talk about your meds, and ask how you’re doing, of COURSE you’re low; you have a terminal fucking disease. Separating the mind disease from the physical disease becomes a very demanding and complicated thing, and of course you won’t get it right all the time. You don’t want to bump up the meds and become a zombie if your uptick is just cause you’re quite reasonably sad; it’s only for the sadness you can’t help, the depression that is there for no other reason than your chemistry is off and your brain hates you. The I-have-hella-circumstances depression can be medicated too, but I don’t like the idea of taking something all the time for something that’s legitimately situational and not just chemical. I like having an as-needed med for those times.

Wednesday was one of those times.

I think it was triggered Tuesday night; I found my newt dead in his tank. Now, the newts were always just above furniture, the same as a fishtank; they hated to be looked at, much less TOUCHED. They were low maintenance, you top off the water when it evaporates and toss in a couple of frozen bloodworm cubes once in awhile. I wasn’t particularly emotionally attached to these animals. The cats found them enchanting, I called it Newt TV and it was Molly’s favorite show. I always felt a little guilty for not getting more enjoyment out of them, surely there was some kid out there who would love these neat little pets more than I, but they were perfectly happy being completely ignored. They looked like pissed-off old men, and I named them after the old heckling muppets, and we coexisted. I was upset when Molly somehow pulled the screen off the tank and she either killed one of them outright or put it on the floor and it dried up and died outside of its tank; it seemed like it was an easily preventable death and I should have noticed he was missing from his tank before he had a chance to mummify in my living room. The last newt, I’m pretty sure died of natural causes – there was water in his tank and he’d CERTAINLY gone longer without being fed before – but I failed to notice until he’d had time to partially decompose in there. It was a warm week, probably didn’t take long for that to happen but I was still horrified with myself. Not guilty, he didn’t die because of neglect, just…I should have noticed that a living thing in my care was no longer living before then. I felt shaky and weird, horrified at his little corpse that I just couldn’t bring myself to fish out of the tank just yet, and went to bed after taking an Ativan.

Wednesday was work from home day. My stomach felt…off..so I called off the housecleaner. And then at some point during the day, sadbrain kicked me in the head. Everything was wrong. Work was frustrating and seemed hopeless. I checked Facebook to distract myself, but that turned out to be the absolute WORST thing, because not only were several friends having terrible things happening to them, but the world was full of screenshots of a dead black man bleeding in the street next to his car. And then I lost my shit. And cried and cried. And then went to sleep for a bit, and woke up crying, and everything was the worst. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop crying. The slightest thing set it off, and when you have ALS and the slightest things are stupidly difficult already, the world just seemed …too much. I had social obligations that night, and begged off instead, because I didn’t know if I’d ever stop crying. And then I watched television to distract myself, and HOLY SHIT WAS THAT A DUMB THING I DID.

OK. So. Something about me and my broken brain. This sounds stupid, but, welcome to how my personality disorder works. Look up Avoidant Personality DIsorder, and read all about my dumb brain. I have a really hard time watching new shows, because they’re an emotional risk. I just don’t know how they’re going to make me feel, so I have to be REALLY REALLY brave to try something new. I usually have some kind of an “in” – it’s recommended to me by a friend who knows about my broken brain, it’s by a writer whose work I trust, it’s so dang silly it couldn’t possibly be harmful. Otherwise I stick to ‘safe’ shows, like nature specials (Sir David Attenborough is legit one of my favorite people on the planet), cooking shows, How It’s Made.

So I picked this show that had just been added to Netflix:

Dream Knight (드림 나이트)
Alternate titles: 玩偶骑士
Starring Song Ha Yoon and Im Jae Bum (JB)
Though she’s constantly bullied, orphaned high schooler Joo In Hyeong (Song Ha Yoon) refuses to let life get her down and fills her little home with positive vibes from her favorite boy band. But fandom hits the next level when she discovers the ability to call upon four mysterious hotties (played by GOT7), who turn her world topsy-turvy with magical and hilarious antics, including JYP artist cameos. No matter how tough life gets, she’ll get by with a little help from her friends, especially with dreamy knights!

HOW COULD THAT HAVE GONE WRONG. I mean, it even had wacky sound effects and live-action cartoon antics. Only…she lives in a trailer because her mom died suddenly. Ok, I’ve seen anime like that before, that doesn’t HAVE to be depressing; it can lead to wacky misunderstandings involving four boys unsupervised in a single woman’s home. Classic harem anime formula. Four gorgeous guys show up, but they’re really magical dolls born from her tears of despair, here to make everything better! And what she wants most in life right now is to win a dance competition so she can dance with her favorite idol! Only she can’t really dance because she’s clumsy! THIS IS A COOKIE CUTTER FORMULA. Throw in the “oh noes, when her wish comes true the magical dolls will disappear!’ trope that ALWAYS FINDS A SOLUTION (hint: she falls in love and true love’s kiss saves him!) for good measure. Why not. Oh hey, loophole that if they kill her, they can remain human! O NOES (whatever, they totally won’t betray her).

Only..

Only she lives in the trailer because her aunt fucked her out of her mom’s fortune. Only she’s clumsy because she actually has myasthenia gravis! What’s that? OH ONLY A MOTHERFUCKING PARALLEL DISEASE TO ALS THAT CAUSES MUSCLE WEAKNESS AND EVENTUALLY PARALYSIS. No big deal, not fatal, right? Nothing to be upset about as a viewer? Oh, what’s that? Her disease is progressing quickly and she’ll be paralyzed within a year? Is that her and her knight finally falling in love even though the other knights have decided to betray her after all and she doesn’t know about any of this, including the fact that they’re not human? Is that her praying to her dead mother to give her the strength to dance really well, this one last time, with the man she loves? And then afterwards, she is going to break up with him to spare him a lifetime of taking care of a cripple? Oh, is this her winning the competition, everything is happy, wait a minute ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME THEY ACTUALLY DO DISAPPEAR FOREVER AND THAT IS THE END OF YOUR SHOW YOU ASSHOLES.

After triggering a lot of ALS/terminal disease buttons, you’re not even going to give me a happy ending to your stupid boy band television live action cartoon?

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME.

….so yeah I cried until I nearly threw up, cried until I gave myself a migraine, called in sick the next day and cried that whole day too. Zootopia was released on Netflix, but I knew it was a not-even-bothering-to-veil-this analogy for race, and after sobbing in despair for a couple of hours about race relations ALREADY the previous day, I avoided that trigger. And just avoided the internet best as I could. And slept. And I don’t menstruate anymore so I couldn’t even lie to myself that it was temporary, and I thought about just not showing up to life ever again, and slept some more, and took more ativan in three days than I’ve taken in the last six months. And slept. And Friday came, and I was no longer crying, but so bone-tired that all I could do was sleep some more.

And the tricky part is looking back at that and trying to figure out what was Depression, and what was Disease. My feelings had a reason; their intensity did not, necessarily. Because I need to decipher what the situation really was, what were the triggers, in order that I might avoid them in the future and not lose three days of my life to crying and sleeping the next time. The dead man on my feed, that was obviously a real trigger, and there is most decidedly some very real buildup to that breaking point – you’ve read the news or failed to avoid it as much as I have. I had reason to cry over that. Maybe not so long. Friends’ issues that came up, I don’t know that there would have been tears to go with the empathy otherwise. Not sure. The frustration that my hands cramped up when I tried to eat something, real. Intensity, probably uncalled for. Etcetera. I have to unpack all of these things, examine them carefully, and put up traffic cones around the ones likely to make me slip again. There is certainly an element of the single straw that broke the camel’s back, here; a lot of kinda shitty things have been going on lately, a lot of micro-stresses, and the weight of the major ones combined, and the dam broke. I was way overdue for a cathartic cry. But not so hard, not so long.

ALS has added a layer of difficulty to this process. I can’t just shrug it off and say fuck it, I had a breakdown, maybe it’s time to try a new med. I’m paying much closer attention to all of this, for as much as I could easily play the “I’m Dying” card when I freak out and withdraw, I don’t WANT to unless it’s true. I don’t WANT to give myself permission to ignore causes and allow myself to drown in slumps like this without trying to figure out how to never do that again. My life is too short to allow whole days and weeks to be wasted if I can do something to avoid that. I quite literally…do not have time for this.

And if I’m being honest? Neither do you. Please look after your mental health, babies.

FORTIFY

on top of gravity:
I asked one of my (male) friends to stop using the phrase “man up” and he has been using “fortify” for the past two weeks instead and it’s just a little thing but honestly it makes a difference
and tbh it’s also pretty funny when I start to deflate in the library and he leans over and goes “FORTIFY”

Seriously try that. J and I use it now and it’s awesome. Sometimes when I’m whining, even though he knows I have every right to (CENTER CIRCLE, BITCHES), he will just grin and shrug and say, “Fortify.” And I will flip him off the best I can, and we laugh and go about our lives.

There will be a real post soon – I know I keep telling you this. But Monday is Clinic Day so there will be lots to report on that front. Meantime I thought I’d check in with just a quick thing about the weekend.

It wasn’t particularly kind, if I’m being honest, but there were moments of goodness interspersed, for certain. I mean, it started with a road trip to Olympia to see a black metal show. How is that not awesome? I’m not generally in to black metal, but Wolves in the Throne Room are an exception. They’re not so much Black Metal as…Black Folk? It’s more melodic than the usual stuff, and they have been properly described as “atmospheric black metal”. None of the cheesy SATAN666OMG stuff. I like it. It was two and a half hours away, on a school night, and the venue was this ADORABLE little place that served surprisingly delicious food and had the cutest waitstaff OMG and delightful bathroom graffiti (next to the signs that declared said bathrooms to be transgender friendly, use whatever restroom coordinates with your identity, and if someone gives you a problem, please report their asses and they will fix it). The music of course, was WAY too loud for the small room, and the geniuses decided that a smoke machine was a good idea so I spent some time breathing through my shirt, and then some jackass decided that you know what this concert needs? For me to blaze up in this tiny room.

So yeah I had a headache.

The show was awesome though, a dear friend in Seattle had joined us, and the opening act was every cheesy stereotype I could hope it to be, including announcing themselves in a Cookie Monster voice “WE ARE BLACK! FUCKING! CANCERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” And yet, the whole time I was listening, I was so tired I felt like I could fall asleep any minute. Even with Cookie Monster screaming about forests or satan or whatever. I don’t know what the hell that band was about. We got home around 4, because the show was an hour late to open, and had 3 bands, and was two and a half hours from home. I had wisely taken the next day off. I slept until like..3, and then took a nap, and then went to bed early. Working all day and then car ride and then socials and everything was way too much and I was DONE for the whole day.

Saturday I FINALLY got my Fallout 4 install working. I’d had to reinstall my operating system, so everything is cattywampus still, and I hadn’t played in forever because getting everything how I like it was just too daunting most of the time. So I finally got all my add-ins working, got it set up for use in the bedroom so I can lounge and play, annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd…..discovered my hands don’t work well enough to play on the wireless keyboard anymore. My left ring finger seriously droops, and that’s the finger that controls moving LEFT, soooo….unplayable. I tried for a little bit and gave up. I’m going to have to get a controller. Which SUCKS because I am totally a mouse/keyboard gamer.

Sunday I had a friend come over to help me around the apartment. AGAIN – people just…show up! And do cool things! And the hardest part is always just LETTING them help. I’m so grateful I can never even HOPE to say how much. While I was shifting some things around for her arrival, I had a fall. Not a bad one at all, just…wound up on my butt. I got up with little difficulty and went about my day. I continued to think about it, but it didn’t really upset me or hurt me. Just, whoops, on the floor. Get up, move on.

That evening we went to dinner with Gecko for his birthday, and we did Brazil Grill. If you’re not familiar with the place, you sit at a table, and they bring huge hunks of meat around on swords. And they carve you some, and you eat meat until you DIE. And then they bring you cinnamon sugar glazed pineapple and you know you’re in Heaven. I love this place. Only trouble is, when they carve off that beautiful slice of tri-tip, you have to grab it with your tongs and take it to your plate. I had to use my tongs with my whole fist, and still didn’t quite manage to grab it a couple of times. The delightful gaucho (dude with the meat sword) apologized every time, but it was clearly ME dropping it, not him cutting, and I wanted to tell him “It’s not you, my hands just don’t work” but I didn’t. I wound up putting my freakin’ boob in my plate once, reaching over to try and grab the slice properly. And then cutting up the meat was its own challenge, and trying to be discreet when my hands inevitably cramped up with the effort was useless because 1) I have to do a prayer gesture with my hands to get it to stop, and 2) my brother is observant AF. But it wasn’t a huge deal, just a quiet “hand cramping?” “Yah.” and that was the end. I realize next time, I’m going to have to ask someone to grab the slices for me. And probably cut my steak.

Four slaps in the face from ALS this weekend. The exhaustion, the loss of playing video games with mouse and keyboard, the fall, knowing I’m gonna have to have my steak cut for me like a toddler from now on….and yet.

And yet.

Not once did I lose my shit, or even feel like I was going to. Or needed to. Just a quiet acceptance. The exhaustion was to be expected, and things like this are just going to require a full day recovery anymore. That’s how it is. Gaming, well, I knew that it was coming, and I’ve been keenly aware that my ring finger in particular is very weak, so it makes sense that I can’t really do it anymore. The fall, well, they’re going to happen. Until I am no longer able to get up out of a chair, and even then, I’m going to get dropped. Being unable to cut my own food in the future, well, I’m honestly glad I’m still even able to EAT steak. And I have people willing to cut it for me. Gecko and his husband would have done it in a flash, had I asked. And next time, I will.

ALS still sucks. But I’m getting better at coping with the losses, to foresee them happening and bracing myself.

To fortify.

And that’s pretty awesome.

Oh hai.

It’s uh…been a month. Soz.

I have a lot to say, as usual, but typing is getting hard, and when I get home I usually don’t want to sit in front of the computer at all. I have a lot of things I wanna talk about but yeah, I have a thousand excuses why I haven’t. They all suck – the reasons, hopefully not the things I wanna talk about. In short, it’s like this:

There’s the general health update – the short version is that I have graduated to the walker full time, my hands are decidedly weaker, still no breathing or speaking problems. Headaches are still a thing; got a Cefaly device and it doesn’t seem to be helping. I wanna do a video about the device. It’s weird.

Housing, short version OH MY GOD WHY IS THIS SO HARD. I don’t wanna be adult and do this, I wish someone else was doing this for me, I wish there were even any places AVAILABLE to buy, I wish Portland wasn’t becoming the second Bay Area. It’s complicated and dumb.

I’ve decided to hold a Living Wake for myself in April next year, adjacent to my birthday. The announcement on Facebook concerned some people, because they thought I was throwing a Goodbye Party instead. Naw, dawgs, I just want to see you guys while I can still talk and hug you.

I’m sorting through a lot of emotional shit, as you can imagine, but mostly the idea of BIG CONCEPT vs little concept and how they can screw with you in their own ways. “I’m Going to Die” is a BIG CONCEPT but it isn’t nearly as disruptive day to day as the little concept of “I’m not going to be able to pack my own house when I find a place to move”. Both of them screw with me in their own ways, but the little ones are the ones that usually ruin my day.

I need to check in with y’all about having house cleaners coming over. That’s a bundle of something.

My 22 year old cat was dying, and then he wasn’t, and then he was, and now he can’t figure out what’s going on. It’s been incredibly hard dealing with his impending death, harder I think than dealing with my own in a lot of ways, and I want to talk that out.

Work has been chaotic, lots of organizational changes and looks toward the future. I’d originally thought I might be done working by the end of the year, but now I’m planning on things happening into next spring and beyond, so we’ll see.

I have a lot going on, as you can see, but mostly I just go home after work and watch TV I don’t care about and eat food that’s bad for me and sleep. My time is limited but I’m sleepwalking through it. And I’m…kind of okay with that.

Anyway, love you all, and I hope to post something real soon. <3

The Week in ALS…

This should probably be a vlog post, but I don’t feel like putting on makeup and sitting in my hot office to record one, so you get a micropost update.

So to sum up:

1) The orthotics appointment for testing various knee braces was stressful and awful. Traffic was horrifying – it took us literally an hour and fifteen minutes to drive a 35 minute distance. When I called to give them a heads-up, she was AWFUL and rude to me, “Well HOW late.” “I don’t really know, maybe five to ten minutes?” “Well where ARE you.” “Two exits away, but traffic is unpredictable.” “I’m going to check with the doctor and make sure that he even has time for you.” I was literally ON the exit when she came back and told me I’d have to reschedule because they really needed EVERY MINUTE of my appointment time to work with me. “How about this. I’m on my way in RIGHT NOW. If I show up too late, I’ll reschedule in person.” When I showed up seven minutes late, they cheerfully had me fill out the paperwork and wait in the office lobby for five minutes. So I guess I’m not allowed to be late, but they can delay all they want.

And then, they had me try on a brace that didn’t help at all, made walking even NOISIER, and when I tried to take them off, I had to shove the velcro between my palms and push them hard together while I pulled at the strap in order to get them unhooked, because my hand strength wasn’t enough. And then they told me that anything sturdier would make sitting and standing nearly impossible, so they have nothing that can help me.

2) Dr. Goslin called and then emailed me yesterday (because I didn’t answer the phone) to tell me that I was disqualified for the new research trial. I did not take it very well; about as hard as I took the initial diagnosis, actually, because it felt like hope for SOME good to come out of this had been pulled out from under me. Again. I spent the entire day sleeping.

3) I woke up this morning still in a funk, and while getting ready for work, I had a fall. Just, knees gave out while I was coming out of the bathroom, and I landed very solidly on the linoleum on my knees like I’d just had a religious revelation. It hurt a LOT, and I resisted crying, but let myself just lay in the bathroom doorway for a little bit while Ianto very nervously sniffed me. Falling and getting up while wearing my braces makes everything suck worse, because it holds my ankles in a fixed and uncomfortable angle while I’m crawling. Usually when I fall at home, the first thing I do is yank my boots off if I’m wearing them, to make getting up easier. But I was already running late.

So, it’s been a terrible week on the ALS front. This is not to say the week has been terrible; I saw my favorite radio play live, with some of my very favorite people, had an awesome Saturday showing off Portland to a friend I hardly ever get to see because she lives far away, and my elderly cat is actually recovering quite well from his sickness. So yay for all those things. Yay.

And now you are updated!

Sometimes Snake Oil is Actual Medicine.

So! I had a follow up with Dr. Goslin about all the things that came up from clinic day, notably meds changes, follow up with the physical therapist, and a general check-in. I found that I had lost 5 pounds, which I am not at all unhappy about. She was unconcerned about that, telling me as usual that maintaining my weight is important; as long as I’m not dropping weight quickly it’s not a problem. Even though I miss being 60 pounds lighter, I suppose that will come in time, and that will be a problem. But until then I am fat and alive.

As far as the physical therapist goes, we didn’t find any braces that helped more than the ones I currently have. Most of them actually exacerbated the problems, particularly on inclines and declines. Instead we’re going to look into some sort of knee brace, as my knees are usually what fails when I fall. We’re thinking some sort of neoprene brace with metal supports; maybe that won’t make it quite so meat-stilty when I walk. We will see. Basically anything that keeps me walking as long as possible is a good thing, in my opinion. Ideally, also not tripping over the cats would be good.

Regarding the meds conversations, we had started me on something to help with the… er.. accidents… And something to may be kickstart the antidepressants again, as they didn’t seem to be doing a whole hell of a lot lately. Lab bladder control made is working out awesomely, we’re going to slightly increase the dosage on that. The other med doesn’t seem to be helping but it also doesn’t seem to be detrimental, so we are going to slightly increase the dosage on that. Maybe we’ll get a reaction. We are also increasing the dosage on Nuvigil, to see if we can’t kickstart my energy levels some more. In that same light, we are decreasing the gabapentin because I’m not sure it’s doing much of anything anymore, and it’s known to cause drowsiness, and I really hate taking something three times a day. Hopefully I can taper off that altogether. The antidepressant kick starter was also prescribed hopefully to reduce the migraines; I haven’t had one in a couple of months and I’m not sure if that’s working, or if it’s just that the Botox is no longer in my system.

Related to the headaches, we had a conversation – again – about the Cefaly device. When she had first talked to me about it, she had explained that she KNOWS that it looks like snake oil and seems super fake. (Seriously so fake.) The science she assured me, was sound and it had potential to be effective. Since then, she had actually tried the device and bought a few for her patients to try; a few of them reported up to 50% fewer migraines. It worked so well that none of her patients have returned it. So she wrote me a prescription for one, and almost $400 later, it should be arriving soon. The crappy part about it is that insurance will not cover it so this was out-of-pocket. Expect future updates when I finally get my hands on it. LIVE FROM THE FUTURE WITH MY SPACE HEADBAND OF MIGRAINES -2 !

We also spoke about medical trials. She hadn’t been able to attend the research symposium, so I told her about my conversation with Dr. Beckman and how frustrated he seems with his complete lack of progress. She shared my sense of dismay and agreed that an actual trial is probably not forthcoming anytime soon. HOWEVER, she told me, there was ANOTHER trial about to start. LITERALLY about to start. Like, in August. She was positively geeking out about the potential for this trial, super excited about the potential, and in fact said she felt BETTER about this than the copper trial. It’s centered on inflammatory behavior with ALS degeneration; previous trials had stopped the progression of ALS in patients with those inflammatory markers while they were taking this drug. Only 35 percents of ALS patients have those markers, though. It’s an IV administered drug, and a six-month trial; I think she said five visits for the first two months and three visits a month for the rest of the duration. I’m not exactly sure what it entails in detail, but I suppose I shall find out if I am selected for this trial. Because of course when she asked if I was interested, I said HELL YES. The trial coordinator is supposed to be giving me a call very soon to give me more information and arrange to have me tested to see if I have those markers.

So THAT’S exciting.

She also suggested, which in retrospect seems OBVIOUS, that I go to the physical therapist to learn how to fall gracefully, and how to get back up. It’s the getting back up that’s the problem, usually. So I’m going to go do that. Soon. In the meantime she gave me materials about various “med alert” type devices. Which, I realize I really SHOULD be looking into, but every time I think about it, the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” also goes through my head. It’s one of those stupid associations, one of those steps that feels like surrender, no matter how practical and ultimately necessary it may be. I’m working on getting over that.

So that’s the haps. You are now fully updated. I’ll make a goofy video once I get the Cefaly. I’m sorry I haven’t been updating lately, the world those outside and inside has been in that sees stupid, dramatic, and sad. So I’ve been in full out capital avoidant mode, sitting in bed with my cats eating candy and watching nature TV. It’s so much easier.

I hope life is treating you kind. I hope you are safe, and happy.. And I hope it stays that way.

Pikachu used ABLEISM! It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE!

A conversation I’ve had a couple of times:

“Are you playing Pokemon Go?”

“No.”

“How you could you NOT!? It’s collecting cute things! That’s TOTALLY you.”

“Because it’s a WALKING game.”

“….Oh. Right.”

“Dick.”

I did eventually install it, and I’ve been able to play a little, because going slowly in a car still sorta works, but I am sad that there’s a huge social aspect to this game that I’m missing out on by virtue of mobility problems. I don’t hold that against anyone though; it just is what it is. Go catch them pokeymans!

Uncertainty

Having ALS means that life is uncertain. Nothing is guaranteed. Everything changes at a moments notice.

So when formerly stable influences such as friendships and employment are subject to change and you have no control over that, it can seem as though your already tremulous world may collapse at a moment’s notice. Life is already complicated and uncertain, I get that. But when you have ALS, it adds a whole new level of complication to every little thing. Things you never would have considered to be important are suddenly earth shattering and paramount. Temporary inconveniences become lifestyle choices instead. A simple choice becomes a moral dilemma. Every option carries momentous weight.

Intel made the decision to lay off 12,000 people. 11 percent of its entire workforce worldwide. You can get all of the sordid details online by searching for “Intel layoffs” at the Oregonian site, since they have known FAR MORE about all of this than they ought to, well before Intel’s own employees did. (Seriously, they have the details of the layoff packages and everything, when even I don’t have access to that at Intel’s internal sites). (Whoever’s leaking this info is SO FIRED when they’re caught.) Cullings like this have happened before, several times while I was employed there, and MANY times before. Someone higher up gets a Big Idea and all of the minions below pay the price either in blood sweat and tears or a trip to the unemployment line. Big ideas change the world, it’s true, but to the higher-ups it’s numbers in a spreadsheet, not the people I work with every day. Under this new Big Idea, 11% of Intel’s workforce will be “invited” to pursue other opportunities. Some of that came by way of ISP, which is Involuntary Separation Package, a very pretty phrase for getting fired.

They started Monday and continue the rest of this week. We are all nervous. One of us already got walked, a good friend and someone I would have considered crucial to the team. Because he fit into their formula, arbitrary numbers in the spreadsheet. Not real people. No thoughts to the actual contributions this person provides to the team, the company at large, and the projects we’re working on. Unusually for Intel, the people they are choosing to “let go” are being immediately escorted off the premises. They are not being given a chance to hand off their work or tie up loose ends and in most cases, not even allowed to say goodbye. If I am let go, I will at least take great satisfaction knowing that my sudden absence will cause absolute chaos because most of them don’t even know what I do. It’s like that joke, where the husband comes home and finds his house in complete disarray, the children in the backyard eating mud with no clothes on and crying, every light on, and every door open, food spilling out of the fridge; he finds his wife in their bedroom calmly reading a book. He asks in a panic “What happened?!” And she replies, “Well you know how you asked what it is I do all day? Well, today I didn’t do it.”

But if I am fired, let go, offered an ISP, invited to explore new opportunities, whatever flowery words you wish to put upon it, it’s a world of complication. First of all, I’ve never been fired before from anything ever. THAT would probably be devastating on completely new levels. But having ALS, it’s not as simple as I get fired I find a new job. I’m not ready to leave the workforce. I’m still capable of work. I am also not capable of living off of what disability would pay me. Some days I wake up tired, tired to my core, and I think it would be so nice to just stay in bed and not have to deal with work. Maybe ever again. It is getting harder. For instance, I’m actually dictating this post through speech to text, with a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, because typing is getting hard. For today I am mostly just playing with the program, but I bought it against a future real need. Some days not having to work is a very attractive idea. But the reality is not so attractive; If I get fired I have to make a difficult decision to look for another job or just accept disability and be done with the workforce forever. Both are momentous decisions, both have incredible complications, and both are hard work in their own ways.

If I decide to be done, then I need to bust ass and move out of this apartment that I can’t afford on what disability pays out. I need to rearrange my entire life and put it somewhere else. I lose the daily routine that sometimes keeps me going when nothing else does, and I lose a sense of purpose. It’s really stupid that a huge chunk of your identity is tied up in what you do for a living. Completely stupid. But it happens to be true. Without a job, you get the unemployed stigma, as if somehow you are less of a person because you’re not earning a paycheck. Regardless of the reason you’re not working; you can be independently wealthy, and if you don’t report somewhere to trade your time for money, your thought of as lazy and somehow less. Worse if you’re claiming disability, because now you are burden on society, leeching money from the government, even though you’ve been paying into that account your entire working life. This is money you put aside against this need, but if you have the audacity to claim it, you’re a bum. I have to accept that identity for myself, while trying to figure out how to live on 60% of my former income. Of course I’ll find some volunteer opportunity to fill my time, I can’t go through the rest of my life just sleeping and playing video games, as attractive as that lifestyle seems. I acknowledge I would eventually go crazy with boredom, because how my brain works. Already I have a stupid sense of guilt when I do nothing but play video games and sleep, as if I’m somehow squandering the time I have left. Though, if I didn’t have ALS, I would still totally be sleeping and playing video games. I would lose touch with society, as twisted a version of society that work provides, it still provides interaction with other people. And as introverted as I am, I do need that occasional touch, the presence of other people even if they piss me off, because at our core, humans are social creatures after all. The workplace provides me a safe measured dose of Other People, and I would miss that if I had no work to report to. I once worked from home for three days and I got stupidly lonely. I can of course just… Go outside. Novel concepts. But ALS makes that this Whole Thing, a huge production, and I’m far less likely to do it if I don’t feel I have to. I would become far more withdrawn and reclusive because I have chance to. I would naturally revert to my withdrawn night owl self ends probably never see my friends. And I would sit in my apartments, or house, or whatever and feel completely useless. Because society has trained us to feel useless if we’re not earning a paycheck.

If I decide to search for another job, then I have to somehow convince someone that I am worthwhile, despite being on limited capacity and limited time. I come with MANY many caveats. Of course they are legally obligated to accommodate me, but if another equally qualified, able-bodied person applies for the job, the choice is an obvious one, discrimination laws be damned. “Hi, I’d like a job. I’m really good with organizing things, I have a wonderful ability to get along with anyone, and I have a sharp work ethic. However, I can’t do anything that requires a lot of walking, or carrying anything, or typing fast, or anything fiddly that requires dexterity and strength really. Oh, and I tire pretty easily, and I have no idea how much longer I’ll be able to work in general. That’s not a problem is it?” Yeah. Tough sell. And on top of that, I have to decide if that effort is even worth it. Knowing full well that my ability will decline and my time is limited, how much am I even going to be willing to pour myself into a new job? Things have been rough on my team for a while now, and I haven’t tried to transfer out anywhere even though I know I could, because it’s just too much effort. What is starting a completely new job even going to BE like? I know I am an awesome employee, and I am totally worthwhile, and I am a kick ass person to have in your corner in any circumstance (my LinkedIn profile even says so), but convincing a potential employer of those facts with all of those caveats seems an insurmountable challenge.

There was a third option that Intel provided, that I actually would’ve liked. Intel is also offering VSP, Voluntary Separation Package, which is where they lay you off if you want to be laid off. Supposedly there is no retribution if you decline the opportunity to be laid off, though I can’t say for certain. The offer you a pretty nice little financial package if you decide to move on, weeks or months of pay and a continuation of health care for a time. It would be the most elegant exit for me, with a chance to tie up everything before I go and be allowed that time to make sure everything is taken care of and none of my coworkers are getting screwed over by my absence. I had already scheduled my sabbatical, which is six weeks of paid break (a really awesome benefit Intel provides, actually), to happen in October. A VSP would allow me to wrap up my affairs, take my paid leave as money instead, and then skate on out with a very nice chunk of money while I figured out my disability and Medicare and all of that stuff. So of course, I was not offered one of those. The timing is wonky, I would have wanted a VSP AFTER my sabbatical. Ideally. But beggars as they say, cannot be choosers.

The firings continue all this week. I’m not safe. Being a woman when diversity is in high demand at Intel offers me some security. But no one is ever properly safe. And I am, after all, a lowly technician. On paper. In reality, I own operation of three labs, in Oregon, Chandler Arizona, and Guadalajara. I am the de facto secretary, purchasing, shipping and receiving, space coordinator, self-appointed Morale Officer, the woman who Gets Stuff Done. None of this is reflected in my title. My little spreadsheet cell just says technician. And despite’s reassurances that my yearly review result of “successful” means I’m doing good, the word successful on your focal is one of the criteria they’re using to let people go. So much for successful actually meaning successful. Barely anyone got a rating above successful because they make managers give “successful” to 80% of their people regardless of whether they deserve a promotion or not. 10% get better marks of Outstanding or Exceeds Requirements, with or without a promotion. Before I got my last manager, before the current one, I had NEVER gotten less than Exceeds. 10% get a “requires improvement”. It’s a stupid bell curve. And even though I took on ownership of two more labs, one of them in another country, and did my manager’s job for half of the year, I was not deemed anything more than “successful”. Even though it was roundly acknowledged that I deserve a promotion, but hey – Successful means you’re doing well, right? The man responsible for taking on our most important project, saw it through challenges and difficulties, sacrificed his personal life, and slogged through weeks of long hours in Mexico to make sure this thing even powered on, was deemed “successful”. It’s beyond ridiculous. This man does amazing work, and on paper, in his little excel spreadsheet cell, he is only successful. Which, Intel apparently translates to mean “meh.”

So you can see why morale is incredibly low right now. And I don’t have particular reason to fight to stay.

Any kind of job change is a shift in lifestyle for anyone. With ALS, the complications are tenfold. I have to think and overthink every little possibility. Losing my job isn’t just a temporary inconvenience, it becomes a major life choice. And with each option comes momentous challenges and opportunities and downfalls. Sacrifices that I’m not sure I’m ready to make. I call myself disabled, usually as a joke, but I realize that’s when you can’t even step over a curb you are in fact, DISABLED. But applying for disability, to accept that label from the government, to permanently brand myself as a non-productive member of society, is a huge and heavy thing. Being disabled is one thing, but being Disabled is another altogether. It’s surrender. But I just don’t know if I have fight left in me to try anything else.

I really hope I don’t have to make that decision yet.

I really hate that any of my coworkers are being forced to face this change, even without all of the additional folderol that ALS brings with it. Losing your job really, really, really sucks. It’s hard, it’s demeaning, and it’s complicated. Especially when you didn’t deserve it, it’s just that some Higher Up made a Decision and you happens to fall within the wrong Excel spreadsheet cell.

And even though I am making contingency plans and backups, I hope I don’t have to make this decision. Not now. Hopefully not ever.

But my life depends on a pivot table somewhere. My livelihood rests on a formula I’ll never get to see.

Life is uncertain enough. With ALS even more so.

This sucks and it’s stupid.

Aftermath

I have been granted the singular privilege to bear witness to her grief.

My friend had her father ripped from this earth, eaten alive by cancer while everyone helplessly stood by. Cancer’s a motherfucker like that. Especially it seems, with men; men of an age too stubborn to admit Something Is Wrong until it’s too late, and pride stops them from accepting all of the treatments, all of the chances. Her father was like my grandfather, that way. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, and had refused potential treatments and surgeries because they’d make him ‘less of a man’ or some bullshit, but he fought on his own terms. It was his decision to make. And her father’s.

He had lived in South Dakota, and she had to return, to disposition his estate. She invited me along, because it’s beautiful there. I said yes, because goddammit someone needed to be there while she walked through her father’s place and went through his things. And because I’d never been. And she needed an ally. I went with her in the mindset to be as helpful as possible, to make this transition as easy as possible, to shield her the best I could from the inevitable shitstorm that happens when someone dies.

We had many, many conversations about grief, over the six days we spent together. I’ve always found, and I’m not alone in this observation, that grief brings out the absolute worst in people. Normally loving and trusting people are suddenly quibbling over who gets grandma’s Jell-O mold, and Brother X is angry that dad only left him $20k, but Brother Y got the house, even though Brother Y moved his whole family and job and world to be close to Dad to help him when he got sick and Brother Y never even called who cares because it should be split equal. Meanwhile Aunt Fran is going through the medicine cabinet and the liquor, and Neighbor Q has claimed that heirloom quilt even though you’ve never met her before she INSISTS that she came over like, ALL THE TIME to help and he said she could have it and starts crying, and they let her have it even though we’re all pretty sure Grandma made it for him when he was sick with measles when he was 12 and maybe she’d like it back, to keep her warm at the nursing home while she mourns the son she somehow outlived.

I have my theory that it’s because of a cosmic sense of entitlement. My one true, real, and serious beef with the Universe, is that it doesn’t stop and let you catch your breath when something horrible happens. So out of nowhere, my grandfather died, and I wasn’t allowed to catch my breath at all, I was suddenly thrown into funeral arrangements and visiting relatives I’d never met, and holy GOD, people can you LEAVE ME ALONE, my GRANDPA just died. And the thing is, they’re going through the same thing. Holy shit, my FATHER just died. My BROTHER just died. And we all walk around with this gaping hole in our souls, and it feels like the goddamned universe owes us something for the incredible injury it just caused. And when the materials are settled, you feel entitled to it all, because Jesus God, that was your GRANDPA. The Universe just took your Grandpa, you deserve that fucking stereo of his, something, a piece of him, a memory of the times you were laughing and frustrated trying to teach him how to USE the thing, and the dance party you had to his old music when he finally got it. And next to you, your uncle is thinking, holy fuck, I just lost my DAD. The universe took my Dad, the LEAST it could do is give me his stereo, that I bought him for Christmas that one year. Everyone is bleeding, mourning, thinking that no one else in the room has the slightest fucking CLUE how badly this hurts.

And they don’t. They can’t. Just as you are blinded to THEIR pain, by yours. Everyone is hollow and aching, and scrambling for what they believe the world owes them. In the process, their grief causes harm, the worst comes out in people, and the ending of a life all too often proves to be the ending of relationships. Arguments over funeral arrangements cost friendships. Dispositioning the estate has torn families apart forever.

I watched this process from the outside, flavoring it with my own experiences, because her father and my grandfather had VERY much in common. It was impossible not to draw parallels. Two very strong, hardworking men, good with their hands, generous to a fault, loving, open hearts, strong faith and strong backs. And very easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. It was hard watching her have to be The Bad Guy, because she has no record of ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ and no, she wasn’t about to give up two thirds of a property just because they were friends, and it just didn’t seem to get through peoples’ heads that yes, this all belongs to HER now. They’d lost their friend and felt entitled to things, but she was his DAUGHTER and he entrusted her to take care of his estate.

I helped her go through his things, and decide what to donate, what to throw away, what to keep. It was like tiptoeing through someone else’s life, all at once mundane and profound. You get a secret glimpse into someone’s private life, and it feels like sneaking and prying, though they’re not there to mind it. Dirty dishes still in the sink. Half packs of gum on the kitchen counter. Mundane. A shelf of books, a peek into the sorts of things that entertained him. Profound. Clearing out the bathroom of half-used toiletries. Intimate. A total stranger, putting a dead man’s clothes in a bag for donation. Invasive. Every new thing a question for his daughter, “What would you like done with these?” Overwhelmed.

And through this, I gained incredible insight.

I had gone with the express intention of helping her through some serious shit, and provide happy distractions while she showed me around the very beautiful places, but I wound up with a concrete and valuable reaffirmation of a lesson I had already learned. A solid restatement of something I already knew to my core.

DO NOT PUT OFF SETTLING YOUR FUCKING ESTATE.

WRITE YOUR MOTHERFUCKING WILL.

Decide what you want to do with all of your shit, BEFORE you die.

He didn’t want to think about it, and I don’t blame him, really. In his case, settling his affairs was outright admitting he didn’t believe he could beat cancer. Not at ALL because he didn’t love his daughter and didn’t want to make things easier for her, but just because he was afraid. So even though she asked the hard questions, and he knew he should answer them, he couldn’t. He couldn’t face that fear, that pain, that reality. A friend of mine failed to settle his affairs and left his wife in chaos because he didn’t want to think about it. I haven’t sealed up my things because I am lazy and believe I still have some time. There’s a thousand excuses why not to, but it comes down to, it’s boring and depressing, and you’ve told yourself you’ve got time to think about that.

But maybe you don’t. That’s why NOW is the time to settle your affairs. You need to have a Living Will, at least. Those cost nothing. But you should have a plan, a document that lists who’s in charge of your bank accounts, your online accounts, your healthcare decisions, who gets your shit. You should have that settled NOW, before you know your clock is ticking. Because it still is, even if you don’t hear it right now. Everyone should have a plan for what becomes of them, their things, their feelings should be known. Even 12 year olds. Who gets your diary and your band posters?

I realize, more than you know, that it’s really hard to think about. It sucks. A lot. Your brain goes all staticky because you don’t want to imagine that world you no longer exist in. I believe it is literally impossible for the human brain to fully grasp the concept of your own death. It’s too big an idea for your brain to hold. But you have to make this plan. You have to make your wishes known. You have to write down somewhere, how to access all of your accounts. You have to decide who is going to have to be burdened with making sure your will is known and carried out.

Because the alternative is making your wife collapse into tears because you have so much fucking paperwork to sort through and you never talked about what was important and where your passwords are. The alternative is some shifty relative making off with your sewing machine even though you meant for it to go to your sister, but no one knew that because you never fucking wrote that down anywhere. The alternative is someone accidentally donating that book to Goodwill that you had hollowed out and stored ten thousand dollars in. The alternative is your wayward child completely fucking over her siblings because you didn’t SAY who should settle your estate, and your children are too buried in their grief to care as much as they should. The alternative is causing your loved ones a world of hurt and unfairness, on top of the aching loss of YOU, because you found it too depressing to think about. Only now they’re drowning in that depression, and you’ve left them no handholds.

The alternative is my friend, buried up to her neck in funeral arrangements and memorial services and going through her dead father’s belongings and trying to determine what’s valuable while fending off opportunists. Too busy to allow herself to grieve, unable to let herself fall apart, because her father didn’t want to have those conversations while he lived. And so now she lives in a state of suspended grief, unsure when it will all come crashing in, willing herself to keep it together just a little bit longer. When it’s not fair that she HAS to. This was her FATHER. She loved him with her life. She took care of him in his final moments, and the Universe owes it to her to let her mourn.

But the Universe is not fair, because it doesn’t allow us to catch our breath when something important goes bad.

The Universe is an asshole. You don’t have to be. Do your best to not add insult to injury and get your shit together BEFORE you need to.

DO IT. NOW.

Check this out, it’s all wrapped up for you with guides and checklists and shit. I’m even going to put this on the sidebar.

Get Your Shit Together.com

I love you. Get your shit together. And I will, too.