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.

Saddiversary

*cough* Hi. Um. *taps mic* is this thing still on?

Yeah. Sorry guys. It’s been very nearly a month. I haven’t had much to report, for the most part, and I FREELY admit that I was hiding from everything on April 1st. Diagnosis Day. My second Saddiversary.

Two years ago, I sat in Dr. Goslin’s office and stared at the carpet, nodding slowly, repeating the words, “definitely a motor neuron disease of some kind, and very likely ALS.”

“In a nutshell,” she’d replied.

At the time, my hands were unaffected. I could still stand up without assistance, and walk unaided. I couldn’t stand on my toes, but I could stand on one leg. My breathing was fine, speech was fine. I had periodic muscle twitches, mostly in my thighs, and sometimes harsh cramps in my calves. I could still slowly wiggle my toes, though my mutant ability to wiggle my left pinky toe was gone. I weighed 175 pounds, up from the 160 I’d finally managed to hit when all these troubles started.

I was devastated, of course. No shit, right? But I had a fierce optimism about it all. It didn’t really matter, I knew to my core that I’d be okay; it’s just that OK was going to gain a new definition. Someone else’s broken and busted is someone else’s awesome mobility day. I had amazing people at my back, I had a NAME at last for what was wrong with me,and with that name came a roadmap. As long as I have a name, I can have a loose plan. With good people on my team, and a discovery of a whole organization of people dedicated to help poor bastards like me cope as best as we can for as long as I can, I had this thing in my pocket.

Two years have come and gone, and they’ve taken my ability to stand without assistance. They took my ability to stand on my own without leaning against something. They pretty well chewed up my hands by now. I’m losing the ability to wiggle my fingers independently, which KILLS the joke when I try to make sarcastic air quotes. I no longer type as fast. I no longer fit in my cutest clothes, because I’m now 200 pounds. Still eating and breathing fine, though, so again – the things that will eventually kill me have not yet begun to kill me. They took their toll on my energy levels, which is the second worst part of all of this I think. I can cope with being able to type with difficulty, I can cope with relying on a cane to get around, but doing any of these things just completely WRECK my energy levels for the rest of the day and probably the day after. It’s getting hard to get out of bed both because my energy levels say no, and part because hauling my now 220 pound ass out of the bed is not an easy task. Specially with a cat who just will NOT GET OFF OF YOU but he’s 22 so I have to be super nice and NOT toss him across the room. I fall sometimes, occasionally because I forget I’m not a normal person and can’t multitask walking AND adjusting my backpack. My cats are three obstacle course experts, and they drag their toy obstacles in new configurations every day. To keep me on my toes. Except the little fuckers don’t seem to get that I can no longer stand on my toes, and if I fall, we are ALL gonna regret it.

Those two years have seen some relationship changes, too. Surprisingly, mostly for the better. Amazing people have come out of the woodwork to support me, I hear stories about me that I never would have known, heard the effect I’ve had on people that I never realized. That part’s been awesome. And some people have gone, for many different reasons, mostly that it’s just really fucking HARD to be around someone with a terminal disease. You know the relationship is doomed. It’s difficult to watch someone you care deeply about struggle so much. And THAT is the worst part of having ALS. Watching how it affects those I love.

I watch you watch me struggle, and I feel your helplessness coil off of you in tentacles that hover and sway as you debate coming forward to ask me to let you help. I watch panic burst from your chest like a gunshot wound when you witness me fall, and you bleed in little droplets of ‘what do I do what do I do’ while I assure you that I’m okay, and scan my surroundings for ways to get myself up. You do a little “I wanna step in and help but I don’t know how” cha cha at my side, tentatively reaching down with those useless tentacles, hands offered but of no use to me. “Unless you can deadlift 200 pounds,” I warn, “you’re not going to be any help to me.” I can’t help you help me, you see. It’s not simply a matter of grab my hands and help me to my feet; there are no longer muscles to flex and bend and counter my weight. Getting off the ground is a matter of leverage, I have to find a solid footing and something sturdy and tall like a chair that I can use to wedge my legs into straight lines, and then lift myself off of the chair. My legs are stilts, made of useless skin and fat; the muscles are out back protesting. And so here we are in an incredibly awkward situation in which not only did you have to witness gravity force itself on someone you like, being able to do nothing, but now you have to watch as I humiliate myself by exerting an insane amount of energy to belly up to the chair and lock my legs in position behind me, shakily lifting my body upright, hissing to myself “come the fuck onnnnnnnn just stand up. STAND UP.” and when I get up, swaying and panting,k we are all of us worse for the experience. My humiliation and out of breath sweating will stop, though. You, you never really stop feeling helpless. And I see that knot of internal pressure, maybe it’s rage at the unfairness of the situation, maybe it’s fear that something might happen to you. You have a lot of reasons. Just as I do, watching my friends in situations I can’t control. It’s the worst place to be, and I don’t blame people for realizing they can’t handle it and stop coming around.

Hell, I actually respect you for recognizing your limits and putting your own health and life first. I WANT that for you guys. I appreciate everything you do, and I love you for who you are, and that includes knowing your boundaries, setting them, and keeping them. It’s hard to make those decisions. And keep them.

I’ve..lost track of where this post was going. It’s been two years of actual factual ALS. Life proceeds, as it always does, and so many things have become the new OK. Humans are amazingly adaptable, and I’m still having enough good days to make sticking around worth it. Having the world’s best excuse for not getting out of bed at ALL on a Sunday, nested in cats and blankets, playing video games with no guilt. It’s a recovery day/I woke up with no mana/I just don’t want to Adult today and this “I’m Dying” card says I don’ t have to. Having amazing friends who will bring me dinner, to my bed, because I don’t want to expend the energy to dislodge the cats, pull back the fortress of blankets and pillows, wriggle out of bed, and wall surf to the front door to meet you. And I’m not even dressed.

So that’s pretty much what I did on April Fool Day. Poisson d’Avril. Diagnosis Day. Saddiversary 2: Electric Boogaloo. I hid. And I cried, and I distracted myself with cats and video games, and slept a lot. And then it was okay. I’m still figuring out the new Normal, cause that keeps changing on me.

I really am sorry about being quiet. I do still have things to tell you, and things to show you. I was just being all Emo McCryface for a little bit. I hope you guys are having great days. I love all y’all.

But ya ARE, Blanche! You ARE in that chair!

Me versus life, some days.

The cruelest trick about old age and ALS alike is that you don’t know you can’t do something anymore, until you try and your body says HAHAHAH NOPE. I have a full list of things in my head that I probably should not do anymore, and every so often I say to hell with it and try anyway, and then inevitably said thing is moved firmly to the NOPE category.

It’s hard to even complain about this stuff, too, because inevitably I will say something like, “Well I found out for sure that I can’t crawl under desks at work to recable power cords anymore, cause it’s too hard to get up off the floor” and I guarantee it will be answered with “what the hell are you doing crawling around on the floor in the first place! Find someone to help you!”

And it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s not even an “I can’t admit I need help” thing, it’s just that sometimes I feel the need to push my own limits and find out for definite certain if I can still do X. Just to see. To know if I should even bother to make the attempt, in an emergency.

To wit: twice now I have needed to move fast to save someone from harm. Over a year ago, my nephew was riding his little plastic car in my house, he knocked into a piece of furniture, and it began to topple over on to him. I couldn’t move fast enough to prevent it falling, and fortunately it wedged itself against the wall first so I had time. Last night, my cat got caught in the handle of a paper bag and startled herself, which sent her tearing around my apartment with a paper bag around her neck. This might have been funny except that she was so terrified she was peeing the whole time, and the last time I had a cat do this, he managed to rip off his entire claw in panic. I could not even get up to begin to get to her, this time, and by the time I was up, she’d wedged herself in the corner under my couch. I pulled most of the bag off of her, but didn’t get the reinforced cord strap before she dashed off again. I sat on the couch a moment, looking at the little trail of pee all over the place, and was really upset that if she’d been in actual danger of choking, she’d be dead by the time I got to her.

I cleaned up the aftermath of Idiot Pee Hundred, calmed her the hell down after I found her huddled under the covers at the foot of my bed, and resolved no more handled bags lying around on the floor, whether they’re fun toys or not. And now I know that if this happens again, there’s REALLY nothing I can do about it. Cause ALS is a bitch.

Sometimes silence seems safer.

Hey guys.

I’m doing that thing I do, which is to just not say anything if I’m having a bad time, but the point of this space is to document all of it. All of the awesome, all of the real life boring stuff, all of the hard parts, all of the ugly bits. And while I hate burdening people with my woes, it feels disingenuous to not talk about them. Here, of all places. Where I’ve purposely carved a space.

So here goes.

I had a bad weekend. It kicked off Friday, when about an hour before I was supposed to leave, I was asked to provide information in the aid of making people unhappy, basically a sort of “we have to take some toys away from our kids, which ones?” and I know that it’s just going to make things harder and everyone’s already stressed out. There is literally nothing I can do about this, and while realistically I know it’s not up to me to be the Morale Champ of our group, most of the time I feel like it is. So when things are stressful and I can’t fix it, I get unhappy. I have a very limited power, and I use that power beyond what I probably should to keep things together, but it’s worth it to me if I can help my coworkers feel less shitty about their jobs, because I like them.

I’ve been watching my job take things away and make things worse, and it’s the nature of business, I totally get that, but it is supremely frustrating to see things happen and know that it didn’t used to be like this. And so I fell in to a sort of employment despair, because I can’t see things getting any better at all. And in that dark space, I reverted back to the thought that I STILL don’t know the origin of, “one more year. You just have to put up with this for one more year.” And my brain seized on that and began planning my exit and I completely freaked out, both because massive life change and holy shit could I afford this, but also a sort of egotistical WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE GUYS GOING TO DO WITHOUT ME. If I leave, the smallest, stupidest things will cease to be, things that don’t mean much but make their lives easier. Like a goddamned supply cabinet. We’re supposed to fill out a form on a web tool when we need office supplies, but I deemed that Way Too Fucking Stupid and spent a couple hundred bucks outfitting us with a goddamned supply cabinet so that you can get a fucking PEN when you need one instead of filling out a form and waiting for an intern to bring you one. If I leave, no one is going to maintain that cabinet.

It’s all stupid shit, but it was my first moment of “holy shit my absence is going to cause problems for someone when this disease takes over”. There’s an intellectual exercise in “what would happen if I leave” that I think everyone indulges in, and to a revengey sort of degree when it’s to do with stressful relationships or jobs and we imagine how screwed they’d be if we just walked out; but this was a for-real, scary, “I am going to be gone and my void is going to cause someone genuine discomfort.” And it hit me kind of hard. And my brain, of course, spun in to the nightmare world of trying to plan financial escapes and mentally going over all of the homework I still have to do and…..

My brain still in this space, I went to game night with some coworkers, and that was awesome! Except when filling out a character sheet, and my hands just..wouldn’t work. I have very good penmanship when I take the care to do so. I have been complimented on my ability to write legibly on white boards. I’ve noticed some decline there, but that night I could barely read my own writing. And it sat in my gut and festered, and when I got home that night, I probably should have allowed myself to cry it out, but I tried to medicate it away instead. And that led to a whole weekend of moping and sadness instead of one night of crying jag catharsis.

I laid in bed and my cats sat on me and it was hard to move them off of me, and that made me sad.

I thought about the special pen and ink I got in New Orleans to write my goodbye letters and now I’ve waited too long to do that, and that made me sad.

I looked around my kitchen and the drawers of baking things and knew I’d never bake to the level of professionalism I wanted, and that made me sad.

I read Facebook and found out that my friend with cancer is taking a downturn, and I was sad.

I watched a new series that people were excited about and I just couldn’t get into it, and that made me sad.

Fun plans were canceled for Sunday morning and I just didn’t have the energy to do something else instead, and that made me sad.

A friend with MS reached out to be in a bad space, and I provided what comfort I could, and her pain and anger made me sad.

My cat barfed in the hallway, and I just…couldn’t get up to deal with it that moment, and that inertia made me sad.

It’s lifting now, it’s still there around the edges, but it will fade, it always does. But I need to be honest with myself when I get sad, and I need to give myself permission to mourn, and I should probably find a space to talk about this with someone who gets it but isn’t my therapist, but all of the ALS forums are just so AWFUL, one part “MY LIFE IS THE TERRIBLEST AND YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND AND HERE IS MY LITANY OF WOES” competition and one part “We sadly announce that our member Whassisface died this morning.” Neither is helpful. Cause sometimes it ISN’T terriblest, and I’m going to die, but not today. And sometimes you just need to say “This sucks” and have someone say, “Yeah I know” who really DOES. And then lie and say it’s going to be okay, even though it isn’t.

I’m learning a lot of things. I’m learning to let myself be helped. I am training myself out of assuming that when I accept that help, it is a burden to someone else. I’m learning to let myself be weak. I’m learning to give myself permission to breathe in the in-between times without becoming a lazy depressed lump. And I’m learning to let myself grieve for myself. They’re all hard lessons, things I’ve trained myself out of over a lifetime of only ever being able to count on myself. It’s hard to be vulnerable. And it’s hard to put these things here, it’s so much easier when it’s energetic anger or joy.

But for now, I’m a bit depressed. It’s okay. It’s understandable. And allowed. But it’s hard to be. I want to be my usual bouncy optimistic self, and she’s still around here somewhere, but she’s taking her sweet time coming back around.

So, sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been quiet and I shouldn’t be.

I think of you a lot, though. And I miss you.

Complicated

“It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases – one was Alzheimer’s, and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer’s.” -Terry Pratchett

“Complicated.”

It’s become my go-to phrase when people ask how I’m doing. “Life is complicated.” Check off that box on Facebook, I am officially in a relationship with ALS and It’s Complicated.

Nothing is simple. Everything is terrible, and everything is wonderful. I am cursed and blessed. And everything is complicated. I have, as the late and very great Sir Terry Pratchett said, two diseases. Two minds. The ALS mind and the Knowing I Have ALS Mind. I call them Future and Fatality. They argue constantly over everything I do, every plan I make is scrutinized by both sides, every human interaction is watched with both minds. Future is all about the practicality of the day to day, maintaining a sense of normal through all of this chaos. Fatality is about the hard reality that my time is very much abbreviated and some allowances must be made. Future is the one saying I have to work until I can’t, so as to prolong the quality of my life and finances for as long as possible. Fatality is the one saying FUCK THIS, we are DYING, who the fuck wants to work until all quality of life is gone?! Let’s spend our money making the last days AWESOME. Future says, yeah, but we still have to go to fucking work tomorrow, you moron. Disney World souvenirs don’t buy themselves.

They’re both right.

…It’s complicated.

There is definitely some sense of maintenance of the status quo that’s necessary. Continuing to work not only provides a stronger income than I’ll get on disability, but it’s feeding me a sense of normality, and there’s a great comfort in the routine. I can handle this. Yes. I’m dying. But there’s still work to be done. The floors still need swept, the cats need feeding, and while I’d like to do nothing but sleep, that’s not going to help anything. I can continue because I must, life is moving and so I, too, have to continue to move. Acknowledge that I am not dead yet.

There are definitely concessions that need to be made. Considerations to signing a 30 year mortgage that I know goddamned well I’m not going to see the end of. Allowances to make life fun while I still have the ability to participate. Plans to make so that memories are made and things don’t get left undone. Write your fucking will. Go ahead and spend some money on stupid things because I know in my heart that it doesn’t even matter. Make myself as happy as I can, while I can. Acknowledge that I am not dead yet, but WILL be.

Their key arguing lately has been about living situations. It’s amazing what will trigger me and what won’t, and unfortunately I never know until it happens. I can brace myself for things I think will be problematic, but sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes it’s the stupidest shit that trips me up. And it changes from day to day. Some days I think living with Danielle will be just fine, and some days I think I will do anything within my power to live alone until I absolutely can’t. It’s not about living with her, it’s about living with ANYONE. Some days I accept financial advice with grace, and some days it’s FUCK YOU I KNOW HOW TO SPEND MY FUCKING MONEY LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING ADULT. I HAVE GOTTEN THIS FAR, YOU KNOW. I AM NOT STUPID. Anger comes up unexpectedly, avoidance gets triggered, there are hurt feelings and tears and anger and misunderstandings, and later you sort through it all and you don’t know what happened, even after.

My main babe and I had a huge thing last week. I wouldn’t call it a fight. It was a..surprise boundary test that went very poorly. Plans kind of got put on hold, and I wound up making a rash concession that I had to withdraw and I feel fucking awful about it. Lines were drawn. Many many tears were shed and for a few days there, ativan was popped like candy to try to stave off the panic attacks that just kept coming. It cemented our need for couples counseling. It brought up a lot of good questions. It hurt a lot of feelings. I really, really can’t accept help gracefully and need to work on that. I need to draw lines and feel comfortable, as the center circle, maintaining them. Even if I’m wrong, I’m in charge of my own care. And even if I’m right, other peoples’ opinions are valid. Even if I choose to ignore them in favor of what I want. And a lot of times, I don’t know what the fuck I want.

It was complicated.

We’re still okay, of course, we love each other to pieces and that’s never going to change. It was a surprisingly brutal and hurtful exploration of caregiver/cared-for relationships and I did not like it one bit. And it’s going to continue to happen, and we’re both going to get stronger for it, and it’s going to fucking SUCK while it happens. I hate making her life hard. But I can’t help but do so. Fucking ALS.

I wound up looking for, and finding, an apartment of my own in the interim. My house closes on the 6th of July, but the housing market is extraordinarily chaotic right now, so finding another place to buy is impossible. Especially when I don’t even know what the fuck I’m LOOKING for, and things I am okay with on paper suddenly turn in to panic-inducing dealbreakers. So I am going to live in an apartment, and continue to be alone while I can, and get through life with my best babe and my awesome planets in orbit as best as we can manage. Looking for an apartment is always shitty, and right now rents are INSANE – I wound up accepting an apartment that is 2 bedroom and less than half the size of my house with 6 square feet of patio and a tiny kitchen for $50 less than my goddamned mortgage. And I’m having a really hard time with it. I sit here, typing this, looking out at my amazing back yard that will be someone else’s in a month’s time. I walk the floors I installed myself, I sleep in the room I had not even finished carving out for myself, I sign a lease with all of these rules and regulations that being a homeowner just didn’t have. And it’s hard. I’m glad I found a place and have a place to land, but losing this dream of mine is hard. I’m grateful the work is lessened, happy to have less space to maintain in my lesser state, but goddammit this was MY HOUSE. Future is happy that I’m being so practical about it and is planning the move, and Fatality is punching holes in things when she’s not crying her eyes out.

It’s complicated.

Yesterday we moved all of the extraneous stuff that had been taken down for staging, all of my books and DVDs and winter clothes and decorations and baking gear. We put it in storage. It was a really hot day and we all sweated a lot. The heat kept my mind from wondering if I’ll ever unpack some of these boxes. My ability is waning every day, and the longer I wait to find my proper space, the less power I will have to make it my own. I sacrifice my future nesting to further my independence today. And the weekend was a constant reminder of my lessening ability. My handwriting, as I filled out the lease paperwork, was atrocious. My hands are suffering and I am trying desperately not to just freak the fuck out all day, every day. My stupid feet grew wrong and I’ve got nasty bunions on both my feet, and because of the muscle loss, the bone is barely covered with a little bit of skin and it rubs and pinches and is excruciating no matter what shoes I wear – but the only real fix is surgery, and do I seriously want to give up even MORE mobility to get it corrected? Every movement costs more energy than ever before, and even though I wasn’t allowed to move boxes, I am physically DONE from this weekend. DONE DONE DONE. I am tired and sad and grateful – so fucking grateful – to my friends and brother for coming to my rescue on a miserable day. I put them all through a rough day, and they loved me enough to stay. And though I was grieving, I was grateful.

Future is kind of pissed off that I spent so much money for the lease and renting storage space, because that’s money we could be putting away, and it’s really impractical when I know I’m just going to have to give in eventually anyway. Fatality is flipping her the bird and patting my head and telling me it’s going to be alright even though we both know she’s lying. Usually I side with Future, but right now she can fuck off. I have to leave this house that I love, and it’s cruel that it’s so much work to make that happen. Fatality knows we have people who will help and just chill the fuck out and maybe play some video games tonight instead of worrying about it.

I guess this post kind of wandered all over the place. Sorry. My brain is full, I am mourning my loss of independence even as I struggle stupidly to hang on to a shred of it at great expense, I am obsessing over every detail even as I am actively avoiding thinking about any of it. And hopefully figure out the fine line between standing up for what I want and deciding my own fate, and being a goddamned idiot who needs to admit that she’s not as strong as she wants to be. To learn to accept help gratefully while still asserting control over what help I accept. Stubbornness versus weakness, and strength perceived as stubbornness versus self delusion perceived as assertion. And I usually can’t even tell which is which.

All my life, and now so more than ever, I am very, very complicated.

Beautiful Kitten Fish, Sleep Baby Sleep

I have a very romantic weekend planned. While everyone is eating expensive dinners and watching 50 Shades of Sexual Assault this Valentine’s Day, I will be having my second sleep study. We’re going to try me on CPAP as I’ve said before, and it’s likely I’ll get one of my very own. It’s better than chocolates and roses any day!

…I should note that Valentine’s Day means nothing to me at all. Lest you think I’m actually bitter.

I will call the pulmonologist and make an appointment today, they’ll want to know the results of the study before we get started with equipment and everything. I’m hoping it all helps with the exhaustion and whatnot, I’ve been having a REALLY hard time waking up this last week or so. It might be the med change; we’ve upped the dose of Adderall from 10mg to 20. I don’t know that it’s doing a better job than the Nuvigil did, honestly. But we’ll see.

Sleep’s been kind of elusive these days, but that can be written ENTIRELY off to stress. I’m packing for real, now, and going through things to give up for the garage sale. It’s three times as difficult as it should be – I have to fight my inherent laziness, the high cost of physical exertion that ALS brings, and it’s just..SAD. It’s depressing as hell to go through my things with this air of finality. It’s moreso than the usual “Meh, I don’t need this” when you move, it’s “I will probably never have another use for this at ALL and I don’t want someone else to have to deal with it when I’m dead.” So it makes me tired and maudlin and my brain won’t stop even if I’m physically tired. I have a ton of people on standby who will help me pack if I ask, but they can’t go through my things for me. That’s my sad and lonely duty.

Also, I’ll be honest, the thing with the news article about my work and ALS has stressed me right the fuck out. And that conversation continues on my work’s internal news site.

Work stress, too, was about ALS recently.

Life seems entirely about the stupid disease lately, and it’s all stressful, and it’s really hard sometimes to not just curl up and sleep and avoid it all for awhile. I just don’t have the time to indulge in that. It hasn’t beaten me, not by a long shot, I still know everything’s going to be just FINE, goddammit, but it’s harder right now. It’ll calm down and be okay in a bit, but all I see for awhile is deadlines and packing and expenses and pressure. And while I’d like to just sidestep all that, and play Skyrim instead, I know I can’t, and it will be so much worse for me if I even try.

And so I will continue to work, and pack, and sort, and not sleep very well, and spend too long in the mornings lying in bed and snuzzling my cats instead of getting up and getting dressed for work. For now. For awhile. Not forever. There will eventually be an end to the work, and most of this stress, and I’ll be allowed to properly sleep.

Bloop bloop bloop bleep bleep.

Bathroom Bitching

I promise this isn’t really TMI, but I’m gonna talk about the politics of bathroom stalls. And a personality defect of mine, it turns out.

I’m getting weaker; even if DocGos says she doesn’t notice any difference. When we first met, I used to be able to walk up the stairs with two hands full. Now I can’t; I have to have one hand free for the rail, and on no-spoon days I need both. When we first met, I could stand up on my own from sitting in a chair. I really can’t anymore.

Which means I need the handicapped stall now – I need the bars. Well, it’s like the cane – I could probably manage without? For awhile longer? But it’s so much easier with, and why make my life harder just to prove to myself that I can, that I’m still an independent woman who don’t need no man. erm. Bars. Yes. Bars. That’s what I was talking about.

And because I need the bars, I am trying really really hard to not be bitchy about it when someone who clearly does NOT need that stall is in it.

Okay – confession. I have *always* gotten a bit internally bitchy about people using the stalls when they don’t need to. It’s a serious character flaw of mine – I get bent out of shape when people don’t follow The Rules. I get irritated when someone cuts someone else off in traffic. Even if the person cut-off doesn’t even notice. I get irritated when people cut in line, even if I’m not in that line. I get mad when people at work leave their dishes in the bathroom when the stinkin’ break room is LITERALLY ten feet away. I get SO MAD when people don’t break down their fucking cardboard boxes and just leave them in the hallway. It’s because I tend to get really mad on behalf of other people, whether they even realize they’ve been wronged or not. By cutting that guy off, by sneaking in line, by not taking your dishes in, by not breaking down your cardboard and putting it in the recycle area, you are making someone else’s life more difficult because you are a selfish ASSHOLE. Even if it’s just a minor inconvenience, there was still no need for that inconvenience to exist, you just created it because you are a LAZY SELFISH DICK. And so I get mad. Because you are not following The Rules.

…Bitch.

ANYWAY. At work, we have a huge wheelchair stall, and the normal sized one next to it has bars, so it’s awesome and I use that one, because I don’t need the space, just the help up. But consistently – CONSISTENTLY – the wheelchair stall is taken up. By tiny, tiny women. Like, a regular stall would feel large to them, WHY do they need the extra extra space? It’s always been a phenomenon that made me scratch my head, but there’s actually been a couple of times that it’s made me wait. And I try not to get irritated, but seriously.

YOU ARE FIVE FEET TALL AND 80 POUNDS SOAKING WET WHY DO YOU NEED A TEN SQUARE FOOT BATHROOM STALL.

Answer: YOU DON’T.

So when I go in there, and both stalls are taken, I have a choice between using one of the other ones, and then using the freakin’ toilet paper dispenser to pull myself up and hope to GOD it doesn’t come off the wall, or wait. And if I don’t have my cane with me at the moment, then they look at me weird for waiting. But if I DO have my cane, sometimes they have the good grace to look abashed. Usually not – they’re oblivious, because people at my work are very self-involved. See: previous posts about trying to not get knocked the fuck over in the cafe and halls because they’re not paying attention.

I wonder if, when I’m in a chair, I’ll be any more irritated. Maybe I’ll do the passive aggressive thing and put a note on the door: “THERE IS SOMEONE IN THIS BUILDING WHO ACTUALLY NEEDS THIS STALL – DO YOU?!”

In Comic Sans, natch.

Realistically, I probably won’t. I’m really good at ignoring those breaking The Rules when it’s me getting shafted. Though, I did get really irritated this weekend about it – I went to Bingo at an American Legion lodge (looong story) and wound up waiting for ten minutes for the one handicapped stall. The other two were simply too wide, I wouldn’t have been able to brace myself on the walls to stand, they were just too far apart. There was a line, and I as time went by I started to say kinda loudly every time someone asked if I was in line, “Go ahead, I have to wait for the handicapped stall, I need the bars.”

Man, I dunno WHAT she was doing in there. She took her shoes off at one point. I thought she was changing her clothes, but she came out with nothing but herself. And flushed a HOJILLION times and used up most of the toilet paper. I just…man. Yeah. She was old, there’s all kinds of stuff happening there that I don’t even know. Probably best that I don’t know. I just know I had to wait ten minutes to pee and she totally could have used the other stalls.

This is all the beginning of the inconvenience, the social stage of decline, and it will be really interesting to see how I adapt to it when it gets worse. Maybe I really WILL become the Bathroom Stall Avenger. Maybe I’ll just pull an Elsa and let it go. It will be telling, either way. Just as I’m discovering the true character of those around me, I’m discovering what I’m made of, too. I have kindness and patience I didn’t know I possessed, and intolerances I didn’t know I had in me.

I’m building my character even as my body unbuilds itself.

I Am Not My Diagnosis.

I am not ALS.

I’m not even a PALS. And not just because I hate that cutesy-ass word for us.

I am a person who happens to have been diagnosed with ALS.

I am very clear about this particularity, because I am terrified of becoming my diagnosis. To get to a point where that is all there is to me. I’ve seen what that is, and how miserable it is to be around, and I can’t even imagine how miserable it must be to live that way. To get to a point in your life where all there is to you is a terrible disease. Where you feel there is nothing more interesting about you, nothing more important about you, than a medical diagnosis.

I know several people who are their disease. Fibromyalgia in most cases, Crohn’s disease or MS in another. And these are horrible things to have, their suffering is very real, do not misunderstand, and I sympathize with them completely. But every single conversation with them somehow comes around to their disease.

“It’s a beautiful day!”

“Yeah I’d do gardening if I wasn’t sure it’d cause a flareup.”

“I had the most delicious cheese the other day.”

“I can’t have cheese, it wrecks my guts.”

“Today is my birthday. This statement is all about me.”

“…I have Crohns disease you know.”

It becomes tiresome. Quickly. You stop hanging out with these people because every single thing always comes back to their disease. And they might be lovely people, and their struggle is very real. …Usually. It’s been my unfortunate conclusion that most people who complain the most are the ones suffering the least. The girl I know with Crohns is the major exception; she’s been through a lot of surgeries, had a lot of her guts removed, and her pain and suffering is a very real thing. But still. That’s all she ever talks about. Even when she posts about something pretty she’d like to buy, it inevitably includes a wistful comment that she can’t afford it because she can’t work because SHE HAS A DISEASE YOU KNOW.

It’s the same as people who are nothing but their sexuality – be they HETERO MAN or LESBIAN or whatever, wearing that one little piece of identity like a badge and an explanation. “Describe yourself. ” “I’m a gay man.” “…okay but what else? Do you like pasta? Where are you from? What kind of hobbies do you have? What information can you give me besides your preferred gender for sexual contact? THERE IS SURELY MORE TO YOU.” Or their job. GOD. THAT one. “I’m a lawyer.” “Okay, but for the OTHER hours of your life, who are you?” “…I don’t know what you mean.”

“Describe yourself.”

“My name is Ella and I have fibromyalgia.”

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT. THANK YOU FOR PLAYING, WE HAVE SOME LOVELY PARTING GIFTS FOR YOU INCLUDING ME NEVER STARTING A CONVERSATION WITH YOU AGAIN.

These people are MISERABLE to be around. They suck the joy out of every conversation with each reminder of their sickness. They dampen the mood, they darken the tone, they blight your soul a little bit. Speaking to them is an effort, and you have to mentally brace yourself for each encounter. And even worse – they harden your heart. It gets to a point where each facebook post makes you care less. When they post about wasting an entire day because they just couldn’t get out of bed for the pain, you get to a point where you just keep scrolling instead of replying “Oh my god! I’m so sorry! What can I do to help?” because…that’s the third time this week, and there’s nothing else to their feed. It becomes old hat. Typical. And I hate that you make me feel that way. And when “typical” for you is some variance of “I have a disease” then maybe you need to reevaluate some things.

This disease is a facet of me. It’s a very real part. And a very important part. But it is just that – a PART. Just like my gender, the color of my eyes, my weight, my sexuality, my hair color, my preference for apple juice over orange.

Every new development in my progression pushes me closer to the “I am my diagnosis” line. Every new prescription makes me feel like I am getting closer to being THE GIRL WHO TAKES ALL THESE PILLS BECAUSE SHE HAS A DISEASE. I refuse to hide the braces when I wear skirts, because fuck that noise, but it is an advertisement that I HAVE SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME EVERYBODY. Every missed hour of work due to a doctor appointment I have to make, every concession to my lifestyle I need to make, every time I ask to be dropped off at the curb so I don’t have to walk allllllll the way across a quarter mile of parking lot, choosing the bathroom stall with the handrails because it’s just easier, makes me feel like I’m becoming more of That Girl. That Girl with ALS.

It’s a hard line to walk. I’ve become aware that I talk about my situation freely – it’s nothing I’m ashamed of, nothing that I’ve done wrong, and so it’s nothing to hide – but I need to be careful that I don’t mention it in EVERY conversation. I talk a lot about it because it’s new. I want to be completely upfront about it, and I know people are curious but afraid to ask for fear of offending me somehow. So I’m blunt. But that’s not all I talk about. This blog is “All ALS, All the Time”, because that’s the POINT of this space, but in my journal, my facebook timeline, my day to day conversations, there’s so much other stuff going on. So many happier things. So many better things to talk about. There’s so much other interesting shit going on out there. ALS is depressing and boring, stickers are awesome. Japanese tea ceremonies are fascinating. Horchata is the fuel of the gods. Today’s Google homepage has a Rubik’s Cube you can solve!

There is so much LIFE out there. So much life in ME. So much more in there than just a shitty disease.

Yes, I have ALS. And grey eyes. And O+ blood. And several tattoos. And a mole above my lip like a beauty mark. And eyebrows so blonde they’re transparent so I have to draw them on every day. And two piercings in my nostril. Any of these things are just as valid a description of me than any other, and they’re not even the most interesting descriptions. They’re just descriptions of my body. Which, I like my body, but it’s not the best part of me. My kindness, my love, my fondness for petite swiss fruits candy, my mouse-like sneezes, my sarcasm, these things are more important. They’re WHO I am, not WHAT I am. And the WHO will always outweigh the WHAT.

Which is why it’s a fucking shame when you make the WHAT your WHO.

Breaking the News.

There’s not a lot of good in a diagnosis of ALS.  Probably there’s NO good in it, except possibly finding out the real character of the people around you.  Which does not always amount to a good thing.  You learn things you didn’t want to know.  Sometimes people show unexpected grace, sometimes they display amazingly cold-hearted selfishness.  And sometimes you find out that someone you didn’t pay much attention to is actually an amazing person, and now you don’t really have a lot of time to get to know them properly.

I’m saying it sucks.

I’m facing a lot of challenges.  The worst  is yet to come, I’m certain; I still have most of my functionality, I have a good job, everyone’s being really supportive.  No matter what I may be dealing with right now, it will all pale in comparison to the day I’m finally confined for good in to a chair.  When I need help to get dressed.  When I can’t eat.  When I eventually stop breathing and die.

But for now?  The worst part, EASILY the worst part, is having to tell people what’s happening.

I’m a stupidly empathetic person.  I don’t know how to simply be sympathetic.  “This must suck for you” may come out of my mouth, but my heart is breaking for you.  I don’t know how to not do that.  I don’t know how to just observe someone’s pain or anger or fear.  I’ve never, ever been good at this.  I have always reacted more viscerally to other people’s drama than my own.  I will let myself be stepped all over, but God help you if you fuck with a friend of mine.  There is no such thing as casual observation in my world.  All of the stupid sappy videos on the internet – ALL OF THEM – hit me square in the feels.  I can’t watch movies that contain a lot of suffering, they freak me out.

I don’t know how to tell someone I’m going to die without it destroying me on their behalf.

It’s really fucking stupid.  I mean – it’s happening to ME.  This is MY life cut short, but I find myself apologizing profusely when people find out, and I’m very quick to reassure them that I’m okay.  Even  though I’m not.

I told a coworker today.

He got on the elevator with me this morning, just the two of us, up three floors.  This guy and I are not close coworkers, he’s a total asshole, but I kind of respect him for that.  He’s blunt.  Very straight forward.  When I had a problem with another coworker, he was one of my staunchest allies because he calls bullshit when he sees it.  I admire his ability to stand up for himself like that.

He wished me a good morning, and asked if I’d ever found a solution to the back/hip/knee thing that has been plaguing me.

“Uh.  Yes, actually,” I told him.  “It’s uh…ALS. Lou Gehrig’s.”

And I watched the reality hit him and take the light out of his eyes for a split second.  He’s probably the first person I’ve told that immediately understood exactly what this meant.  “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

I smiled at him, “Thank you.  I’m doing okay, though.  I’m going to keep working as long as I can.  I’ve got lots of time.”

He asked what the prognosis was.

“Typically three to five years,” I said, “but my progression is really, really slow.  I’ve got time.”

It felt like I was stabbing him.  “I’m so sorry.”

And because he was shaken, and because this was terrible news to him, I felt like I had to cheer him up.  “I’m doing okay though!  I’m happy to have an answer!  I’m doing fine!”

He put his mouth in a smile shape.

“…I’m sorry for bumming you out,” I told him quietly.

“NO,” he said quickly, “no no no.  You didn’t.  I’m sorry this happened.”  His mind was elsewhere.

He and I didn’t say much else as we got off the elevators and walked to our cubes.  I sat here at my desk awhile, my brain going a million miles an hour, wondering how the hell I could have said that different, how do I frame that so that it’s not ….

…so that it’s not exactly what it is, which is a coworker/friend/family member/acquaintance telling you “I have a terminal disease”.

It is likely only so touchy and raw right now because the diagnosis is still so new to me.  I can’t expect someone to blithely accept something like this when *I* haven’t even dealt with it yet.  And there’s no real comfort I can supply.  “It’s okay” is a lie.  It isn’t.  And I’m not yet okay with it not being okay.

I’m saying it sucks.

I don’t have the tools in my Cabinet of Social Awkwardness to deal with this properly.  If I’m going to be so goddamned empathetic, I feel like I should at least ALSO be intuitive enough to know how to tell people something like this in a way that’s not going to be shitty.

“Do you like baseball?”

“Hey, heard of Stephen Hawking?  Turns out we have a lot in common!”

“Good news!  It’s NOT cancer!”

A friend with a sense of humor just as fucked up as mine suggested, “Oh, it’s not cancer!  And it’s not heavy metal poisoning!  They said that I don’t have to worry about either of those; because those take YEARS to kill you!”

…yeah I don’t think that’d go over so well.

For me?  I prefer to be told straight up, with a matter of fact idea of what to expect.  It’s how I was told of my diagnosis to begin with, and I couldn’t have asked for better.  But not everyone can deal with that.  This is why I tried to tell people all along that something like this was a possibility – I’d rather have that be mulling around in the back of their head for awhile, and then confirm their worst fear, than tell them “I have ALS, I’ve got a handful of years to live” and have them freak the fuck out all over me.  Because THAT is what makes me freak out.  Not my own diagnosis, but the way people react to it.

THAT, so far, has been the hardest part.

I’m sure in a year’s time I’ll look back on this and laugh myself sick that THIS is what I was agonizing over.

But for now, I am hurting those I love and I’m powerless to stop it.

And I hate it.

I’m saying it sucks.