Saturday, 31 May 2014

Black Dogs… and White Cats

Winston Churchill famously referred to his depressed or darker moods as his ‘black dogs’ and it’s true enough that I have a few canines of a murky hue wandering around these days.

There again, there are plenty of people who would no doubt attest to the fact that this is not a post-MS attribute of mine, but one I have always tended towards. In fact, they would probably refer to both the old and new me (pre- and post-) as a miserable git at times.

I haven’t really noticed much of a difference in the things that will annoy me enough to bring me close to, or right into, black dog moments.

For example, I have for years and years marvelled at how people can spend hundreds of pounds on mobile phones and yet appear to use headphones (or ear-pods, or whatever the latest phrase is) that can’t cost more than a few pence. Well not if the echoing racket that they treat us to on trains and buses is anything to judge by. The tinny din will see smoke billowing gently from my nostrils as my fur turns a dark shade and I start to bark.

Perennial ‘job-seekers’ who seem to be at the bar of my local pub whenever I walk (wobble) in are another. And they never offer to buy me a drink. Advertising slogans that promise ‘up to 100%’ of anything (i.e. promising nothing since 0% is ‘up to 100%’), running shoes that cost the lifetime wages (or possibly, life) of the person who stitched them, political parties who refuse to name themselves most accurately as BNP-Lite (you know who your are, or more accurately, UKIP who you are), train ‘departure boards’ that become ‘hopeful arrivals’ boards, first week or month magazine offers that fail to mention the few thousand pounds that will be wanted in coming editions for completion of the model/collection/inflatable doll, the lack of protective gloves which should come with every bottle of cat pills, missing warnings about potential financial losses on wedding certificates, estate agents in general, Christmas carols before several pints of Christmas cheer, paedophiles no matter how long ago they committed their crimes (so what if the victim is 50 now, that just means they’ve had 30-odd years to suffer), estate agents in general (I know, but they really do p*$& me off), boy racers (or girl racers, if they exist), middle-lane motorway hogs of any gender and breed (especially male porcines), the British Summer (it might be mythical, but it still rankles), lying in the Sun all day (journalism standards suck now), politicians’ promises (and the use of the word ‘promise’ instead of ‘blatant, deliberate lie’)…

Well, okay, perhaps there are quite a few things that push me towards both apoplexy and a darkly canine mood. But my point is that all of those things listed above would have done just the same, just as effectively, before the MS was diagnosed (where they existed back then).

On the other hand, though, if those are black dog causes then some opposites – I guess we should call them ‘white cats’ – must also be present.

How about someone saying ‘after you’ instead of pushing past, or when someone is holding a door open until you are safely inside (or outside, of course)? Maybe you will hear ‘how are you today?’ from someone who actually gives a shit about the answer, or ‘don’t worry about putting out your rubbish, I’ll do that for you’. Perhaps a concerned voice might offer to carry one of your shopping bags, or pick up a dropped coin for you without pocketing it themselves (the coin, not the bag).

These might well have produced white cat moments before the MS but I simply didn’t hear them often enough to be able to really say (and in one case, never). And yet now I do.

Looking at things in that light, it’s clear that the white cat is kicking the black mutt’s tail, but only since the MS was diagnosed. And there was me thinking that life had become a real female canine.

Now there’s a black animal that can only be considered in the ‘post-MS’ pile. Life's a bitch and then you're diagnosed...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

New horizons

Among the things that the whole MS 'thing' has shown me are new horizons - and not just the more unexpectedly horizontal ones I see from time to time (or rather, from trip to trip).

Of course there's a world of different futures available to all of us. That, at least, is true for everyone regardless of nasty conditions like multiple sclerosis. But the MS brings a new focus and a whole new range of possible futures. Some aren't even that bad, all things considered.

It's not just the future outcomes that alter, either, it's the manner in which we can wobble towards them. I've strangely become more tolerant of some things and less amenable to others. For example, I'm much more open to a 'fair exchange of views' without allowing my once held prejudices to stand in the way - so what if you believe that all borders should be scrapped without thought of all consequences; you may have a very reasonable idea about one aspect of this new-found freedom. On the other hand I might become very intolerant of people who like to believe that illness must be seen to be believed (anyone try some very invisible trigeminal neuralgia recently?).

All in all, my attitudes to others have radically altered. You might say that my newly discovered ability to offer honest opinions of, and to, others is a natural part of growing older, but I disagree. Quite apart from the fact that so many elderly people seem to have very polarised and inflexible views about so many topics and types of people, my very much opposite change in personality has happened very quickly - almost over night.

I really do see things and people quite differently now. I recognise the glorious bundles of often conflicting views, opinions and beliefs that people hold and I celebrate the fact that we can be such complex animals. No one is a complete saint, nor are they complete bigots (although one or two try very hard...) - and it's this recognition that modifies my own future goals; alters the future landscape.

I have already mentioned that I like to write and that I see this as one of my future (and current) goals - but thanks to the MS I now have new horizons in mind. You never know, perhaps my more balanced (very funny) approach to other people will colour the traits that I bring to my fictional characters. The MS is adding dimensions to my life, even as it removes some of the physical ones, and maybe the people that I create on the page will benefit from some of those new dimensions. Even the stories may have some new horizons...

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A walk on the wobbly side

I used to be able to do it when I was two. In fact, I did it well enough for nearly fifty years. Now it's a lot more difficult, canes included.

You see, I mean walking. That simple thing we learn as toddlers and develop as we get older into striding and running and even jumping. I'm a toddler again - and not a very well-balanced one at that.

It wasn't one of the things that I had on my list of things that would surely deteriorate and which I might miss, and yet I miss walking pretty much more than anything else. It just goes to show that hindsight really is the only true form of 20:20 vision.

I used to walk a lot. We live right beside woods that are - or, rather, were - a joy to wander through. Now all I can do is look out at them and swear. You see, walking hurts before I've gone many wobbly steps, and walking tires my legs to the point of standstill. I use a cane - a walking stick - and any joy I used to feel at picking out a fancy design has long gone. These are just sticks which help me stay upright longer than any despairing attempt at walking a few feet without one.

Sure, I miss running and I miss jumping, but be fair, I was approaching fifty when this stupid (and debilitating) condition was diagnosed, and my days of running and jumping were going to reach a natural end before too many more years had passed. But walking? Surely that was a gentle joy that I could look forward to well into my dotage?

The lack of that simple, childhood-learned, ability changes far more than I ever imagined it would.

I can't decide to cook a meal for fear that my legs will give up the ghost before I've spent more than a few minutes wandering from fridge to worktop to cooker. I can't choose holidays that offer the pedestrianised chance to explore a new city. I can't take my grandson fossil-hunting along the sandier stretches of the North Kent coast. I can't even re-visit a beauty spot like the New Forest where I once used to creep along quietly to see wild deer or wild horses roaming free.

Sure, I can still walk until my legs ache. But it used to be miles and now it's just feet.

But it's not all bad. At least no one pesters me to take part in 'fun' five-a-side football games at work now...

Sunday, 11 May 2014


Okay, so it was never going to be a normal few weeks and months after the diagnosis was confirmed (and it really was only confirmation of what we already knew deep down, wasn't it?) - but there again, there's normal and there's normal.

It was clearly time to start planning for a very different future, but that was the rub: just what was the new future going to bring? Was I going to become crippled (use the word, it's the right one) in a few months? Was I going to lose mental faculties (don't even think about saying 'well you have, obviously')? Was I going to find a whole new world of wonder opening up before me (yeah, right)?

The truth of the matter is that in many ways a whole new inertia took over. I can look back now and say that I put everything on hold because I was just so uncertain as to what the future held that it would be stupid to make any solid plans - but that truth was far more a factor of shock.

On the surface I smiled and brushed it all aside. I spoke long and occasionally even eloquently about all the new focuses I would need to bring to my life. I piled plan upon plan. I realised that mobility was going to be a key factor for me, so looked at the many sedentary chances that would afford me. My gaze wandered far and wide across a vista of laptop-based opportunities. I looked and looked... and did precisely nothing for oh-so long.

I know that shock affects every person in a slightly different way - but there is a common theme to virtually every person's reaction. We tend to freeze.

How long we freeze for, and what we do on the other side is the key. I picked up on one plan, as you can see - I have started to write. It was one of my early day plans, and now not a day goes past without my ever-so-slightly numb fingertips hitting the keys. Sometimes, even in the right order.

But that - or rather, this - holds the key to the subject that I am speaking about here - aftershocks.

Sure I wanted to write. It's a holdover from long before that nice man nervously (oh yes) told me that the MRI scans told him that my cerebellum was home to lesions - or in other words, the MS was confirmed. I used to write when I was a little boy almost ten... okay twenty.... okay fifty, already... years ago, and the passion never left me. It was story-telling that I loved so much, the creation of a fiction for made-up characters in made-up settings. But, although I had scribbled down countless stories, even to the extent of hundreds of thousands of words, I had never published anything except the occasional short story. MS was now offering me a chance (whoopee) to focus.

And yet here I am writing a blog. For someone who never had any desire to write factual information outside of the requirements of my work, the pre-MS me would never have thought it possible. Even the recently post-diagnosis me wouldn't have given the idea house room. This wasn't in my plans.

But the aftershock has hit me.

And it's not the only one. Back in the day I was a confirmed biker - I now ride a scooter. Back in the day I loathed the thought of cars without a manual shift - now I drive an automatic. Back in the day I was a party animal - now I'm content to sit at home, typing. Back in the day I prided myself on consummate balance - now I trip over on a regular basis. Shock after shock after aftershock.

A thought occurs to me out of all this. Back in the pre-MS days I never planned too far ahead because I loved the sense of risk and surprise that life would normally bring. Now, you know, life is still just like that - except the possible outcomes are so unexpectedly different.

I didn't see that one coming. Must be an aftershock...