Marathons, trampolines and grief cycling

10014633_10153952393770384_587693281_nMr C ran his second half marathon today (after swearing never to do another) and is talking about running a full one soon. He is bouncy, energetic and full of evangelical zeal about the physical and psychological benefits of this pastime which is entirely alien to me. Not that I haven’t been a bit spritely myself of late. In the dark post-Christmas days I spent protracted hours in the library sitting on my backside and fuelling the revision with popcorn, Twirls and the occasional pasty. I then emerged, blinking, into the February light ready to be a little more active (not least to try and shed the half stone I put on that month.) I trawled around London covering miles with the littlies, I have been out on my bike a couple of times and I even managed a decent time in my last orienteering effort (pushed on by my team mates – my littlest siblings who are as equally drawn to the comfort of a sofa as I am.) I am currently on my elective and working shifts which means I can do the school run some days and I am even getting home, to the top of my hill, without hyperventilating from the effort.

So yay me. Not quite the government’s recommended amount of weekly exercise, but as they have recently alienated me by telling me to give up sugar, my only remaining vice, I am choosing to pretend that walking up and down the stairs to return Moshi Monsters to the rightful home should make up the rest. Anyway, we bought a trampoline yesterday (ostensibly for the upcoming 9th birthday of my eldest, but maybe I could have a little bounce every day…)

Just one spanner in the works – since the trip to London my legs have been playing me up a little. It started with a painless stiffening which slowed me down and gave me a bit of a limp but it has progressed over the last week to stiffness, pain and weakness. I wake up unable to do more than shuffle. If I keep going it gets better but then starts to become really uncomfortable, so I sit down and then it seizes up again. It’s a picture that I’m sure is familiar to anyone who has injured a muscle but it is affecting my arms and legs and I have to admit to being a bit miserable about it.

So it’s time to add another drug, and a drug that takes me further away from the prospect of pretending this might all just go away. I hate taking medicines. I have tried a lot over the past couple of year and hated most of them. Amitryptilline kept me in bed; gabapentin made my entire arm go numb; amantadine gave me horrible dreams about family tragedy. But Copaxone is marvellous stuff so maybe it is worth adding another. Maybe baclofen will be the thing that pushes me out of denial permanently. Because I don’t seem to be doing this grief cycle thing by the book. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross might not recognise the faffing around I have been doing:

Denial – yep. I still spend a fair amount of most days here. Whatever the statistics say about those who are able to work full-time five years after diagnosis, I am (almost) fully convinced that my body will be able to cope with junior doctor hours no problem. And my colleagues and patients will find my occasional word-finding difficulties endearing rather than weird.

Anger – can’t really be bothered with this. I get angry about injustice and inequality and people on Question Time and people who post those Facebook statuses that pretend that everything was great in the ’70s. Otherwise I just like life. My legs might be going haywire but I still have books and Dr Pepper and lovely people and Googlebox in my life.

Bargaining – “please let me get through my exams without a relapse and I promise I will start taking those big Vitamin D tablets that make me nauseous.” I did take one this week.

Depression – I don’t think I feel this. My only experience of depression myself was after the birth of my son and I haven’t felt like that since. I feel the usual monthly miserableness and the occasional jolt of self-pity but, frankly, I live a pretty charmed life. My adult life has been one of happiness, opportunity, love and comfort. So far, even this stupid disease has touched me only lightly.

Acceptance – so maybe I do occasionally reach this end point in the cycle. It was acceptance that made me finally agree to inject myself every day and that decision has proved to be a wise one. And it is acceptance that has led me start taking this new drug. I want my legs to work. I want to be able to keep up with the nearly 9 year old on her bike. I “want” to be able to crouch on the floor to watch the reenactment of the hybrid film “the Return of the Jedi Moshi.” I want to bounce on that new trampoline.

But I don’t ever want to run a marathon.

Internet nonsense and good news

My daughter gave up chocolate for Lent. She is an enthusiastic Christian but only lasted two days before she converted it to “being nice to my brother.” I haven’t seen much evidence of this but she says its because I am too busy to notice (!) A friend of mine has given up Facebook for Lent and tells me this morning that she is sleeping better, getting so much more done and feels happier (if a little out of touch.) I sometimes envy people who have a religious faith- a bedrock of certainty on which to depend on in times of difficulty and anxiety – because when I get anxious I seem to turn to the internet to find “the answer” to whatever problem I am wrestling with. And this, inevitably, draws me to internet forums (fora being correct I know but for some reason I can’t bring myself to use it seriously!) The internet was 25 years old yesterday and for many of those years I have been a big fan. And for nine of those years I have been experiencing a love-hate relationship with internet chatrooms and advice boards. For a few years it was only ones about pregnancy, childbirth and raising small people. Firstly I was an enthusiastic member of babycentre and “met” a number of lovely women who are still now my friends and who have seen me through the ups and downs many people experience at this time (poorly babies, unexplained infertility, miscarriage, PND) but the nutters and trolls outweighed the good and it was time to leave. Mumsnet is a much more fun place – you share less so people don’t “know” you – but, again, I found myself getting drawn into late night arguments and debates with strangers about the most peculiar things which would consume my brain for days. One particular question I asked about whether my son should wear a cardigan to school when he started got 765 replies, some of which accused me of child abuse! It’s a great place, but not if you let yourself get too involved (for it at its best I recommend ¬†penis cup!) I have mentioned before how I try to avoid the MS forums. I am conscious that its not really for me at this stage and that my particular brand of resolute upbeatness is irritating to those who are much less well so I don’t feel I really have anything to offer.

But the forums I have been remembering this week were the ones I used when I was applying for medical school and in the early years of my medical degree. Full of the naysayers and doom-mongers I remember clearly one person writing that “everyone who starts medical school married finishes medical school divorced.” Blimey! So it wasn’t just giving up a career I enjoyed and was good at, a pension, fantastic holidays and a decent salary – I was giving up my marriage as well. I chose not to mention this to Mr C and ploughed on regardless sharing the ups and downs of entrance exams, interviews and offers with strangers going through the same process. And I turned to many of those same strangers when, midway through my first year the combination of a poorly toddler and junior doctors telling me they “never, ever saw their children” made me march into the Dean’s office and announce I was leaving the course. Luckily for me he had seen this before, offered me a year out, and I went back much more committed but through this process the chatrooms told me that it was impossible to do well in medical school with small children, that my marriage was doomed (again), that I would never, ever again go to another sports day/school concert/parents evening etc etc. These groups, like the rest of the internet was tinged with the view that it is impossible to have a career and be a mother and partner and I trawled in vain to find people like me, who had done it.

Yet now it occurs to me that those women do exist, they just don’t have time to tell me about it on chatrooms because they are busy juggling, living life and working hard. And maybe this is why the positive stories after diagnosis of MS are not found on the internet because the people who are physically able to just get on with it are doing so and not up in the middle of the night trying to work out if the fuzzy feeling in their thumb is the start of a relapse and ending up terrified that life in a wheelchair is inevitable.

So, were the horror stories about medical school correct? It has been an intense time for many of us. Friends have lost loved ones, struggled with stress and depression and some relationships have broken down. I am not the only person to have been diagnosed with a potentially “life-limiting” condition whilst there. Personally, especially recently, life at home has been stressful as Mr C and the littlies “enjoyed” living with a wife and mum going through the rigours of final exams.

But I passed. And I made a show of myself by sobbing in a corridor when I passed. And people keep asking me if I am happy and I wonder if I am. I think I am mainly relieved. And I wonder if my lack of elation is due to five years of reading the internet about how rubbish it is to be a junior doctor. And how rubbish it is to have holes in my brain that *will* mean that the cognition I now enjoy will gradually diminish. But I am probably just tired (I am writing this just before going off to do a late shift on my elective because we don’t actually finish placements until June.) So, if anyone reading this will forgive me, I am just going to focus on the positive to give me a reboot into joy:

I passed medical school despite having very small children and having five relapses of MS in two years. I am currently well and have fantastic, loving people around me. I have done well at medical school so should, in theory, be able to choose the job I want. My children are healthy and happy and now the horror of revision is behind me I have space for books and cooking and crochet and friends again. I have a big birthday coming up and people to celebrate with. I am blessed and so will now be staying away from internet discussion boards where people may want to disavow me of my positivity and naievity (or at least until I need the Candy crush forum to tell me how to get through this tricky level…)