Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hope or Despair? Only You Can Decide. But I Chose Hope.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” 
Charles Dickens
Taken after surviving my 9th annual 150+ mile bike ride for MS
I barely understood A Tale of Two Cities when I read it as a young teen. Yet somewhere in my memory the very first sentence has stuck.
Ten years ago I experienced 2 years of Hell. The list of craziness included, but I can assure you was not limited to, the following:
My father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was a non-smoker with no environmental or genetic risk factors that we know of. He died 14 months later, at the age of 68.
My dog died the day after my dad’s funeral.
I experienced double vision leading to a diagnosis of MS 4 months after this symptom.
My husband lost his job and was unemployed for the better part of a year.
I hired a part time secretary who sued me after 6 weeks for a reported slip and fall; suing was apparently her second career.
Does it get more fabulous than this? Provence!
My then 13-year-old son went in for routine elective adenoid surgery, under general anesthesia. He was supposed to wake up after 40 minutes. Seven hours later after being hooked up to a breathing machine he awoke. We learned he had a rare enzyme deficiency preventing the breakdown of the anesthetic.
There is more, really, but I’ll stop here.
Recently, a patient of mine, having heard this list, asked me how I managed during that time. I thought it a strange question at first, especially as her life, to me, seems to include more trauma than any one person can be dealt, and she has done exceptionally well in her recovery from anorexia and bulimia, the very conditions that in many ways helped numb her pain.
The answer is that I feel rather grateful, perhaps because I have chosen to identify all the ways I have been fortunate. Yes, I have MS, but I function better than anyone might imagine, given this condition. The unemployment? I was fortunate that I could increase my hours and grow my business, so we were not in financial distress. And my kids enjoyed having my husband around after school then. My dog of 16 years lived a long, good life.  My father didn’t suffer long. 

And the blessing in disguise was with learning of my son’s pseudocholinesterase deficiency. This enzyme has only a couple of functions—to break down this anesthetic and to break down cocaine. In other words, had my son of middle school age decided to experiment at some time in his life with, let’s say, cocaine (not a terribly crazy concept), we learned he would have died of cardiac arrest. So 7 hours on a breathing machine resulted in the advance warning that perhaps saved a life—if he had ever chosen to try cocaine and we had not chosen to have this elected procedure. Yes, I was rejoicing.

Chagall painting, ceiling of the Paris opera
I doubt that I’d be able to find the strength to survive the trauma of the 3-limbed amputee, mentioned in my recent post. And I certainly don’t share my history for the sake of getting empathy or pity. Truth is, many of you have survived worse situations. 
But perhaps you’ve done so using your old friend—food, or eating disorder behaviors. And I must confess—those do work—but only temporarily. Eating large quantities of food can make you feel drugged, detached, numb. It can allow you to feel that you’re in charge—that you can eat—and do—whatever you choose. Except that then you’re left feeling awful. You can be healthy and still eat whatever you like to eat (don’t you believe that by now after 90 or so blog posts?). You just can’t eat without tuning in to your body and its need, your hunger.
Alternatively, you can surely restrict your food intake, or get rid of your food, can’t you? Don’t get me wrong—I’m not recommending this, of course! But when things get tough it can be very appealing to stop feeling, to lose the sensations of hunger and of emotions. It’s like disappearing, right?
But there’s a price you pay for coping this way. You miss out on life, on relationships, on connections with people. You place yourself at risk. You cause yourself harm physically, emotionally, psychologically. You stay stuck in an unhappy cycle. You put your life on hold. Helpful, perhaps, but just for a moment.
This is what I found after a long day at the office!
Life isn’t always easy—I’ll be the first to agree. But perhaps you can shift your perspective? Or maybe utilize other coping skills besides the old standbys.
Linda related the following after her MD visit last week:
So it has apparently been 5 years since my last physical with Dr. D. I spent the morning with unwanted anxiety for whatever reason (I just hate going to the doctor!).  I was swept in from the waiting room and within a flash moment I found myself standing on the scale.  Surprisingly, when I saw the nurse begin moving that thingy more and more to the right, I instinctively looked away (go Linda!)
All was well, right?
Nurse Sandy then takes me into the little room and proceeds with the usual routine questions.  She told me how much better I seem, that we all go through "phases"... uh, phases?  And then, with utmost enthusiasm, proclaims loudly "WOW, your weight is the HIGHEST I've ever seen it!!!!"
What. the. hell.
I never intended on going in discussing any weight issues, I even looked away on the scale.  This was a physical, damn it.

So, Dr. D asked me about my weight and has it been stable.  Yup, I told her.  Then I mustered all the courage I had in me to tell her what Nurse Sandy said.  Her response?  Laughter.  Yes, LAUGHTER!
This was not supposed to be funny.  I do not see the humor in this.

Instead of faxing the blood pressures and weight, she wrote it down and handed it to me (so much for the strength of NOT LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS WHILE ON THE SCALE!).  Can doctors and nurses be THAT OBLIVIOUS???

I wish I could undo the damage from all the thoughtless comments you hear.
While I can’t, believe it or not, you can. You could choose to accept the distortion your mind bends it into, or you can fight. Yes, you can counter those thoughts with some healthier reality checks, about what your healthy eating and behaviors are getting you.

This can be a season of hope, or of despair; you can appreciate that you survived another season intact, and are now that much stronger to move forward. Really, only you can decide.


  1. Lori,

    Thank you from the core of my heart for sharing your personal experiences. It really made me feel less alone, and I'm going to remember it when my thinking is tempted to go to "the dark place". I'm really going to work on focusing on the ways in which I am fortunate despite the obstacles. You're strength of mind and spirit is inspiring.


  2. Thanks for the beautiful post, Lori. My various physical ailments can sometimes get me down...but I'm not out. Love reading you!

  3. I think perspective is so important. It can at times seem like an insurmountable challenge but deep down I haven't believed that for a long time. Even when things get tough I still have hope. And this hope keeps me going even when I wish it would all just go away.
    One day I will look back on this time and perhaps even be grateful for it - as you are with the experience with your son. It will have shaped the person I become. And I know I will be a stronger and healthier person for surviving this.

  4. Lori
    Thank you for your touching post. I am amazed at how much a person can be given to cope with and make it through. Your post tells me I will be ok with what I have been going through. Thank you for being you. The photo at the completion of your ride is beautiful. As you know I like sea pictures.

    Thank you for all your help.

    Steve B

  5. Thanks for your inspirational post! HOPE is a wonderful perspective/choice! As is counting our blessings/gratitude, even in the midst of pain or life's challenges. It is what makes us survivors vs. victims! You remind of us that there is a silver lining in every cloud!