Sunday, September 30, 2012

Haven't you any sense?

We all learn about our five senses at some point in grade school.  Sight, sound, vision, touch, taste. Why don't they teach us about the rest of them?  Depending on what research you look at, a human being has up to 21 senses!  Our bodies know this from the day we are born.  Hopefully we use them to better understand ourself, others and the world around us. 
I became aware of some of them only after they were damaged.  Multiple Sclerosis affects the nervous system.  The nervous system is the happy home of all of those senses. Have you heard of proprioception?  It is the sense of where your body, and all its part, are in space.  For some people, and not just those with MS, this 'sense' stops working so well.  It's not as easy to explain or discuss, if you don't have the word for it to begin with.  So you say things like "I just get a bit wobbly" or "I have a hard time getting my foot onto the escalator or moving walkway". Or better yet, you say something like "I will say this only once, and you cannot think I'm crazy okay? And we will never speak of it again, agreed?  Okay. Sometimes...I just feel like I'm not quite in my body...sort of...well it's there...but I can't control it exactly...oh never mind..."  Any of this sound like you? Do you have mysterious bruises from bumping into things so often you don't even notice anymore? Have you taken a few unexplained tumbles? If so, look it up.  Proprioception.
Like I said before, we use all of our senses to understand and interpret the world around us.  I am often misinterpreting my world, based on muddled signals from my nervous system and therefore confused senses. I try to compensate. I didn't come up with this clever idea, it just automatically happens. The body is smart.  
One recent example of misinterpretation happened at 4am.  Understand that I don't sleep so well, some pain issues. Therefore, when I am sound asleep it is extra offensive for me to be awakened.  
Cats are nocturnal. I have a cat. I am a cat owner. My partner...well he is a 'cat person'.  You all know who you are.  There are often new toys, beds, perches, accessories of various sorts being made, by my partner and for the cat. I awoke to the sound of the cat playing with a small blanket left on the floor in the bedroom.  Being a nocturnal animal he often has playtime at 4am. Being a woman in my 40's, the first thing I have to do when awakened is go to the bathroom.  The bladder waits for no one. I staggered, swerved and veered (proprioception very bad at 4am!) my way to the master bath. The cat continued to frolick and roll in the blanket. 
Now another issue that I have is my left eye.  My left eye takes about 10 to 15 minutes to wake up (meaning "open") if I don't get enough sleep.  It also tries to go to sleep (meaning "closes") after 10pm, which can lead to awkward moments if someone thinks I'm winking at them.  But that's another story.
Back to the cat. I stagger, unable to see much, muttering words I won't type, back out of the bathroom.  I reach for the blanket and miss (proprioception..hand was not where I thought it was). I stoop very low (to mess with my vestibular sense), grab the blanket and throw it in the hall. Then I spy a toy that the cat is also playing with.  I pick it up. It isn't very light at 4am and I stand there, one eye open, gripping the cat toy tight...(Metallica fans?) and I think to myself "Good grief, what sort of toy has he made for the cat now?"  I roll it around in my hand for 20 seconds or so. Compensating for lack of vision with my sense of touch!  Soft, very soft...'where did he get this furry fabric?' I wonder. Something round and hard. Marbles?  Did he fill some furry fabric with marbles? Thermoception kicks in...kind of this point my intuitive sense sends me a little signal.  Just a feeling.  A slight feeling of 'something not quite right'.  All is not as it seems. Enough of a signal to nudge my logical, rational mind into action. My chronoception (sense of time) moves at a Matrix-like pace as my brain works it out.  "It is not a toy!" my mind shouts at me. I drop it. I scream. And for the length of my scream I move my body back into the bathroom, with surprising speed and perfect proprioception! 

Yes my friends, the 'toy' was a mouse. Which my partner disposed of, while I washed and re-washed and muttered and screamed like a one-eyed crazy lady.
Luckily, my sense of humor is still in tact! I did not laugh about it for a few weeks. But the truth is- my body, mind and soul are trying to boost my sense of humor.  Instinctively.  To help me compensate for the misadventures that occur when my other senses are not working so well. So here's to more misinterpretations and misadventures!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Take the noodle!

This is my Sunday confession.  I am a competitive perfectionist.  Generally not in sporty or public ways.  People who know me casually would have no idea.  Those who know me well will tell you otherwise!  Ask my mother about the time I tried, at age 5, to break the birthday gift I got her because I thought she liked the one from my sister better.  Or my best friend, to whom I lied about my SAT score because I did not want her to know that I scored lower.  Not very good examples of being okay with being 'just only Judy'.  As I said in my intro, that's a battle I have won and lost many times. My earliest memories often contain tendencies toward perfectionism and competitiveness.  Perhaps that's why the message in that children's book, Just Only John, stuck with me ..."be yourself, because somebody has to, and you're the closest".  It is still a message that I need to remind myself of often. 
But back to the competitive streak. One of the things I can't condone is cheating. If you cheat, then you have completely lost! There's no victory if you cheat. Unless you are playing Cash Cab the rules usually don't allow others to help. Asking for help could equal cheating. 10 years ago I fairly risked my life (or an awkward scene at least!) trying to prove that I will not cheat.
For at least two years leading up to my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis I had been experiencing odd physical happenings in my body.  I was often sick, tired or in pain. In 2001 I made a decision, after many fruitless doctor visits, that the problem was in my head (oh the irony). I, having never been particularly athletic, determined that if I declared myself an "athlete" and acted accordingly, then all would be well.  Inspired by my best friend I decided to begin training for the Danskin 'sprint' triathalon the following summer.  Let me tell you- I took this seriously!  I trained- swimming, hiking, jogging, yoga, biking...I did it all! I bought a new bike, a Speedo swimsuit, and an array of sporty attire and accessories.
The big day arrived and there I stood with hundreds of other women, the 5th 'wave' to dive into mucky Lake Washington and begin the race! In my excitement, and distress over the unexpected creeping, grabbing plants near shore, I forgot to pull down my goggles as the swim began.  With dozens of thrashing arms and legs around me, I slowed to a tread and adjusted my goggles, but the panic had set in.  Luckily the 1/2 mile swim route is lined with kayaks, canoes and friendly volunteers.  The only way I could complete the swim was to go in a zig-zag pattern from one boat to the next.  Effectively swimming twice the distance of everyone else. For those that haven't done one of these events, each 'wave' of participants is given different color swim caps.  Mine was fluorescent yellow. As the yellow caps moved on ahead, I was passed by a school of pink, blue, neon orange, green and purple...a rainbow of caps, until I was quite obviously the lone fluorescent yellow left in the water.  I could see friendly smiles turn to looks of concern as I approached the boats and grabbed the side to brace myself for the next zag. As time went on, the looks of concern changed to questions.."Are you doing all right?" , "Are you okay?"  I feel confident that no one else engaged with as many volunteers that day as I did!
As the finish line came into view I realized that there was a rather lengthy stretch from the last boat to the shore. By this time I had been in the water over 30 minutes (average swim time 19 minutes or something). I had long given up on the crawlstroke and had predominantly done a slow and steady backstroke or breaststroke.  As I launched into my much-practiced breaststroke for this final stretch something strange happened.  I did not seem to be getting any closer to the shore.  Other people seemed to be doing fine. In fact, I think they had gone through all the colors and a second round of fluorescent yellow caps were swimming by me.  It did not occur to my exhausted brain that my breaststroke had unknowingly turned into treading water and my survival instinct was kicking in.  My brainstem knew that I just might drown, even if I did not have a clue.  Lucky for me one of the volunteer lifeguards also knew.  Out she swam with a baby blue swim noodle in tow.  Yep.  Those things kids play with at the pool. "Take this!" she said.  I looked at her. My head bobbed low in the water. I looked at the noodle and bobbed low again. As I pushed myself up again I found the breath to ask the all important question that was preventing my reaching out for this life-saving device.  "Is it allowed?" Yes, that's what I asked. "Is it allowed?"
She looked very confused but somehow managed to convey to me that I would not be breaking a rule if I chose to take the baby blue noodle, rather than drown.
Noodle under arms I finished the swim, wobbled on jelly legs to my bike and carried on.  I did finish the race that day. I may have set a record for longest time in the water! But the real victory came later, when I realized that sometimes it is okay to break the rules. Sometimes the rules are only in your own head. Some of us need swim noodles in this life and that is okay! Moral~ If someone offers you a noodle, you probably need it. Take it and carry on.