I Monday Need Tuesday A Wednesday Break Thursday From Friday Myself

saturation point. n. 1. Chemistry The point at which a substance will receive no more of another substance in solution. 2. The point at which no more can be absorbed or assimilated.

This is what MS does to me. It makes me reach my saturation point way sooner than I once did. The point at which fatigue evolves into pain because no matter how many hours I sleep they’re still not enough. The point at which I can’t stand hearing my friends talk because everything they say seems trivial and shallow compared to what’s going on in my mind. The point at which just the thought of typing a few words here drains me. Continue reading

Aftermath of a relapse: medication changes

So the results of my MRI came in yesterday and, as suspected, things aren’t looking so good. In the two years since my last MRI I have six new lesions, older ones have grown, and there was the inflammation in my optic nerve. This means my neurologist wants me to change medication fast. A “therapeutic escalation,” she calls it. And, for once, I agree with her.

I’ve always resisted moving up to the second-line treatments because of their risks. My first experience with disease-modifying drugs was with Avonex, an interferon, and that was a nightmare. Even though the injections were weekly, the flu-like side effects were unbearable. I took Avonex for ten months and there was no paracetamol that could help prevent the fever and the horrible muscle soreness that came with it. But that wasn’t the worst. Blood tests revealed my liver enzymes were high, my thyroid was malfunctioning, and the MRIs showed the disease was progressing. So in November 2012 I changed to Copaxone.

At first I was worried about the skin reactions Copaxone is most famous for. I had seen pictures on the internet, and knowing how sensitive my skin is I never thought I would make it. But fortunately I got along with it well. Never had any major issues and even ended up getting used to the daily injections and carrying them around with me in ice pads when I went away. It was a nice relationship that I didn’t want to quit, but my MS is unfortunately stronger than Copaxone.

So now I have to consider my options. There are no more first-line therapies available, unless I’m willing to wait for Tecfidera. At the hospital they told me more six months before it becomes available, but I’m not sure I trust that estimate. Tecfidera was supposed to be approved in 2014 and now they’re pushing it to 2015. That leaves me with Tysabri and Gilenya. They’re both much more aggressive drugs. More efficient, for sure, but also with more risks and side effects. They’re also newer. While interferons and Copaxone have been around for almost 20 years, these two are much more recent, which means risks in the long run are not fully evaluated yet. Am I scared? Yes, I am, but maybe it’s time I start taking more risks. And not because I don’t feel fine. Right now I feel like I could train for the marathon, have a baby, start a family, write a thesis, go on adventures and marvelous vacations. But at the pace the disease is progressing, how am I going to be in ten years time? I have to consider that carefully instead of relying on how I am feeling in the present.

Luckily, people on Twitter have given me great feedback on both Tysabri and Gilenya. It feels encouraging to know that they are responding well to the therapies with no major problems. I have to hold on to that. I also hold on to the countless studies that are published every month about multiple sclerosis. There are a lot of avenues open to explore, from creating vaccines to the viruses that may be connected to the disease, to investigating the leaky gut syndrome, developing remyelination drugs, discovering mechanisms to switch off autoimmune conditions, plus all the buzz about stem cells… There is a lot going on and I believe the pieces of the puzzle will come together and it will all bear fruit sooner than later.

Meanwhile, my IV treatments are over and my symptoms improved, though I’m still not seeing totally clear. My neurologist said that it could still take around three weeks for the methylprednisolone to fully do its job. During these three weeks I will be thinking about Tysabri and Gilenya so we can discuss it further when I see her again in the beginning of October. I hope the side effects of the steroids will pass, as I’m feeling accelerated and having a hard time sleeping. My blood pressure is bungee jumping and my heart racing. This is all normal, but still annoying.

Now it’s time to put my life back on its tracks after this interruption. Today is college night and tomorrow I’ll go back to work. I’m hoping I can see my girl friends next weekend and talk about frivolous stuff and forget about diseases. I do have a lot swirling in my head. After something like this you can’t help evaluating your life all over again and wonder about the future, about your dreams, daydreams and objectives. Oh, and the conflicts. This relapse reminded me of what is wrong with some of my relationships and is giving me an opportunity to look at so many latent conflicts. But I will leave all that for another post. Right now I’m going to get some air.

La rentrée: official relapse and déjà vus

Bummer. So I had my first official relapse in less than three years after my diagnosis. I don’t really remember how this goal came up. I think I read or was told that the first three years after the diagnosis are crucial to understanding how fast the disease is going to progress. I was hoping that if I made it to that three-year anniversary I would have a good prognosis, but I feel like I failed. Of course statistics are just statistics, and in all honesty I don’t think my immune system keeps a calendar and counts the days. I’m the one doing this and adding meaning to something that may not have any meaning at all. What is wrong is not my MS (well, apart from everything that’s wrong with it) but my expectations, that were probably too high. Small goals, one day at a time. Keep it simple. I’ll be fine.

And I actually am. I went through this entire relapse in a very rational and collected fashion. My therapist told me that if I were always like this I wouldn’t need therapy anymore. When physical symptoms arise, sometimes mental symptoms like anxiety and dissociation move out of the way because the body needs to keep its cool in order to survive. But I actually have a simpler explanation. I was calm mostly because the whole thing was a déjà vu. It happened pretty much the same way it did in late 2011 when I was diagnosed. Let’s see:

  • Day one: woke up and my vision was weird, though it took me one day to figure out exactly how weird. 2011: right eye with blurred and double vision. 2014: a shadow on my right eye, pain when I move the eye very quickly.
  • Day two: the headaches begin. I was later explained the headaches are an indirect symptom. The brain realizes that there is something wrong with the data the optic nerves are sending, and thus corrects it. Doing so for all the hours we’re awake is literally a pain in the brain.
  • Day three: dizziness and vertigo. Probably an indirect symptom as well. 2011: it still took me more three days to go to the hospital and hear the verdict that I had a nerve paralyzed and that was causing the double vision. 2014: on the third day I just called my neurologist and heard the verdict: the dreaded optic neuritis. The good news: the nerves involved in both cases are different, so it’s likely that my previous lesion in not bigger and that this one is new. Either way, I still fear that in ten years time my vision will be seriously compromised. Let’s hope not. I casually asked my neurologist what would have happened if I hadn’t called and instead let the inflammation run its course. She told me that my vision could have worsened and the remission might not be total, leaving me with permanent damage. So 5 days of methylprednisolone was the best option to make sure everything went back to normal.

Now as for the déjà vus regarding the context in which these two exacerbations occurred:

  • Many people relapse while they’re going through a stressful time in their lives. Not me. I apparently relapse when everything’s fine and I’m feeling stable and quite content with things in my life. I read once that according to studies new lesions form in the brain and spinal cord around seven weeks after a stressful event. The explanation is that stress slows down the immune system. When everything goes back to normal, an overactive immune system like that of those with autoimmune conditions, comes back in full force and starts wreaking havoc. That makes more sense to me if I consider my experience. Back in 2011 the first six months of the year were of non-stop stress. Chronic stress. Then things started to get better and by November I was feeling happy. How weird. I almost had forgotten what happiness was like. And then, much like self-sabotage, it all went down the drain. This time around I spent the month of July struggling with fatigue and worrying about different stuff, and then I slowed down, went away, relaxed, exercised more, reflected on where I was and where I wanted to go next… I wasn’t exactly feeling my happiest me, but I was peaceful, my mind was not at war with anything. And here I am again.
  • On the other hand, while I was feeling relaxed and content, both in 2011 and now I decided to stop daydreaming so much and put my feet on the ground. After all, I live in reality, not in an alternate version my brain likes to idealize. I dream of running away, of getting away from everything that makes me feel stranded. I dream of a life with more freedom. But I also need to focus on the here and now so I might as well stop building castles in the air. Turns out, dissociating seems to be working as a safety blanket for me. Once I threw it out, reality hit me right in the face. Punched me literally in the eye.
  • Both in 2011 and now I had just started reading a book by Haruki Murakami when my vision decided to stop working properly. In 2011 it was 1Q84 and now Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. This coincidence is almost as surreal as Murakami’s books. I’m actually thinking about writing to him asking him not to write another book for the next ten years, so I won’t relapse.
  • My mom was in utter denial. I’m considering using my mom’s reactions as an indicator of how bad the situation might be. In 2011 she told me I was just stressed (no, mom, I’m not, besides I never heard of stress causing double vision). Now she told me there were a lot of strange viruses out there and that I might have caught something (not when I’m having all these déjà vus, no).
  • As usual, it was my therapist who took my symptoms seriously and nudged me to see a doctor. In 2011 she was harder on me: “You’re going to get out of here and immediately go to the hospital.” This time she just told me, “I think you will find out for yourself soon that it’s best to hear your neurologist’s opinion.” I think I’m getting better at taking care of myself, but it’s still sad that I need someone to encourage me to do so.

Of course, comparing 2011 and 2014, there were some differences too. First let’s have a laugh:

The day before I went to see my neurologist and started on methylprednisolone I was told at my job that I was going to get a raise in recognition of my hard work. So what do I do the day after that? I call in sick. Ha! They are probably having second thoughts on that raise right now. The universe truly works in mysterious ways. (And I love my life.)

Also, this time around my moment of self-pity only lasted about thirty minutes. I let my eyes well up with tears (I actually didn’t let, I just couldn’t help it) while I engaged in some “this isn’t fair, I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t deserve this disease, neither the amazing people I know with MS, this doesn’t make sense”, etc, etc, etc. But then I realized that, the same way I don’t think my immune system keeps a calendar, I don’t believe it holds a court either. Nor do I think I’m on trial. It just is what it is.

So right now I’m doing what the doctor told me and just resting in between IV treatments. The weather is cloudy here, so it’s good to watch movies, mostly animation, teen movies and comedies. I’m just not in the mood for deeper stuff. Of course being the very sensitive/emotional/hormonal/depressive young woman that I am, I cried in all of them, even the comedies. Yep, that’s me. Sometimes I feel fragile and defenseless like a newborn, but like a newborn I will be kicking and screaming for my life. As soon as I’m “normal” again, I will be back on my active lifestyle, hungry for life, knowledge, growth and experiences.

I will be putting up a fight.