Lucy and Ethel at the Candy Factory

by moonwatcher on March 21, 2013

Lucy and Ethel

The neurologist who diagnosed me with MS told me when I was describing some of the things that happened to me during a day of teaching that in a high stimulation environment, the nervous system affected by MS will function less effectively. But when the stimulation decreases, then the nervous system will be able to regain some function, because it won’t have to try to process so many different stimuli at such high speeds. This also explains why, back in those days, when I would struggle for a term for something in helping Michael with his homework, it would come to me in the wee hours of the morning, as I lay back down after padding through the darkness to the bathroom.  And I’d say the word—something like “inexorable” for instance—out loud. And then laugh.  I had gotten the answer when it was no longer needed. My brain didn’t know it had already been looked up, or a substitute found, or it wasn’t that important to begin with. All the many hours I had drawn a blank, it was busy in a back room, rooting through boxes and boxes of packed up information, flinging things around until voila—“inexorable”—was there for the picking up.

One of the ways I have coped with this embarrassing phenomenon (embarrassing anyway, if you once had a photographic memory like I did) is to succumb to my tendency to live in the 19th Century, though we’re well into the 21st. This is easily accomplished in terms of ambiance, since my house was built in September of 1897, and is a spry 115 years old.  If you go outside and look hard at the curb, you will see an iron hitching ring in the cement. That’s for the horses that used to wait outside. Of course they waited outside long before someone thought to cement a hitching ring into the “new” sidewalk.  Being eccentric enough to iive in and love a quirky old house helps with the reality that I must go slowly in order to be able to function.

My friends here notice my comfort with slower, old fashioned ways. One has affectionately called me “19th century girl.” Another, visiting me in my garden, has told me I remind her of a character in a Jane Austen novel. (I guess that’s okay, but it really depends on which character, right? One of my favorites is Ann in Persuasion.) I don’t mind, though, because I have accepted they are in large part right. I don’t have a dishwasher or a Vitamix. I don’t have a television. I heat my house with wood in a masonry stove. I use a push mower. I hang my clothes on the clothesline whenever possible.

Even before the MS, probably because of the CP, I’ve never been fast moving.  Only my mind took flight. But even that has always had a deliberate quality that overshadowed any rush to judgment or opinion. The thing is, though, I never knew I was slow moving. At anything really. I was so engrossed in being able to just do it that had never occurred to me. Until two friends I taught with in Southern California met. They are both really fast walkers. Or I thought they were. But then when they met they both said, ‘Yeah, when I’m with Maria, I have to remember to slow down, because I’ll be talking to her, and then turn around and realize she’s 10 feet behind me.” Ah, well.

The rest of the world, like my two friends, lives in what I call “the busy universe.”

Most of the time I have to let it pass me by, even now. For many years I was worried I’d have to somehow “catch up” and return to it. But in a moment sitting in my garden as the sun set, watching it hit a cobweb and turn colors, I knew no matter how much better I got that I was never going  “back.”  There would be no “jumping in” running neck to neck where everyone else was. However I went forward into it, it would have to be on terms I could negotiate that promoted the healing I had worked so hard to bring about. That the pace of the healing momentum would be what I needed to live by for the rest of my life.

Slowly, as in all things, I have improved my ability to handle multi-faceted, quickly moving stimulation. I’m still nowhere near where most people are with that. And won’t ever be. So I save it for what really counts. Like writing this blog. I don’t exhaust myself trying to follow television, for instance, and haven’t for years. I choose the fast moving phenomenon I will try to negotiate. Most of the time this  means to a certain extent I have imaginary “blinders” on that block out what is going to overwhelm me. I do my best to concentrate on one important or essential wedge of the high stimulation pie at a time, only as needed. And then give myself time to recoup after.

I was feeling pretty darn good about my incremental improvements. Then I started getting curious about what all the “pins” next to my posts might mean, and how I could see them.  Susan sent me a link, but I discovered I would have to join Pinterest in order to see it. Then I made a bad judgment.  I decided I would try to join right before my afternoon nap instead of after it.

Those of you who have read my “Nap Time” post know how essential that time is for resetting my nervous system, literally from head to toe, so it can complete a day full of incoming information. My initial foray into PInterest sent me to some page of it where “pins” I hadn’t asked for were multiplying like snowflakes in a winter storm. Thinking these were appearing on a board I had created (they weren’t) I frantically, I tried to “unpin” them or “unfollow” them all, but of course that didn’t work because I wasn’t on my own page, and didn’t know it. After many panicked e-mails to Susan, who was able to orient me to what was and wasn’t going on, I finally found my own actual page. But for that time when the pins were flying like snowflakes, I felt just like Lucy and Ethel in this classic scene from the I Love Lucy Show. (You just gotta click on that hyperlink, folks, if you aren’t familiar with this scene.  Or even if you are. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still cracks me up.)

“Lucy and Ethel in the Candy Factory” is what I call those moments when the stimulation is flying at me hard and fast, and there’s no way I can process it all. I call it this to get me to stop trying and to make me laugh instead. It works every time. I try, too, to remember the times I DO succeed at wrapping the chocolates sliding by me on the conveyor belt. But only if they are going by slowly enough. Like this “little victory” I wrote down back in August 2010:

“$122.96 is the exact amount of the check I wrote for the new battery for my Mac. Mike went with me to help pick it out. When I started to write the check I saw in my checkbook that one of the checks might be missing. I had to track that to make sure I had put the right new book of checks in the check register, and in the process did not write down the amount the sales clerk had given me. Standing there, with him and Mike waiting, I was still able to determine that my checks were in the right sequence, and then I looked up and said, what was the total? $122.96? And the young kid who was the sales clerk said, gee, I don’t remember, I have to look (!!) And then he said, yes, that’s exactly right, and said, wow, good memory, I didn’t even remember that. And Mike said, me either, and they laughed. It felt so good. Like the old days. Keeping numbers in my head so easily, or anything really, that I had seen or heard. $122.96. It was a magic number to me. As we walked home from the bookstore I told Mike this would be a little victory and he smiled and said, yes, it’s a good one. And a good example. He was delighted with the idea of it being one, and also that is WAS one. And so was I. I still am.”

Even though the world is rarely accommodating enough to supply me with this kind of mastery over high stimulation, I am pleased to say that in the last year I have learned to use a (dumb) cell phone at least enough to answer it, make  calls, and negotiate voice mail. Until this Spring, I didn’t own a digital camera and couldn’t have figured out how to use it if I had. Even the thought of it would have exhausted me. Although for weeks I had to fight the instinct to put the camera up to my eye, I now have a basic understanding of how to take a digital picture (thanks to my son Mike, who bought me the camera, and suffers through remedial questions that are almost impossible to field long distance). I can even upload and put them into my posts in a size that works.  And despite my difficulty with some of it, my internet abilities have also blossomed, and now include the privilege of writing this blog.

Certainly there are mitigating factors that support this explosion of ability. The fact that I live alone, in a quiet environment, with a peaceful gentle dog, and can set my own schedule according my energy is immensely helpful. That I don’t have to talk AND “do” in a high stimulation environment which is not my own home, but can work to figure out at my own pace without too much of that extra stimulation is another. But at bottom, the foundation is this miraculous way of eating, and how it has slowly and surely changed, and continues to change, the way my body and brain handle any stress or inflammatory response. Not every single little one spikes off the charts, its own private disaster, derailing me from doing even the most basic things: being able to read a computer screen, chew my food, smile at someone who loves me.

When I do get stopped in my tracks, I often think of Lucy and Ethel. And myself along with them. And I end up laughing. Besides the whole plants I’m eating, laughing at myself is some of the best medicine there is.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Valorie March 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Thanks, Maria, for the laugh, and for expressing so well how I feel many days now. Apparently, I appear “normal” to most everyone else, and that’s how I want to be. But as I get older, and especially following my last huge exacerbation, nothing is the same and nothing is as good as it used to be. I hate having to say “I can’t think that fast” or “I can’t process that much information” but the truth is, nowadays, I sincerely can’t. I used to be “the smart girl”, but now I’m just the woman who has to do everything more slowly. I’m still smart, to some degree, in a slower way, and I struggle with accepting, and figuring out how to help others understand, my new reality. Thank you for making my slower, smaller world feel OK to me today.

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2 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Dear Valorie,

You are so very welcome, and thank YOU for sharing how you relate to the topic of this post. We are still “smart girls”; just smart girls who think more slowly than we used to. I used to struggle with figuring out how to help others understand, but I found that too exhausting. Now I just do my best to accept where I am, be as straightforward about it with people as I am able, and keep my sense of humor. I am honored I tickled yours today about such an important issue for both of us. Your understanding made my day.

Maria

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3 Jeanine March 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I think this is a beautiful article and certainly one that I can relate to even at my age (46). You sound like an amazing woman and I think you should be so proud of the awareness you have in yourself, having and setting terms for everything that you are comfortable with and making yourself vulnerable to work through your struggles, asking questions along the way and sharing your story with others. Truly beautiful! WAY TO GO!!! :) BIG (((HUG))) to you. – Jeanine

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4 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Jeanine!! It made my day. A big hug back to you.

Maria

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5 Ginger March 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I love your posts. They make me smile and think. I have that word escape problem, too. When I write, I always call out to my husband or son. What’s that word. It means ______. Then they rattle off half a dozen words that might work, all of which are not the one I want. I sweetly say, thanks, then sit there and think. Sometimes it comes; sometimes I write ______ to remind me where it goes when it comes. I don’t have MS or CP. My husband says it’s sometimers.

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6 Debbie Hallock March 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Wonderful blog – made me slow down in just the reading on it. Thanks for the reminder – we all need to practice to not be in the “busy universe” all the time. Love the example of using the candy clip. Can’t go wrong with Lucy and Ethel. I got confused with Pinterest at first too. Have a blessed day.

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7 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Welcome, Debbie, thank you so much! And thanks for telling me you got confused with Pinterest at first too. Here’s to Lucy and Ethel help us slow down and laugh our way through.

Maria

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8 Deb March 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I love this piece! Thank you for the reminder that it’s OK to step back a bit from the “busy universe” for the sake of our health and wellness and that there are many gifts to be found in that stepping back. I so needed to read these words tonight. And I found you on Pinterest! Delighted to be your second follower! :)

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9 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Welcome, Deb, and thanks so much for this wonderful comment!! I am so happy to have you as my second follower on Pinterest! There’s not much to follow at present, but I expect to remedy that slowly over time!! LOL

Maria

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10 Cecile March 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Thank you! My heart is warmer and my breathing a little gentler after reading your sweet prose.

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11 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Welcome, Cecile, and thank you for this heartfelt comment.

Maria

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12 Kamila March 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Thank you, Maria, for a lovely post. I can very much relate! I am introverted and easily overstimulated by this modern life of ours — and I’m only 30! I’m also a “19th century girl” and your description of hitching posts, gardens, gentle doggies, and wood-burning stoves made me happy. :)

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13 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Welcome, Kamila, and thank you!! Your comment made me happy!! Nice to meet another “19th century girl.”

Maria

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14 Michele March 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Your writing is so beautiful, Maria. You are very gifted and I always look forward to reading your work. So, thank you for doing it, on behalf of all of us for whom your messages and images resonate.

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15 moonwatcher March 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Dear Michele, welcome, and thank you so much for your kind words and your support of my blog. Sentiments like this keep me going! Much appreciated. I’m sorry it took so long to get this up. The “conveyor belt” started speeding up a bit and I missed it, but then I found it!!

Maria

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16 Karen March 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for a lovely post. First, you explained why I couldn’t remember my friend’s mother’s name until two days later….Yeah a wild and busy two days. Then I woke up at 3:00 am to go to the bathroom and there was her name. Second, I don’t have MS, I have Lyme, and I could relate all the way through. My friends zoom past and I just move at a much slower pace. Learning technology can be overwhelming. And I also don’t have tv, hang my clothes to dry (wooden racks in the living room), heat with wood, etc….. I just move through life more slowly. Work is a challenge and when I get home, I don’t even answer the door unless is it my elderly neighbor who may be in need. I just need slow.

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17 moonwatcher March 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Hi Karen, and welcome! Thanks for your lovely comment and for sharing how you identified with what I wrote. It’s nice to hear others need “slow” too.

Maria

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18 Donna McFarland March 22, 2013 at 3:10 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you Maria! I learn something from every single blog of yours that I read! OHHHH, but I do love how you’ve set your life up! We do have a valuable place in the world-it’s difficult not to feel as though we’re “missing out” because we do move to a ~different beat…the one that works, for US. Hugs to you dear kindred spirit…

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19 moonwatcher March 22, 2013 at 9:16 am

Dear Donna, thank you for this lovely comment, and these wise words about the feeling of “missing out,” and for being my kindred spirit. Hugs back to you.

Maria

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20 Ronald Vautour March 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Merci Maria!
I also feel more inclined to describe myself as a ” 19th Century man”…I work in this busy-beehive world and it sometimes becomes so overwhelming.My mind helps me get back in that comfort zone as i grew up in such a simple yet priceless lifestyle.
I can only wish to one day lead again,an ideal lifestyle such as yours , God willing.
For the time being I get refreshing inspiration as I read your posts.The world is filled with goodness and love, it is just a matter of feeling that unity and hope which weaves us all together as human beings.
Thank you very much and keep up the good work!
Kindest regards.

Ronald

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21 moonwatcher March 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Merci beaucoup, Ronald, et bien venue! (Please excuse if the French is wrong.) I so appreciate the kind and sympatico sentiments expressed in your comment. I am glad you are reading along.

Maria

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22 Nicole O'Shea March 22, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Yes Maria! I loved reading about how you live your life. I am glad you have Lucy and Ethel there to make you laugh!

I can so relate. Fast lane is not for me.

(BTW did you know that Lucille Ball had RA?)

xoxo

Nicole

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23 moonwatcher March 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Thanks, Nicole, so glad you enjoyed reading this. I’m glad I have Lucy and Ethel to make me laugh too! And no, I did not know Lucille Ball had RA. You teach me something interesting every time I hear from you!! xo

Maria

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24 Katherine Sterling March 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Maria – thanks for a wonderful post. I LOVED your example of “Lucy and Ethel in the Candy Factory” to your own over stimulus responses! At this point, the same suggestion of just “too much” flying by stimulates me to respond, first, “Duh! What just happened,” or “Where am I again?” (From there I just collapse into a puddle of fibro pain). I’m not quite at the laughing stage though so by your experience I take hope that there will be a laughing moment.in my future. I am just beginning my work in fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue. I’ve found that pain does two things. It either motivates me to look for answers or it invades me so thoroughly that my eyes cross and I run to hug my hot water bottle to get relief from pain sensation. What a dance couple heat and pain make! It really is quite the blissful process for a masichist (sp) and a sadist which I have obviously become. The mingling of heat and pain seem to cancel out the other making the relationship a happy and dependent one. My hot water bottles, (hwb) (British Standard with cozies) Fuzzy, Dotty, and Spike, take turns accompanying me around town. I do not carry them in brown bags, yet…They are faithful, and as long as they stay hot, are my dearest friends and allies! Without them, I might be “Lucy and Ethel in a Candy Factory, but more likely “McEvil and McNasty buried in a red ant hill.” I am a beginner now in this world of life-style change and am finally given an opportunity to find my path into health! It’s a life-long truck, I know, so will need to stay close by your side as you guide the way!! This is how healing works.

Thank you!!

But, I am dearly dependent which will have to change after I begin my work to endure and manage fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Keep writing! I’ve just got on the bus. “Hello, my name is Katherine and I’m a hot water bottle addict.” Does this mean after I’m better that I can still use a hot water bottle just for old time’s sake?

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25 moonwatcher March 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Welcome, my dear friend Katherine!! I am so happy you have joined me here! Thank you for your lovely comment. I know you are on the most important journey of all, and I wish you health and healing. You made ME laugh out loud when I read your statement about being a hot water bottle addict. How marvelous it will be when you are keeping them around just for old time’s sake! xoxoxo

Maria

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