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.