Thursday 26 July 2012

School's out for Summer

The school summer holidays are enough to strike the fear into the heart of even the most child-centred parent (and I don’t really count myself as one of those.) Every year I fall into the same trap of thinking “this year it will be different”.  I am by nature a glass half-full kind of person so as soon as the sun comes out I start fantasising about perfect family picnics and Jamie Oliver style barbecues.  I have visions of warm, hazy, golden days where my children are at one with nature and occupy themselves for hours while I lie on a vintage picnic rug (which I will have picked up from a junk shop for 10p – how clever) eating strawberries, reading a book, glass of wine in hand.  Most importantly I will have perfected a boho chic summer wardrobe that looks great with the vintage picnic rug.  I think you get the picture and it should be blindingly obvious that I AIM TOO HIGH!

This is the reality of my summer holidays so far:

It has been raining since March and shows no signs of stopping. I could almost bear this when I felt  (to quote our Prime Minister) like “we were all in this together”. But then the South (and by South, I mean south of Preston) went all hot and sunny.  Cue all Radio 1 DJ’s and BBC newsreaders talking about the glorious weather, when half the country is still under a dirty big cloud.   Anyway, BBC-bias rant aside, what this means is that I have three children cooped up in the house all day and a husband who is working away for the next 19 days.  The blue-skied, golden fantasy of cooperative siblings being at one with nature is, in reality, three bickering kids fighting over who goes on the iPad next.

The obvious response to this predicament (and the path which my sister has decided to take) is to turn to 5 p.m. glasses of red wine (served with copious amounts of cheese and crackers) to help numb the pain.  However this is a slightly problematic approach for someone who is supposed to be on an MS low saturated fat diet plan.

So I need an alternative plan and I have decided that being pro-active is the way forward.  I keep reminding myself that this time last year I had two whopping MS attacks and was basically off my feet and out of action for two months.  The summer holidays were a total wipeout for both me and the kids.  I didn’t even get as far as the fantasy last year – I was too busy concentrating on getting better. This year (touch wood) I am at least fit and healthy so I am determined to make the next few weeks as fun as possible.

With this is mind, on Tuesday I rang my lovely friend in London and asked her if it would be OK if the kids and I came down on the train to stay with her this weekend, with the intention of soaking up some Olympic atmosphere and watching the Men’s Cycling Road Race which passes near to her house. Her response was so enthusiastic I immediately booked the tickets and we are heading down South on Saturday morning. The kids are so excited they can’t sleep. During one conversation with my friend the word “picnic” was mentioned and suddenly the warm, hazy fantasy had become a little bit more of a possibility.  All brilliant, except that I have just checked the forecast and apparently it is raining in London on Sunday!

More pro-active news:

Yesterday my sister and I took the kids to the local agricultural show.  Sounds idyllic doesn’t it?  We travelled on an open top bus (great), got a deal on a family ticket by pretending we were lesbians with kids* (bargain) and then spent the next three hours listening to our children whining about going on fair rides / bouncy castles / donkey rides / harrier jet simulators / bungee ropes(all hideous). The kids weren’t even that interested in the animals.   Thank God my Dad arrived with his bonhomie and more importantly his wallet.

Admittedly not a great start to my new pro-active approach but I am determined to stick with it.  Next week I am determined to go up to Coniston and mess about in the lake whatever the weather.  That’s what waterproofs and flasks of coffee are for.  Just maybe the sun will come out, the countryside will be transformed into a green and pleasant land and I can lie on my picnic rug reading a book and grab a few minutes peace before the bickering starts. I told you, I am a glass half-full person.

* this is not strictly true.  The Rotary Club very kindly offered us a family ticket on the basis of us being sisters not lesbians.

Friday 13 July 2012

Hello Blondie

Back to Blonde

I am blonde again. This is NOT a self-deprecating statement about my mental acumen, I am literally blonde, with a headful of freshly highlighted hair. This might give you a clue that I am not in fact a natural blonde (that prestigious status only lasted for the first three years of my life). However since the tender age of 11 when I discovered the dubious but addictive bleaching effects of “Sun-In”, I have for most of my adult life been varying shades of honey, platinum, gold and mouse (my natural colour). There have been two notable deviations from this: eight years ago when I went red (I loved it, everyone else hated it) and in January when I became a brunette.

My muse Zooey Deschanel
The brunette thing was inspired by a huge girl crush on the gorgeous, kooky Zooey Deschanel (I was addicted to the US series “New Girl”). So when the hairdresser told me that my hair was breaking off and needed a break from the bleach, I took up her offer to “make me look like Cheryl Cole” - a bold assertion given the raw materials she was working with (a 39 year old mother of three with wobbly bits). Hairdressers (actually women in general), live for this type of makeover thing - (what else can explain Gok Wan's meteoric rise to fame?) and in the salon people kept popping over to the chair to see how it was looking. Anyway she did me proud and with a post-colour endorphin rush I unleashed my new chocolate brown locks on the world…This is how it went:

Husband: Jesus, how long will that last?….
8 year old: (in tears) What have you done to your hair?
3 year old: (genuinely bemused) Where has your yellow hair gone Mummy?

I suddenly had flashbacks to the time when I was 14 and had my hair restyled from a “Princess Di” flick to a “Pat and Mick” mullet and a boy in my class actually cried.  I had that kind of magnetic power over boys when I was 14 (sadly now much-diminished).

Although I loved my new “Zooey” hair and even received the odd compliment from my loyal friends and, rather unexpectedly, from my generally non-gushing Mother, I could not help shrug the feeling that people weren’t that fussed on it. I didn’t really care that much and despite these initial setbacks I was revelling in my new look and embarked on a hair-colour love affair which lasted 6 months. Here are the good things about being brunette:

I can pretend I look like Zooey Deschenal.
I have classier root re-growth. No tell-tale black roots.
I don’t look as “washed-out”.
I can pretend I have mysterious Celtic ancestry (blue eyes, dark hair).

Here are some of the bad things:
I don’t look like Zooey Deshenal no matter how much I pretend.
My root re-growth had grey bits in it (you don’t see the grey when blonde).
I still looked a bit washed-out.
The Celtic ancestry thing is much overrated and if I wear black I look a “bit gothy”.

Embracing "The Dark Side"
So this week I was booked in with the hairdresser and I decided to leave the “dark side” and go back to my non-natural blonde roots.  I arrived clutching some pictures of good-hair goddesses Jennifer Aniston and JLo and tried not to feel offended when one of the hairdressers said, (chuckling wickedly) “Sorry love, we don’t do plastic surgery in this salon!” There was a palpable air of excitement as my hairdresser mixed up the bleach, probably due to the fact she is now being able to charge me £30 more for highlights rather than a block colour.

So £80 and 4 hours later I am blonde again and I am having to re-adjust to a world where I can wear black clothes and red lipstick without looking like the lead singer out of Swing Out Sister. All reactions so far have been positive. My husband said it was like “having a new wife”. My brother-in-law said I looked “hot” (cue horror in equal measures from both me and my sister).  My Dad said it was lovely (he never passed comment when I was brunette – he is a born diplomat).  My 3 year old said, “Why is your hair yellow again Mummy?”  I even got a beep of the horn (not a euphemism) from a van of builders today, but then again I might just have been in their way when crossing the road.

So what important life lesson can I learn from this foray into the world of brunette, aside from the fact that a more peachy toned lipstick is a more flattering look for brown hair?  Not much; I still maintain that there is a lot to be said for having a “Zooey” but I have to accept the harsh fact that, at least in the eyes of my husband, gentlemen do prefer blondes.

Sorry not much MS stuff here apart from my totally unscientifically proven theory that high dose oral steroids can affect the condition of your hair.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

"Celeb" MS

The "celeb" way of announcing you have MS
MS has a new poster boy. Jack Osbourne has been recently diagnosed with MS after suffering from a bout of optic neuritis in his right eye. Jack’s announcement has sparked a flurry of media interest and MS is suddenly all over the news which can only be a good thing in terms of increasing awareness of this disease. The fact that Jack chose to reveal his diagnosis in a glossy spread in Hello Magazine is slightly disconcerting, as are the photos which show poor Sharon gazing at Jack with what I assume is maternal concern. I say assume because (bless her) the botox and surgery make it quite difficult for her to move her face into any expression at all.

Botox jibes aside, self-proclaimed “Adrenalin Junkie” Jack has recently become a Father and this diagnosis must be absolutely devastating for the whole family. It is said that his motto is “adapt and overcome” and I applaud him for this approach but the truth is he doesn’t really have any other option. He is a young man with a wife and new baby daughter and he needs to stay positive and be proactive if he and his family are to survive the MS rollercoaster.

Jack will not yet know what type of MS he has as he is in the early stages of the illness. The vast majority of people (myself included) suffer from the relapse-remitting (RRMS) form of the disease whereby there are periods of inflammation “attacks” or “relapses” whereby symptoms usually come on over a short period of time – over hours or days. They often stay for a number of weeks, usually four to six, though this can vary from very short periods of only a few days to many months. Relapses can vary from mild to severe – I have experienced symptoms at both ends of this scale including:
  • Complete paralysis from the waist down 
  • Severe vertigo which resulted in sustained periods of vomiting 
  • Blurred vision
  • Numb legs, tingling, unable to feel changes in temperature (problematic when getting in the bath!)
  • Extreme pain in my lower back and neck
  • Weakness and numbness in my arms

The good news for RRMS sufferers is that usually patients make a good recovery following a relapse. The bad news is that every time you have an attack there is always that seed of doubt in your head that you might be left with some long term damage – a leg that limps, a slightly weak hand, pins and needles in your feet.

Like Jack I was diagnosed in my mid-twenties. Like Jack I came to the conclusion that my only option was to adapt and overcome. I had a bullish determination that this illness was not going to beat me and I am pleased to say that, fifteen years on, it hasn’t beaten me. Nonetheless there have been times where MS has come close to getting the upper hand. What I have come to realise is that the mental battle is just as tough as the physical challenges of the illness.

MS is a weird disease – when I am well I can almost forget that I have it…almost. I went for years without having a symptom, it retreated into the distant background of my life; some of my newer friends didn’t even know I had MS. Then I woke up one morning with a numb hand, the next day I couldn’t do my bra up, a couple of days later my legs went weak and I suddenly couldn’t walk. This uncertainty can mess with your head. Symptoms can disappear as quickly as they arrive but there is always that nagging doubt in the back of my head that this time I won’t get away with it; that my luck will run out and I will never get my full function back.

This is why I am trying to stack the odds in my favour by following a few basic rules: eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, taking fish oil and Vitamin D supplements, exercising regularly, reducing stress in my life (where I can) and, most importantly, having a positive mental attitude. Easy to say, hard to do, especially when you are newly diagnosed and your whole life plan appears to be falling apart at the seams.

I obviously don’t know Jack but the Osbournes strike me in general as a family who face adversity head on.   What is certain is that Jack will need all the strength and support of his loved ones to “adapt and overcome” Multiple Sclerosis. This illness will surely be his biggest challenge yet and I wish him well.