MS Can Make Me Completely Mental

It seems that each month of the year designates a particular medical condition. For example, May is Mental Health Month. It gives the world an opportunity to learn more, and I can certainly see how important it might be for people to know the difference between, say, mental health and mental illness.

MS can take the health out of mental health

Mental health advocates provided an easy way for us to separate them by naming October as Mental Illness Awareness month and May as Mental Health Awareness month. It’s a good start. For those of us who are either on the brink of madness or just mad about something, we need all the help we can get to figure out whether we need a shrink and medication (straitjacket, ECT, etc.), or aromatherapy and a full-body massage. Still, all the learning I’ve done hasn’t changed one important thing: MS can take the health out of mental health. At times MS makes me completely mental.

It can go something like this:

“Oh, a thunderstorm! Give me a break, no way! Most thunderstorms are the best, I must say. Often, there’s a wind...(Phone rings) I wonder who would be phoning me on this stormy, stormy night? What if it’s a murderer coming to strangle me in the night? On the other hand, it could just be a wrong number, it’s difficult to know without answering. (Phone is still ringing) Ugh, it’s making me completely mental! (Picks up the phone) Hello?”  –Ed Grimley, portrayed by Martin Short

Compulsively over-thinking

Some days I start to resemble Ed right down to the rhino horn pompadour and high-waist flood pants, leading with my crotch and quick-stepping across the room on tippy-toes.

Ed Grimley

But most days it manifests as compulsively over-thinking simple tasks. Or a stream of consciousness loop that goes on for hours, shortening my attention span to that of a gnat. This is usually when I find the ice cube tray in the microwave. Or, the newest weirdness was asking Google Assistant on my phone to send a text to my brother, only to discover that I was talking to my watch. I did that twice in 2 days. Too much technology for this girl.

Of course, as with all things MS, several factors can contribute to becoming completely mental. Here are some of mine.

Lack of sleep

When my brain is denied the opportunity to do its nightly maintenance, I start to hallucinate images and sounds. Over several weeks this year, I woke up and gasped at the image of a man jumping over me and dissolving in mid-air. Or various other ghostly human forms lunging at me from my bedside, lying quietly next to me, or darting about in the dim hallway. I’ve also spent some anxious nights suddenly paranoid and afraid that an intruder might come in through my patio door at night, to the degree that I would lie there wide awake in terror until I summoned up the courage to double-check the locks before crawling under the covers once again.

Phantom pain

I might wake up to the feeling of being shocked by a cattle prod, or to a blow torch searing tender flesh. Other nights I'd wake with diffuse pelvic pain, groin pain, and back pain, only to fall asleep and wake up pain-free an hour later. Was the pain just a dream? Multiple sclerosis finds a lot of ways to gaslight me while it shares my bed, all of them deal-breakers. But breaking up is hard to do. So.

Living alone

The longer I’ve lived alone the more fearful I’ve become about being raped and murdered. I live in a 32-unit senior apartment community of mostly women. My elderly neighbors do not share my concern, convinced that rapists only victimize young pretty girls. I know that’s not true but I don’t want to frighten them either, so I don’t say much more about it. There is only one floor and we each have a patio. The sliders are old, their seals in tatters, and with locks that work some of the time. During the day, I don’t worry too much about break-ins, but when dusk settles in I feel on edge and vulnerable. So for extra security, I wedge a curtain rod in the horizontal space and push down on it until I’m not able to budge the door.

The crushing events of our times—social unrest, political upheaval, pandemic—do little to distract me from my internal skirmishes. Whether I look outside myself or within, there is plenty that can make me completely mental, I must say.

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