Saturday, November 7, 2009


I've always been a pretty active person, and I still work out at the gym as much as I can. I've worked out with a trainer, taken classes, lifted weights, done Pilates, circuit training, aerobics, Jazzercise (remember that!?), step classes, jogging, hiking, pretty much everything but skiing. Two things I don't do: ski, and clean house, but that's another story.

Prior to my MS diagnosis, I knew that there was some pretty wacky and random stuff going on with my body. The suggestion came from friends that I should try yoga to help put my body back in balance. Sure! Let's do that!

Generally, I am not the kind of person who does much research once I get a bug in my bonnet. I leap faithfully out of the plane and say "oh! Was I supposed to have a parachute? Who knew!" Yoga was no different. I went down to my local Yoga and You, A New Way of Life, or whatever it was called, unrolled my new pink yoga mat and prepared to become balanced.

Balance is a key word here, as those of us with MS know. I can only look at the stars from flat on my back, fall into giggling fits every time I try to walk with my eyes closed, and can walk a straight line and end up across the street. And, as anyone with MS can attest to, heat is not our friend, particularly when it comes to balance.

Now, if I'd done any research at all, I'd have realized that Birkham was not the name of the instructor, or the owner of the yoga studio. Instead, I began to stretch and bend along with about 10 other very stretchy and bendable people. I feel a little bit awkward, but ok. The room is nice and toasty which I find sort of soothing, initially. Then the instructor has us stand on one foot with the other bent up to our knee. This did not go well for me, but I keep trying. The room starts to get even warmer. I must really be working myself out! Even though it doesn't seem that tough, I'm sweating like a pig!

She instructs us to stand on one foot and lean forward with the other leg extended behind. Ok, maybe not so much for me. Then, switch that pose with a little leap. Ha ha! I don't think so! Now downward dog and lift another leg! By now, she's figured out I must be new, so she guides me to the wall and tells me to lean against that - many newbies have a problem with these advanced class poses. Advanced class!? How did I manage to get into an advanced class and why IS IT SO HOT!?

By the time things wind down and we're just standing there with our hands in front us doing a namaste thing, I can't even stand on two feet. I'm sagging against the wall, sweat pouring off of me, unable to walk.  I feel like a noodle that's been sucked out of a soggy bowl of soup. The last thing I feel is balanced.

I slither along the wall towards the door. The instructor sings out to me in her calm, serene, oh-so- invigorated voice "See you next week! It gets easier with practice!" I wouldn't know. Hell will freeze over before I go see Mr. Birkham again, and bad as I might be, I'm not going there. It's too hot.

Friday, November 6, 2009


One of my all time favorite activities is hiking. I love the treasure hunt feel of the trail...the path goes up around the bend, under a tree canopy, over a rise - you never quite know what you're going to stumble upon next (ok, bad metaphor in my case, maybe).

Back when I was younger, the girl's dad, Ken, and I used to go backpacking. I have the most wonderful memories of fly fishing, and setting up the tent in the wind. We once hiked through a bog up at Army Pass in the Sierra. At the time, we were MISERABLE but it remains one of our favorite stories to recount together.

When the girls were in their teens, their senior girl scout troop did a camp out called Tambu up at Tejon Pass. The girl scouts seldom do things that don't have a catchy Indian sounding moniker and some companion songs that sound more like dirges than Kumbaya.

Anyway, girl scouts are also big on competition, and this particular annual camp out was a biggie. The troops got points if ALL the members of each troop backpacked the one mile in to camp. Well, now we're talking my language. Piece of cake.

I hadn't worn a pack in years ~ I'd been raising children!  I took my ancient pack out of the old cabinet in the garage, aired it out, threw away some vintage moleskin, an old band aid, some Top Ramen and some freeze dried tomato beef stew; and grinned like an old tar. I was ready to hit the high seas of hiking again.

This was a short hike, only one mile, down hill, on a well graded road. I had taken on Monarch Pass, what was this? Phhhttt.  The years had taken it's toll on my packing abilities (not a suitcase, that I could teach a class on), but hey, how hard could it be? So I rolled up my hairbrush into a t-shirt, smashed a pair of jeans and a some underwear in, and hooked on a water bottle. Strap on my down bag, and I'm good to go.

We get to the marshaling area and count off. It's kind of cold; there are tired little patches of ice in bleak drifts by the side of the road and some lame puddles. We head off as a group down the hill. I haven't worn my hiking boots since the last time I used my pack, so they're feeling a little stiff. I also did not adjust my pack to my body frame, I mean come on, how much could I have changed over 18 years? I'm still within 10 lbs of my 25 year old self.

By the time we get about 1/4 of a mile into it, I'm not singing the 'ol scout songs with quite as much gusto. By 1/2 a mile I'm starting to mumble and curse my previous vigor under my breath. By the time we hit 3/4 of a mile I'm glowering at the girls, the tress, the mud, my boots, anything that is glower worthy. By the time we hit camp I am flat out grumpy and wondering if anyone brought the fixings for martinis and separately considering why I ever thought this backpacking thing was so damn great.

We set up tents, whip up some hobo packs, sing some songs, clean up, hit the hay. I'm sharing a small tent with another leader. As I zip into my mummy bag I'm contemplating that this thing is rated to -10 degrees. Does down lose warming ability as it sits stuffed into an airless bag for a year? There is no way it's going to be -10...I'll be fine.

I'm trying to warm up and sleep, but man-o-man does my body feel weird. My feet feel like they are attached to my legs at a wrong angle and my hips feel like they are connected at a different cant. My back hurts and I'm COLD. The weather is definitely chilling up here in the mountains.

When I awaken at dawn, I'm buried in a down sleeping bag, wearing two girl scout sweatshirts, two pairs of socks, sweat pants and wrapped in a Hefty garbage bag. A vague memory of clawing through my pack to find anything that will warm me emerges. I start to cry. I feel like such a sorry ass and useless back packer, let alone any kind of example for my girls.

They are still sleeping as I cajole myself with the miserable humor of all this. I wipe my now frozen tears, get a cup of coffee, pack up to go home (no way am I spending the whole weekend here!), donate my Hefty bag to the other leader and swear off camping forever.

In retrospect, there was one component I hadn't factored in because I didn't know it was coming along with me, let alone everywhere I was going from then on. My MS companion was still a secret to me then. I will tell you one thing, that weekend sure hammered home the upside to a 5 star hotel!

Monday, November 2, 2009

You can't be scared of who you are

Ok, so I'm super addicted to the Biggest Loser. And I eat peanut butter sandwiches with cheese on them. I still hold some secrets.

One of the last episodes highlighted a woman named Abby who had lost her husband, daughter and baby son in a car accident.

               What do you even say.

It got me thinking about inspiration. According to the show, Abby has gone on to become a motivational speaker ~ and she certainly has a story to tell about overcoming the greatest of odds. It totally made me cry and applaud the unfathomable strength of humans, and (sorry guys), especially women.

When I was diagnosed with MS back on May 4, 2001, suffice it to say it was not the best day. I came home freaked, my two beautiful girls were scared and confused, and very unlike us, we all started yelling at each other, peeing in our corners, and crying. Anna went home to my ex husband Ken's house, Liza and I squared off, and the night finally ended.

The next morning, as I was planning my pity party in my head (I'd just been diagnosed with MS for god's sake! What does one wear? What does one drink? Gin perhaps might be fitting...) I met Liza in the kitchen as she was getting ready for school. She was 13 years old, and had been diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic for 4 years. I looked at her and asked her, flat out, how she coped everyday with a chronic, degenerative disease that was not going to get better (at best) and make her further disabled and kill her (at worst). I'd been diagnosed for 6 hours ~ drama came easy.

I asked her, "Aren't you scared? Everyday?".  Now my friend Sue used to call my daughter Elizabeth Taylor with bad teeth (because she has this beautiful chestnut hair and violet eyes; but she was also like a shark, she had over 22 teeth pulled out of her mouth, they just kept growing back all crowded and crooked ~ thankfully she doesn't bite). So she looks right at me with these big, beautiful, long lashed, incredible purple eyes and says "No mom. It's just a part of who you are, and you can't be scared of who you are."

Bing! Pop! From the mouths of babes. It was the best (and only) advice I've ever heeded when it comes to facing my MS.  I never have gotten to have a pity party. That's ok though, I don't even drink gin. One more secret exposed. : - )