Before I get rolling on this, my second blog entry for the day, let me show you Jennifer Grey (Dixie), the foster kitten who still doesn’t trust people much. Here she is, nestled in my sock bin and hiding from the world. And another photo of her with her brother Giorgio. Giorgio is the sweetest, quietest boy and looks gigantic next to her. But then, I think foster Jean-Paul Sartre, two months her junior, is also bigger than her.
So, I went to my specialty neurologist, the physical rehab doctor. Who laughed at my “Emotional Support Animal” t-shirt with the image of Animal from The Muppets.
She thanked me for being flexible and moving my appointment, and we started chatting. She agrees that some of my problems may have resumed with the recent shift change at work, and that Morton’s neuromas make sense after decades of toe walking.
My primary care physician had prescribed me Flexeril to try when my body felt stiff. My neurological physiatrist switched it to Baclofen and suggested I might take it up to three times a day when I feel stiff.
She was impressed when I showed off my quad stretch without leaning on anything.
But she studied my shoes and watched me walk and noted that my right leg is sliding more, that I’m not lifting off the ground like I should, and that my left leg scissoring is more pronounced. I also have less mobility in my right ankle than my left. She’s concerned about the increase in my spasticity and wants to see me again in a month.
And if my gait and spasticity doesn’t improve, I may need botox. In my hips. I’m not real keen on the idea of injecting neurotoxin into my system.
But my curls were sassy!
And then I came home and made sandwiches for my work lunches. With spinach and Hungryroot spinach artichoke dip.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2022, in part because deadlines and challenges and what feels impossible sometimes motivates me. But between foster cats with diarrhea, work shift changes, health issues and mood in general, I’m losing my focus and drive. I need a reset and an evaluation of my goals more than I need a push.
I have learned in the last five years or so as I’ve “come out” of the disability “closet,” is that when you have a disability or a chronic condition you have a choice: you either withdraw from life or you become tenacious and stubborn and adaptive. I think the majority of those of us with congenital issues, especially when our parents didn’t make our physical difference the center of our existence, tend to be the latter to the point of ridiculousness. We want to do things, whatever they are, and we don’t want our bodies to hinder us.
I think people who came to body differences later in life might be more prone to accept “well I just won’t do that anymore” while younger people with catastrophic injuries have the will to keep on going, and those with issues since birth learn that if they want to experience certain things they have to work harder but in reality we need to work creatively. So the 20-year-old proclaimed paralyzed as the result of a sporting accident will be more motivated to walk again than the 60-year-old who had a car accident.
But these are really complex topics to ponder and very personalized to the emotional and financial resources a person has to support them.
If you read my personal blog, you know I have diplegic spastic cerebral palsy. If you get tired of hearing me day that, I don’t care. I’m 47-years-old and like many Generation Xers out there I’m wondering how the hell that has happened so quickly. But more importantly, and I write this without judgment, I had no real medical treatment between the ages of five and twenty.
I realized– because of my job working in the warehouse at Stitch Fix of all places– that not only do I know nothing about cerebral palsy, but my medical team might not know much either. So no wonder I have a lot of unanswered questions. This week I celebrate my two year anniversary with Stitch Fix and my journey to understand my own body will be forever tied with my warehouse job with them.
Up until December 2021, I had never seen a neurologist. Until that late December visit with a neurologist, I never even had a diagnosis on my file.
And to think, now I have TWO neurologists. I guess I just want to remind everyone, and this is why writing a cerebral palsy memoir will be one of my next projects, that we tend to view our doctors as people in a hierarchy above us and we approach them for answers and with hope of relief. Instead, we need to approach them as peers with education and insight and it’s our responsibility as patients to ferry information between them and do what we can for ourselves.
I had a fall Friday night, after a week long battle with nerve pain in my foot and leg. I agreed to cortisone shots in my foot to see if that would curb the pain in my foot (and it did) but the resulting change in sensation and muscle responsiveness has made this leg (which happens to be my good one) less reliable. Throw in lack of sleep, not enough food and a cocktail and down I went. As someone with cerebral palsy, I need to remember that normal side effects for people who have proper muscle control may manifest differently in me.
So, Saturday morning, I nestled under my new Dad blanket (if you need to hear more detail on any of this about Friday click here) and planned to work on my NaNoWriMo project. Even though I had the time, and the healthy start needed to get a flow going on the project, I didn’t write a word. And I’m wondering if, already having one novel underway and past deadline, if starting another is merely destroying any chance of focus I have.
I have 4,000 words on the NaNo project, which if you don’t know is National Novel Writing Month, and I should be at 12,000 words by now. I had hoped the new project, a new idea which is nothing like anything I’ve ever written, would shake off the bad habits of an editor/publisher debating every word and allow me to write freely. That impetus would revive my ability to write quickly and without overthinking.
And strengthen writing habits.
The jury is out.
I may abandon official NaNo in favor of sticking with a strict writing schedule of rising at 4 a.m. daily before my warehouse shift and writing from 4:15 to 5:15 a.m.
The Teenager has had two overnight clients and I think at last count it had been 16 days since she slept in her own bed. When she arrived home yesterday morning, she looked at me on the couch and her dog lazily dozing and decided we both needed fresh air. So she mentioned key words: “walk,” “ride” and “window.” The dog lost her mind.
The Teenager knows how to bribe both of us.
She recently bought a new harness and long line for the dog. So we went to a small park to try it out. The park outlaws tobacco, alcohol, fireworks, drugs and golf. But dogs are okay.
There’s a cute video on YouTube of F. Bean Barker enjoying the outdoors.
And then we went to “the Window.” Which in this case meant Dunkin as it was still early and we sampled their new Cookie Butter offerings, the cold brew and the doughnut. Both were dangerously decadent. The doughnut is 370 calories so I’m hoping it sells out to the extent where I can’t get my hands on it.
I went to the park and the window in my pajamas, because it was a gloomy Saturday and I didn’t see the point of fancying myself just to hang out with the dog.
I spent a good portion of the day doing dishes and laundry and watching “Wheeler Dealer Dream Car” on Motor Trend’s streaming channel. I subscribed to Motor Trend last month so I could binge watch the Dax Shepard redo of “Top Gear America” and I may hang on to the subscription as I enjoy the content. The Teenager finds this perplexing as she knows I have no mechanical aptitude.
She classifies my car knowledge as “it looks pretty” and “it goes fast,” but I suppose my interest is similar to my fascination with haute couture sewing. I have read my haute couture sewing guide cover to cover (and yes there is such a thing) and I can’t sew to save my life.
I suppose I am a true academic. Reading and obsessing over knowledge of things I will never have the skill to do.
Then, the Teenager found “her box” on the doorstep, her third fix from Stitch Fix!!!! So we opened that bad boy.
I think The Teenager is disappointed that her box doesn’t have more flare, but the staples she receives is really improving her day to day look. As a dog walker, I am now seeing her in these Stitch Fix selections as a way that she can maintain comfort and still look put together.
If you watch the YouTube review, you’ll see more of The Teenager in what she calls her new “math teacher sweater.” It’s a keeper. It’s about 16 hours after she received it and she’s still wearing it. Stay tuned to see if I steal her shoes and keep them.
Later in the day, I had an interview with David Figueroa of David’s Cerebral Palsy and Fitness Channel. I have explored his YouTube content and I listen to his podcast. I am working hard to take charge of my aging process and I hope my message of the importance of strength training and my approach to medical advocacy resonate with people.
We talked for an hour and a half. I’ve included a link to his YouTube channel below. Let’s hope the chaos of my house wasn’t too distracting! But one disruption I welcomed was the motorcycle that passed by while I was talking about my father.
I ended up sleeping more than nine hours last night, and woke up this morning covered in cats. I hope your time-change-hour served you as well as mine did. Here’s a photo of me with the fosters, and it’s blurry because I took it without my glasses.
Yesterday might summarize recent trends in my life. I know I posted a blog post before I left for my last 10-hour shift at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy. Monday I start a more traditional Monday through Friday shift. I’ll get home earlier, but I lose a day off. And I’m used to having Thursday and Friday off which is nice for running errands, making appointments with doctors and professionals, and for connecting with people regarding my business, Parisian Phoenix Publishing.
I still had my Friday nights and Saturdays, even if I had to head to bed earlier than most people want to on Saturday night.Many well-meaning friends and everyday people have made comments like “well that will be nice,” “no more long days” and “you’ll have your weekends back.”
But I’ll no longer have that feeling of “getting work over with” and I’m no longer part of a unique cohort. We worked alone in the building on Sundays, and that was peaceful, and for two hours every afternoon, we more or less finished the work the traditional day shift left behind.
So, I arrived at work yesterday morning, basking in the bliss of using my new Ninja DualBrew correctly. (I still have to buy coffee filters, but I love the ease of use, the temperature of the coffee, the different settings for the strength of coffee, AND how I can select just the right amount of coffee for me. The reservoir is cool for me, because it removes one more decision or step to screw up. I have been known to double fill the coffee pot when I forgot I already did it.)
On Sunday, I normally perform between 100 and 105 percent of daily metrics. I may have once hit 108. This Sunday, I hit 97. This annoyed me. It was the first sign that something was off. On Monday, I kept struggling. I didn’t really notice anything physically wrong but I did note that my toes on my right foot were really burning by the end of the day. Andrew, my wonderful coach at Apex Training, had asked if we could move Monday night’s session to Tuesday. I said sure.
I busted my butt for the rest of the day and hit at least 99 percent, but I may have hit 100. That’s when I noticed some residual issues in my body. Just that nagging sense that something was not right. I attributed it to working hard and not having my regular Friday appointment with Nicole Jensen at Back in Line Chiropractic and Wellness Center. She had a class on Friday, so she had moved clients.
Tuesday I could feel my right hip turned wrong. It was a weird feeling, like my leg was facing the wrong way. In reality, it might not work that way but that’s how it felt. And my right hip was very tender to the touch. I still didn’t have any pain, but movement was getting harder. So I tried to stretch my hips during the day, but by the end of the day, I had only hit 90 percent and it had been hard. I asked Andrew if we could move the Tuesday session to Wednesday, worried that this was more of a structural issue than a muscular one and working out could push me from discomfort and mobility issues to actual pain.
And a year ago, I was in pain every day and I don’t want to go back to that. Ever. I was flipping through my journal and last year at this time I was starting every journal entry with a number from the pain scale. That broke my heart to see.
I took a muscle relaxer, stretched some more and went to bed after a nice meal. Wednesday morning I didn’t move any better, but I was no longer stiff. But by the time I got to work, my gut said this hip was really struggling to do its job. And I was about to stand on it for ten hours.
At 6 a.m., I called Nicole’s office and left a message. At 9:15, they called me back and scheduled me for 5:15 p.m. I knew that if I waited until my regular Friday appointment and forced that hip to work out, it would lead to pain and harder-to-fix problems.
I emailed my boss as I couldn’t find him and it turned out that he had called out sick. I arranged to leave at 4:30. By my calculations, I hit 87 percent. My right side just didn’t have the mobility it should. The drive to the chiropractor took about 20-25 minutes, and when I got out of the car, it felt like my right leg had fused and stretching it into a step felt ridiculously hard. But still no pain.
This is when cerebral palsy plays tricks on the brain. As I’m (what feels like) dragging my leg into the chiropractor, I started wondering, “maybe I just need to stretch,” “maybe there’s nothing really wrong and I’m just lazy and my muscles stiffened.” But then I remembered the burning toes. Something was pushing my posture forward and my body was fighting it. But I still had my doubts.
Now, no one has ever gaslighted me in the medical community, except maybe my first primary care physician who referred me to the wrong specialist in the days when I had an HMO. I now always have plans where I chose my physicians myself.
When Nicole entered the room, I explained what’s going on and she quickly confirms that yes, my hip was crooked. Like really crooked. She even made a hand gesture. And that my body had done other weird things to compensate. It all moved beautifully when she manhandled it. She pondered what caused this when we had just considered potentially spacing out my weekly appointments to every other week. Did I overdo it at work? Was it missing the adjustment Friday? Was it skipping my workout?
When I got up from the table, my feet did, as Nicole put it, sexy normal feet posture. My balance has improved dramatically in the last few months, and my strength has returned, and my stamina is definitely increasing.
I stepped out of the chiropractor and took some long, beautiful, easy strides.
It. Felt. Good.
No, it felt GREAT.
So, I don’t know how Nicole would feel about this, but I went to the gym. And let me tell you– Andrew delivered a brutal work out. We did split leg squats in sets of 20 reps each leg with weights. He said I was moving better than I ever had before and I said, yes, because Nicole had straightened my body and stretched out my lower extremities. Like, literally, just did. We did military presses with 25 lb dumbbells. We did core. We did upper body exercises like IYTs. And shoulder taps and mountain climbers and rope slams.
And then, before a shower or dinner, and it’s 7:30 p.m. now, I had to deal with the hellions in my room. I had to swap out and refill three litter boxes for the six cats in my room. I had to vaccuum. I didn’t clean the bird cages, but I did feed and water everyone. And I’m still wondering how the heck those four kittens have trashed my closet without opening the door.
I wanted to blog all this last night after I ate my omelet of cheddar, peppers, homemade farm-procured, roasted tomatoes. But I was exhausted.
I requested to join him on the podcast, thinking it would be a great way to promote my business and share my experiences. I wanted Andrew to know how much his honesty means to me and how much I leaned on his support– even though he didn’t know me– in my journey to accept my identity as a person with a disability, in this case spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.
I had to reschedule once due to a doctor’s appointment with my current hand injury, and he had to reschedule once due to his IBS flares. He even started a podcast to talk about various GI issues and he called it, “This Shit is Real.” And I admire him for that openness. A recent and very occasional complication with my CP has been incontinence. Sometimes I can’t feel when I have to pee until it’s the very last second. And that is scary.
We finally had our chat today, and we barely scratched the surface of what both of us could say, and I know by the end I was talking too fast. Nala even behaved, but then my parakeet Yo-yo starting singing.
I hope he can salvage the audio.
I was so excited to have that chat with him as I have listened to the podcast for more than a year now. And he asked if he could contact me again so we can talk about book publishing.
Andrew can contact me anytime! The world needs more people that force discussions that we all need to have. We need to release ourselves from sensations of shame, anxiety and insecurity and accept each other and the perspectives we bring to the table.
I had a notebook because I wanted to write down the brilliant insights I knew we would have together and we had a great, great talk. But I babbled. And now I don’t have much to share with you.
So I guess we’ll have to wait for Andrew to release the episode.
It’s been about a year. It’s the end of my birth month. In some ways, I started this journey in December 2020 when I contracted Covid-19.
I remember standing in the Bizzy Hizzy warehouse, at 11:45 p.m., placing the last extra small clothing item in my pick-cart. I leaned against a nearby pole, my joints all screaming.
And I thought to myself, “I’m one month into my job at Stitch Fix. Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I’m too old and my body can’t take it. Maybe I can’t do anything anymore.”
I was chilly that night, and it was December in the warehouse, so I didn’t think anything of it. Until that moment. Leaning against that pole almost too weak to stand.
I was sweaty. My hands were clammy.
I had a fever. The system at work — the nurse, the temperature checks— had missed it because I normally run low. My fevers don’t numerically look like fevers until they are very high.
And in that moment, I released a breath of relief.
I was probably the only person in America grateful to suspect that I had Covid-19. (And I did.)
Because Covid-19 was easier to deal with than the prospect that I might be too disabled to provide for myself.
I would have to read these blog entries, check my medical portal and review my podcast history to tell you the exact journey of the last year and a half, and if that interests you— I’m considering writing a memoir (Upright! Gravity is a Harsh Mistress). My husband thought of the title.
I listened to disability podcasts (such as A is for Abled, Disability After Dark, Stompers in Love and various titles from the BBC) while working at the Bizzy Hizzy as I grappled with my own identity. Am I disabled? Do I pass as normal? Do I make my body do more than it can? Or should?
These questions, and recovering from Covid, and comorbidities like anemia and weight gain, as my spine and hip problems started to bother me more and more, led me on a journey to recommit to fitness and to gain more knowledge and collect doctors that would be an asset to my medical team as I age.
I have blogged about that entire journey— from my first session at Apex Training to finally finding a local doctor that understands cerebral palsy.
She expanded on my previous diagnosis of spastic cerebral palsy and added the term diplegia, which means it only impacts my legs. She frequently told me that I self-correct very well and added that while my gait was inefficient, it was functional and it was mine… so that makes it beautiful.
My new doctor is a neurological physiatrist— with her initial training in spinal bifida which she then expanded into seeing cerebral palsy patients.
She listened to me, reviewed my x-rays with me, gave me an exam, watched me walk, and studied my shoes as if she were reading my fortune with tea leaves. She described my walk as her fingers traced the wear on my shoes.
She also complimented my “taco Tuesday” days of the week socks.
My recent disability leave from work has improved my fitness and my health greatly, so I had no pain to report. But I told her I was looking to educate myself and to know what doctors to call and when.
And she told me a lot of things I already knew— not to let myself get too tired, for one. And that I need to continue strength training and improve the mobility in my ankles (and today at Back in Line Chiropractic, Dr. Jensen gave those puppies a work out).
I also knew and understood the domino theory of my own health, that injuries like what happened to my ringer finger impact all of me, but she explained why. I’m not sure I have this 100% correct (just like I previously misused hemiplegia, which refers to right or left side of body vs. upper and lower body), but she said my brain tells my lower half not to do anything until given a signal, but as a person, I start walking (for example) and now my legs and my brain aren’t working together.
Because of this, if anything goes wrong in my body— even something as minor as constipation or an ingrown toenails— my entire system can go haywire. So, if I’m having issues, I need to examine my whole self. And if I don’t find the problem, I need to call her.
Cerebral palsy is a static condition, meaning it doesn’t get worse, but as I reasoned earlier, the decades of wear-and-tear on a body not used in the mechanically proper way can create new issues.
So what are my options if I find myself in decline?
First step would be to use muscle relaxers. I currently have a prescription for flexeril, which doesn’t seem to do anything. She would try Baclofen or Tizanidine next.
If that doesn’t help, she would inject Botox into my muscles.
And if I still had issues, she would move to bracing.
But as of right now, I have good muscle tone and self-correct so she doesn’t want to mess with things.
I feel like I found the final link on my medical team.