I remember an advert on TV a few years ago – I think it was an insurance advert. The gist of it was that while you can have your stolen belongings replaced after a burglary, you can still be left with a sense of vulnerability and fear. The insurance company promised to help with that too, by recommending security improvements to avoid future break-ins and make customers feel safe again.
I was trying to explain to a friend how I feel between relapses when this advert sprung to mind, and it just fit.
In 2007, four years before I had a name for it, I developed a tingling sensation in my legs and back whenever I looked down. It lasted about a month, and then disappeared. It didn’t hurt and wasn’t massively disruptive, so I didn’t think much of it until it returned the following year for another month. My GP prescribed anti-inflammatories and a physio referral to resolve what was thought to be a trapped nerve in my neck. Sure enough, it vanished, but when it returned the following year I was finally sent first to the hospital plastic surgery dept. (where they deal with carpal tunnel amongst other things) and later, neurology, where after undertaking various tests and scans, it was determined that I was experiencing symptoms of MS.
I’m generally doing OK these days. I have more regularly recurring periods of weak legs and numb hands, tingles when I look down, but I’m in roughly the same shape as I was in 2007. The difference between those four years before my diagnosis and the four that have followed is that before I knew what was happening, I wasn’t afraid. At that time, and at that age, I had no reason to doubt my invincibility. It felt weird, but it didn’t hurt and it went away, and I could forget about it until it came back.
Once I had a name for these sensations, I had a possible trajectory. Obviously, I don’t really know what’s coming and nor does my neurologist, but I have an idea. The future has a frame.
The first relapse I had after my diagnosis knocked me for six. I had to know that it’d come, but I hadn’t been waiting for it. It had a greater impact than previous flare-ups, and took away my legs for a time, parts of my hands and mouth felt like they’d disappeared. Not numb exactly, but like they just weren’t there at all. Gradually, they were returned to me.
What was left behind after this ‘burglary’ though was massive unease, fear, dread and anxiety. Now I know what it feels like to have something taken, and know also that it’s very likely I’ll have my belongings taken again, I wait by the window.
As with a real burglary, I can take precautions. Get better locks and security cameras, make my house less inviting to intruders in future- that is, take care of my mind and body, eat and sleep well – but every floorboard creak or rattle from the attic sets my heart racing.