Friday, January 13, 2017
Wearing the Pretty Shoes While I Can and Experiencing MS Milestones
I saw a t-shirt once that said, “There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day.”
It holds true for everyone, but it’s especially poignant when living with a chronic debilitating disease. Disability may be inevitable for me. But it may not. I can stave off these MS milestones as much as possible, but knowing that I may not be able to do things in the future motivates me to do what I can now.
I hit a frustrating MS milestone this week. I wore the absolutely most beautiful high-heeled shoes I’ve ever owned to a formal event. In hindsight I can see that after three hours of socializing and dancing that my feet cramped, my nerves quit firing correctly, and my MS symptoms took over. Usually the impacts are subtler. This time there was no mistake that MS had caused my ankles to buckle repeatedly. I could tell that my feet weren’t staying put or moving on command any longer. While standing still, one foot started to turn under against my will. I paused, tried to regroup, and took a step. My right ankle buckled. I took the arm of a friend who supported me. I paused again to regroup and thought I could will my feet to cooperate. I took another step, and my left ankle buckled under me. Again grabbing my friend’s arm, I steadied myself and tried to regain composure. After a moment, I moved forward and both of my feet buckled. Then I realized this was MS. This was my MS, and no amount of will would override my feet not functioning.
Holding my friend’s arm and with her other arm around me, I steadied enough and realized I needed to remove my shoes. My ability to wear them that night was done. I removed my shoes and walked barefoot to keep up with my friends. It took walking a distance of ten feet or so before I felt my feet would be able to cooperate again. Fortunately, my ankles weren’t giving way anymore. It was another hundred feet before my feet stopped spasming.
Practically speaking I think this tells me that I can wear high heels for walking and standing, but dancing in them may no longer be a good idea for me.
I was slightly embarrassed that people seeing me stumble may think I was drunk. I wasn’t drunk, but it’s a reasonable conclusion given the venue and the party atmosphere. Once I’d moved on to another area of the party, I figured people just assumed my shoes were uncomfortable and I was carrying them because I didn’t want to walk in them anymore.
I realize people may think that it’s not a loss to not be able to wear high heels. It’s true that I can have a wonderful life wearing flats. It’s also true that some people have no interest in wearing unconventional, impractical shoes. But to me there’s a difference between not choosing to wear them and not being able to wear them anymore. Yes, people may judge me as self-sabotaging with this, but I think with all life lessons we do what we can until we can’t anymore. How we find out we can’t do something anymore varies, and sometimes we require numerous opportunities to learn the lesson before we change our ways.
I will keep wearing the impractical shoes when and where I can. I will also start looking for beautiful lower heeled shoes that still make me feel special. I’m glad I made a conscious effort after I was diagnosed with MS to start wearing shoes that were fancier and less practical. I want to take the opportunity to do things and be who I want for at least portions of my life. I think it’s better to have done it and remember having done it than to regret never trying.
This is bigger for me than the shoes. It’s an indicator of the many things I may lose as I age with MS. I know the risks, and I’m taking the chance even when it triggers symptoms. It’s walking a fine line of doing what’s good for me and doing some things that may be physically difficult but emotionally nurturing. I already feel older than my years given I deal with daily inconveniences that people I know 10-20 years older than I experience. I don’t want to give up things until it’s clear that it’s best for me or the consequences become too great. For me the consequence of triggering a pseudo exacerbation, where symptoms act up but no new disease activity occurs, are acceptable. Reflecting on this experience leads me to believe this was a pseudo exacerbation. I know this because the symptoms were temporary. While my fatigue and stress levels have been elevated for some time, I've been able to keep them manageable with lots of self-care.
Pushing myself to the point of triggering an exacerbation with new lesions is not worth it to me. Knowing when my actions are one or the other is tough to discern, but it gets easier each year. I pay close attention to my body and how it responds to what I do, eat or think, and I think I’m able to tell the difference now. And throughout this life journey, I’m going to enjoy each step of the way, recognize limits as they emerge, and adjust as I can. But I’m going to make a special effort to do a lot of things now that I may not be able to do someday. So far, today is not that day.
Read Wearing the Pretty Shoes: Part II for more on shoes.