Job centre blues

After burrowing around in the murky depths of disability and work legislation, I have now been assigned a Disability Employment Advisor and on Monday I went to visit her at the local Job Centre. To cut a very long, sorry saga short, I have been bullied quite badly at work ever since my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was confirmed and I need to find a new job. Pronto. Can you believe this is still happening in 2012?

Anyway, I’m told to bring my CV and turn up at 11.20 sharp. I arrive early and am met by two doormen. Bouncers? Honestly, they stand there in dark suits, look me up and down with raised eyebrows and I’m half expecting them to say ‘sorry love, you can’t come in here looking like that’. I’m on the list though, so I’m in.

I’m directed into a vast, bland, utterly depressing room with splashes of green logo and dotted with a bewildering array of prams, shopping bags and people slumped on the sofas. Other people are hunched over large ‘job generating machines’, pressing and clicking buttons like they’re playing one-armed bandits in a pub. I pick my way through the crowd, perch on the edge of a dingy sofa and wait. And wait. The staff call people up to desks, looking bored out their skulls (well, they already have jobs) and still I wait, my CV wilting in my sweaty hand.

Finally, I’m called. We run through the ways MS can get in the way of working, my skills, my career aspirations and which hours I can work. My advisor then turns the computer screen round so I can see it. Two possible jobs. Cleaning and daytime pizza delivery. Huh?

She tells me I am over-qualified for most of the jobs they have, but due to my reduced working hours, childcare issues and disability, that’s all they have. I thank her, walk unsteadily to the door which as much dignity as I can and leave it all behind. On second thoughts, I go back, slip past the bouncers and yank a ‘How Did We Do?’ form from the front desk.

On it I write Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here, shove it in the box and go.

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Back to school

It’s Autumn, it’s night class season and I’m ready. Tonight will be my third week back at school. I spent hours carefully selecting a new course, paid my money and filled a trolley at Staples. New notebooks, new pencil case, lots of pens, paper clips, highlighters, folders but managed to stop myself from buying a Hello Kitty school bag to put it all in.

I have a chequered history of night classes. A couple of years ago it was knitting, in a bid to join a Stitch and Bitch class in the local cafe. In my fourth lesson, the lovely teacher looked at my homework, sighed and shook her head sadly. Last year I tried a one-day course instead, learning how to make my very own Christmas wreath out of locally-source willow branches. Along with ten other eager beavers, I grabbed six foot lengths of the stuff, ready to bend it into a circle but ended up poking a rather serious-looking woman in the eye. My finished wreath was a square of twigs, held together by an awful lot of thread and withered on my door after only a week.

This year will be different. I have moved on from crafts and have chosen something scarily academic – a new language. Which is kind of ironic, as my first major relapse involved me losing the ability to string a sentence together (The Teenager still does a great impression of me). Ever the optimist though, I am determined to master it. So far, I can tell native speakers that I enjoy coffee and swimming and hockey (!), and there’s still 28 weeks to go.

I am a bit of a swot, always keen to get my homework done and learn new words, and have got into the habit of sitting in the car during The Teenager’s rugby training listening to a downloaded course. Note to self though – must get out the habit of sticking my hand up in class. There’s only four of us, I am in my thirties and the teacher is probably younger than me.

The best bit though, is that there is a Starbucks on site, so I can sit for a while before class, supping on a large double-shot Americano, checking over my notes and polishing an apple for the teacher.

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An electric feeling

One of the many symptoms of MS I had yet to experience has struck with full force. Those electric shock sensations, also known as l’Hermittes sign or Barber Chair Phenomenon, had up until now only fleetingly bothered me, lasting no more than a couple of seconds each time.

I was helping a friend strip wallpaper over the weekend (I know, the excitement!), when they started up. A bit like labour pains, there was some time between each to start with, but they slowly increased until it was an almost continuous pain. I won’t bore you with the details, but the sensation was so odd and so bizarrely painful, I laid down my tools, got in the car and slowly drove home, a journey made more difficult as I couldn’t move my head and a tractor had broken down in the middle of the road.

And there’s the nub. Just when you think you have MS under control, it decides to stick a hand in its big bag of symptoms and chuck another one at you. It’s amazing what you can come to regard as normal – the tiredness, the dodgy walking, the balance problems, the twitching, the numb hands, the overwhelming desire to stuff my face with chocolate – and you adjust your life accordingly. Everything is as good as it can be, until something like this knocks you back to square one again.

I have been wondering though, how did MS’ers describe the pain before electricity was invented?

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I kid you not

MS has made me more adventurous and given me a desire to ‘try new things’. I’m not sure why, perhaps a case of, what have I got to lose? I have an ongoing list of new things to try, more often added to than attempted. Yesterday, I set out to change this. Every weekend I buy a small child’s height of newspapers and every weekend I read the recipe pages, scanning through the ingredients, the cooking methods, the time taken, think, ‘hmm, that sounds nice’ and quickly turn the page, berating myself for not exposing The Teenager to more exotic food. But yesterday, I promised myself that I would try out the first recipe I came across. Perhaps I should have read The Mail on Saturday first (Jamie’s 15 minute meals – desserts this week, darn it), but I picked up The Guardian as I always turn to the ‘Blind Date’ article – living vicariously.

The divine Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is leaning casually against his Aga, pots hanging from a driftwood rack behind him. He asks, ‘why don’t we eat more goat?’ Oh. Um, because the local Co-op doesn’t stock it? But in the spirit of adventure, I read on. Perhaps Waitrose have it. Or that obscure butcher I always mean to visit (another tick on ‘try new things’ list!). First ingredient is hay. This is not going well. Helpfully though, Hugh suggests that if I don’t know a farmer, I can always buy small packs of it from a pet shop. Ok, quick visit to Pets At Home too, then.

So, assuming I have my goat and my hay, the next thing I have to do is to soak the hay in a bucket, then drain. I don’t have a bucket, long story. Quick trip to the hardware store too then, Hugh? Nope. Take the goat, the hay and the bucket off my shopping list, scribble down chops, potatoes and veg. Maybe try again next week, but for now, reading the recipe was adventurous enough for me.

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Firewalking. Seriously?

I had an email yesterday, an update about ways to get involved in raising money for charity. Fundraising is admirable, worthy, makes you feel good inside and funding multiple sclerosis societies and their research is vital. So when they knocked around a few ideas of how to raise this money, WHO came up with the idea of firewalking? If one of the most common and distressing symptoms of MS is heat intolerance, it seems a bit of a strange and slightly cruel choice. How about upping the ante and have people fire-eating and firewalking simultaneously?

A lot of regional societies organise these events and apparently you walk 20 feet across burning embers, with the coals reaching 1200 degrees fahrenheit ( a crematorium burns at around 1400 degrees). In the information section, the guidelines state you must be able to lift your feet and take a minimum of 8 steps at fast pace. Hmm. Beginning to sound like a Disability Living Allowance assessment – at least we’re on familiar territory. In addition, ‘you may use walking sticks or mobility aids but please be aware that these may suffer fire damage’. Hey, that sounds great fun, where do I sign up?

Instead, how about choosing something us MS’ers are good at? A sofa-thon? Who can stay on their sofa the longest (me, me!). Or MS Snap? Give people some cards, get them to write down all their symptoms, shuffle them around and play a couple of games. For the uninitiated, MS has a vast amount of symptoms, so these games could run and run. Sometimes the old ways are the best though, so if you see a sad figure forlornly rattling a collection tin, pop some money in. It could be me,..

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