Audiobooks.com is putting my MS memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, on sale for the month of May.
Narrated by Erin deWard, the audiobook traces the two years it took me to finally get diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (after being told my symptoms were psychosomatic), and then the three years it took me to reach an uneasy peace with the ways in which the incurable, neurological disease changed my life.
If you click on this link, you can listen to a sample of deWard reading my words aloud (something that still feels surreal, someone else giving voice to my experiences).
Over the weekend, I was alerted to the fact that a TikTok video viewed by millions used my author photo as the face of taco salad orderers everywhere.
Okay … I guess that’s right, because I do order taco salads. Having a severe dairy allergy kind of mandates that I select the safer option when ordering at a cheese-laden Mexican restaurant.
The comments beneath the video — which made me feel my creaky middle age — spurred me to write an oped about the experience of having my face used in a viral TikTok video.
The experience reminded me of the time when, on Christmas 2020, a student of mine let me know that my photo had been used by a YouTuber who wanted to “infiltrate” neighborhood Facebook groups using a fake account using my supposedly trustworthy face.
Here’s the link to the oped published today in the Boston Globe:
Uncomfortably Numb — my medical memoir about the life-altering impact of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis — has been transformed into an audiobook.
I can’t tell you how odd it is to have this intensely personal story about my health and ultimate MS diagnosis, which occurred months after my 65-year-old mother died from a fast-moving cancer, read aloud by somebody else.
When I was first approached about having the memoir professionally narrated, I was excited but also concerned. How could anyone possibly use the emphasis I intended, the specific tone of voice that was in my head when I wrote those words, I wondered.
Well, in the trusted hands of narrator Erin deWard, I fret no longer.
I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Friends of the Hatch Library author series at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Mass. — where I teach in the MFA in creative nonfiction program, a program from which I graduated in 2017.
I discussed my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, read an excerpt that took place in Martha’s Vineyard aloud, as well as fielded myriad questions about writing, research, and inspiration.
While I was disappointed that I couldn’t meet folks in person — thanks COVID — I recorded my brief speech for the virtual fundraising luncheon and spoke on the theme of making peace with wherever you are in your life at this very moment, whether you have MS or some other unpredictable obstacle with which you must contend.
(My speech starts in the 37th minute of the video above.)
The essay — structured around my disappointment about having to miss yet another Boston Red Sox game due to multiple sclerosis — is an exploration of how, since being diagnosed with MS in 2014, I’ve been on a long learning curve adjusting to my new normal, adjusting to an unpredictable life with chronic illness.
The essay begins this way:
It was game day.
I had tickets to see my beloved Red Sox play at historic Fenway Park. They were in the hunt for a Wild Card playoff spot.
But I couldn’t attend the game.
Why? Because it was going to be hot and humid. Because the weather conditions – not the spate of uneven Red Sox performances – would make me ill. Because multiple sclerosis has caused damage to the area of my brain that controls my temperature and, when I’m in hot and humid conditions, that damage causes me to, essentially, short-circuit.
Over on Intima’s blog, Crossroads, writer Marleen Pasch, compared themes in “Another Game Day” with a newly-published essay of her own, “Rocks and River.”
Pasch (on right) said, “O’Brien understands the need to assess risk then listen to and heed the more protective voice of wisdom.”
I have been remiss in posting about the wonderful literary event which took place at one of my favorite indie bookshops — Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough, Mass. — featuring members of the Lockdown Literature writers’ group.
You may recall that during the shutdowns of 2020, I banded together with a group of 70+ authors whose books, like my medical memoir, were being released in the midst of an historic pandemic. Our group included writers of memoirs and nonfiction, of dark novels and wry works of contemporary fiction. We hailed from the east coast and the west, from overseas, and even included a superstar author who won all the big 2020 literary prizes (I’m talking about Douglas Stuart of Shuggie Bain fame).
I was incredibly honored to arrange to have some Lockdown Lit folks gather — just prior to the omicron COVID-19 surge — gather and read aloud from their work at Tatnuck Bookseller. Those talented writers included:
I consume news in the form of two daily, hard copy newspapers (I know, I’m ancient), the Boston Globe and the New York Times. I also read online subscriptions of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, as well as devour magazines, the New Yorker and New York Magazine (yes, in hard copy), and the online version of The Atlantic.
When I’m not busy reading all of that journalistic and literary goodness (I just added the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction to my subscription list), I’m reading books. Funny books. Serious books. Fiction. Nonfiction. New England-centric. Politically-oriented. My tastes run wide.
Halfway through the year I published a list on Instagram of the books I’d read starting in January 2021 through early June 2021:
Then, as 2021 drew to an ignominious close with lines for COVID-19 tests wrapping city blocks, I shared the second half of my 2021 reading list:
What did YOU read in 2021? Give the authors a shout-out. They’d appreciate some social media love.
The rapid development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines is one of the biggest news stories in recent memory. As the novel and highly communicable virus began spreading at the end of 2019, the hunt for a vaccine began in early 2020, relying heavily upon a foundation of knowledge created by little-known scientists and researchers. By the time vaccines were being injected into arms at the end of 2020, the United States had lost hundreds of thousands of people to covid-19.
A story this expansive and consequential could surely fill many books. (Think of how many have been written about the 1918 influenza pandemic.) So it really isn’t surprising that two journalists have tackled the same big story in separate new books — with similar titles and stark covers featuring syringes. The books offer dueling tales of how coronavirus vaccines were developed in what seemed like record time. While they cover some of the same territory and quote some of the same people, the books largely shine their respective lights on different narrative slices of the story.
A few years into my life with multiple sclerosis, I started noticing that food and beverages tasted … off.
Coffee was bitter. Wine was acidic. Sweet food was bland. And, worst of all, I couldn’t taste salt very well.
The folks at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Momentum Magazine interviewed me for a story about taste dysfunction called, “Does this taste weird to you?”
The article starts by featuring yours truly:
As a salt-lover, Meredith O’Brien used to eat Ritz crackers upside down to savor the salt crystals dissolving on her tongue. But one day, two years into her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, those same crackers tasted like plain paste. The next morning, her coffee tasted burnt. Red wine at dinner tasted sour. When O’Brien, who is based in the Boston area, brought up the issue to her neurologist, he said he’d never heard of such a thing.
“Taste alterations are a primary MS symptom that has flown largely under the radar,” confirms Mona Bostick, a dietitian-nutritionist in Greensboro, North Carolina, who also lives with MS. A 2016 study in the Journal of Neurology suggested that 15% to 32% of people with MS may experience taste deficits. A 2019 study in the Journal of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology puts that number closer to 40%. The latter study also found that 68.4% of survey respondents complained of dry mouth, which further dampens flavor, as saliva helps taste buds do their job.
Read the rest of the article — which also quotes fellow MS patient and author Trevis Gleason, a chef who shares his “umami bomb” tips — here.