the ‘nothing is cancelled virtual book tour’

New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt and podcaster/book enthusiast Robin Kall recognized that — amid the coronavirus shut-downs — authors with new books being released (*raising my hand*) are having their events canceled.

So they took matters into their own hands and created the Nothing Is Canceled Virtual Book Tour.

On Twitter, they initially made a call for authors to record videos of themselves talking about their book, discussing the authors who influenced the writing of that book, and to cap it off by giving a shout-out to local independent bookstores.

Meanwhile, Robin Kall has started interviewing authors online. (We’ve corresponded and I hope we set something up soon.)

I enthusiastically agreed to join their virtual author series and recorded my awkward video (see above) while praying Max and Tedy wouldn’t start howling outside my office door.

In the video — the link to which I’ve emailed Leavitt — I give a shout-out to Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, where I hosted my book launch and from where you can purchase signed copies of Uncomfortably Numb.

I also give kudos to two authors whose memoirs influenced me as I wrote mine: Suzanne Strempek Shea and her Songs from a Lead-Lined Room, Susannah Cahalan and her Brain on Fire.

What a wonderful way for authors and book enthusiasts to support one another while we’re holed up away from the coronavirus.

‘uncomfortably numb’ book launch marks start of ms awareness month

crowd at TatnuckII
Photo credit: Scott Weiss

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir is … launched. Consider Multiple Sclerosis awareness month officially marked.

Scott intro
Photo credit: Suzanne Strempek Shea

My husband Scott kicked off the event at Tatnuck Bookseller — shout out to independent book stores! — as he comically lamented the lot of those who are married to writers and who ultimately see bits of their lives used as grist for books and articles. (He’s a very good sport about it.)

After detailing how I came to write the memoir, I read a few excerpts and later signed copies.

with Tommy Shea
Photo credit: Suzanne Strempek Shea

I was honored to meet two fellow MS patients who shared their experiences with me. Hopefully I’ll meet many more as I continue to promote Uncomfortably Numb.

Abbey flowers II
Photo credit: Scott Weiss

My daughter Abbey and her college roommate Stephanie helped out at the book table, where we collected donations for the National MS Society. (My son Casey, it should be noted, surprised me by coming home from school to celebrate the release.)

Abbey and Stephanie

I’m looking forward to the next book event: March 28 at 1 p.m. at the Holyoke, MA Barnes & Noble

upcoming events: first memoir event 3/7

Tatnuck eventI’ve been furiously updating my Google calendar to add new book-related events to promote my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb (released on March 3).

Here’s a list of what I have scheduled thus far:

Book launch: March 7, 1-3 p.m., Tatnuck Bookseller, Westborough, MA

My first event for Uncomfortably Numb is a March 7 book talk and signing at Westborough, MA’s independent bookstore, 18 Lyman Street, Westborough.

The event runs from 1-3 p.m. Light refreshments will be available.

I’ll be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Book talk: March 26, Northborough, MA Lyceum

I have been invited to talk about the impact the Southborough middle school music program had on two of my children as chronicled in my 2017 nonfiction book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears & Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.  

The book examined how a larger-than-life music teacher helped his grieving students in a small Massachusetts town find strength and peace through the creative expression in their music and the camaraderie of the band room.

The talk — whose details are still being worked out — will take place in Northborough, MA.

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Book talk/signing: March 28, 1 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

I will be heading back to western Massachusetts — where I grew up and went to college — to promote Uncomfortably Numb at the Barnes & Noble, 7 Holyoke Street, Holyoke, MA (near the Holyoke Mall).

The event begins at 1 p.m.

I will be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Southborough library event flyer

Book talk/signing: April 9, 7 p.m., Southborough Public Library, Southborough, MA

I will be discussing why I wrote Uncomfortably Numb and will read aloud from the memoir at the Southborough Public Library, 25 Main Street, Southborough.

The event starts at 7 p.m.

***

I’m working on scheduling other events and will post them when plans are nailed down.

health central q&a: living with ms

Screenshot 2020-03-02 11.06.38

To mark the beginning of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month, HealthCentral interviewed me about my memoir — published today! — and how multiple sclerosis has affected me since my diagnosis:

In 2014, Meredith O’Brien was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The author, teacher, wife, and mother had spent more than two years seeking help for symptoms that were scary, strange, and unpredictable. 

In her new memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, O’Brien shares her emotional journey from health to illness to empowerment. We talked with her about her experience.

HealthCentral: What was it like coming to terms with an MS diagnosis?

Meredith O’Brien: It was a hard learning curve. Early on, I fought it because I was angry about the fact MS was impinging on my life and my ability to do things. I experienced a lot of fatigue, but I didn’t listen to my body. I continued loading my days with all these activities, and then paid the price of lying in bed afterward, feeling exhausted.

You can read the full interview here.

Image credit: Health Central.

ms-connected reviews of ‘uncomfortably numb’

Several people with ties to the multiple sclerosis community graciously agreed to take a look at advance copies of my MS memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, which will be published on March 3, during MS Awareness month.

Of all the folks I asked to take a look at the early version of the book, I really wanted to know what people who have lived with MS — or know a great deal about it — had to say about my chronicling of my initial symptoms and eventual diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS, as well as the struggle with how the disease changed my life. Did it ring true to them?

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Award-winning health blogger, Cathy Chester, who writes about her decades-long experience with MS at An Empowered Spirit, said this about Uncomfortably Numb:

Meredith O’Brien’s fourth book, Uncomfortably Numb, may be her most important. It is an intimate, generous memoir of living with MS that will guide newly-diagnosed patients and their loved ones through difficult challenges.

Poignant and thoroughly readable, Uncomfortably Numb is a deeply personal look at how the diagnosis of a debilitating illness such as MS profoundly affects patients and their families. It is also the story of a strong woman who is learning to adapt and is determined to persevere.

41iakd84kll._sx322_bo1204203200_Author Diane Cook, whose memoir So Many Angels: A Family Crisis and the Community That Got Us Through It details her family’s experience with her husband’s arrest and her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, wrote about Uncomfortably Numb:

Meredith O’Brien’s courageous memoir chronicles her struggles leading up to her MS diagnosis, including one doctor telling her that she should simply “de-stress,” then her battle with the symptoms. O’Brien’s tenacity shines through on every page. While managing the MS she continues to work, takes care of her … parents, and raise her children. The author refuses to give in to the many challenges that life throws her way. An inspiring read. 

A woman I’ve gotten to know well through her position as the president of the Greater New England chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Lori Espino, wrote:

A candid, in-depth look at one woman’s journey with MS and how it touches those around her. A great read for anyone struggling with chronic illness from diagnosis, through acceptance and into thriving in the new normal.

51texzznugl._sx314_bo1204203200_Award-winning author Savannah Hendricks — whose late mother had MS — wrote a novel, Grounded in January, in which the main character has multiple sclerosis. She offered her take on Uncomfortably Numb:

A memoir penned with such truth you won’t know if you should keep reading or pause to shed a tear, Meredith O’Brien showcases the individual effects of the debilitating reality for those facing multiple sclerosis. Not only does the author tackle the painful veracity of the disease, but provides reminders of how critical the healthcare system is to those in need. The truth of MS is as difficult to overcome as the disease is to diagnosis by health care professionals who sideline symptoms mimicked by other diagnoses.

21814Elissa Grossell Dickey, who blogs about MS for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and whose novel about an MS patient, The Speed of Light, is set for publication next year, penned this:

Uncomfortably Numb is a moving story that is both achingly familiar to someone living with multiple sclerosis and yet unequivocally Meredith O’Brien’s personal tale of a life changed by a devastating diagnosis. Weaving in the added tragedy of personal loss, O’Brien writes with the measured curiosity of a journalist and yet with a raw vulnerability, giving an honest, unflinching look at navigating life with chronic illness. With courage and tenacity, O’Brien details the frustrations of not being believed by health care providers; dealing with unpredictable, life-altering MS symptoms; and the struggle to hold on to her previous identity, both in her career and her family. Rich with compelling story-telling, Uncomfortably Numb is a triumph that will take readers on an emotional journey and leave them with hope.

header_aug2015revisedFinally, award-winning MS blogger Caroline Craven, Girl with MS, said this:

Meredith O’Brien’s journey is beautifully expressed in reality that only someone with MS understands — a must read for anyone with multiple sclerosis or connected to MS. O’Brien effectively shares what a life with MS can be like. Often, the words could come from my own experience with MS over these past twenty years. The challenges and fears and frustrations she shares with unrestrained honesty. At times, I am brought back to my own diagnosis and initial illness. I was back in the MRI, experiencing the nightmares of some doctors and finding relief in the love and nurture that can be occasionally found.  

O’Brien nails it with her ability to connect. To life. To MS. To her own honesty. The normal and not so normal. 

Reading O’Brien is like stepping into my own skin fifteen, twenty years ago: The meltdowns, the stress, the unknowns. Anxiety arises reminding me of those times, the utter fear of my body letting my down, of it failing. The fear it brought and the beauty it finally produces. We are diamonds in the rough finding our brilliance through turbulence then love.  

… [O’Brien] doesn’t tell what MS – she shows us with her words, her stories. The self care she takes proves beneficial — writing notes, keeping journals, reliable resources. They all add up. She takes command of her disease and the information/research available to her.  

This is a book to be read now. It touches on all aspects of living with MS and what we as patients need to know.  

Thank you so incredibly much Cathy, Diane, Lori, Savannah, Elissa and Caroline.

three writers on ‘uncomfortably numb:’ ‘triumphant,’ ‘riveting’ & ‘engaging’

41y3qh52bytl._sx326_bo1204203200_Three wonderful writers — memoirists and a novelist — generously agreed to read early copies of Uncomfortably Numb: A Memoir and to share with me their thoughts about it. And their words, dear reader, were very kind.

Marisa Bardach Ramel, co-author of The Goodbye Diaries: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of loss and love, wrote:

Uncomfortably Numb is a journalist’s investigation to uncover the mysterious illness that plagues her, combined with a mother’s touch to understand how it will impact her family, her career, and the rest of her life. A triumphant story of determination and resiliency. 

51spuobfyll._sx325_bo1204203200_Meanwhile, novelist Joan Dempsey, author of This is How It Begins, offered this:

A riveting memoir … O’Brien’s honesty, humility and humor will have you flying through the pages, rooting for her every step of the way.

Finally, writer Lisa Romeo — who was one of my MFA professors when I was working on Uncomfortably Numb — author of memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, was the perfect person to review the memoir because, in addition to its chronicling of my MS diagnosis, it also details my mother’s sudden illness and death at age 65. I was diagnosed with MS four months after she passed.

swg-final-with-tabsRomeo wrote:

Uncomfortably Numb pulls readers into the reality of an unexpected and life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, with forthright clarity, detail, heart, and insight. O’Brien’s memoir is not only a gift to adults dealing with MS, but also for people grappling with any other sudden onset diseases and similarly “invisible” conditions — and for the people who love them.

This story offers the full view of how MS invades a life, from fear, loss, and complications, to adjustments and small victories. The author’s story of the first few years of disease progression — overlapping with raising teenagers, continuing a career, grief, and midlife losses — takes readers through challenges, triumphs, and disappointments of all sizes, on the road to acceptance.

At turns unsettled and dispirited, O’Brien is also an appealing narrator you’ll root for as she advocates for herself (and by extension, for other women whose undiagnosed symptoms are often dismissed). Along the way, she comes to understand her disease and herself more thoroughly as she creates her new reality. An engaging, thought-provoking, informative story, and a narrator you’ll want to know and follow.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Marisa, Joan, and Lisa.

Image credits from Amazon, Joan Dempsey, and Lisa Romeo.

advance praise for ‘uncomfortably numb’

51-iodcld0l._sx330_bo1204203200_I’m deeply honored that several fellow writers have been kind enough to write blurbs for my forthcoming memoir, Uncomfortably Numb.

Take author Jessica Fechtor. When she was a 28-year-old graduate student, an aneurysm in her brain burst, leaving her with a long and difficult road to recovery. Fechtor deftly shared the story of her arduous journey in her bestselling memoir Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. I greatly admired Stir, so it meant a lot to me to read what she had to say about my story:

Meredith O’Brien’s Uncomfortably Numb is a rare window into everyday life with multiple sclerosis, and how chronic illness can turn one’s very identity inside out. The illness is unpredictable: an initial diagnosis takes years to materialize, symptoms may or may not signal the progression of the disease, and treatments are imperfect. With candor, O’Brien bares her most vulnerable moments as she learns the new rules of working, parenting, and living in the present when the future is uncertain.

paperbackcover_smallThen there’s Maya Dusenbery — author of Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick — who also did me a solid with this blurb:

Uncomfortably Numb tells a sadly all-too-common story: of a woman whose symptoms were initially dismissed by doctors before a life-changing diagnosis. Frank and relatable, it will speak to anyone who knows the uncertainty that chronic illness brings and the resiliency it demands.

Author Trevis Gleason, a fellow multiple sclerosis patient himself, chronicled the devastating impact the disease has had on his own life in Chef Interrupted: Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis. He graciously offered this about Uncomfortably Numb:

41phsdlnmjl._sx311_bo1204203200_A modern telling of the newly diagnosed story from a no-nonsense journalist, a gifted writer, a pragmatic New Englander. While uniquely her own — by definition — there will be few who have or know chronic illness who will not glimpse well-told aspects of their own experience in this memoir. Uncomfortably Numb is heart-breaking, it’s harrowing, and it’s heroic.  What is is not is candy-coated. Refreshingly honest, unguarded, and reflective about what is, arguably the most difficult half decade in Meredith O’Brien’s colorful life.

Thank you so much Jessica, Maya, and Trevis.

Image credits: Amazon.