‘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

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.

library journal says memoir ‘will resonate’

LJ_UN_meme

I was pleased to learn that the Library Journal this month released a review of my forthcoming memoir, Uncomfortably Numb saying it “will resonate with those living with the unpredictability of chronic conditions, along with their friends, family, and various support systems.”

Thank you to reviewer Marcia G. Welsh.

Image credit:Library Journal.

 

writer andrea buchanan calls memoir ‘heartening’ & ‘frank’

Beginning of EverythingNew York Times bestselling author and memoirist Andrea J. Buchanan was kind enough to read an advance copy of my book, Uncomfortably Numb, and to share her thoughts about it.

Given that Buchanan struggled for over a year with the devastating impact of a tear in the membrane protecting her brain and spinal cord — as detailed in her memoir, The Beginning of Everything: The Year I Lost My Mind and Found Myself her words about my MS-centric book mean a great deal:

Meredith O’Brien writes deftly and gracefully about the shock of becoming an unreliable narrator as she navigates both disbelieving doctors and the challenges of her own changing brain in the process of searching for answers to the concerning symptoms she experiences. A journalist by training and a writer by nature, she fearlessly investigates, contemplates, and confronts her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis as she learns to adapt to her body’s new way of being in the world. Her frank look at what this process is like for both herself and her family will be heartening to anyone who has lived with the uncertainty of chronic illness.

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir, goes on sale March 3.

Image credit: Amazon.

‘dietland’ author lauds ‘uncomfortably numb: a memoir’ for its ‘clear-eyed and courageous voice’

UNCOMFORTABLY_NUMB_COVER reduced sizeIt’s coming.

In less than a month.

My memoir will be available for sale.

At the beginning of Multiple Sclerosis awareness month.

This is more than slightly terrifying. My memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, is the most personal work I’ve written to date. Hopefully folks will embrace its vulnerability and dark humor. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed. Tightly.

Dietland coverMeanwhile, it gives me a shot of confidence that Sarai Walker, the author of the much-praised Dietland (yes, the book that was made into a TV show), has kind words for Uncomfortably Numb. In fact, my publisher put an excerpt of Walker’s blurb on the cover.

Here’s Walker’s full blurb:

In Uncomfortably Numb, Meredith O’Brien writes unflinchingly about her life before and after her MS diagnosis. Detailing her treatment, her struggles to be taken seriously by doctors, and the effects of it all on her family, career and sense of self, she writes in a clear-eyed and courageous voice, bringing the reader along with her as she navigates this profound, life-altering experience.

Thank you Sarai!

Image credits: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Amazon.

 

 

 

publishing news: memoir coming in spring 2020

August 2019 book promo

The memoir on which I’ve been working for several years, Uncomfortably Numb, is being published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in the spring of 2020.

While chronicling the onset of symptoms that ultimately led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Uncomfortably Numb tells the story of not only finding an uneasy peace with the permanent uncertainty of living with a chronic illness, but also of coping with the premature death of one’s mother and the ensuing collateral emotional damage.

Here’s the Publishers Marketplace announcement of the deal:

August 2019 Publish announcement

Image credits: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Publishers Marketplace.

 

‘mr. clark’s big band’ goes to southborough library & the symphony

southborough library photo

The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.

claflin obrien and clarkParents of current and former Trottier Middle School students who attended the reading at the library (see video below) told me they were mentally and emotionally brought back to the days when our children roamed the halls of the middle school, when some of the kids played music for Mr. Clark, and when all of the students mourned the loss of their friend, Eric Green.

Two days later, Mr. Clark and I chatted about Mr. Clark’s Big Band with music fans at the Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season, a season in which music educators were celebrated.

Some current Trottier Middle School students attended the show in Milford’s historic town hall and stopped by to greet Mr. Clark, who couldn’t play the trombone with his pals in the Claflin brass section because he recently had elbow surgery (see the sling he’s sporting in the photo below).

claflin obrien and clark2Several folks also paused at the book table to fondly remember former Algonquin Regional High School music director Dennis Wrenn, the man who helped Mr. Clark get his job in the Southborough school system and who is mentioned several times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

It can sometimes seem like a small world indeed.

Image credits: Southborough Access Media (first image), Scott Weiss (other two images)

‘big band’ book wins publishing award

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room has won a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The group–which received over 4,500 entries for this year’s contest–honored Mr. Clark’s Big Band with a bronze medal in its Education: Commentary/Theory category.

“This year’s winners represent books from 41 U.S. states, Guam, and DC; 6 Canadian provinces; and 12 countries overseas,” the Independent Publisher group said in a press release.

Ironically, the silver award winner in my category is Joseph E. Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and president of the university where I teach. Two Northeastern University educators in one category. Not too shabby!

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band is also a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Award, in the Education category.

foreword finalist

Image credits: Independent Publisher Book Awards and Foreword INDIES.