new post on the mighty: how covid-19 & ms make for a high-stakes summer

A woman with a hat in the sun

The second week of July marked the first string of days this year where I could not go outside because of my multiple sclerosis-related heat sensitivity. What makes 2020 different from the five other summers in which I’ve dealt with this particular MS symptom? There’s a pandemic going on.

I wrote a piece for the website The Mighty about the confluence of the two illnesses. Here’s how it starts:

Today was the first summer day in 2020 when stepping outside the house made me feel as though I was going to vomit. The moderate heat, combined with high humidity, enveloped me and made me instantly feel ill.

Somewhere, deep inside my brain, signals went haywire. The temperature regulation area of my brain has been damaged by my relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), meaning I can’t tolerate heat and humidity. Subjecting my body to such conditions results in nausea and/or vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision with bright lights in the corners of my eyes, and a weakening of my legs, as though my thighs have been infused with Jell-O.

To read the rest of the piece click here.

Image credit: The Mighty.

talking hope, healing & loss w/new york writers workshop

Screenshot 2020-06-15 12.45.59Christina Chiu — working with the New York Writers Workshop and 2040Books — organized a virtual author event where she invited three writers to discuss our recent books which all touch on the subjects of “Hope, Healing and Loss.” Chiu’s recent novel is Beauty.

I was thrilled to discuss my medical MS memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, alongside memoirist Maya Lang who wrote What We Carry about her mother’s Alzheimer’s, and novelist Jacqueline Friedman whose That’s Not a Thing features a character who develops ALS.

The hour-long discussion was lively and varied, as we touched on topics from approaches to writing and research, to how the medical industry treats female patients differently than male ones.

I had to fend off Tedy, who kept trying to climb up on my chair and eventually succeeded. Then there was Max, who was snorting and moaning loudly on the floor. My husband decided it was the perfect time to make dinner so there were ambient cooking noises as well. Ah … the joys of the coronavirus quanantine and working from home!

You can watch the video of our discussion here.

 

5 things i wish people knew about ms — healthline

Screenshot 2020-06-12 13.03.13I recently wrote a post for the website Healthline about the things I wish were common knowledge about multiple sclerosis.

Here’s an excerpt:

In late July 2014, my life felt like it imploded after I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

Since then, I’ve had to not only adjust the way I move through the world, but have found myself educating others about what this incurable autoimmune disease is actually like.

It would make life a whole lot easier if a few things about multiple sclerosis (MS) became common knowledge. To that end, here’s what I wish everyone understood about MS.

Read the whole piece here.

Image credit: Healthline.

stat column asks: should you tell your employer you have ms?

Screenshot 2020-03-28 15.13.08While I was gearing up to promote my memoir —Uncomfortably Numb, about the life-altering impact of my multiple sclerosis diagnosis — I realized I should probably tell my employer about both the memoir and the chronic illness.

Thus far, I haven’t had to ask for any accommodations, although I do have a handicapped parking pass to use on campus when I need it. But I thought it would be best if I told the administrator who runs my department in person. (This was well before the coronavirus caused nationwide school shut-downs.)

It prompted me to write an essay which was published by STAT News. The piece starts this way:

As I prepared to tell my employer that I have relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, I worried about what to expect.

Maybe I’d get a shocked look from the administrator who oversees the department where I teach part-time. Or maybe I’d be quietly phased out, informed that future teaching opportunities have dried up.

This “big reveal” would be, according to multiple sclerosis advocates, a risky move.

Read the rest of the essay here.

Image credit: STAT News.

virtual book tour for ‘uncomfortably numb’ continues: book giveaways & an instagram takeover

Screenshot 2020-03-28 13.11.01As I’ve seen events to promote my medical memoir Uncomfortably Numb canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been so grateful for the work of many people who are stepping in to fill the void.

Several woman have been extremely generous in helping me spread the word about my medical memoir through their online book groups.

Ashley Spivey’s book club: Instagram takeover

Self-proclaimed book nerd Ashley Spivey allowed me to take over her book club’s Instagram account this past week to promote Uncomfortably Numb.

Screenshot 2020-03-28 14.31.23I’m new to the world of Instagram stories, so it took me a little bit of time to figure out how to layer words atop the images and then throw music into the mix, like combining UB40’s “Red Red Wine” with a snapshot of my mother (whose death is featured in the memoir) sucking down a glass of red wine.

I had to create visual ways of conveying the experience of writing and researching my memoir, including shooting quasi-awkward videos of myself explaining my process. In addition to a photo of my mom –who was given the nickname The Wine Mother by a local radio DJ, I posted a pic of the bathroom where my biggest MS attack took place, a photo of my family on vacation in Los Angeles just before two MS attacks, and an illustration that I first saw on actress & MS patient Selma Blair’s Instagram account (created by artist Erica Root) depicting MS symptoms.   

You can see highlights from my Uncomfortably Numb Instagram takeover here.

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Readers Coffeehouse Facebook book group: Book giveaway

Prolific author Kimberly Belle — one of the founders of the Facebook book group Readers Coffeehouse — has been instrumental in the “authors helping authors” movement, assisting those whose book events were canceled in the wake of the coronavirus spread.

After she shared my book with her club members, I engaged in lively online discussion with them before giving away two signed copies.

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Annie Horsky McDonnell, of The Write Review: Gives kudos to the memoir

After our recent flash-interview on The Write Review, Horsky McDonnell wrote a short review of Uncomfortably Numb.

“Wow! This book should be read by anyone with Multiple Sclerosis, or other autoimmune disease,” Horsky McDonnell wrote. “… It is a book that is going to help so many people needing a voice to hear when they get their diagnosis with MS, or even a loved one does. It will certainly bring comfort to know they are not alone! After my interview with her, I trust she will be a huge voice for Multiple Sclerosis. I cannot get her out of my head, and I’m sharing her book with my doctors!!”

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Yellow Brick Reads Facebook group: Book giveaway

Led by Jady Bernier Babin, members of the Yellow Brick Reads Facebook group vied for a chance to win signed copies of Uncomfortably Numb by sharing ways (other than reading, which, of course, we all adore) they are coping with being asked to shelter-in-place so as not to spread Covid-19.

I was honored to virtually converse with Yellow Brick Reads folks, as well as with the members of Readers Coffeehouse, The Write Review and Spivey’s book club.

Thank you Jady, Kimberly, Annie and Ashley for your support!

 

‘i couldn’t read it fast enough’ — reviewer says of ‘uncomfortably numb’

author-photo-madeline-dyer-300x300-1U.K. author, book reviewer and creator of the Twitter-based #BookPartyChat, Madeline Dyer wrote a lovely review of my medical memoir Uncomfortably Numb.

As Dyer — author of several novels including the Untamed series — is working on her own memoir about her chronic illness, her words meant a great deal to me.

While saying she “couldn’t read it fast enough,” Dyer called Uncomfortably Numb “harrowing in places,” adding that it had “so many relatable moments.”

“The writing craft itself in this book is really good too,” Dyer continued. “Stylistically, Meredith’s writing flows and just demands to be read. I’ve read quite a few medical memoirs, but I have to say, I think this is one of the best, and I’ll be recommending it for years to come.”

You wouldn’t know, just by reading this post, but I’m blushing. Thank you Madeline!

You can read her full review here.

Image credit: Madeline Dyer.

talking memoir, ms & chronic illness with The Write Review

Annie Horsky McDonnell, the book guru who runs The Write Review book group, was kind enough to have me on her Facebook live-stream to discuss my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb.

We talked about our respective autoimmune diseases, our invisible symptoms and the struggle to help others to understand what it’s like to live with chronic illness. Members of the online book group offered up engaging questions as well.

My son Jonah — home because his university closed and is having students do remote learning due to the coronavirus — took our dogs for a walk during the interview but came back at the tail-end. I think you might be able to hear Tedy’s high-pitched barking. Oh well. The hazards of working from home.

Horskey McDonnell’s interview was part of her effort to help out authors whose book events have been engulfed and crushed by coronavirus cancellations. Thank you Annie!

 

‘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

health central q&a: living with ms

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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.