Like most kids who grew up in the 1970s and early 80s, I have vivid memories of a gentleman by the name of Joey Deacon. Joey suffered from cerebral palsy, and in 1981, the International Year of the Disabled, he was the focus of a feature on the children’s TV programme, Blue Peter as an example of someone who had achieved a lot with his life in spite of his disabilities. Of course, kids being kids, the term “Joey” and the phrase “Spaz” immediately became shorthand for someone who was stupid… so much so that the Spastic Society changed their name to “Scope” (which obviously led to kids adopting “Scope” as their new insult for a stupid person).
I’ve had cause to think about spasticity quite a lot recently. Although I’ve been pretty lucky with my multiple sclerosis, one of my most persistent symptoms has been stiffness and cramping in the muscles of my legs. I’ve actually had a physio film my calf muscles as he couldn’t quite believe how much the muscles seemed to pulse and ripple of their own accord. The rippling itself seems fairly benign, but I also get night cramps in my legs, quite often waking up on agony. Mostly, this is confined to my lower leg, but the stiffness and the occasional twitch has spread up into my thighs, much to the irritation of the cat when she’s trying to get comfortable. I’ve been diagnosed some baclofen to help combat these cramps and twitches and the muscle stiffness, but as a runner, I’m a little bit wary about taking any sort of muscle relaxant: it might help me sleep, but what about the impact on my muscles when I don’t want them to be relaxed? Perhaps the acid test for me at the moment is that I’d rather put up with the cramps and the stiffness than risk anything which might have a knock-on affect on my running.
My MS is technically classified as relapsing-remitting, but I couldn’t honestly tell you of a single defined relapse. Instead, I seem to have a set of symptoms that seem to be fairly steady but slightly on a downward trajectory. By running two full marathons in a thirty day period, as well as the hundreds of miles of training, I know that I’ve asked my body to do a lot this year. It probably wouldn’t be all that surprising if the increased spasticity in my legs that has me staggering around like an old man whenever I get up from my desk at work is related to that. That’s quite a lot for anyone, never mind someone who suffers from multiple sclerosis and I need to be mindful that my body needs to rest, no matter how much I want to be out there flogging it. If my body wants to let me know the consequences of what I’ve done, then that’s probably fair enough. That said, I’m actually considering entering another marathon in October, so now is very much the time when I have a window of opportunity to rest up a bit before my training starts up again in earnest…. I’m hoping that the muscle stiffness is going to ease off, but let’s be honest: I’m not going to let it stop me one way or another until I can’t even manage a shuffle.
Meanwhile, I’ll just keep reminding myself how lucky I am when I feel like cursing my stupid, failing body.