Wednesday 28 August 2019

employment, work culture and MS

One of my favourite podcasts is Beyond Today from BBC Radio 4. The idea is that they talk about one topic from the news every weekday - as they put it, they ask one big question about one big subject.

A recent episode was called "Is the way we work bad for us?"

This was prompted by an office-space company called We Work which has a kind-of Utopian vision of the future of work. But some people say that it creates a culture of 'hustle porn' - people needing to be seen to be busy and competitive and be defined by the way that they work.

This episode also looked at how the quest for perfection has infected many aspects of modern work culture, leading to a crisis of burnout among young people.

I really enjoyed this episode of the podcast (to be honest, I enjoy them all) but I did spend a lot of time thinking "Tell me about it!"

my work history

I was diagnosed with MS 14 years ago. At the time I was working full time in arts marketing, something which I managed to keep doing until December 2016.

I don't want to go into how that played out again - my employer was basically pretty understanding about my health (up until the point when they weren't). But eventually it became unfeasible for me to continue.

Like most people with MS the main thing I deal with is fatigue. The act of leaving the house in the morning - making breakfast, washing, shaving, making lunch, travelling into the office - was one of the most exhausting things I'd do each day. Meaning that I could be wiped out even before I'd made it into work.

Even so, when I requested a day a week where I could work from home (something recommended by a Community Occupational Therapist), I was expected to tell my boss exactly what I was doing and what I had achieved on that day. My remote working was viewed with suspicion, despite the fact that I'd been in post for over eight years at this point.

Since leaving that job I've had a handful of short-term contracts but have struggled to maintain any consistent level of employment.

For a recent freelance contract I'd been open about my health during the recruitment process. Even so, I was expected to go into the office on most days, despite the fact that all of my role could've easily been done remotely.

Why is remote working still viewed with suspicion in the U.K.? Particularly as the primacy of an office-based work culture can effectively keep disabled people and those with a chronic illness out of the workforce? Never mind any macho hustling!

the way forward?

Interestingly, friends in America have shared news stories and links to organisations that seem to point to a more realistic path. See THIS LINK for a story about the value some US Businesses are placing on disabled workers and remote working.

It should be fairly standard practice - but in this country at least businesses might talk about social responsibility and reducing their carbon footprint (for example). And it doesn't seem to make a difference to working and recruitment practices.

The people I know who are either disabled or have chronic illnesses don't want to sit at home living off benefits (despite some media portrayals!). I want to support my family and I also want to keep my brain active. But work will have to fit around my illness and hospital appointments.

Kathy at is just about to launch her Patients Getting Paid course, which will help chronically ill people to find legitimate work opportunities that accommodate their health conditions, wherever they are in the world.

A recent FUMS podcast episode was about Chronically Capable, "a platform that strives to connect the chronically ill with meaningful remote work and flexible employers".

This sort of thing is amazing. Why don't we have anything like it in this country?

my (future) glittering career... hopefully

I've really enjoyed the work I've been doing editing the FUMS podcast. And y'know what? I'm really good at it.

Some of the interviews necessarily come with audio issues - dodgy sound quality, even moments where the audio has totally dropped out. I've been able to fix these to the extent that even I can't see where the edit is. I've also started creating additional bits of background music when it's needed.

With that in mind, and with the support of Kathy at FUMS and Jackie (Queen of GSD), I'm currently exploring the idea of working as a Podcast Editor (see the lovely website Jackie designed for me at

If I can make this work for a while it will be perfect for me. So if you know anyone who might need my (very reasonably-priced) help please get in touch!

Friday 9 August 2019

nights that won't happen

David Berman (photo by Cassie Berman)

Silver Jews are a band that I liked and admired for many years. When they first came out, I was very much a fan of Pavement, with whom they (sporadically) shared band members and a similarly fairly loosey-goosey approach to instrumentation and recording.

But gradually the lyrics got to me. David Berman - who has died suddenly aged 52 - was a poet who wrote songs, rather than a songwriter whose songs came to be seen as poetry.

It was obvious that Berman was a man who struggled with depression and addiction. Yet the words were darkly funny, beautiful, heart-wrenching.

So Silver Jews became a band that I loved, eventually providing an unofficial soundtrack to my 2017 relapse. Long time and eagle-eyed visitors might remember the many posts from this period with titles taken from their songs.

They split up in 2009 in bizarre circumstances. And Berman disappeared from view, aside from a few sightings and rumours of recording sessions.

He resurfaced this year under a new name, Purple Mountains. In the intervening years his battles remained constant and he'd split up from his wife and former band mate Cassie. But the wit was undimmed.

The Purple Mountains album is up there with the best of his work, melodic, mordant, melancholy. But despite the journey the songs travel - through divorce, depression, addiction and grief - it seems to end on a level of acceptance and hope. He even talked in interviews about going on tour.

When I read the news of his passing on Thursday morning it was still a shock. I honestly haven't been as devastated by the death of a stranger since the other DB.

No cause of death has been announced yet. But it's hard not to surmise from the details we "know" about him (who can really know what goes on inside another person?) that - intentionally or otherwise - he ended his life.

I know that I and many other people have taken comfort from the way he would report from his front line with courage, clarity, dark humour and endless empathy.

The tragedy is, it appears that his words weren't enough to save him as well.

One particular lyric which has been going round my head since Thursday morning is from Pretty Eyes, the last track from Silver Jews' second album, The Natural Bridge:
I believe the stars are the headlights of angels
Driving from heaven to save us
To save us
Look in the sky
They're driving from heaven into our eyes
That's how he sings it, anyway.

On the lyric sheet it reads, "Won't you look at the sky?", not "Look in the sky". I guess it just sounds rhythmically neater.

But in the written lyric, he's pointing to the sky, imploring us to look showing us that it'll be ok. That salvation - of whatever sort you might need - is coming.

I wish he had been looking too.

I hope there are enough links in this post for you to explore David Berman's work.

There is a brilliant article about the recording of "The Natural Bridge" on Stereogum.

Monday 5 August 2019

no sympathy

I've noticed that when a celebrity comes out as having MS, the response of the online community can be a little... troubling.

Initially there's support for 'one of us', a new member of our own wonky club. Plus they're shining a light on our condition. They're demystifying it for the general population. They're showing that life doesn't need to end after an MS diagnosis.

And then... we can often seem to turn on them.

Selma Blair is the most obvious recent example. She came out in a really public way with some upsetting symptoms for anyone to deal with, let alone a young woman. Poor mobility, speech problems. Hard to deal with when you're an actress, right?

I think the snark started when she was spotted using an Alinker walking bike. These are pretty expensive bits of kit, with crowdfunding being the way most people are able to source one.

Did she even have to pay for her Alinker? Is she being paid to be seen using one?

Just recently she has appeared on US TV and Instagram sharing her experience of Stem Cell Treatment. And there've been some pretty harsh comments.

Things like:
"These people have all the advantages. They can't compare their journey to ours"
"They're playing the victim card. I have friends who are dealing with worse and are more inspiring"
FULL DISCLOSURE: I know where this kind of thinking comes from. I'm not judging, it's only natural.

But the thing that can be missed with reactions like this is the fact that Selma Blair is a young parent who has been blind-sided by a life-changing diagnosis.

I think we can all empathise with what she's dealing with. And I speak from my own experience that I have been willing to try anything if there's the slightest chance it can help (hello, Reiki!).

And the fact is, if money were no object, wouldn't you be willing to try anything for the sake of your health?

At the very least (and I'm hyper-aware that this might not show me in the most charitable of lights so bear with me!), I'm quite happy for Selma Blair and Jack Osbourne to be the guinea pigs for Stem Cell Treatment.

Let's face facts, as amazing as it potentially is, it's not yet a fully proven treatment.

Look at what happened to Caroline Wyatt. The BBC journalist paid to have stem cell treatment in Mexico in 2016. And following six months of feeling good she has eventually arrived pretty much back where she was in the first place. In an interview with the MS Trust earlier this year, she said:

"I do know people for whom it has halted progression, equally I know people who've been worse as a result and I know of one person who died."
So I'm more than happy for research to carry on. And for that research to be robust and trustworthy, we're going to need test subjects.

Any results - positive, negative or indifferent - will feed into future treatments. As if on cue, this (from the MS Society) popped up on Twitter earlier today. More please!

We're all dealing with the same beast, regardless of any financial or social advantages - so let's try not to pick fights with each other.

Or as my pithy yet degenerate friend SwissLet put it in a recent comment on this very blog, "Don't be a dick".

It's a lesson I could do with heeding myself.