Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Burn Notices

Here is a little parable illustrating the universal truth of my life.

There is a cigarette burn singed into the passenger seat of my car. Earthquake dropped his lit cigarette there when I was with him in Las Vegas. My car was a couple months old by then. I had a couple months of perfection.

I hid that hole by purchasing some seat covers that almost fit the contours of the seat. I finally gave up on those and tried to repair the hole with a fabric repair kit I bought. I just made it worse and much more obvious.

I have already spent a couple hundred dollars to try to undo that burn. And I will spend a few hundred more when I turn in the car at the end of my lease.

I should have never been in Vegas. I should have never tried to fix the burn. That is the end of this sad allegory.

I can’t undo the things that have happened in my life. The things that I have done. The things that I have allowed to happen. The things that I did not do to prevent damage. I’ve been pondering my past decisions a lot in the last few days. Thoughts have been swirling around in my head, forcing their way to the front of my attention.

Maybe this is why. In an email blast from the National MS Society, there was a link to an article that outlined some new developments in MS research.  The findings were… troubling.

When it comes to people being diagnosed with MS, there is a large gender gap. Women get diagnosed in significantly higher numbers than men. I can’t control that I was born female. But for most days since then, I have made choices that have damaged me.  I may have actually made choices that have contributed to my MS.

In a study out of the Raúl Carrera Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina, researchers found that study participants were twice as likely to develop MS if they were obese at age 20. The study found that participants with a high BMI also had a high level of leptin.  Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells . Your brain relies on leptin to regulate the sensation of hunger and energy expenditure.  Leptin also has a role in your psychological health and regulates fat storage.
Because leptin promotes inflammatory responses in the body, the study suggests that this response might be a cause of MS. So, more leptin in your early adulthood body, the more likely your middle-aged immune system will attack your middle-aged brain.

I was not obese at 20. In fact, I was in the best shape of my life at 20. But that was not a choice to be healthy. It was simply a result of being 20, in college, walking everywhere, and going out dancing. I would spend dinner money on Long Island Ice Teas. I would eat chicken quesadillas every day for a week. French fries were an acceptable breakfast. I was 20.

And—most likely—my myelin was starting to get chewed away. I wasn’t obese. But I certainly wasn’t healthy. I made choices then that may be contributing to my messed up central nervous system.

I made one choice in my 20s and 30s that—unlike my eating habits—was conscientious and thoughtful. I was on the birth control pill.  

There was another study recently published out of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. This one analyzed women who had either been diagnosed with MS or with a primary symptom that is a precursor to the disease.

The study results showed that women who used birth control pills were 35% more likely to develop MS. Women who had stopped using hormonal contraceptives one month before MS symptoms began were 50% more likely to develop the disease.

Well, shit.

Had I known that my choice to not become a 20-year-old mother may have contributed to my MS, I may have made some different choices. Maybe.  But when you are 20, do you ever really make decisions with thoughts about your life in the next 20 years? If I could do that, I would have a robust Roth IRA, a passport full of travel stamps, and stock in Apple.


I am stuck living with a cigarette burn in my upholstery. I can’t change the choices I made in my past.

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