Awareness

Awareness

Awareness (noun)
knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

Speaking out about multiple sclerosis to others who may be dealing with this disease is actually helpful to me as well as, I hope, to others. It builds community, helps bring awareness to MS, and strengthens the MS movement that will ultimately lead to the end of this disease. – Teri Garr

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. I like to say that MS is not all, but rather a part of me just like anything else. But like Teri Garr, I do feel like being able to talk about living with MS helps me, and hopefully others to understand the disease.

Some facts about MS that you can use to help others understand

2.3m people around the world are said to be living with MS, and 400,000 of those in the    U.S., though most people believe that the number is likely closer to 1m in the U.S. and  double the former figure world-wide. Unlike communicable diseases, MS is not required to be reported, so we have to rely on rigged insurance reporting and databases that we know aren’t accurate. And accurate reporting = more funding for research and a cure.

Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central    nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.

MS is thought to be an immune-mediated disease in which the body’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers of the central nervous system.

The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis). Often the nerve fiber is also damaged. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted.

MS is not contagious

There is no cure for MS

People with MS tend to live, on average, 7 to 10 years less than someone without it, though they say you don’t die from MS, but rather complications of it. And have 10 years less of employment due to physical impairment.

People with MS are twice as likely to be underemployed, underinsured, and food insecure. The treatments and meds to manage the disease are extremely expensive, and “budgeting” for a relapse is impossible.

Your help can ease the burden for people living with MS. If you can’t donate money, small things like helping a friend preserve their energy, by offering to clean their house or do the laundry, is greatly appreciated (I surely wouldn’t turn it down!). Or if you can, offer to employ people living with MS. Most of us are still highly contributing members of society. We are not our disease, but rather people living with one.

Different

different51

Different (adjective)
not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality

Some say it’s not good to look back, but then how do we learn from our past?

For the last three weeks, I’ve been walking around scratching my head wondering what I did differently last year that didn’t result in having a flare-up. Why you ask? Be thrilled that it didn’t happen you say? BUT I want to know why, so I can continue doing what I did last year to avoid one this year, and hopefully in the years to come.

I also know that it’s likely impossible to come up with anything more than anecdotal. Some things I did differently last year:

  • I started a business and am working with people I absolutely 110% respect and learn from all the time, which leads to my better well-being even during stressful times of deliverables. And I look forward to working and helping the team to be successful.
  • I avoid public transportation during commuting hours. While it’s increased expenses, I believe it’s kept me healthy and less stressed, especially since this is the worst flu season since 2009. Or it could just be that my immune system works so well it can fight H3N2 more effectively than the average person.
  • I do quite a bit of walking, but haven’t been in a gym in months due to bullet 1 above. Yes, I know, not the best, and I’m slowly working it back in, but it’s definitely different.
  • I addressed the mental health side of living with multiple sclerosis in late 2016. In my head I knew that it comes with the disease, meds to treat it, and just really living with a chronic illness. I didn’t necessarily underestimate it, but most of the time it was due to having a flare-up and the meds to treat it. Treating your brain health is no different from any other part of your body.

While I will likely never know what I did differently, if anything, I’m just so glad that I didn’t. Which isn’t to say I don’t have symptoms most days, but it’s way different from having an acute multiple sclerosis relapse, which leaves you in pain, exhausted, and wondering if you will ever recover.

Today whatever that “different” is, it’s working. Today I feel good, happy, and productive.

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Year

Year

Year (noun)
the period of about 3651/4 solar days required for one revolution of the earth around the sun

The greatest teacher failure is – Yoda

365 messy opportunities
365 days of uncertainty
365 days of wonder

What will you do with your next 365 days? When people ask me what it’s like to live with multiple sclerosis the first thing that comes to mind is add more uncertainty into a life that is already uncertain. Sometimes it’s mundane, sometimes it fucking sucks, and sometimes opportunities arise that wouldn’t otherwise.

At the beginning of this year it definitely fucking sucked, but 364 uncertain days later, well, it’s not just ok, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s easy to focus on the diddints, as in I didn’t win the lottery, I didn’t lose those 10 or 50lbs, or I didn’t master the art of baking, BUT…

I DID start my own business, I DID travel overseas to see good friends and to new places, I DID spend time with people I love, I DID start this blog and accompanying social media, I DID start a great fitness routine (more after the New Year!), I DID create new memories, and I DO look forward to the next 365 adventurous days to come.

I wish you good health, happiness, prosperity, and loads of DIDs for the New Year.

PS – And I DIDN’T have a flare-up this year. I was just too busy DOING the above DIDs. And that’s a good DIDN’T.

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Sick

Sick

Sick (adjective)
affected by physical or mental illness

Tis the season. In the beginning, back in 2009, after my diagnosis and starting treatment, I got sick. Like normal, regular, sick. It caught me off guard because, well duh, now that I had multiple sclerosis, clearly I was immune to the likes of viruses?! Yeah, no.

Each sniffle, cough, headache, turned into a phone call to my neurologist. He assured me that yes, I can still get run of the mill sick and that it was really just a matter of re-learning my body, and that no I definitely was not going to die from having a cold.

What it did do was make me more in tune with the rhythm of my body as I hadn’t been prior. I paid more attention to the sniffles, headaches, and coughs, whereas in the past I would have just moved on or not even notice. Now I had two autoimmune diseases to manage, while being completely insulted that I could still get run-of-the-mill ill.

Fast-forward eight plus years since my diagnosis, I’ve noticed that I actually get “normal sick” less than before. Said neurologist told me that “they” think there is some protective factor from the medicine I take for the multiple sclerosis, though it’s anecdotal.

Lately I’ve been traveling like a road warrior, which I didn’t think would ever happen again. I didn’t think my body could hold up to this type of work, travel, intensity. And while it’s not perfect, and I’m definitely older than I was when I used to do it, I’m more than holding my own with my business and travel. Sure I have gastroenteritis with a cold as a cherry on top, and I have to watch that the asthma is managed, and desperately hope my currently overactive, fighting these bugs, immune system doesn’t cause an MS flare-up, I can still trust in myself and my body.

Lest you think otherwise, I am so proper sick. From my head to my toes, body ache, tissue mounds on the floor, ordering extra Scott from Amazon…sick. Now excuse me while I go back to the “library” to answer the song of the gastroenteritis minstrels.

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Travel

Travel

Travel (verb)
make a journey, typically of some length or abroad

Lately I’ve been traveling (by air) extensively again, both in the U.S. and abroad, for fun and business. I thought these days were behind me. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis I didn’t think I could handle the hours needed to do it. Not only do I do it, but I excel at it once again. I think the exhaustion is more about being older, than having MS.

That said, some tips and tricks how I make air travel easier for me.
1) I slowly pack the day before. This has been true since well before the MS. If I pack too far out, I take too much.
2) I take a car service instead of public transportation. This helps to preserve my energy to deal with the airports and flying, which are both exhausting.
3) I arrive early for domestic & international flights to allow for loads of time to get through security. I have both TSA pre-check & global entry. If you need help, ask for it. If you need a wheelchair, ask for it. There is no shame in preserving your energy.
4) If the lines are long I ask to go to the front for medical reasons. Each airport and security line has their own ideas of what sympathy looks like. I find TSA to be short on it for sure.
5) I ask to pre-board due to medical reasons. While I don’t need help walking, not having to board in a crowd cuts down on anxiety, which also reduces stress levels. Anything I can do to tell keep calm, makes a huge difference to getting to where I need to go and being able to function at 100% when I do.
6) If I’m going to be away for more than a night or two, I take one of my own pillows. Sleeping in a hotel, however nice, is precarious as best. Weird noises, varying mattresses, errant digital lights. Anything I do to help sleep better, keeps the MS symptoms at bay. Plus as a Taurus, I much prefer creature comforts. And if it doesn’t impact anyone else, why not!

It took me a long time to be able to ask for concessions, because karma is the great equalizer. I know many people living with this disease who are much worse off, and I thought that I needed to “do it like everyone else,” but then I realized, it’s just like using air conditioning in December if I need it. The more I stand in long lines, the more tired my legs become, which impacts the rest of my trip.

So in the end, I did what I tell others to do. Be kind to yourself and ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

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Before

Before

Before (adverb)
during the period of time preceding (a particular event, date, or time)

Although some might say at eight years since diagnosis, and nine since the symptoms started, that I haven’t been at this multiple sclerosis thing for that long. BUT I can no longer remember before the MS, or bMS as I like to say.

There is a dividing line from before the diagnosis to after the diagnosis. And it happened sort of like when you stand on the line at Greenwich mean time in England (worth the visit). A literal, dividing line between before and after. The time before I walked into the hospital in Basel and the time after I walked out of the hospital.

Most days I tilt my head and wonder if that “thing” I’m experiencing is from the multiple sclerosis or being in my late 40s. And other days I’m completely fine. A few years back a doctor told me that eventually, as my peers aged, we would all be on the same playing field. Cold comfort when you’re 39 years old. Or when I say to my dad “this is bothering me” and he responds with “welcome to my world.” Well yes, but I’m not 71!

The after feels a bit like experiences from childhood. Do I remember from memory or from pictures? Many befores seem like a lifetime ago.

What are your significant befores and afters? Please leave them in the comments.

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Compare

Compare

Compare (verb)
estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between

I was laying in bed one weekend morning a few weeks ago thinking about how much more I could be doing to grow my business, but then also thinking, how much business I was actually doing each week.

I’ve looked on LinkedIn and read about how people say you must have a business plan, and others who say you don’t if you’re doing what you already know. So as not to keep you holding your breath wondering, I dove in, feet first with little to no fear for the unknown or future. Because when you live with a disease like multiple sclerosis, you spend a lot of time comparing your current life to the one bMS (before MS).

A few weeks prior to this someone I know said I could never do what you’re doing professionally because it’s too uncertain. So now someone else was comparing themselves to me! To which I replied, how do you know that you’re going to have a job tomorrow? The answer, you don’t. So I am willing to bet on myself and not compare where I am currently to previous experiences, good or bad.

As we move about our daily lives both in person and online, it’s natural to make comparisons to others, both every day individuals and famous people. We’re told not to compare ourselves, because you never know the shoes someone else is walking in, but it’s inherent. It’s part of our DNA, to measure ourselves against others. We’re taught it from infants developing like our peers, grades, sports, arts, magazines, movies, TV, etc. How are you doing compared to the other?

And it’s not just about Oprah, Bill & Melinda Gates, or Sonia Sotomayor, we now have people who get their start on YouTube and Instagram. There are cats and dogs (and a baby giraffe) who are more notable than I will ever be, no, truly.  People will say, but don’t look at those things, which is impossible given it’s our way of life right now, and part of mine both personally (this blog and other mediums) and professionally.

I have a voice and a story and this is my way to get it out. Recently, I’ve had little wins where this blog and other social media accounts have been promoted by a very large multiple sclerosis organization totally unprompted. And people have told me they’ve been helped by MY story and MY experience. So, maybe one day, I will be as notable as your favorite dog or cat. But either way it’s ok, because I’m me and don’t need to be compared. 

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