What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

By Penelope Conway

My life turned into a whirlwind of chaos after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was faced with more choices than I knew what to do with. Which medications do I choose? What therapies are needed? What supplements help? What diets work? Is there really a cure? So many questions and so few answers. Continue reading

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Sneaky Alternatives

By Lauren Kovacs

Alternative approaches to MS are pretty personal. Many of us will try just about anything to add to our medication routine. Short of crazy stuff like putting fried eggs on my eyes or sleeping with spiders, I am guilty of trying lots of alternatives.

Some things might help some. I heard massage is great, but it turns me into a sleepy blob. Too relaxed? As if I don’t already fight the fatigue monster 24/7, massages rubs me into a sloth. Not for me. Continue reading

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What’s the Alternative?

By Doug Ankerman

As a twenty-two year member of the MS Club, I have tried more than my share of alternative approaches to treat multiple sclerosis.  From diets to massage to supplements like turmeric and aloe vera gel.  I’ve questioned my dentist about Mercury fillings.  Researched into CCSVI.  With secondary-progressive MS, I found myself grasping at anything and everything to slow the gradual downward slide.

Here are a few others I’ve dabbled with… Continue reading

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Beyond Doctor’s Orders: Considering Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Healing

By Stacie Prada

Living with an illness with no proven cure leads me to treat myself as a guinea pig.  I read about the latest studies and breakthroughs for MS and auto-immune diseases. I seek recommendations from people that are managing their health well.  I compare what I’m doing to the treatment and see if it makes sense for me. If the risk is low and I’m not doing it already, I’ll give it a shot.  It’s a very unscientific approach. But given I’m bumping up against an unknown date when my MS could progress, I’m not willing to wait until all the studies are in when it could be too late for me. Continue reading

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The Underground World of MS: Part 2

By Alene Brennan

How to Navigate the Underground World of MS

Being the invisible disease that it is, multiple sclerosis can make you feel like you’re living in an underground world. So let me lay out a roadmap to help you navigate to better understanding and better health. Continue reading

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The Underground World of MS: Part 1

By Alene Brennan

My first reaction when I received the diagnosis of Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis? Do NOT tell a soul. People would judge me and put limits on me. Not to mention I was 37 years old and single. MS isn’t exactly the trait I wanted featured on my online dating profile.

I kept my diagnosis a secret for more than a year. Continue reading

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Creating the Support Network I Want

By Stacie Prada

Living with a chronic and progressive illness like MS includes living with fear, pain and diminishing abilities. It’s rough.  It can make me grouchy and impatient. But it’s not a pass to treat people poorly. It takes more effort to be appreciative and pleasant when I’m tired and feel crummy, but it’s a tremendous life skill to cultivate.   Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fall short of my goal.  When that happens, I follow up with that person and try to repair any damage.

I’d rather people support me because they want to be there with me.  If someone is helping me solely out of obligation or pity, their resentment or condescension will come through in every interaction.  No thank you.

Feeling like a burden isn’t helpful to anyone’s physical or mental wellbeing.  And being treated like a burden isn’t fair.  Every person has challenges and limits, and we all have needs. Needs aren’t weaknesses. Some of our needs are just more visible or less common compared to what’s thought of as normal.

My best relationships are those of mutual admiration and appreciation.  We help each other often, but we make sure we respect our limits so that nothing is done with resentment.

I’ve put together some guidelines for myself to build healthy and positive relationships:

  1. When people show kindness or concern, accept it graciously. If I discourage it because I’m embarrassed, grouchy or feeling like they’re being pushy, they’ll eventually stop asking or providing support.
  2. Notice when I feel better about myself after interacting with someone. Put extra effort into connecting with them.
  3. Notice when I feel worse after interacting with someone. Consider possible reasons, and be honest about whether it’s me or them. See if there are ways to improve the relationship.  Let it go if it’s not a critical relationship. Pursue sincere conversation or counseling for the relationships I’m not willing to let go.
  4. Know that letting go of some relationships will be necessary for my health. This is really tough. Try to wish them well and move on.
  5. Be a cheerleader for others. Share in their joys and accomplishments genuinely and without jealousy, and express sympathy and encouragement when they’re having a hard time.
  6. Be willing to accept help. I’d love to be completely self-sufficient and strong, but refusing help pushes people away. Remember accepting help might make them feel better too.
  7. Grant people grace when they periodically commit a friendship blunder. Hope they’ll do the same for me. People will never respond perfectly in every situation, and anyone expecting perfection is being unreasonable.

Striving to follow these guidelines has improved my relationships immensely, and it’s created a positive support network that I can count on when I need it. We support each other and don’t keep score. Having them around makes every challenge easier to tackle and every loss more tolerable to accept.  Plus, the effort I put into adding positive energy in the world helps me feel I have value and just plain feels good.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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It Takes a Village to Navigate This Life with Multiple Sclerosis

By Penelope Conway

Do you know that old saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, I happen to know for a fact that it takes a village to navigate this life with multiple sclerosis.

I was always an independent person. One of those “I can do it by myself” kind of people. I could change the oil in my car, repair a leaking pipe under the house, open those impossible pickle jars and move furniture without even breaking a sweat. Having to shift that type of independence after MS came along was really hard for me.

I found that I needed help getting to appointments because my eyesight and motor function had decreased making it unsafe for me to drive myself, especially if going long distances.

I needed reminders (albeit sometimes annoying) for some of the simplest things in life like “be sure to set your trash out today for pick-up.” Something I wouldn’t have forgotten in times past.

I needed help pulling wet clothes out of the washing machine because my hands just couldn’t properly grip the wet clothes. Then folding the clothes and towels once they were dry would take me hours to complete.

I found that there were tons of things I needed help with. As an independent, I-can-do-it-myself kind of person, that was not an easy thing for me to come to terms with but it has gotten easier over time. I can still be a bit stubborn, but I know my limits and reach out when I know I need help.

If I can enlarge my circle of support, I am always willing to give it a try. I was even talking to my neighbor yesterday about calling on her if I have trouble opening those easy-to-open packages that aren’t really easy to open or when I can’t get a pill bottle open. She was more than happy to be asked to help out.

One thing I found to be extremely important is to let those that are helping you out know just how much you appreciate what they are doing. If they know you value their support, care, and love, it gives them a sense of purpose and they know that the things they do matter. Even the small things like picking up the mail or stopping by for a chat should never be taken for granted.

People need to know the time they put in to helping you makes a difference. They may say you don’t need to thank them, but thank them anyway. It always matters.

I have had some people that would always drag me down with their know-it-all advice and negative attitude, but do you know what I did? I cut my ties with them. Sometimes that is the healthiest thing you can do. MS is not any easy things to deal with and you don’t need any added stress to your day making things worse. Set up boundaries and don’t back down.

Surround yourself with positive people that lift you up.  You deserve to be happy.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

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Progressive Talk

By Doug Ankerman

The word “progressive” brings to mind images of broad, dynamic thinking.

Progressive is fresh.  Progressive is modern.  Progressive is revolutionary in every aspect.

Progressive was NOT me in any way, shape or form.

Just look at me as a kid.  Absolutely nothing progressive.  Big ears.  Big head.  Eddie Munster hair.  Shy.  Backward.  Sucked my thumb till I was eight-years-old.

My progressive aversion continued well into adulthood till finally being tagged “Secondary-Progressive” years into my MS journey.

It was the first-time I had been “progressive” at anything.

Though my new-found classification never bothered me because I figured I had had Progressive MS since day one.  I never experienced the ups and downs of Relapsing-Remitting.  It’s always been a gradual downhill slide.  Like the most boring roller coaster ride ever.  Like a driveway tilted just enough to let the rain run to the curb.

Having the label “Progressive MS” was no biggie to me because it is just that – a label.  Someone’s opinion.  A moniker.  A mark.  My hope is you feel the same way.

Whether your MS is RR (Relapsing-Remitting), SP (Secondary-Progressive), PP (Primary-Progressive) or CP (Chronic Progressive), it doesn’t matter.  MS doesn’t define you.  MS doesn’t limit you.  So don’t let it change you.

After twenty-two years I have come to accept my progressive MS…it’s my not-so progressive sense of fashion that continues to embarrass my wife in public…

But I LOVE my cargo shorts, honey!

All this progressive talk reminds me today, March 28th, is the first-ever Progressive MS Day, a day raising awareness for those living with the most debilitating forms of the disease.  You can help spread the word in your social media by using the official hashtag: #ProgressiveMSDay.

Join me as I give #ProgressiveMSDay a well-deserved sitting ovation.

Keep moving my friend.

*Doug writes about MS and other stuff on his humor blog at myoddsock.com, Facebook.com/myoddsock & on Twitter @myoddsock.

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Relapse Management

By Stacie Prada

Managing MS relapses can mean different things to different people, and success varies immensely depending on how long you’ve had multiple sclerosis, the symptoms you experience, your level of physical ability, your disease course, and your expectations. When I think of managing relapses, I think of treating, avoiding and learning from them in order to slow disease progression and reduce the justifiable fear that comes each time one occurs.

  • We can treat relapses to try to shorten the duration.
  • We can try to avoid relapses with lifestyle and medication. This is an idealistic goal and may be possible, but it places a lot of blame or praise on the person with MS. It’s a pass-fail test that doesn’t necessarily correlate with how well a person manages their health.
  • We can learn from relapses each time we have one to better understand how our body works.
  • We can work to manage the fear that comes with relapses and disease progression. This part holds a lot of mystery and is sometimes the most difficult part.

When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea at any given moment if I was having a relapse or not. My scans made it clear I’d likely had MS for over a decade before diagnosis, and I’d had no idea I even had a health issue.  My symptoms were just my life, and I had no comparison.  It was scary and felt unpredictable.  I didn’t know if there was anything I could to do reduce them, if I was doing things that made it worse, or if at any moment I was in the midst of a relapse.

Managing relapses at that time meant figuring out when I was having one and trying to stop it once it started.  It took learning about MS symptoms and paying attention to how I felt.  I compared how I felt to my MRI scans and neurologist’s assessment in order to know whether or not I was having an MS exacerbation.  Steroid treatment was done to try to stop relapses. Because my biggest symptom was fatigue and I had no way to objectively measure it, I lived in a fairly constant state of fear and self-doubt.  What got me through was a belief that I would get through this phase and learn what I needed to know to live with MS. I didn’t know how, but I trusted it would happen eventually.

At six years past diagnosis, I experienced an MS milestone. I achieved a point of confidence where I felt like I could finally tell if I was having an exacerbation or not.  I knew how terrible I felt when I was having a relapse, and I knew how well I could feel when I wasn’t.  I’d learned my body enough to know which symptoms were normal for me.  I could distinguish between when the intensity and duration was likely due to existing damage from previous relapses and when it was likely new active MS activity.

I attribute this MS milestone to constant monitoring and self-assessment.  After a relapse, I would consider what helped and what was hard about it.   I’d speculate on what would have made it easier and how I can prepare for the next relapse. I’d think about how it felt, and I’d try to match up that feeling to my test results.  When I felt poorly but wasn’t having a relapse, I’d use that information to learn what is normal for me.  Knowing that helped me increase confidence and lessen my fears.

There’s so much to learn about MS, relapses and how your unique body behaves that has no prepared reference manual or shortcut around education and effort.  It’s a moving target since our bodies are aging and old damage can cause new symptoms. There is no one proven or best way to manage health to avoid relapses.  Monitoring your health, learning all you can, and trying things to see what works helps build self-confidence.  Understanding how MS affects a body in general and yours specifically helps reduce the fear of the unknown. Reducing fear can make every aspect of living with MS more bearable.

People with MS do not have complete control over whether or not they have a relapse.  If someday there is a determined cause, cure and 100% effective management regimen, then that might be possible.  Until then, the only ways I think relapses can be managed are to tackle them when they happen, to reflect on them after they happen to try to find any patterns or contributors that you might be able to control, incorporate what helps, avoid what doesn’t, and to try to make the fear manageable when they do happen.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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