When it comes to MS symptoms, there is a real variety in what individuals experience. This is one of the reasons why making an MS diagnosis is so challenging. Its symptoms can look different from person to person. No two people have the same MS disease course. This can make it hard to understand exactly how the condition impacts someone. Its uniqueness acts as a detriment at times when trying to explain or educate others about MS. It is assumed that symptoms will look the same and that outcomes will match, but this is not always the case.
Working on the MSAA helpline we often hear different types of client experiences when it comes to working with one’s healthcare team. Some rave about their doctors and specialists and cannot say enough good things about the care they receive. Others don’t have quite the same positive reviews in their circumstances. Continue reading
It is commonly known that MS can impact mood and can cause an increased risk for developing depression and anxiety which MSAA detailed in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of The Motivator. However, you may be unfamiliar with another condition – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – which may be something to pay attention to as the seasons change.
SAD is a type of depression which is hallmarked by its “seasonality” generally beginning in the fall and lasting through the winter months. SAD typically tends to creep up as the daylight hours get shorter and the weather gets cooler and the impacts on mood may become more severe as the season goes on. Like other forms of depression, individuals who experience SAD may experience low energy (fatigue), may lose enjoyment in activities they once enjoyed, may experience changes in eating or sleeping habits, may have persistent sad or depressed thoughts, and may even think of engaging in self-harm. As with other forms of depression, individuals with SAD may benefit from the use of medications and/or talk therapy to help address this issue. One major difference with teasing out SAD from other forms of depression is that individuals with SAD may also benefit from using “phototherapy” or specialized light therapy; a person may even be assigned a specific amount time in their day to sit under the specialized light or lamp to help improve their symptoms.
If you have noticed that the fall and winter seasons tend to impact your mood, or if you have noticed a lower overall mood, please discuss the issue with your treating physician…sometimes just shedding some “light” on a situation can make a world of difference.
Being prepared and asking questions may assist in the overall care you receive at your doctor’s appointment. Taking control of your medical care by finding your voice and advocating for your health will help you to feel more involved in your health care decisions.
Well before your appointment, get in the practice of writing down questions you wish to address with your doctor. A journal or binder can be used to keep track of these appointments. Sometimes it is helpful to have one binder for all medical professionals so that you can review notes from all appointments. Dividers or clips can help organize one doctor or specialist from the next. If questions come up for your primary care while you are visiting with the neurologist, you can add them to the section for the primary care.
Before the appointment, prioritize the questions that are more important at that time. Often appointment time is limited, so by prioritizing the questions, you will assure that what is most important to you at that time is what gets addressed.
It can be a challenge to manage the patient-doctor relationship, especially if your doctor is not used to you asking questions. You certainly do not want to come across as aggressive by demanding the doctor answer questions. Before the appointment, make the doctor aware that you would like to discuss some concerns. By being upfront with the doctor, he or she can make sure there is enough time. Some doctors may prefer to follow-up and discuss questions through a phone call or e-mail.
Asking questions is important but so is making sure you hear and understand the answers you get. Taking notes during an appointment can help to clarify things after you have left the office. Having a care partner or family member at the appointment may also help in remembering some of the details of what you heard. If writing is a challenge, perhaps try using a voice recorder (with the doctor’s permission) to help re-play what was said during the appointment.
If you are having trouble understanding or are confused, ask your doctor to explain again. Ending your appointments with a summary can help to ensure that the doctor hears that you have understood the directions or information provided to you.
If there is something you are not sure about, ask for more information. Many doctors’ offices provide brochures, or educational materials that can describe a treatment or symptom. If the office does not provide these things, ask where you may find them. Perhaps you can reach out to one of the MS organizations to learn more about a particular treatment or symptom, or ask for information to be mailed to you.
By taking a more active role in your health care planning and decisions, you may feel more positive about the control you have over the disease.
How do you plan for your trip to the doctor or specialist?
March is MS Awareness Month. As an advocacy group, you will hear MSAA discuss our available resources, and encourage you to get out and be active about raising awareness for MS and supporting programs which benefit individuals with MS. We will promote and support expanding knowledge and information about MS. With all of that going on, it might feel like you need to wave a flag shouting, “HERE I AM. I HAVE MS!!!”
As the Manager of Client Services at MSAA, I wanted to acknowledge that there are times when you (or your friend or family member) may not want others to know about a diagnosis. While you may want to be an advocate to spread awareness and information to help people understand about MS, you may not want certain people (i.e. an employer, a new boyfriend, or a casual acquaintance) to know you or a loved one has MS.
There is nothing secretive about a diagnosis, but it is your (or your loved one’s) own personal health information. While some people might share that they had a heart attack or stroke with anyone they meet, others might feel medical information is no one else’s business and only talk about it with a doctor or close family member.
So, if you want to be an advocate but not shout a diagnosis from the rooftops, what can you do?
On social media sites:
Think before you post. Are you comfortable with everyone seeing your update or picture? If not, make sure to check your privacy settings before sharing personal (health-related) information so that only people you want to learn about your private information, such as close family or friends, can see your updates and pictures.
If you want to talk about MS in the community, know that not everyone who spreads information and encourages activity for a cause will be personally affected by it. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your diagnosis, make it general: “ I’m helping out with a cause… Can you help too?” or: “There is a charity I support, and I wanted you to know about them and what they do” are generic ways to introduce information about “your cause,” even if you don’t want anyone to know it is personal.
In many of these situations, there may be a future point in time where you might want to share a diagnosis. On the job, you may decide to ask for a reasonable accommodation and share a diagnosis when needed. When your boyfriend goes from being casual to serious, you might feel comfortable disclosing. Likewise, if a casual acquaintance becomes a good friend, you may want to share. If not, there is no pressure. You can still be an advocate for MS without disclosing a diagnosis.