Always Adjusting to Life with MS

Recently, one of our community contributors, Nicole, wrote a thought-provoking, and emotionally charged piece titled, “Still Learning How to Live with MS.” The title of the article rings loud and true to her message within it. Nicole outlines a Sunday morning where she feels on top of the world. She feels an extra kick of energy, and a desire to take on the day. She adds more chores and errands to her to-do list than normal, and although she is questioned on this decision by her husband, she continues on with her grand plan. Throughout the day, Nicole feels great, but by early evening, she feels weariness set in. Although this is a common pattern for her at this time of day, this fatigue is heavier and consumes her more and more as the minutes tick by. She is so weary, she is unable to eat on her own, nor get fully ready for bed.

She reflects on this day and realizes that although she has been living with MS for almost 18 years, there are still days that get away from her and bring unexpected tribulations. She recognizes that, although she hates her MS, she still needs to respect its limitations and continue to learn from it. Especially when it comes to slowing things down, asking for help, and taking a break—despite what her short-term energy levels feel like. After this article was posted, comments poured in from across our community, and it became apparent that Nicole was far from being alone in her experience. Some of the sentiments shared by our community members are collected and shared below.

Always battling the fatigue

Many of our members weighed in on their constant battle with fatigue, and how although it is a constant, it can still be incredibly frustrating and knock them off of their feet (both literally and figuratively).

“I fight with myself every day. I expect myself to do more and be more than I can do or be. I never get my stuff done all the way. My fatigue is horrendous. Sometimes I get so tired, I just have to nap because I can’t do any more that day or moment and if I try to stay up, sleep overpowers me. I hate asking for help too or needing it. I feel helpless.”

“The least little thing wears me out. Tried to play with my great grandson who is 2 and a half, and it just about did me in. I was so exhausted and hurting so bad that I went to bed at 7:00pm.”

“You hit the ‘brick wall.’ Happens to me all the time. Need at least three days to recover completely.”

“It’s still difficult for others to understand what happens to me if I don’t rest…lots. The amount of energy that is needed to push myself through a day is exhausting. I explain that I can manage some things, but not all things. I have to keep reminding them of this spms that takes my strength and makes my life very different from theirs. Most do not understand the utter exhaustion.”

“So true and so hard to restrict what you do when you feel like you can do it, but pay hard for it later.”

“It’s hard being an “A” person in a “B” body.”

Constantly trying to take control when energy is high and forgetting limitations

So many of the comments shared with us revolved around trying to capitalize when energy bursts strike. Although this may be a rare occurrence, some of our members feel tempted to take full advantage of them, only to be back to extreme fatigue and pain later. Balancing energy and the desire to get things done with true physical limitations is a constant learning curve.

“Yes, it is hard to pace yourself. I have had MS formally since 1990. I try not to overdo it, but when I am feeling good, I forget and try to get everything done. We have to remember that we will pay for it later. Keep going and don’t give up!”

“Key word being ‘forget.’ Usually, I start each day with positive thoughts and energy. I can do anything until I can’t. Then I remember. Each day ends the same with fatigue and pain. And then, a new day is here to repeat itself. I do this ‘forget’ thing all the time. I need to pin a list of ‘don’ts’ on my shirt.”

“‘Sometimes I want to be like everybody else’ is what gets me in trouble every time. After 10 years you’d think I would know better, but sometimes it’s worth trying. It’s getting harder thought to push myself. I shut down quicker than I used to and just can’t do it some days no matter how much I want to.”

“Thanks for reminding me again to respect my limitations. I also forget. Your thoughts are timely because I was just saying how I’m tired of not doing much. I always want to do more and not plan so much for fear of exhausting my body to only suffer another exacerbation! My only advice to myself is to try to appreciate what I can do and find goodness in those accomplishments, as few as they may be sometimes. There is so much beauty in enjoying little things. I try to tell myself, when you slow down, you see more! Hang in there, and know you’re not alone.”

“As others, I can relate. I have learned to limit my chore or errand list and I now even literally write the word REST on my lists, so I don’t forget to take the time out. I think the still learning how to live with MS is an ongoing process for us.”

Do you feel as though you’re constantly learning from your MS? Whether it’s learning to battle fatigue, remembering and respecting limitations, or a completely different experience we didn’t mention, share with us if or how your relationship with MS is evolving.

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When someone asks, “So, What Do You Do?”

We recently published an article by one of our community experts on how a simple small talk question can take on an entirely different meaning when battling a chronic condition.  Life with MS can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to continue working fulltime, often leading to career changes, unemployment, or life at home on disability.  This can make answering the common question, “So, what do you do?” incredibly challenging.  Invisible symptoms, seemingly good days, and the difficulty in trying to get others to understand your struggle can make your answer to this hard to put into words.  So many of our community members shared their own experiences with us after reading Devin’s article, and created some really great discussion.  We wanted to share some of the stories and responses we received!

Ways to Answer the Dreaded Question

“I am old enough now that I often just reply, ‘I’m retired.’ Then people look at me like I must have made lots of money and was lucky enough to retire early”

“I do facilitate workshops for those of us living with chronic conditions so that is an answer I sometimes give. I still hate the question though”

“Accept it. You are a fulltime caregiver…for yourself”

“So true, I feel like I’m always trying to justify myself to people! People see me and say, you look fine, you could work, but they don’t realize to be at that social gathering, I had to rest all week!”

How Life Without Work Has Impacted the Community

“I was an RN, and my role was to give comfort not get comfort from others. When I had to leave my last job, my world ended as I had always known it. I miss my used-to-be life”

“I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been on disability for almost 2 years now, and I hate every day of it. When I dreamed of not working, I didn’t dream of not being able to do anything else. I thought it would be fun! This is not fun. Feeling useless is horrible”

“I miss working! It is nice to be with other people. It allowed me to forget my MS for a little while until the fatigue would set in!”

Finding the Positive in the Struggle

“My family and friends want me to make ME the priority. This whole situation is rocking my world!”

“I was an electrical engineer. I spent a fortune on good education and then MS strikes. If there is any good in all this, it is that MS makes for a great friend filter. The friends that stick by you through the MS journey have been vetted and are truly friends”

“Couldn’t have said it better. Right now going through second round of disability approval! Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I can’t work. Everyday is different, just don’t know how you are going to feel. One day, can’t get out of bed, next day feel like you could conquer the world. We just have to stay positive and hope we can take whatever comes our way!”

Regardless of how you answer this question, it was very clear to see from the community comments that you are not alone.  Even those who didn’t share their own experience often responded with a resounding, “SO TRUE!” or “This hit the nail on the head for me!”  Responses like these remind us why it is so important to be a part of our online community and support one another on this no-doubt challenging journey.

Let us know how you handle this question, or others like it, that can take on a whole new meaning when living with MS!

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August 2016 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

August Artist of the Month:
Carol Tomlin – Woodbine, NJ
Summer at Old Faithful Inn 1904

Carol Tomlin - Summer at Old Faithful Inn 1904

About the Artist:
“In 2003 I began stumbling while scouting for deer hunting areas with my husband Clarence. I was soon diagnosed with MS. Hands now shaky, I can no longer enjoy painting and even had to leave my job. With time on my hands I continued to exercise by working the family farm.

Determined to paint again, I had a cabin constructed on the place where my husband and I loved to sit together and watch the wild game in the back yard. There I found the peace I needed to steady my hand and paint again.”
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MS and Loneliness

“If you see me out or even in pictures, there’s usually a great big smile on my face.  To say that I suffer from loneliness doesn’t seem to make sense.  There are so many times though, where I sit and think to myself that I’m alone, that no one really understands me.”

This was just one of the many powerful quotations our contributor, Devin, recently wrote in his article The Loneliness of MS.

Even if well-meaning people say they understand how multiple sclerosis is impacting your life, it’s unlikely they do. And after reading this article, our community shared an outpouring of comments expressing their similar experiences.

Below are some of the thoughts our community shared:

I can’t get out and do things with others.

  • “The part I find most difficult isn’t actually being alone but the lonely feeling you get because you can’t do the things you once did with family and friends.”
  • “Fatigue alienates me more from friends than my obvious disability. Once you say no once or twice, invitations stop coming.”
  • “I feel especially lonely talking about events. I have an event in November. My thoughts are consumed with if I’ll be up to it.”
  • “Lost a lot of friends because of MS related issues, and I cannot go out and see those I do have often because of MS issues”
  • “My friends are into a lot of summer events, but there are so many unknowns…I don’t know how hot and sunny it will be, I don’t know if there will be enough chairs for everyone…will there be easily accessible toilets…I really don’t want to ruin anyone’s day. So better stay home.”

I feel different from everyone—sometimes even those with MS!

  • “People just don’t get it. I don’t feel ‘normal’ and it can get really lonely.
  • “A friend introduced me to a friend of hers who was dx 20 years ago, so she can give me advice when I had just been diagnosed. I realized how we were not at all in the same place. It was nice to know she was out there, but I still felt alone in my experience.”
  • “I suppose that’s why support groups are usually divided in at least 2 separate groups: DX less than 2 years ago, and all the others. I think either group could really overwhelm, and possibly upset, the other group.”
  • “I feel very lonely. Even though I am not physically alone, I am still alone.”
  • “My family tries so hard, but every time they accommodate me, I just feel different, and I feel alone.”

It’s not all loneliness, though: some of you offered solutions for easing those feelings:

  • “I have made the choice to look at my MS disability changes in my life that everyone I know is going to face the same challenges as we all age, I am just ahead of the curve.”
  • “Having a dog does help some. For me any way.”
  • “Online communities make a huge difference. It’s not a perfect solution, but I often feel closer to my online friends than my other friends”

While it does not fix this impactful issue, many in our community took solace in the fact that they were not alone in feeling alone. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others online can be helpful. How about you?

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July 2016 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

July Artist of the Month:
Karen Schatz – Atlanta, GA
Shark
Karen Schatz - Shark

About the Artist:
“My first love was art but I gave it up and went to work in legal IT to support my family. After years of horrendous hours I wrote off a lot of my weird symptoms to working such long hours. I went to numerous doctors but wasn’t diagnosed until last year.

Art has helped me find myself again. I can’t always hold the brushes, but when I can paint I always feel more like me.”
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June 2016 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

June Artist of the Month:
Elana K. Rosen – Cincinnati, OH
Lunchtime Dining
Elana K. Rosen - Lunchtime Dining

About the Artist:
“My name is Elana K. Rosen and I have always drawn and painted. I was diagnosed with MS in my thirties. Occasionally I have a hand tremor. When this happens my art is looser and I cannot paint detail. Painting makes me happy and helps me feel a sense of accomplishment.”
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What You Wish They Knew About Your MS

Many people have heard the words “multiple sclerosis” before, and probably know it’s a chronic condition, but so many do not know what it really means to have MS. We asked our community at MultipleSclerosis.net “What’s one thing you wish more people understood about MS” and the responses were phenomenal. Below you’ll read real experiences from people just like you that start to paint a picture of what MS is really like. These are the things people should be aware of; this is how we spread true MS awareness!

I’m Not Drunk!

  • My memory is not always good! My husband and children understand and are patient, but people who don’t know look at you like you are drunk or high
  • She’s not drunk. She doesn’t even drink. It’s the MS that makes her off balance sometimes
  • I am not drunk, I am not dumb, I am not lazy – I have MS
  • Don’t tell me I seem drunk when I trip – It’s not funny

I Miss My Active Lifestyle, Too

  • If only others understood how we miss our active life before MS. It’s bad enough that we often feel like a burden, being treated as one is pretty much the worst feeling
  • Sometimes I feel depressed not being able to do what I used to be able to do – others just don’t get it
  • People always knew me as being active, and now they never see me. I just wish they would come by sometimes. All I need is to know someone out there cares

When I Say I’m Tired, I’m Tired

  • When I say that I have to go home early because I am tired, I am really tired. It´s not because I am lazy, it´s not because I am bored or boring, it’s because I am tired!!
  • When I say I’m tired, I’m not being lazy. And when I say my body hurts, Aspirin will not help
  • I wish they understood that my tired is not like their tired, and my pain is not like their pain
  • Just because I look healthy does not mean I am and when I say I am tired and need to sit down, it’s not a joke! 

Every Day, Every Minute, Is Different

  • I wish they understood that every moment is different. I can be good one minute and not the next
  • I wish people understood that my mind and body change every moment of every day
  • One minute I could be fine, but then next I’m not. I put on a brave face, but don’t assume I’m “fine”
  • Don’t ask me how I am if you don’t really want to know

How about you? Do you ever feel misunderstood? What do you wish more people understood about life with MS? Share this article and your own stories and experiences to spread the word about what it really means to live with multiple sclerosis!

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May 2016 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

May Artist of the Month:
David Desjardins – Union, ME
Country Cottage
David Desjardins - Country Cottage

About the Artist:
“Painting has always been a rewarding way to express myself. Ironically, I find that as my disabilities increase, so does the quality of my work increase.

To me, there is no better feeling than hearing someone tell me how much they love a painting I created. It gives me a tremendous feeling of well-being and accomplishment every time I finish one.”
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April 2016 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2016-17 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

April Artist of the Month:
Debra Robert – Lake Worth, FL
Constellation des Colores
Debra Robert - Constellation des Colores

About the Artist:
“I have been painting for over 25 years. I have a BA in theatre arts and an MFA in film producing. My career has taken me around the world, working in live events/concerts/conferences for over 20 years.

Now diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I had to retire from my exciting, vibrant career. I am determined to put my energy into art full-time, surrounding myself in a world of color and light. I pull my inspiration from years of the lighting design, sounds and imaginative shapes from live performance production.”
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Living With MS: One (Careful) Step at a Time

By: Jeri Burtchell

I remember my first relapse. Early in 1999 my legs had gradually gone numb from the bottoms of my feet up to my waist over a period of two weeks. By the time I decided it wasn’t just a pinched nerve or something else that would go away on its own, I could barely walk. Every step felt like I was waist-deep in quicksand trying to push my way forward and sinking fast.

That was 17 years ago, and all but a few of my subsequent relapses have also affected my legs. Before I began my current MS therapy in 2007, I would often spend some of my time in a wheelchair during the recovery phase of the more intense relapses.

Although I have only had two mild relapses in the past eight years, it doesn’t mean I am living symptom-free. My legs have betrayed me many times over the course of the years, and my face has become intimately familiar with all sorts of things one’s face shouldn’t see up close — asphalt, dirt, and even kitty litter on one occasion when I tripped and did a faceplant right in the cat box.

So when writing on the perils of walking, I draw from firsthand experience (much to my chagrin).

Besides legs that tire easily, I’ve also developed drop foot. Drop foot is like having your kickstand come down on your bike unexpectedly. You’re tooling along fine when your foot drops mid-stride and causes you to trip over your own two feet, like flying over your handlebars.

So I’m terrified of walking without holding someone’s arm or using a cane, rollator, grocery cart or assistive device — especially when I’m traveling. In my mind my wheels are constantly turning, assessing the terrain, the angle of incline. Judging the surface for the traction I’ll get in the type of shoes I’m wearing. It’s mentally exhausting. I literally cannot walk and chew gum if I want to be competent at either task.

The Doozie of All Faceplants

It was 2010 and my best friend Karen and I decided to take the kids to the county fair. She had her niece and nephew, and I had my youngest boy, Alix, with me. I was wearing sensible walking shoes and told all the kids I’d just watch them ride the rides so I wouldn’t get dizzy and fall. I thought I had covered all my MS safety angles.

It was the perfect day. Laughter and screams of delight filled the blue skies. We ate popcorn and cotton candy, and strolled around until the sun began to set. By that time the kids had ridden every ride except for the Zipper.

The Zipper was halfway across the fairgrounds and as we headed over there for the final ride of the day, I began digging in my purse for the rest of the tickets. With both hands occupied, my feet decided they’d had enough. My left foot dropped, scraping the asphalt pathway we were walking on and I was catapulted into the air.

I landed Tim Tebow style, on one knee for a brief second before launching face first into the pavement. I heard my sunglasses scrape the ground before flying off and skittering away. My initial reaction was “Crap! Those glasses were prescription!”, but I calmed when I remember they were just $5 drug store sunglasses. Then I could focus on what really mattered — the bloody egg-sized bump growing over my left eyebrow.

Alix and Karen came rushing to my side and helped me to a nearby bench, then ran to get some ice. I just kept asking for someone to call an ambulance. With the ice bag pressed firmly to my head, I leaned over my knees trying my best to ward off the nausea that was overcoming me.

Before long I heard a voice.

“Ma’am, can you stand up and get into the vehicle for me?”

I’m thinking to myself, “What kind of an EMT would ask me to do that without even a cursory exam?”

“Can you hear me, ma’am?”

Finally I take the ice from my forehead and look up to see it’s a clown with a big red nose and a huge upturned white grin who is asking me to step into a golf cart. I was certain I’d knocked my brain loose.

After several confusing moments while we discussed the lack of foresight or budget allocated to their first aid preparation, he convinced me an ambulance was waiting at the perimeter gate.

Karen followed behind with all the kids in tow as we rushed to the hospital.

They ran a battery of tests that included everything but shaking a Magic 8 Ball. In the end, all signs pointed to a concussion. I have never felt so sick in all my life. I had two black eyes and a huge knot on my head. When I saw the eye doctor a few days later, he speculated that my sunglasses saved me from breaking my orbital bones.

I managed to come away from that experience without any residual physical effects, but one thing is certain: I had developed a newfound fear of walking. I never leave town without my cane, and if I go to a store for a loaf of bread I’ll be pushing it around in a grocery cart. It’s not that I need an assistive device to be upright, I just can’t trust my feet.

I used to fear balance issues as my body’s greatest source of betrayal, but drop foot has taken its place. When I begin to tire or know I will have to walk for more than 25 feet unaided, I deliberately high step, figuring if I pick my legs way up in the air, my toes have less chance of tripping me up. While it might look silly, I believe it has saved me from kissing the concrete on numerous occasions.

If it gets worse I think I’ll look into a brace, but for now I’m taking MS one (careful) step at a time.

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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