By: Jeri Burtchell
I don’t know about you, but life with MS makes “awareness” unavoidable for me. I start the day with a symptom check, happy when I can make it out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. As I progress through my day, I’m constantly reminded of MS at every turn. It might be the alert on my phone that reminds me to take my medication or a check-up for the clinical trial I’m in. It may even be my drop foot that trips me up and sends me into a catbox face plant. And every once in a while it’s a wistful sadness as I take stock of all this disease has robbed from me. I try not to dwell on things I can’t change, but still I am “aware”.
March is MS Awareness Month–when we draw others into our world, giving a glimpse into what our new reality has become, in order to build understanding and compassion. Very few of us who have MS need our own awareness raised.
Sometimes sharing with family and friends can be awkward. I catch myself feeling like I’m whining or complaining when really all I’m trying to do is explain what life with MS is like. Just trying to raise awareness. Sometimes I close up and choose not to share, simply because it means I’m forced to think about it myself when that’s the last thing I want on my mind.
But during March I feel an obligation to “do my part”. I want more heads nodding in understanding than noses wrinkling quizzically at the mention of “multiple sclerosis”. I want more people saying “guess what I heard about a new breakthrough for MS!” The only way that’s going to happen is by all of us sharing our stories, or drawing people in somehow.
We might not have an ice bucket challenge on our side, but there are things we can do besides just posting pictures of awareness ribbons. And there are ways to work in a little levity so people aren’t just awkwardly trying to move on after your conversation has left them feeling sorry for you, or worse, confused. I’ve been giving this some thought and here are some ideas I’ve come up with…
If you’ve lost sensation in your hands, you could ask your friends to put mittens on and try to make it through their morning routine (all except for shaving or pouring coffee, maybe). Tell them you can’t feel things or control your movement as well as you once could. For some people with MS it feels like wearing gloves or mittens.
Or how about a “Sit-N-Spin for MS”? Do they still make that toy? Get grown adults to challenge each other to spin like crazy while someone takes a video. When they get up to walk they’ll be walking like we do with MS, stumbling around and bouncing off walls.
When others are forced to experience things that closely resemble symptoms of MS, sometimes they are profoundly moved. “I get it, now!” is something I hear a lot.
If your family and friends aren’t up for the MS experience, maybe recording your thoughts on living with MS in a video would help. Things that are hard to say face to face can be easier to share in a video sometimes. Healthline.com has launched a campaign called “You’ve Got This!” where those with MS are encouraged to submit a video of their experience, giving hope to the newly diagnosed.
Each time you share your experience, whether with your friends at home, through posts on social media, or even videos enlightening and encouraging others, you are building awareness and drawing the attention to the bigger picture.
To end this disease we’re going to need a lot more research, and that means a lot more funding. When people understand how MS can impact our quality of life, the awareness spreads. When you use your own story to engage others and spread the message, it can be a very empowering experience.
Not only will you be helping others to understand what we live with every day, but you will gain so much satisfaction from feeling like you’re doing your part as well. We might not be able to cure MS ourselves, but we don’t have to sit back and passively take what this disease dishes out in silence. Compassion starts with understanding. Understanding comes from communication.
Be the voice of MS, if only for one month, or week, or even a single day this year. You won’t regret it.
Photo credit: oddharmonic
*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.