Traveling with Multiple Sclerosis Isn’t Always Easy

By Penelope Conway

Before multiple sclerosis came along I was an avid traveler. At different times I even lived and worked In Germany, France, Mexico and Jamaica. I loved getting out and meeting new people, experiencing different customs and enjoying amazing new food.

When my mobility became a struggle, it was then that I realized just how inaccessible so much of the world truly is, both here in America and abroad. You never really think about those things until they affect you personally. Continue reading

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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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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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Let Today Be the Start of Something New

By Penelope Conway

I woke up this morning yet again to the reality of multiple sclerosis. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. Do you remember that movie? Every morning the alarm clock would go off and the same day would begin…over and over and over.

I don’t know when it started for me, but day after day my life became a blend of naps, computer screens, brain fog moments and doctor appointments. Trying something new just didn’t seem to fit into the mix of things.

From the outside everything in my world looked fine. I had a roof over my head, food in my pantry, an internet connection to get online with and friends both near and far, but what couldn’t be seen were the limitations I began having because of MS and the stresses that came with those limitations.

I failed at everything I tried to do. I had a hard time clipping my own fingernails, couldn’t drive safely even to the corner store, ran into walls that weren’t even in my way, tripped on air, forgot appointments and dropped everything I got my hands on. Talk about depressing…ugh! No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the stop button for the out of control spinning chaos that surrounded me.

If someone approached me with even the thought of getting out and doing something new, at that time in my life I had become so defeated that I couldn’t hear what they were saying and would lash out at them for even suggesting such a thing. All I could see were the things I couldn’t do. Those were not some of my proudest moments, but great friends help you get through the rough patches in life, and thankfully I have great friends.

I call them my Push Coaches. They pushed me to see past my limitations and helped me to see that there is always more than one way to doing something. I discovered that the only real limitations I had were the ones I created for myself and realized that trying new things actually made me happier in life.

As weird as it may sound, stepping out from my daily routine brought excitement to my day and became a welcomed change of pace to the day-in and day-out rut I had gotten myself into.

Sure, my legs may not work well anymore, my hands may fumble with everything I get a hold of, and vertigo may keep me from seeing straight, but those things should never stop me from trying something new. I was determined to try something new at least once a day.

At first I did simple things like taking a different route to the grocery store or wearing crazy colored socks. Those simple changes to my day surprisingly made me smile more. After a short period of time I found myself seeking out other things to try like community art classes and volunteering at the local hospital. I began looking forward to the changes in my day.

It takes a lot of courage to get out there and do something new. If I could be your Push Coach today, I would encourage you to step out from your daily routine and try something new. Change your hair color, try a new tea flavor, join a book of the month club, enroll in cooking classes…just get out there and try something new.

Don’t let MS keep you from having new and exciting adventures in life. Besides, you just might surprise yourself and find a hidden talent you didn’t even know existed.

*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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A Multiple Sclerosis Night Before the Holidays

By Penelope Conway

’Twas the night before the holidays, when all through my body,
Not a nerve was behaving, making me move rather shoddy.
My daily activities were chosen with care,
In hopes that each one could be done from a chair.

Each word that I spoke seemed to come out all wrong,
So much to be finished, I had to stay strong.
And John in the kitchen, and Missy making frappe,
Everyone busy working, no time for a nap.

When somewhere outside there arose such a clatter,
I peeked through the window, to see what was the matter.
I tried to move fast, to get to the door,
But I didn’t quite make it, and wound up on the floor.

As I lay on the rug, making sure nothing broke
Through tears I could see it, even gave it a poke.
Yes, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the cane that I lost, earlier this year.

Then the front door cracked open, and before me he stood,
I immediately knew help had arrived which was good.
And more rapid than eagles, his phrases they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name.

“Now hang on, now slow down, now take more life pauses,
With stressful, and chaos, and tearful day causes.
To the end of the checklist, to the end of the hall,
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

And then I could see, as I wiped away tears,
Why, his words and his wisdom had settled my fears.
As I sat on the floor, too weak to even move
He knelt down beside me, and said I have nothing to prove.

He looked a bit weary, as a glance we exchanged,
And he said that my focus is what needs to be changed.
What’s important is family and those who are nearby.
(On that last one he actually said with a twinkly eye.)

Your weakness…it’s real. Your limits…real too.
MS has this way of making even brilliant days blue.
He smiled as he spoke, and I knew he was right.
No more pity party moments or MS fist fights.

He spoke not a word more as he helped me to stand.
I found myself smiling as I reached for his hand.
I sat on the couch as he gave me a nod,
He helped me to see that my thinking was flawed.

Then he sprang to his sleigh, and to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, “You’re doing great, don’t forget,
To pause more and smile, you have nothing to fret.”

 

*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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You Are Stronger Than You Think

By Penelope Conway

There are so many things that I’m thankful for. I could list the usual: family, friends, warm fuzzy slippers and coffee…but those things seem so shallow to me now. Not because they aren’t important, but because my focus has shifted greatly over the years.

This morning, as I sat asking myself why I’m thankful, a flood of thoughts came to my mind. I have seen people faced with terrible circumstances who have become bitter in the process, and I have seen others rise above their challenges and become a light and a source of hope to the world around them. Which am I? Which are you?

As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I remember the day I sat in the doctor’s office when he gave me the unwelcome news that I have MS. I went through a full range of emotions in the weeks that followed from denial, to pain, to anger, to depression, to acceptance. It was a shocking blow to my life and something that I never saw coming. I had plans and MS wasn’t one of them.

It’s definitely been a hard road. I have had to adjust the way I do just about everything because even the simplest of daily tasks have become challenging for me. Some days I even have arguments with myself about getting dressed for the day or going to the store for something other than toilet paper. It’s amazing how much I took for granted before MS.

But you know, regardless of the struggle, I refuse to give up. I will NOT let MS keep me from being thankful…or from living.

The questions that I’ve asked myself, even just recently, have been simple. Can I be thankful regardless of the circumstances I find myself in? Can I find beauty in the chaos? Can I look this disease of MS square in the eyes and say, “I am not defeated because of you and in spite of the challenges I face, I will be thankful for each new day I am given.”

I decided to stop questioning why I was going through this crazy storm in my life and resolved to be thankful as I go through. I pictured myself as a tree swaying in the wind, but anyone who has ever lived through a tsunami, hurricane or tornado knows that even the strongest of trees break. It may still be standing when the storm subsides, but scars are left behind as a reminder of what once was branches and sometimes even the trunk breaks.

The truth is, multiple sclerosis changes you. It leaves scars both in your brain and spine, but also in your heart. You change. The storm you are enduring…people can’t see it. Some try to understand, but without living in your body and experiencing your journey by walking in your shoes, they just can’t understand the mental and emotional pains you face each day along with a slew of symptoms. They don’t know how often you cover your tears with a smile and piece together your heart with bubble gum and shoestrings.

Are you stronger because of MS? Absolutely you are. You are stronger even in the breaking. You have endured much and just like how a tree grows new limbs once a storm has torn it apart, you are growing and changing every day. You may be at a place where you feel like the storm is overtaking you, but the winds will calm and the sun will come out.

Hold on with everything you’ve got, then when you find your strength again…hold your head high proud of what you’ve come through and choose to be thankful for all you’ve overcome. I have learned that strength isn’t measured by the amount of things I can do or by how little I cry, it’s determined by the attitude that I have while going through the storms in life.

Not many people can make it through a storm, break, then keep going…but you are doing it. So the next time someone tells you to stay strong, smile in your brokenness realizing that your scars speak of your strength and tell a story that only a warrior can tell.

*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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Never Stop Asking Questions

By Penelope Conway

Making my way through the medical insurance nightmare has been a challenge since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It wasn’t something I thought much about before MS came along. I never really got sick so health insurance and my own well-being just wasn’t a priority. Talk about a learning curve. I was thrown into things head first and then bounced around a few times before landing hard with a thud.

My life was suddenly filled with doctor appointments, medications, unpredictable symptoms and massive medical bills. I found myself in this new world of the chronically ill and I didn’t like it one bit. To be honest with you, it scared me more than anything I had ever been through.

I think the first year after I was diagnosed, I spent much of my days in a mind numbing fog. I became overwhelmed with the vast amounts of information I found online about MS and the high costs associated with it. The more questions I asked, the more questions I had.

I became more concerned with being able to afford my co-pays and medical insurance premiums than with the latest phone apps or music downloads. I found myself searching for insurance plans that made MRI’s and durable medical equipment more affordable. I researched Medicare, SSDI and early retirement. I looked for ways to afford home modifications and accessibility aids.

I discovered that no one can look out for me better than me.

When I was searching for a supplemental insurance plan that would cover all the things Medicare doesn’t, the monthly cost was too high for me to be able to afford. So, what did I do? I got online and through asking tons of questions came across a foundation that helps people with MS pay their monthly insurance premiums. That was something I would have never known about if I didn’t dig around for answers myself.

I found that asking questions is the best thing anyone can do for themselves.

When the cost of my pain medication went up, again I got online and found that my Medicare drug plan had an exception form that can be submitted to request a lower co-pay. I had my doctor help me fill it out, sent it in and the cost of that one medication went from $45 a month to $3. The insurance company won’t tell you about that option in bold print on their home page. It’s something you have to ask questions about and search for yourself to find.

Then there was the time a few years ago when my powerchair was damaged in a car accident. I was okay but my chair got banged up a bit. I discovered that my homeowners insurance covers things like that. I was able to get a new chair to replace the broken one. Who knew homeowners insurance (or renters insurance) worked that way? I sure didn’t. Another lesson learned by again asking lots and lots of questions.

I don’t think I will ever understand insurance or how they calculate the costs associated with their services, but through asking tons of questions and digging around for answers I have been able to ease much of the costs associated with MS and living with a disability.

You have to be your own advocate, do your own research and never stop asking questions! You may not be able to control the progression of your MS but that should never stop you from taking control of your own health care.

*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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Sometimes Living with Multiple Sclerosis Can Get Overwhelming

By Penelope Conway

I want to talk about the elephant in the room. No, not a physical elephant, silly. I don’t think one would fit through my front door. I want to talk about depression among people living with multiple sclerosis.

Many people don’t like talking about how much a person’s life changes with an MS diagnosis or how much their life is actually spinning out of control. It’s hard facing the MS monster at every waking moment. Sure, someone living with a mild case of MS or who has a stable progression may think I’m crazy to even bring the topic up, but just because people aren’t talking about it or are choosing to hide their struggle, doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The reason depression happens is because our symptoms continually progress (meaning they keep getting worse), making life increasingly more difficult. We face things like numb body parts, fatigue, dizziness, vision loss, pain, emotional changes, decreased mobility, and lack of understanding from others. We lose jobs, friendships, financial stability and independence. There are countless challenges in every day, and as time passes they only worsen.

Personally, I have experienced changes to my body and feel them with such intensity that it’s hard to even put my disease progression into words. I can actually feel the numbness, pain and difficulties creeping up my legs, arms and my entire body as the day goes on. One day it was just my big toe that I couldn’t feel and the next it was my entire leg.

Coping with something that continues to progress over time brings on feelings of hopelessness, stress, despair, and a host of other mixed up, chaotic emotions. All I ever wanted was to fit in and have that carefree life that MS stole from me. Is it any wonder that depression happens? I mean, who wouldn’t get depressed knowing that their body was destructing from the inside, out?

There are times when it’s easy to face the challenges in a day, but sometimes it’s a battle between sanity and trying to hold on to hope for a better tomorrow. It’s when hope begins to fade and all that’s left is pain and confusion, that’s when the tears start to flow and depression rears it’s ugly head.

You may see me smiling, hear my laughter and admire my strength, but in actuality those things are covering the pain that doesn’t often get talked about…both emotional and physical pain. My smiles are real, but so are my tears. I have found that if I allow myself time to cry, the weight of everything I carry gets lighter. It’s much like a pressure reliever. I cry, vent, then take a deep breath, dry my tears and face the day. Just that little bit helps.

I also take an anti-depressant because I found myself crying all the time, even when there was nothing to cry about. I would cry over the silliest things too like forgetting a word or dropping a cup of water. Yes, me, the positive one.

I needed help and reached out to get my whacked out emotions under control. MS doesn’t differentiate between which nerves it’s going to mess with so when the nerves that help us manage our emotions short circuit, know that it’s just another part of a living with MS and that there is help out there. You don’t have to go through it alone.

If you are having a wonderful day, please don’t criticize someone that isn’t. Enjoy your day and share your sunshine with others. If you’re feeling defeated and frightened of the future, reach out to those around you for help, and if they won’t listen to your pain, questions and doubts, don’t be too ashamed to make an appointment with your doctor to talk about what’s going on.

Life may not have turned out the way you expected, but you have a story to share that can help  people cope with the unplanned and unexpected. Talk about what’s going on with others. It’s time to let go of holding on so tightly to a life that once was and start living the life you have now, today. Take things one day at a time, and if needed one minute at a time.

*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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There’s an Earthquake Happening Inside My Body

By Penelope Conway

When someone mentions multiple sclerosis, a lot of people immediately think of numb body parts, walking difficulties and fatigue. Those symptoms are fairly well known, but there is so much more to this disease and so many more struggles that we endure daily – sometimes silently – that should be talked about and shared.

To me, multiple sclerosis feels like an earthquake went off inside my body and different body parts are experiencing continual aftershocks.

I remember one day when I was sitting on my couch typing out an email to a friend and my right hand began shaking uncontrollably. It was weird and scary all at the same time. I literally had no control over it. It seemed to be flopping about like a fish out of water.

I sat there staring at it thinking “Okay, you can stop now.” After some time it finally subsided a bit but still goes on these crazy binges from time to time that I have no control over. I have a weighted wristband that helps contain the tremors but even wearing that doesn’t stop them entirely. There’s always a slight shakiness going on.

Because of multiple sclerosis my body has been known to jerk and twitch without being provoked, I’ve thrown things across the room unintentionally, and once I even kicked someone…although that one could have been on purpose. I’ll never tell.

I also have this weird thing with my ears. They ring constantly and there’s a repetitive flutter happening in my right one like when water gets trapped in your ears while swimming and it’s trying to work its way out. Someone could be talking to me and instead of listening to them, I’m thinking “stop ringing, stop fluttering, just STOP!”

There are times when I may want my legs to move and they won’t, or need a hand to function and it rebels, but when sensation is out of whack too…that’s an entirely different level of weird. I have two fingers on my left hand that feel like ice all day long even in the heat of summer. I also have this strange feeling of water dripping down my cheek from time to time. I know it’s not real but I find myself constantly checking just in case.

Then there’s this strange feeling I have of bugs crawling across my skin and an incessant itching feeling in my arms that won’t stop with scratching, rubbing or creams…all happening inside my body where no one can see.

It kind of becomes like that old saying “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, I can tell you for a fact that if the nerves in your body break and no one can see the damage, they really do make you do weird things.

Don’t let your body’s craziness drive you crazy in the process. It’s hard dealing with an out of control body. Sometimes you want to scream at it and at your entire life…”Stop! Just STOP!” But life goes on and nothing ever seems to stop. Know that you aren’t alone. There are others of us who understand and face this unseen monster too in some very weird and strange ways.

Normal is no longer what it used to be.

*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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Summer…Here I Come

By Penelope Conway

Summer is almost here. It’s a time for pool parties, vacations, picnics, gardening and concerts in the park. With multiple sclerosis it’s also a time of fatigue, weakness, and heat sensitivity that tends to make all my symptoms a gazillion times worse.

The warmer it gets, the more numb my body becomes. I can actually feel the numbness as it creeps up my arms and legs, and as it works its way down my face, neck and chest. My vision becomes more blurred and I lose color clarity in my left eye which can be quite weird. My legs won’t cooperate with one another, I drop things more frequently and naps are a necessity.

Summer for me is a great struggle as I select between the things I know I can do, those that I can’t do and the ones I decide to soldier through limping and dragging my body along. I know one thing for sure: the inventor of the air conditioner should have been given the greatest achievement award that existed at the time because without it, I wouldn’t survive.

Not only do I hibernate in the winter, I do so in the summer too. MS and heat just don’t mix together very well. My body can attest to that.

If I have to be out in the heat of the day away from the coolness of my indoor environment, I try to plan around the hottest times by doing things in the mornings before the temperature becomes unbearable. When I can’t plan around my mornings, I make sure to have ice with me in one form or another in order to keep my core temperature a bit more controlled.

Ice vests are awesome. I never thought I would like wearing one because most of them aren’t very stylish. I thought I would look like a fisherman wearing a tackle box or a construction worker packing pockets of nails, but they actually aren’t so bad. Most of the time people don’t even realize I’m wearing ice. I’ve turned it into my own personal trendy style. Even healthy people get jealous and want one for themselves.

I also try to keep ice water with me to sip on. Sometimes just holding the cold bottle is enough to get me through a bad moment. That and wrapping a cold wrap around my neck help tremendously.

My freezer has a shelf dedicated to ice packs for my vest, frozen neck wraps and partially filled water bottles frozen and ready to be topped off with cold water. It’s amazing how much ice gets me through a hot day outdoors.

Air conditioning, ice and careful planning are my summer norm now. You may not find me hanging out at the beach watching a game of volleyball or spending the day at an amusement park waiting in long lines for the roller coaster, but I will still be having fun and possibly eating a snow cone or two.

Yes, multiple sclerosis has limited me. That’s a fact. But even with my limitations I am able to do things that I never thought possible thanks to innovative technology and devices that help to keep my body temperature regulated. Summer…here I come!

Oooh…I think I just heard the ice cream truck going down the road. Help. Does anyone have a dollar I can borrow?

*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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