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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

What’s in Your Junk Drawer?

By Penelope Conway

We all have one – that infamous junk drawer that collects a little bit of everything from spare keys, to half used chapstick, to pens, to some unknown mechanical looking thing that nobody is quite sure what it is, to just plain junk. There seems to be at least one drawer like that in every person’s house. Even the most put together house has lurking somewhere in the kitchen, office or bathroom, a junk drawer.

It goes unnoticed until a pen is needed to jot down a quick note, then almost as if by habit you go to the junk drawer. Immediately you open the drawer and begin tossing items back and forth as you rummage through the contents in search of that much needed pen.

You keep telling yourself that someday you’ll clean that drawer out. Someday, you’ll organize it. But every time you open the drawer, the task seems too overwhelming, too time consuming and just plain hard.

Does this sound familiar?

Just like that junk drawer, we have places in our heart where we hide away bits and pieces of the brokenness we have experienced because of multiple sclerosis and other painful life events. It’s messy in there.

I know I stuffed away my own share of hurts, fears and difficulties. Things like the anger I felt because I had to end my career due to my MS progression, the defeat I encountered when I started using a wheelchair, the abandonment I went through due to lost friendships, the fear I experienced because I found I was no longer able to be as independent as I was before MS came along, and the disappointment I felt because I could no longer wear heels. Yes, even my shoe choice was a difficult thing to face.

I kept telling myself I would face those fears, disappointments and pain someday. Someday, I’ll address those things head on. But every time I opened that drawer in my heart, the task seemed too overwhelming, too time consuming, and just plain hard.  So what did I do? I ignored it.

Every once in a while I would forget it was there and accidentally open it up. The emotions would start spilling out and I would shut it as quickly as I could.

“Nope, I’m not dealing with that. I’m not ready,” I would say.

But I knew I needed to take some time to dump everything out, sort through what should stay and what should go, and then take the trash out. It wasn’t easy. I actually think it’s one of the hardest things in life to do, but it was time I let go of the hurts and fears weighing me down.

Today is a new day and you are worth too much to hold onto all those weighty emotions tucked away in your junk drawer. Set some time aside and start clearing out the clutter so you can make room for the beautiful things that you deserve in life. You are worth it.

*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.

Share

This is for the Weary Ones

By Penelope Conway

This is for the weary ones, the tired ones, and the “I can’t go on” ones.

This is for the ones who cry behind closed doors yet muster up a smile to face the day.

This is for the ones who dream of the day multiple sclerosis is cured so they no longer have to deal with doctor appointments, meds, needles, and pain.

This is for the ones who keep going, even when they know they need to stop for a moment to do nothing but chill on the couch with a good book or a marathon of their favorite show on TV.

This is for the ones who long to take a vacation where they are waited on hand and foot; no laundry, no dishes, no vacuuming, no work of any kind.

This is for the ones who get stressed and overwhelmed with the demands a life with multiple sclerosis brings.

This is for the ones who find it hard to keep going, who long for a break, who need time off, and who deal with too much.

This is for you.

You are an amazing, courageous, beautiful person. You are not alone. Take some time to do something just for you. That pile of laundry… let it pile up. It doesn’t matter. Take time for you. Treat yourself to a movie, a night out, a steak dinner, a trip through the park, or a giant slice of chocolate cheesecake. Shake off those negative thoughts that cause you to feel worse than MS could ever make you feel.

Stand outside your situation and, for just a moment, try looking in from the outside. Think about what you would say to someone else standing in your shoes. Would you remind them of their value? Would you tell them to worry less? Would you encourage them to ask for help so they aren’t doing everything alone? Would you show them how to smile through the tears?

You have a mountain in front of you… an Everest. That’s your reality. But no matter how big it may be, it can be climbed. Don’t look at its massive size. Choose instead to take your eyes off of the rock in front of you and look out at the beauty all around. Stop for just a moment and breathe. It takes courage, determination and strength… and you have each one.

So as you climb Mount Everest with your heart pounding in your chest and your knees buckling under you, give yourself one tiny moment to realize just how incredible you really are. You are worth it. You matter!

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (http://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.

Share

Sleep? What’s That?

By Penelope Conway

At the end of an exhausting day yesterday, I collapsed into my bed and tried to sleep. You know, that thing where you curl up, close your eyes, snore and drool? Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me last night. I spent the entire time wide awake through the yawns. A full night of sleep for me is more like a trip to a baseball game on a sold-out night than a trip to a relaxing spa.

Game night goes something like this…

You find your seat and settle in for the game with your team shirt on, a foam finger in one hand and a bag of peanuts in the other. “Play ball”…the game has begun, but since you are in the third seat on your row, everyone has to step over you to get to their seat. Your toes get stepped on by the first person coming by, you get smacked in the head with the next lady’s purse, and elbowed by the person after her.

You endure constant commotion and movement as people carry drinks and food up and down the row. One person even spills part of their drink on you. Then, just as the game is getting good, the person next to you starts talking so loud that you can’t even hear your own thoughts anymore.

You are stuck listening to everything about their job and the problems they are having with their boss…things you didn’t need to know, but now do…and in the process, you miss the epic play of the night. You were there the night a world record was set, but have to watch the replay to find out what really happened. You simply wanted to enjoy the game but it seems like there’s more going on in the stands than on the field.

That about sums up a night of sleep for me with MS: pain, dizziness, breathing difficulties, tossing and turning, muscle spasms, trips to the bathroom, and an overactive brain that won’t shut up. A night of sleep…I wish! Meds do help and for that I’m thankful.

When a friend tries to rationalize or downplay my fatigue, it can hurt. Many times it seems like the more I try to explain how tired my tired is, the more they try to fit it into their little perception box. Understandably so, they aren’t the ones living with it, but sometimes I just wish I could give them a taste of what my fatigue actually feels like. Maybe then they would get it.

I appreciate when a friend asks me to do something, but then is ok if I end up declining their invite because my body is simply too exhausted to function, even if it ends up being a last minute change.

Lately those times happen more times than I like. Sometimes just the thought of having to get myself dressed and looking presentable wears me out. If it’s not messy hair, sweat pants and t-shirt doable, it’s a lot of work.

Those that love me enough to give me the option to choose and then are okay if my decision is different than what they want or planned for, those are some of the most amazing people on the planet. No one should ever have to spend time defending how they feel and why.

The world is buzzing by at a hyper speed and it tries its best to force us to keep up with the pace it sets, but MS has given me a slower pace that requires pit stops and naps. Most of the buzzing about that the world wants us to do isn’t really important anyway.

I choose to hold onto the things that really matter in life like great friends, savory coffee and naps. Yes, naps are my new favorite.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (http://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.

Share

Canceled Plans… Again

canceled-plansBy Penelope Conway

Life was good before multiple sclerosis. I had great friends. We would spend time together on the weekends going out to eat or bowling. In the summer we would plan hiking trips through the mountains and in the winter we would go skiing. When MS became a part of the picture, those nights out and trips dwindled. Eventually I wasn’t even being invited out anymore, they would just go without me. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “I have MS, I didn’t die.”

Amazingly, you discover who your real friends are once MS becomes a part of your life. People will either stand by you and help hold you up when you are at your weakest or they will walk away. If they choose to walk away, let them. You don’t need anyone in your life pulling you down. MS is already doing a pretty good job of that already.

I have days when I find myself dealing with physical symptoms like tremors, pain, weakness, numbness, vision problems, and muscle spasms. Enough to cause me difficulties but not enough to stop me from continuing on in my day. Then there are times when everything become so intense, when the pain and weakness grows so deep, that it bleeds over into every part of my life as it tries to get its grubby little hands on things like my thoughts and emotions.

One thing I have learned over time is that MS is not a disease you can keep to yourself. We try though… don’t we?! I know I do. I try to keep the effects of MS neatly contained in its own little space hoping to shield myself and those around me from its impending destruction, but it seems the more I try to contain it, the more it spills out. It’s kind of like trying to rake the leaves in my yard into a pile on a windy day. What a futile task. No matter how hard I try, they just won’t stay where I put them.

Regardless of what anyone thinks, we need people, especially when living with a chronic illness and even more so at this time of year. It’s a time when the weather is unforgiving, parties don’t cooperate with our MS limitations, and depression has this sneaky little way of creeping into our lives.

It’s amazing the things we have to consider when receiving an invitation. Is the location accessible? Will the wheels on my walker or wheelchair leave wintry slush tracks on someone’s nice carpet? Will my body play nice? Will I be able to manage the crowds and traffic? Will my finances be stretched too thin, above and beyond any past due medical bills? Will fatigue hit hard keeping me from being a part of the fun? Will people understand my decision to go home early or that I had to cancel plans last minute? Will they even invite me in the first place?

Real friends get it, though. I was once told, “You can count your true friends on one hand and sometimes on one finger.” How true is that?

I know it’s not always easy to do, but be determined to fill the days ahead with the warmth of a few close friends. It really does brighten the gloomy winter days. If you can’t get out, invite someone over for a special movie night complete with pizza and popcorn or even Skype with someone you haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes something as simple as a text message back and forth with someone you haven’t heard from in a long time can give you a smile that lasts for days.

From one friend to another: do your best to find joy in the wintry cold mix and always remember just how absolutely, positively, incredibly amazing you are. I sure happen to think so.

*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.

Share

No more stress? Is that even possible?

stress-and-post-its-penelope-cBy Penelope Conway

Stress is not a good combination with Multiple Sclerosis. I hear all the time how stress needs to be limited to keep from triggering an exacerbation, but how do you do that in a world full of “I want it now” people and “it can’t wait” situations?

There are hundreds of lists on the internet explaining what you can do to avoid stress, but listing things out and doing them are two different things. Then if you add MS into the mix of things, it seems an impossibility.

Maybe your day starts something like this…

You wake up in the morning to a busy day planned. You didn’t hear the alarm clock earlier so you are already being rushed to get your day started. It’s early, you’re exhausted and your body isn’t cooperating. You take a shower, and even though you did every cool down technique you know, your body is simply too weak to keep going at the fast pace you have set for yourself.

You take a moment to rest then push on to get dressed so you can get out the door to make up for missed time. All the while, playing through your head is a rundown of everything you must do today. You have lists created, app alarms set on your phone to remind you of your time constraints and post-it notes scattered everywhere.

You do your best to hold back your frustrations but before you have even left the house to begin the day, you are feeling overwhelmed and defeated.  Somehow MS just doesn’t fit into a busy day and somehow you always seem to forget that tiny little fact.

The unexpected happens much more often now that MS is a part of your world. You get tired faster, weak muscles limit your functionality, your vision messes with your ability to complete even the simplest of tasks, dizziness and vertigo trip you up, and your thinking gets all muddled in the process. It’s hard planning for the MS unexpected. I always say a life with multiple sclerosis is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get. (Thanks Forest Gump for the inspiration.)

I have discovered that stress makes you extremely tired and can cause MS to worsen, but it’s stressful to avoid stress so you end up stressed out anyway. It’s really not easy trying to avoid stress. Ugh…just thinking about it is stressing me out.

So how do you fit a life with MS into a stress free list found on the internet? Well, for me that’s an impossibility. It seems MS doesn’t like lists or plans. It kind of has a mind of its own and doesn’t seem to want me to know ahead of time what it has in store for me throughout the day.

When life become overwhelming, and many times even before it gets to that point, I find that I need to take a moment to step back from all my commitments, work, and obligations. I need to take a moment to pause and re-examine everything. Literally.

Is there anything I could change or remove from my day that would help ease the load? Do I really need to vacuum the house today, tomorrow or even next week? If I wait and take a shower before I go to bed rather than when I get up in the morning, will it help? Can I recruit someone to pick up a few things from the store for me so I don’t have to go? Will the world fall apart if the laundry isn’t finished?

You are more important than the chaos that surrounds you and way more important than the stress that it can cause. Work on changing your workload bit by bit, little by little, moment by moment. You won’t be able to quit everything (which I happen to think would be nice to do at times) and you won’t be able to stop the world from spinning out of control, but you can make a positive change in your own life.

Take time to slowly work your way out of those over-commitments by finding others willing to step in and help. You may need to juggle schedules around and say no to people you normally wouldn’t say no to, but in order to simplify your life and relieve the pressures weighting you down, you have to do it. It’s not an option.

Do what you can today and leave the rest for another day. Take one step closer to living stress free, and before you know it you will be enjoying your life….even with Multiple Sclerosis.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (http://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.

Share