An MS Journey

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“A Picture of Health on the Outside”

I was only 25 in 1980 when my MS symptoms started. My career was taking off, I was newly married, and my husband and I were active outdoors doing things like skiing and dirt bike riding. Life was good. But like all newly-diagnosed people with MS, the fear of having the rest of my life ahead of me with a chronic, debilitating, progressive disease with no cure was frightening to say the least.

What kind of life could I expect?

Flash forward to present day, 35 years later. Life has been good despite the challenges of living with MS while also dealing with other challenges in life that “normal” people endure. Adjustments to changes in my life seemed constant, as my MS Blogger Buddy Nicole Lemelle would say, would become “My New Normal.” And I’m currently facing two more…

Truthfully, I hate MS—it’s interfering, unpredictable, and invisible in so many ways. I didn’t have a choice about getting it, but I did have a choice about whether I was going to let it control me or manage my life. It took time, but I learned to manage my MS well. It helped that I am a positive person with an “I can do this” attitude.

Difficult decisions had to be made—giving up my career, having only one child, going on disability, having to move out of my house… It was hard. But amazingly for me, in the end each difficult decision resulted in a good outcome.

I can honestly say that I have, and will continue to have a fulfilling  life with my husband of thirty-seven years and my 32-year old son. Not only have I been an avid swimmer, crafter, and reader for as long as I can remember, my love of history and nature was satisfied after visiting all fifty States, seven countries in Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Many of these trips I made in a wheelchair.

As I journeyed through motherhood, I enjoyed being a soccer mom, wrestling mom, homeroom mother, and a volunteer in my son’s school, church and community. In-between, I learned Spanish and tutored high-schoolers for fifteen years. And I was involved as a volunteer and in other roles in the MS community for the past thirty years. I’m proud to say I authored a book, Managing MS: Straight-Talk…  published in January 2012, and since then learned social media and built a website through which I have interacted within the MS community since.

I have always practiced health and wellness as a critical component of managing my MS and chose my medications carefully. Good sleep, regular fitness, healthy diet choices, stress management… Recently at my annual physical, my doctor said to me “I have good news and I have bad news.”

The good news? Out of all her patients that day, I was the healthiest– perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D, calcium, and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked.

The bad news? I have severe osteoporosis in my hips and osteopenia in my spine—the worse she has ever seen. I had most of the risk factors for it: genetics, years of steroids, being thin, post-menopausal, and little weight-bearing fitness due to being in a wheelchair for fifteen years. The first of two new adjustments that I have to research and work on. This is serious stuff.

When you look at that picture of me, it is a definite portrayal of that old expression that makes all of us with MS cringe: “But you look so good!” You can’t see the osteoporosis, just like you can’t see so many of my MS symptoms. Though I use a scooter or wheelchair because I can’t walk anymore, many folks have asked me if I had an accident. They can’t see the pain, the numbness, weakness, the bladder/bowel problems, or the fatigue and emotional issues that I live with daily.

And now that the new ridiculous TV commercial about Tecfidera is airing, people are getting the misconception that there is a pill—a cure—that Relapsing/Remitting MSers can take that will give them the ability to be active and normal all day long. What a hurtful setback for me and all of the other MS patients that have been trying so hard to get people to understand what MS really is all about.

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                                                     Shame on you, Biogen.

I don’t know. At first I thought that no awareness was better than misleading awareness, but maybe this commercial will stir up the pot and get people talking more about MS.

 

Throughout my entire life, I have always been a doer and a helper with some purpose to serve. Even in the toughest spells throughout my life due to MS or something else, I forged forward to reach out. However, I’ve reached the point where I’m so tired and I hurt almost all the time now. I have been wrestling with this question for a while, “Is it time to quit?” That means the second, big adjustment into unknown territory—true retirement.

 

Actually, I won’t let go of everything completely; I will share and care about MS on a limited basis through my social media sites. But I’ll let the MS blogging be carried on by great, credible others that I got the privilege of knowing from social media and attendance to a MS Blogger Summit sponsored by EMD-Serono/Pfizer:

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MS Bloggers and some Significant-Other Caretakers

   (Sitting, L to R)
Laura Kolaczkowski
Lisa Emrich
Nicole Lemelle,
Lisa Dasis
Yvonne Desousa
Debbie Petrina
(Standing, L to R)
Jon Chandonnet
David Lyons
Stuart Schlossman
Dave Bexfield

There are other great MS bloggers around too, such as those on Multiple Sclerosis.net, that can be trusted to obtain quality MS info, inspiration and education.

Living with MS for 35 years and being involved with the MS community in so many ways teaches a person a lot of things. This is the last page of my practical MS guide book Managing MS: Straight Talk From a 31-Year Survivor that I published in January 2012:

Final Words of Inspiration

September 28, 2011

Life is precious, challenging, and worth getting out of it what you can.
Being a lover of American history, one of the items on my bucket list was to visit the actual trail of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I just returned from an RV road trip with my husband and brother to do this. During the trip, I reflected on the similarities of their journey and life with MS.

When Lewis & Clark began their journey to the Pacific Ocean across the continent, they went into unknown territory. Daily they encountered obstacles in the wilderness they had to overcome, and had to rely heavily on the support of each other/ strangers, their skills, ingenuity, and creativity in order to survive and prevail. The team of thirty-three persons suffered; one died. They experimented. They documented. They learned. They managed and accomplished incredible hardships. There were moments of the deep despair and defeat, and moments of high joy and success.

They found their way. I found my way. You will find your way.

                                                                                       Debbie

www.DebbieMS.com 
Author, MS Counselor/Consultant

 

*Image courtesy of “rakratchada torsap” portfolio at Free DigitalPhotos.net

Learn Quickly about Multiple Sclerosis–All in One Place

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                                        Need Easy and Accurate Direction?

Confused? Afraid? Newly diagnosed? Think you or someone you know might have MS but don’t know where to start? Weird things going on with your body and you don’t know what to do? Your neurologist is not helpful or available? You are lost in cyberspace trying to get info?

Since I have lived with MS since 1980 and have been involved with the MS Community for almost thirty years, I know this disease inside and out. Seeing a great need to have a lot of credible “What-to-know—What to Do” MS information all in one place, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. It now exists, and the positive feedback I have received from people has been equally overwhelming and gratifying.

I can help in two ways:

My Book: Managing MS: Straight Talk From a Thirty-One Year Survivor

I wrote a simplified, practical, all-in-one self-help guidebook for managing and understanding MS to help others dealing with this invisible, unpredictable, disabling disease. Within hours, you will gain knowledge and support so you can take action, which will reduce your fears.

Recently I received this email, one of many:

“OMG what a fantastic book in many ways. I want to give it to everyone I know so that they can understand it from the inside. Your section on invisible symptoms is fantastic. Everyone needs to read this book. Thank you, Debbie.”

Why should someone read THIS book? (Click here)

There are many books about multiple sclerosis; but I like to point out these things about mine:

• I felt it crucial to make it an easy read using a tone, words and expressions that would enable the reader to feel comfortable. Like I am talking at the kitchen table with them. Living with MS is frightening; one of my objectives was to help reduce the fear.

• Living with MS is not easy and is very complicated in many ways: the symptoms, the treatments, the medical professionals, relationships with people, the emotions, and the advancing disabilities. Thus, another objective of mine was to offer guidance and tips for managing these things in a manner that is easy to understand—like an instruction manual. I strived to make it compact, informative, and inspiring.

• This guidebook is a collaboration of both my experiences and those with peers, professionals, and others that I interacted with about MS in for decades.

• My manuscript had been read and endorsed by health care professionals in different fields that I believe lends credibility: An MS specialist neurologist, an internist, a MS physical therapist, and nurses.

• Though I share personal experiences, it is NOT an autobiography, full of medical terminology, nor does it contain the latest breakthrough drug or study.

WHO should read this book? Anyone who might have MS, has been diagnosed with MS, family, friends, or people who deal with MS patients such as doctors/healthcare personnel.

Diane Perry, NPC, AT Consultants in Internal Medicine in Glendale stated:
“As a nurse practitioner, the book opened my eyes to the effects of the disease on my patients’ lives and their needs. This is not a textbook read.”

Carol Daily, CRNP MSN, in her review said “This book should be given to every person having MS, I encourage any MS organization, medical staff, family or friend to do so and to read it also, especially the medical staff, (so you guys can give better advice).”

I encourage you to check out reviews on Amazon.

My Website DebbieMS: A Wealth of Info in One Place

I counsel, write, educate, research, and advocate awareness/understanding of MS through my website www.DebbieMS.com and other social media. In addition to info about my book Managing MS: Straight Talk…, the website includes my background/credentials, self-help/educational videos on a wide variety of topics, links to my 80+ MS Blog articles, an extensive list of helpful resources/articles, and other activities I engage in to help persons dealing with MS.

I continue to add to it, and especially use twitter and various MS Facebook group sites to share current research and developments about MS on an ongoing basis. People can also write to me through my site and ask me anything.

Please go to my website and check it all out. You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain!

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

 

**Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Explaining MS Fatigue

November 6, 2014

Ninety percent of patients with MS suffer with fatigue. Fatigue is an extremely debilitating MS symptom and difficult to manage.

MS fatigue is more than being tired from a lack of sleep or a very busy day. It is a direct result of the disease itself, and is easily intensified by the other MS symptoms (such as extra energy required to walk), external factors (such as heat or dehydration), and health issues (such as colds/viruses, being overweight…).

Being an invisible symptom, fatigue is hard for people without MS to be aware of it, understand it, and realize the severe limitations it can impose on MSers.
I started an MS group discussion on LinkIn entitled “How do/would you explain your MS fatigue to people to try to make them understand it?” Over fifty comments were received to date, and here are some of the comments:

“I tell people that it is like the exhaustion you get when you have the flu- only multiplied by 20 and NEVER goes away…”

“I heard it explained once and it seemed exactly right. MS fatigue is using every ounce of energy in your body just to breathe.”

“Add 5 lbs. weights to both biceps, forearms, calves, thighs…etc.”

“There is no way to explain it properly. Everyone still thinks it’s just plain tiredness. They don’t get that fatigue is totally different. I once said “when I am fatigued and am in bed, sometimes I feel that peeing the bed is my only option.”

“I ask them to imagine they are coming down with a flu/cold, then recall how tired they are.”

“There is no explaining to others why my body needs to sleep when I have only been awake a short bit.”

“I liken it to hitting a brick wall so hard that you don’t bounce back but instead just slide to the ground and not able to pick myself back up.”

“People just don’t ‘get’ the difference between extreme fatigue and general tiredness – some think they are feeling the same as you are but they don’t know the half of it!!”

“Thank you guys so much for this discussion! I hear all the time “Well, I have trouble sleeping too… maybe you should just go to bed earlier.”Errrrgh! It’s not like that people!

“I tell them that my best day fatigued (tired) is like their worst day. Then they seem to get it.”

The truth is, most people don’t get it. But the upside is that our neurologists and peers DO get it, and that’s where we can get our comfort. And fortunately, fatigue is a symptom that is finally recognized by Social Security when applying for disability benefits.

For those that don’t get it, you can try handing them a copy of this post or a previous post of mine entitled “Fatigue and MS”. It never hurts to try.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Important Things Others Should Know about Chronically ill People

“An Educating Tool”

I was in the middle of writing a blog about what folks with MS really need from others when I came across this pin I found on Pinterest. What an extraordinary pin to share with my peers!

Because I still look so good after all these years and rarely complain, people around me sometimes still don’t seem to understand my difficulties since MS is invisible, unpredictable, and interfering. And it is probably because I am so good at the way I manage this disease, despite the fact that I use a wheelchair. I make it look so easy, when the truth is, it can be a real bitch.

For people who are just learning about how to live with a person with MS or who is chronically ill, a copy of this will be a good, educating tool.

“People with chronic pain and illness want everyone in their lives
to know these important things about them…”


1. Don’t be upset if I seem on edge. I do the best I can every day to be “normal”. I’m exhausted and sometimes I snap.

2. I find it very hard to concentrate at time for a lot reasons. Pain, drugs, lack of sleep… I’m sorry if I lose focus.

3. Letting my loved ones and friends down by cancelling plans is heartbreaking to me. I want more than anything to be as active as you and do the things I used to do.

4. My health can change daily. Sometimes hourly. There are a lot of reasons this happens. Weather, stress, flare-ups…I can assure you that I hate it as much as you do.

5. I don’t like to whine. I don’t like to complain. Sometimes I just need to vent. When this happens, I am not asking for pity or attention. I just need an ear to bend and a hand to hold.

6. During rough times, I find it hard to describe how bad it is. When I say “I’m fine” and you know I am not, it’s okay to ask questions. Just be prepared if the flood gates open because “I’m fine” is often code for “I’m trying to hold it together, but having a rough time. I’m on the edge.”

7. If I am hurting bad enough to tell you about it without being asked, please know that it’s REALLY bad.

8. When you reach out to me with suggestions to help me feel better, I know that you mean well. If it was as simple as popping a new pill, eating differently or trying a different doctor, I’ve most likely already tried it and was disappointed.

9. All I truly want from you is friendship, love, support and understanding. It means everything to me.

10. When someone gives me a pep talk, I understand the sentiment. Chronic illness just doesn’t go away. I wish it did, too! I appreciate your wanting the best for me, but save the pep talk for the gym or the kids’ next volleyball game.

11. It hurts worse than you can possibly imagine when I’m thought of as lazy, unreliable, or selfish. Nothing is further from the truth.

12. I do a lot of silly things to distract myself because any part of my life not consumed with pain is a good part.

13. The simplest tasks can completely drain me. Please know that I do the best I can every day with what I have.

14. Come to me with any questions you may have about my condition. I love you and would much rather tell you about this face to face without judgment.

After all these years I have lived with MS, I may put this on my refrigerator at times; or give a copy of this to the forgetful numbskull or the insensitive ostrich that has their head in the sand! (Yes, I think we all have a person or two like this in our lives.) And, the next time someone says “What’s wrong with you?!” I think I will tell them to read #___.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

MS and Your Relationships

“Strategies & Tips”

On February 15th, I facilitated a workshop entitled “MS and Your Relationships” in Phoenix. The workshop was part of Genzyme’s One Day for Every Day Event. This is a summary of that workshop, as I want to share this information with a larger audience.

I began by telling the attendees that a one-hour timeframe was not enough for this big, important subject. It’s bad enough that everything about MS is complex, from the diagnosis to the symptoms; after all, the nervous system is involved. But people are highly complex too because of their thoughts and emotions. So when you put the two subjects together—yikes!!

Just about everyone in the room with MS was there with someone else—either a spouse, sibling or friend. This was good because everyone living with the MSer is also living with MS. And that goes beyond the immediate family.

My presentation was to discuss communication strategies and tips to create a foundation of open and honest communication. I adjusted this goal to first, make the group interactive, and second, address two other critical aspects of relationships: support and knowledge.

• Support and knowledge reduce the fear one has with an MS diagnosis. The more you have of both, the better chance you have to survive this disease. One has to be careful though where one gets the knowledge since because of social media, there is much information available today that can be overwhelming and inaccurate.

• Since MS is still a lifetime illness, knowledge and support will change many times as time marches on due to disease progression and lifetime changes that will occur.

• Everyone in the room needs it; everyone outside the room needs it. What is NOT a strategy? Doing nothing—doing no communicating, obtaining no knowledge, getting no support. Anyone dealing with MS will not survive it if none of these are done.

Who are the relationships the person with MS interacts with? What do we say to whom? Who do need support from?

• Family: partners, children, parents, siblings (Needs communication at appropriate level; “show & tell” is a great game to play to help a non-MSer understand invisible symptoms. For example, have men walk in spike heels to understand balance issues; put 10-lb, weights around ankles to experience walking heaviness and fatigue; put a knit glove on a person and have them find objects in a purse like tissue, quarters, etc.)

• Friends (How much you share depends on depth/closeness of friends.)

• Workplace people: boss, colleagues, human resources (very subjective area—many reasons to disclose or not to disclose)

What groups were missing from the power point slide in the presentation that are just as important?

• Peers (They are a lifeline for both MSers and non-MSers—someone you can easily relate to because they are “in your shoes.”)

• Healthcare team (Make sure all of them understand and have experience with persons with MS!  For example, a physical therapist needs to understand the effects of heat and fatigue of MS. Also, you need to like and trust your neurologist; if you don’t, fire him/her and get another one, as this is a lifetime, crucial relationship.)

• Strangers (I have had to ask strangers for help many times since I had mobility problems since my early years. For example, helping me reach something in a grocery store, or assisting me in a dressing room. People in general–in all of the above groups too–like and want to help. It makes them feel good, and they hate to see someone struggle. Personally, I will let people help even if I don’t necessarily need it!)

• Pets (Wow—they understand/comfort us the most, don’t they?!)

I had all eyes on me from my audience, and many nods or claps. It was interesting to see hands go up when I asked how many felt they needed better support in various groups or who didn’t like their neurologist.

Talk is good, even if it doesn’t solve anything. It feels good to get things off our chest. I have an old MS buddy who called me recently and asked, “Can you talk to me? Is this a good time?” But if there is someone like a stranger or a fellow employee who asks you something that you don’t want to talk about, just simply say: “It’s a long story…”

Venting is also good, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. For example, when I get stressed out or frustrated, I cry or call a close friend of mine who is a peer. My husband on the other hand will yell or throw things in an un-harmful way. We go our separate ways to vent because I don’t like his yelling, and he doesn’t like my crying. When the steam is released from the pressure cooker, everything calms down. Holding things inside without a release is dangerously stressful, and we all know how stress negatively affects MS.

What if the people we need to talk with will not communicate or talk? Then it is essential to find someone who will…

In the beginning of my MS, my family was in denial. I went straight to the local chapter of the National MS Society to get literature and meet others who had MS. Later, when both my husband and my mother wouldn’t talk to me about my MS, I went to a therapist who understood MS to help myself deal with these two close people in my life. Years later, I went to a therapist again when deciding whether to give up my career. My MS was aggressive and it was progressing rapidly.

There’s no question that people living with a person with a chronic illness such as MS, is also living with it too. While open communication is essential for all involved, it unfortunately doesn’t always happen effectively without having an “outside” person/s involved. Perceptions are different, emotions are involved, and more often than not, negative consequences result. Ideally, partner/family counseling is essential in most cases.

Realistically, there are obstacles with professional counseling. The first is that many people–whether they have the illness or not–do not want to go to counseling. This was the case in my own personal situation and though I pleaded with my family to go, it didn’t happen. So I went to counseling on my own and fortunately, it helped me tremendously to figure out how to handle my family relationships and how and where I could get support that I needed. Secondly, I believe it is imperative that a good, reputable therapist who UNDERSTANDS MS is found. MS is complicated in many ways, is generally progressive, and currently lasts a lifetime. Finally, many people unfortunately cannot afford therapy; however, many county health departments have resources available for financially strapped people.

So what are strategies to foster healthy communication?

• Should you always be honest about your feelings? When I asked everyone in the room if they were ever dishonest about their feelings, every single hand went up! It obviously is a judgment call, depending upon the people involved, and their personalities. With your healthcare team, you need to be honest. With everyone else, the group agreed that you can’t be a constant complainer or whiner. Be selective with whom you are comfortable with and trust to discuss your concerns, problems, fears, etc.

• Keep a journal about important things that need to be communicated, whether it is info to discuss with your doctor, modifications that need to be made at work, or just notes about what you want to talk about.

• Pick an appropriate time and place for a discussion. Trying to talk when one is tired, hungry, or stressed out will be a disaster. Try to be in a relaxed frame of mind, when interruptions will not occur.

• Be respectful of what the other person is saying—this is a two-way conversation. Actively listen to each other, and avoid accusations, finger pointing, name calling, yelling, etc. How and what we say matters, as well as the tone that we use. Avoid negativity.

• Two-thirds of communication occurs through body language. Your posture, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. speaks volumes. When someone rolls their eyes or points a finger at you, what does that indicate?

• Ask for help and ask to help. People want to help, and people need help. Be explicit or give examples when talking about this to help clarify your statements. Ask questions and share perspectives. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And remember—none of us are mind readers. Not only are you communicating here, you are educating.

• Everyone should show and express their gratitude often. Give complements.

• A hug, kiss or smile goes a long way.

• From experience, I believe that we MSers set the tone and comfort level. If we are relaxed and open, the other person will be too.

• My personal advice to all: show and give empathy, not sympathy.

• Use humor when appropriate. Many times, the subject being discussed can be very sensitive and not funny at all. Or, it is hard to be humorous when you are not feeling well.

• Avoid arguing and be patient. If an argument develops or patience is lost, quit the discussion and regroup later.

• Always try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Well we ran over our one-hour timeframe, which was no surprise. But it was a start, and I always say that “Getting started with anything is the hard part.” Now everyone has a framework or some ground rules they can try to use to enhance their communication, support and knowledge.

At the conclusion, I gave everyone a copy of a previous blog that I had written entitled “MSers and Their Loved Ones.” http://debbiepetrina.authorsxpress.com/?p=61

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor/Living with MS

Please visit my website for more articles, videos, my book, MS information and resources.

 


Tell Jack Osbourne: We Need You After DWTS

“Be our Jerry Lewis?”

November 20, 2013

As I listened to Jack Osbourne talk frankly about his MS on Dancing with the Stars Monday night, I made a wish. I wished Jack would be an ongoing voice for the multiple sclerosis community after the program concludes. He has created awareness of MS and has inspired so many these past couple of months; however, when the show is over, I don’t want the buzz he is creating to be forgotten.

We have needed a well-known person that could do the same thing for multiple sclerosis that Jerry Lewis did for years with representing and fundraising for muscular dystrophy. But Jack could do even more in a different way, because Jack, unlike Jerry, lives with MS. He is one of us which makes him credible. And people like Jack.

I have been very involved with the MS community since my own diagnosis in the early 1980’s. While research has intensified and MS awareness has increased since then, a basic understanding of what MS really is still critically needed and equally important:

MS is an unpredictable, invisible, interfering, often disabling neurological disorder that has no cure and isn’t fatal or contagious. One that impacts millions of people, lasts a lifetime, and has immense costs associated with it for every citizen of the country.

It is amazing how many persons—even health professionals like nurses, GP’s—who don’t really understand what MS is. (Yes!—I actually gave a presentation about MS to an ER staff of fifty at a local hospital this summer.) There are many misconceptions about MS. (No!—20% end up in a wheelchair, not 100%.) And those of us dealing with this neurological disorder feel misunderstood, ignored, and forgotten. We feel this way because we know:

• On the outside so many of us look good unless we have some kind of walking aid to indicate otherwise. We’re not bleeding, we have good color in our faces, and we are not coughing or blowing our noses. When we look good, people automatically assume that we are good.

• Very often we are not good because so many of the symptoms are invisible. Pain, tingling, numbness, fatigue, dizziness, tightness, depression, blurry vision, balance, coordination—the list is endless. These symptoms interfere with everything we think, say or do. They are annoying; they hurt; they are frustrating; and they make us crabby. These symptoms are very disabling.

• Invisible symptoms are difficult to describe, and when we tell someone about them it’s hard for them to understand or empathize. Sometimes we use examples like “When I walk, it feels like I have a ten-pound weight on my ankle”, “It’s like when your arm falls asleep but never wakes up” or “My hands look normal, but I can’t button buttons.”

Jack “looked so good” dancing on the show. But then he talked about how his MS unpredictably acted up this past week, how it interfered with rehearsals, and what invisible symptoms he was experiencing (vision, fatigue, shooting pain in his limbs). With the intense stress with the finals in the competition, he is uncertain what will happen down the road with his health. It’s not like having a sprained ankle that will mend after it gets iced, wrapped, treated and rested.

We all know that to survive MS, a tremendous amount of support is necessary, and not only from family and friends. Physical, mental, emotional and financial support. Support for us individually due the difficulties and disabilities we live with; support for the MS community as a whole financially–to fund research for curing MS, preventing MS, and restoring lost function due to its damaging effects; and support for other programs such as social security disability.

People not understanding what MS is all about hinders the support that we need. MSers can learn to effectively “manage” their illness, not just “battle” it.

There are so many of us out there walking, biking, blogging and volunteering in countless ways to overcome our obstacles caused by MS. But it just hasn’t been enough, fast enough, or unified enough. Increased education and advocacy led by Jack Osbourne—such as hosting an annual united event–would enhance our goals exponentially.

What do you think? Will you ask Jack Osbourne to stay in the forefront and be our MS spokesperson? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

www.DebbieMS.com

Fatigue & MS

“What it is—What to do”

“People look at me and just cannot understand why I get so tired.” (MSer comment, March 2011) This is a quotation I used in a chapter about fatigue in my book, Managing MS: Straight Talk….”

During a brief conversation with my sister last night, she remarked that she had no energy, she couldn’t think clearly, and all she wanted to do was lie down because she felt so exhausted. She has a virus. I got it—I knew exactly how she felt.

I often describe MS fatigue to people that it is like having a cold or virus—that you feel so exhausted all you want to do is lie down. Out of all the symptoms I and others have experienced with MS over all these years, I truly believe this is the one symptom that is the most difficult one for everyone involved to understand and know what to do about it.

But fatigue is extremely difficult for a non-MSer to understand because you can’t always see it—there is no stuffed up nose, swollen eyes, or sneezing. Or, someone may say “you look tired, maybe you should take a nap.” Okay, a nap may help, but fatigue isn’t only due to being sleepy.

It doesn’t matter if the MS case is mild or advanced. It doesn’t matter if one had a good night sleep or if the MS is not currently active. Fatigue is almost always present with MS, 24/7. Why? Fatigue exists because it is caused by MS–a disease, a chronic illness–and it causes other symptoms such is walking problems to intensify.

Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of MS. It is a universal complaint by 80–90% of MS patients. And it is finally being recognized as a serious obstacle for employment by the Social Security Administration when applying for disability benefits.

• A MSer will get fatigued easily, whether other symptoms are present or not. Simple activities like making dinner or talking on the phone too long can be exhausting. The slightest thing can make it worse, such as not eating, drinking enough fluids, or being overheated.

• Fatigue is compounding and escalates quickly if MS becomes active due to a relapse, or the amount of disability has increased over time. For example, sleep disturbances due to bladder problems at night, or extra effort required to walk because of spasticity or other gait problems, will impact fatigue significantly. Energy is reduced, weakness increases. This causes stress, frustration, and depression that will then lead to even greater fatigue.

• Fatigue is often caused by medications taken for other MS symptoms.

Often we can combat fatigue by pacing our activities, taking frequent rests, or letting others do things for us. Yesterday I came across an article entitled What You Can Do About Fatigue From MS, and is worth a read. It is from a blog I subscribe to called Stu’s Views & M.S. News; the source of this article was WebMD. Here’s the link http://bit.ly/Wrk8M9 .

There ARE many ways we can help to manage fatigue, and even if some do not work, other things may. At least we can try and keep on hoping.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Multiple Sclerosis: What EVERYONE Needs to Know

“People just don’t know about it.”

October 22, 2012

There are two things many people say that irks those of us that have Multiple Sclerosis:

  1. “It’s that Jerry Lewis thing, isn’t it?”
  2. “But you look so good!”

No, it’s NOT that Jerry Lewis thing.  Jerry Lewis represents MD—Muscular Dystrophy.  MS stands for Multiple Sclerosis. Two extremely different disorders.  As we MSers talk to each other, we get discouraged that MD has had a national figure representing and fundraising for them.  We wish we had a national well-known person that could do the same thing for multiple sclerosis. 

So many people are not aware of MS.

Nor do they understand it.

If people really understood MS, they would know not to say “But you look so good!”  We would like to respond back “Thanks, but we sure don’t feel as good as we look!”  Why?  Because multiple sclerosis is largely an invisible disorder.  People automatically associate MS with walking problems and wheelchairs.

Being a disease of the central nervous system, potentially anything controlled by the CNS can be affected:  sensory functions, sight, cognitive/emotional functions—in addition to motor functions. These MS symptoms are not only invisible; they are extremely common and very disabling. Some examples include fatigue, weakness, bladder/bowel/sexual problems, numbness and tingling sensations, loss of sensation, balance/coordination issues, loss of vision, pain, dizziness, depression; the list is enormous.

Someone who understands MS would also know the detrimental effect any type of heat has on a MSer, whether it’s from the temperature, a fever, the time of day or a hot flash.  Or that staggered walking is not from too many drinks, but rather from a loss of balance/coordination due to damage in the brain.

Also, since many symptoms are invisible, many people do not realize that someone may have MS.  Or, because they don’t see a cane, brace, or other disability device, it is assumed that a MSer is okay.  It is hurtful to get dirty looks and remarks when a “normal-looking” person with MS gets out of the car in a handicapped space; their ability to walk before their legs start to wobble may be just ten minutes or 100 steps.

So, both awareness and understanding are needed.  To survive MS, we need a tremendous amount of support, not only from our friends and family, but from everybody.  Physical, mental, emotional and financial support.  Support for us individually due the difficulties and disabilities we live with; and support for the MS community as a whole financially–to fund research for curing MS, preventing MS, and restoring lost function due to its damaging effects.

I started an Orange Ribbon campaign recently with the Arizona Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  We MSers and some of our friends and families have just about finished 5,500 orange ribbon pins that represent multiple sclerosis (like the pink ones that stand for breast cancer).  Our goal is to have them ready for distribution at the Phoenix MS Walk on November 3rd.

We want to create more awareness, and when strangers ask us “what’s that orange ribbon for?” we will explain MS.  We will be advocators and educators.

So if you see someone wearing an orange ribbon on their lapel or shirt, it means either they have MS or someone that they know has MS.  We make them ourselves using orange satin floral ribbon and safety pins. 

During one of our ribbon-making sessions, a woman asked “What do you say when someone asks what MS is?  It is complicated and difficult to explain.”  Keeping it simple and uncomplicated, I would suggest this:

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is disease of the central nervous system. Potentially anything controlled by the CNS can be affected–such as motor function, sensory function, sight, or cognitive/emotional functions.  Many symptoms are invisible, so many people don’t know someone has MS. (Examples: fatigue, weakness, bladder problems, numbness/tingling, pain…)

It is not fatal, contagious, or congenital.  There is no cure; the cause is unknown.  It is generally progressive.  The majority of persons afflicted will become disabled during the decades of their lifetime with no way to fix the damage. 

Every case of MS is different, unpredictable, and very uncontrollable. It is unknown what course the disease will take, what will be affected, how quickly it will happen, and how much disability will occur.  

There are new drugs that are trying to slow the progression, and meds to help relieve symptoms and shorten relapses. Nothing is available yet to prevent MS or restore lost functions resulting from its damaging effects.  However, there are many things one can learn to manage living with it.

We at the Arizona Chapter of the NMSS are starting to hand out copies of this brief description of MS to people we meet that do not know about multiple sclerosis.  We are going to encourage other MS groups and organizations to do the same.

We need help, and we certainly need a cure.

www.DebbieMS.com

 

 

MS: Invisible Symptoms & Fatigue

“But you look so good!”

September 4, 2012

I was invited to be a guest on a radio talk show to discuss multiple sclerosis and living with it. This was the first time I ever did a radio talk show, so I was a bit nervous. There was no audience to speak to directly, and I had to keep in mind newly learned instructions about cues, minutes, red lights, etc. so at times it was a challenge to stay focused.

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. When the show was over, which flew by quickly, I was dissatisfied with myself that I did not give adequate attention to fatigue and those invisible symptoms during the discussion.

When someone looks at me, I look terrific and normal even though I am sitting in a scooter. A guy in the studio was shocked when I told him I couldn’t walk at all. It got me thinking that when it comes to a person with MS being disabled, the impression is that “you don’t look disabled” which then sometimes implies why are you on disability?

After returning home and thinking about this, I took out my webcam and created a video about how disabling fatigue and other invisible symptoms are. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnd1MrkH0vE&feature=plcp  It shows my true colors at a down moment—quite a contrast from my usual upbeat self.

In an earlier column, (April 30th) I talked about invisible symptoms. It’s worth repeating parts of it again:

On the outside so many of us look good unless we have some kind of walking aid to indicate otherwise. We’re not bleeding, we have good color in our faces, and we are not coughing or blowing our noses. When we look good, people automatically assume that we are good. I’m in a wheelchair, but I still look good and completely normal. If I would use a store’s scooter instead of my own, I would get dirty looks. I’m misunderstood.

But very often we are not good because so many of the symptoms are invisible. Pain, tingling, numbness, fatigue, dizziness, tightness, depression, blurry vision, balance, coordination—the list is endless. These symptoms interfere with everything we think, say or do. They are annoying; they hurt; they are frustrating; and they make us crabby. For persons with MS that do or do not show visible impairment or walking aids, these symptoms are very disabling.

Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of MS. It is a universal complaint by over 90% of MS victims. It doesn’t matter if the case is mild or advanced. It doesn’t matter if one had a good night sleep or if the MS is not currently active. Fatigue is always present with MS, 24/7. Why? Fatigue exists because MS is a disease, a chronic illness that causes other symptoms such is walking problems to intensify. Constant fatigue leads to our moodiness or depression. Often we can combat fatigue by pacing our activities, taking frequent rests, or letting others do things for us. But it doesn’t always work.

MS is an unpredictable neurological disorder. New symptoms can appear and existing symptoms can intensify when we least expect it. We never know how long these disturbances will last, how severe they will become, or if they will go away. A new symptom that doesn’t go away requires an adjustment to accepting it and learning how to live with it.

We live a life of uncertainly.

www.DebbieMS.com

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

“The Misunderstood, Ignored, and Forgotten Disease”

April 30, 2012

I recently asked the question “How do people without MS react to you?” to an MS discussion group I belong to.  Their responses?  The same I have been hearing for decades:  We feel misunderstood, ignored, and forgotten by so many people.

Why do we feel this way? 

First, on the outside so many of us look good unless we have some kind of walking aid to indicate otherwise.  We’re not bleeding, we have good color in our faces, and we are not coughing or blowing our noses.  When we look good, people automatically assume that we are good.  I’m in a wheelchair, but I still look good and completely normal.  If I would use a store’s scooter instead of my own, I would get dirty looks.  I’m misunderstood.

But very often we are not good because so many of the symptoms are invisible.  Pain, tingling, numbness, fatigue, dizziness, tightness, depression, blurry vision, balance, coordination—the list is endless.  These symptoms interfere with everything we think, say or do.  They are annoying; they hurt; they are frustrating; and they make us crabby. For persons with MS that do or do not show visible impairment or walking aids, these symptoms are very disabling.

Invisible symptoms are difficult to describe, and when we tell someone about them it’s hard for them to understand or empathize.   Sometimes we use examples like “When I walk, it feels like I have a ten-pound weight on my ankle”, “It’s like when your arm falls asleep but never wakes up” or “My hands look normal, but I can’t button buttons.”

When we see these same people again, they forget that we have these symptoms because they are invisible.  If we talk about them, we sound like complainers.  Unless we complain about these things often, who would know we have these problems or that they continue to plague us?  And who wants a complainer around all of the time?

Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of MS.  It is a universal complaint by over 90% of MS victims.  It doesn’t matter if the case is mild or advanced.  It doesn’t matter if one had a good night sleep or if the MS is not currently active. Fatigue is always present with MS, 24/7.  Why?  Fatigue exists because MS is a disease, a chronic illness, that causes other symptoms such is walking problems to intensify.  Constant fatigue leads to our moodiness or depression.  So when somebody suggests we need to get out and take our mind of things, they truly don’t understand why a couch or bed is more desirable to us.

Many times people without MS are uncomfortable around us because they don’t know what to say or do.  Or because of our moods or a previous bad experience, they are unsure what kind of a response they will receive.  Others just can’t deal with it perhaps because of personal feelings like guilt. Therefore it is often easier for them to just ignore it.

Now this can create a catch-22 situation.  MSers don’t want to complain about it; and non-MSers forget/ ignore the MS or say something that clearly indicates their misunderstanding of it.  Here’s an example of a personal experience:

I’ve lived with MS over thirty years, and my 80-year old mother will still tell me about all of her senior buddies who get out there and bowl and do all sorts of things despite them being in a cast or using a cane.  Or, how she has to get up every night now to pee because “that’s what happens when you get to be my age.”

Well, mom (I think to myself), I have been getting up every night to pee for the last twenty-five years.  In fact, I have had the problems of an 80-year for the last three decades of my life and I am only 57.  Did you lose your ability to have an orgasm at the age of thirty?  And, at least that guy in the leg cast will get it off in a month.  With regard to bowling, I haven’t been able to bowl since I was thirty and not only because I was using a cane.  With my fatigue, balance, and coordination problems, I would have fallen on my butt every time I threw the dang ball.

Then there are the countless misconceptions because of lack of understanding.  “If you had your leg removed and got a prosthesis maybe you would walk again.”  “Did you ever look into surgery on your spinal column?”  Uh, hello…we’re talking the entire central nervous system here!  I actually responded once that “a new brain and spinal cord transplant may help but they haven’t figured out how to do that yet.”

Finally, many of us with MS feel that the news media never give enough attention to MS like they do with cancers, heart, arthritis, etc.  Or if they do, it is usually done with snippets that really create more misunderstanding than understanding of it.  I bet if they understood MS better they would find plenty of interesting stuff to write or talk about.  Or if they talk to any of the half million people and their families in the US that have MS, a really good TV drama series could be launched.

So, what can we do about it?

We need to be educators, communicators and advocates to everybody, everywhere—beginning with the basic question and a simplified, clear answer.  Forget the boring textbook medical details.  Something like this:

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.  That means that potentially anything controlled by the CNS can be affected–such as motor function, sensory function, sight, or cognitive/emotional functions.

It is not fatal, contagious, or congenital.  There is no cure; the cause is unknown. It is generally progressive.  That means that because there is no cure, the majority of persons afflicted (2.5+ million worldwide) will become disabled during the decades of their lifetime with no way to fix the damage.  Current estimates are that 20-25% will end up in a wheelchair.

From the day those of us received our diagnosis, we have no idea what course our disease will take.  What will be affected, in what way or how rapidly will we be affected, and how disabled will we become? MS is unpredictable and uncontrollable; the losses never stop, the grieving process never ends.

There are new drugs that are trying to slow the progression, and meds to help with relieving symptoms and shortening relapses.  But they all have side effects. Nothing is available yet to prevent MS or restore most function lost resulting from its damaging effects.  However, there are many things one can do to manage it effectively.

Peer-to-peer, we understand it, share our stories and how we cope with MS. We count on our peers, close family/friends and MS organizations for knowledge and support to help us manage it during our lifetime.

But we would like more.  We want everyone to know and understand what MS is all about, not just be aware of MS being something that people walk for or bike for.  The more people that UNDERSTAND multiple sclerosis, the less we with MS feel we’ll be misunderstood, ignored and forgotten.

Let’s all get started now:  hand, send or post this article to everyone you know.  Do it today!

www.debbiems.com