When MS Gets the Upper hand

No matter how hard you try, staying strong isn’t always an option. Sometimes the disease and everything that goes with it just overwhelms you and you break down. You try to bottle things up, deal with them as best you can, but, every now and then it becomes too much. It feels like a heavy burden is weighing on your chest. It’s not that you want to give up or give in; it’s just that your body, physically and emotionally, can’t take anymore.

Multiple Sclerosis sickens me, literally. I find that one of the most difficult parts about this disease is its invisibility. Although you can’t tell the uproar that my body is going through, I most certainly can feel it. Yes, it makes things easier to hide and to pretend that everything is okay, but, it also leads to people questioning your credibility. “Does she really have a headache?” “She can’t be dizzy again.” “She hardly feels that all the time.” “No one is always that tired.” If only you knew, if only you had an iota of how MS makes me feel. Some days I can go about my business and give the impression that I’m “normal”, but, then I go through a phase where Multiple Sclerosis takes over and there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t speak for everyone with this disease, but for me, these phases are hard, disheartening and soul crushing.

There are times when MS breaks you down physically. You’ve used up all of your energy and now you have to stop everything and charge yourself up for the next few weeks. That’s what it feels like for me. At the start my energy levels are at about 90% (I don’t think I’ve ever seen 100%!). They decrease every day; some days use up more energy than others. No matter how much I sleep or rest those levels never increase significantly. Being tired the majority of the time is something one can never get used to. Especially with MS related fatigue. One minute my energy levels are at 85% and without warning they crash down to the mid-forties. Imagine trying to charge your phone or laptop off of thin air, that’s what sleep and rest feels like for me. I begin to slow down, thoughts become sluggish, concentration is near impossible, and movement requires more and more effort. Doing nothing merely drains the life from my battery. It’s physically exhausting.

As you can imagine, when you are physically drained you start to get annoyed because you can’t always do the simple things. Tying your shoe laces is like running a marathon, keeping your eyes open is like a game of tug-of-war between your upper and lower eyelids. It gets irritating when you think about how people are deceived into the idea that patients with MS can “live a normal life”. Enlighten me, how is fighting with your own body normal? You go through stages. You start off determined not to let this disease stop you from doing what you want to do. Then you have to slow down, but, you’re still adamant on doing as much as you can to the best of your abilities. Once this phase is over you feel your motivation decreasing, you’re emotionally shattered from trying to cheer yourself on and not give in to the illness. By now the disease is winning. You feel defeated and pathetic. “Why can everyone else do this but I can’t?” “If it wasn’t for MS I would be able to take the stairs.” “If it wasn’t for MS I would be able to drive to the shop.” “If it wasn’t for MS I would be able to hang out with my friends without having to cancel or back out at the last minute.” “If it wasn’t for MS people wouldn’t pity me.”

Multiple Sclerosis preys on your emotional stability, or lack thereof. Once your battery is completely dead there is nothing more you can do. You give in. You let the illness take over. You feel miserable, physically, mentally and emotionally. It all becomes too much for you to handle. The fatigue, the special treatment, the heat intolerance, the emotional mayhem, the dizzy spells, the blurred vision, the spasticity, I could go on and on. They all build up like water behind a dam. When there is too much pressure on the dam, cracks begin to appear. As time goes on those cracks get bigger leading to holes. Sure enough those holes lead to the dam’s demise. It collapses and suffocates under the immense force of the water.

Having MS is not easy. I wasn’t told otherwise. That being said, I wasn’t warned about the vast struggle that I would have to face either. People forget that I have Multiple Sclerosis because I can do “normal” things. They’re not normal for me; I can’t go as fast or work as hard. I can’t make plans too far into the future in fear of having some sort of a flare up. You get tired of feeling tired all of the time. You feel sickened by the fact that MS singles you out and makes a show of you when you’re at your most vulnerable. It grabs a hold of your heart and squeezes it tight, reminding you that MS has not left and will not be leaving anytime soon.

I’m all for positivity and not letting MS get the better of me, for too long anyway. Sometimes that’s a lot easier said than done though. Sometimes MS wins. Sometimes you have to let it take over, so that you can try your best to recharge your batteries and give MS a run for its money. Or myelin (horrible joke..). Usually after this awful phase I’m back up on my feet, gloves on, ready to kick MS’s ass and put it back in its place. Unfortunately, you have to go through hell first.

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MS and Normality

They say that people with MS can live a “normal life”. I have been diagnosed almost 2 years and I disagree with that statement. If by “normal” they mean “restricted”, then sure, you can live said life. Yes, for the most part I am able to do what any other “normal”person can do, but, my abilities are restricted. It’s the simple little things that build up after a while and you start to feel frustrated and not so “normal”.

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I along with 80% of MSers struggle with fatigue. Click here to read my blog on fatigue. This is definitely the most frustrating symptom to live with. Being so tired a lot of the time is far from “normal”. I could wake up a little sleepy, who doesn’t? But, all of a sudden when I get downstairs my energy is zapped! My legs feel heavy, my eyes won’t stay open and I have no enthusiasm or interest in doing anything. Just like that, I’m as good as a vegetable. Now, imagine that I have plans to go to a concert. I have been looking forward to this event for months. I feel like a dead weight and I’m supposed to drive an hour up the road to see this gig. How sh*t is that? I’m sure you understand how utterly infuriating that is!

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Another thing that makes me feel different is when I go to the gym. I have different exercises that I do because my body isn’t able to do the regular ones. I know that its great being able to go to the gym full stop, but, when your programme has to be changed because your balance isn’t great or you get tired much faster than everyone else; it’s a bit of a kick up the hole. I need a fan on me for the majority of the time because I suffer from heat intolerance. Meaning, symptoms can appear while my body is over heated. I usually get dizzy, my vision gets blurry and every ounce of energy get sucked out of me like a vampire sucking blood from it’s prey. Not a very pleasant experience, to say the least. This is frustrating, and most importantly, embarrassing. Having to stop your workout in front of people who are exercising diligently is heart-breaking. I was trying just as hard as they were, but, because of this stupid illness I was forced to stop. How is that anyway “normal”? Why do I get punished for doing something that is vital in keeping healthy as exercising? It makes me so mad. When one is diagnosed with MS one hears a lot of phrases like “you will live a normal life”, “you are no different than anyone else”. How about you tell that to this stupid disease? Enraging. Everyone has a limit, but, mine seems to be lower than Liverpool on the Premier League table. I have to do everything slower. Start off with lower weights, walk slowly as opposed to briskly, and get up from seating positions (on the ground or bench) gradually because of my balance and the fact that I’m prone to dizzy spells. That is not normal!

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Not only do I have to exercise with caution, but, I must choose which career to pursue with care. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. Apparently this is the perfect job for someone like me, someone with MS. I can sit down, I don’t have to do a lot of walking, I can do part-time hours, not much stress is involved (allegedly), the holidays, the weekends etc. How is this normal? Having to pick your career based on your health and physical abilities. This disease is unfair, what illness isn’t though? It’s annoying that I have to think about my distant future at the age of 22. I have only just got my degree, now I have to think about things like “What if I relapse?” “What if I need time off to get an MRI?” “What if I have to go home due to feeling unwell?” “What if my medication doesn’t work and I need time off to start my new meds?” All of these questions need to be accommodated for before I can pick the career path that I want to follow. Someone please tell me how this is normal. I understand that many people have to ask themselves questions before they can pursue their desired occupation, but, do they have to ask themselves questions like I do?

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I do still strongly believe in positive thinking, but it can be hard to stay positive all the time. Sometimes the little things build up and you just feel like exploding. You realise that you’re not in fact “normal” and you are in fact “different”. Once you come to this realisation its another step that you have to take in accepting this stupid disease. It’s hard for people to understand the mental turmoil MSers go through. They hear that we can live a normal life and then assume that we are normal. I am not “normal” and I will not be “normal” for the rest of my live. I am different, and its up to me to find a way to live with that. MSers feel the need to do things on their own and keep up with everyone else in order to keep their pride and live up to this “normal” façade that has been created. Its hard for me to ask for help, even though I know that everyone is willing to help me. People with MS feel hopeless when they ask for help, we are not “normal”. We need help, we need understanding, and we need patience. Not just from others, but, from ourselves. If we can’t accept this disease for what it is, negativity will take over and life will undoubtedly become more frustrating and more infuriating. MS is hard to live with. Physically it is heart-breaking, pride knocking and exasperating to boot. I feel that this disease is much harder on one’s mental health than any other aspect. If you can’t stay positive you’re in big trouble. Accept who you are, you have to live with this disease for the foreseeable future. It is not the opinions of others that MSers should worry about, but, the opinions we have of ourselves. If we can’t find a reason to keep going and plough through this illness will eat you up and spit you out without hesitation.

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Life comes with ups and downs. Unfortunately, for those who have MS depression can be a very prevalent symptom. The feeling of being “abnormal” and “different” definitely doesn’t help us. Although we try our best to fit in and be normal, sometimes its just not possible. The mental anguish that one goes through is appalling. Being told by doctors who have no concept of what it is like to personally have the disease that you are normal and just like everyone else makes my blood boil. Yes, I can do as others do, just in slow motion so I fall behind or so that I will never catch up. The pace of my life is far inferior to than of a “normal” person. It is frustrating, but, you have to carry on. You have to live your life, not theirs. One must not compare oneself to another if they are to possess happiness. Keep living. Albeit in the fast lane, or the slow lane; never give up.

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Sometimes I Forget That I Have a Chronic Illness.

As weird as it sounds, every now and then I stop and think “oh yeah, I’ve MS.” I know that it seems funny, but, it’s essentially a good thing, it means I’m in good health! ..Or plain stupid!

I can imagine that you’re wondering how on earth I could forget something so real and prevalent in my life. Lately, things have been going well for me with regards my health. In contrast to this time last year I’m like a different person! I don’t know myself these days. My fatigue levels have decreased significantly, making it so much easier for me to do the everyday things that I couldn’t do before. I’m beginning to be able to do the little things that I couldn’t do this time 12 months ago. Things like staying up late, going on nights out with my friends, doing more activities and still being able to carry on for the day (or most of). It’s still a bit surreal though, trying to picture myself doing all of these things when not so long ago just thinking about doing them made me tired.

This sounds all good, but, when that “thought” crosses my mind and the feeling sinks in, I come crashing back down to reality. I do have MS, it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s the little reminders that can be the worst. I’m visiting a friend’s house; I start to feel too tired to drive home, so I want to stay the night. That’s all fine and dandy, but, then all of a sudden it clicks. My medication is at home, I’m not as normal as I thought for that split second. Yes, I could take the meds when I get home the following morning, but that’s not my point here. What I’m trying to say is that I sometimes forget that I even have simple vitamins to take because of my MS, let alone my treatment medications. I know that lots of people are on medication, different tablets for different things. But, this time 18 months ago I was on absolutely nothing, and now all of a sudden, in order to stay “well” I need to pop a few pills every morning. It’s a weird feeling, forgetting something that is a big deal.

It can be pretty bittersweet, forgetting something so serious. For example, if I wanted to do a certain thing that entailed getting a medical, would the fact that I have a chronic illness mean that I’d fail on site? Or maybe I’d have that go against me and ultimately cause me to fail the test? Small things like that slip my mind sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to drop my chin and sulk about it. If it’s not meant to be it’s not meant to be. They just missed out on having an amazing person on their team because they thought that she wouldn’t be up for anything due to the simple fact that I have a long term illness. You know, because I’m awesome and stuff!

Don-t-hate-me-cuz-I-m-AWESOME-penguinangel-24752236-499-431It can suck to be brought back down to earth and be reminded that I do have Multiple Sclerosis. But, this disease is clearly not affecting me badly enough for me to be sitting in a dark corner and crying about my life. I’m doing what every “normal” person is doing. Perhaps I have to move slower than your average “healthy” person, but I’m still doing the same thing as them. I’m still capable of driving, going out and having a good time, going abroad, exercising etc.

Life with a chronic illness isn’t all that bad for me at the moment. Naturally, I have bad days where everything isn’t so great. For the most part though, I feel “healthy”, as healthy as I can be anyway. It’s nice to act like a normal 22 year old, even if it’s just for a few more weeks or days. I plan on enjoying every bit of it and forgetting that I have MS for as long as I can!