~My 20 Year Battle With Multiple Sclerosis~
Many of you already know that I have battled my fight with Multiple Sclerosis for going on 20 years now. Most days I can’t even believe it has been that long and yet I still remember the day I heard the doctor say the words to me “Alyssa, you have Multiple Sclerosis.” I was a 19- year- old girl, alone in the exam room, and was in complete shock. At the time of my diagnosis, I was naïve, scared, and did not know what my life was going to be like. I only knew one person that had MS and she was in a wheelchair. Being so young and clueless I thought I was going to be diagnosed, and then bound to a wheelchair, and then death. I know how ridiculous that sounds now because I have a better understanding of this disease.
Of course, the past 20 years have come with many ups and downs, but not only am I still here to talk about it and hopefully help others living with chronic illnesses. Yes, I do live with various issues, but I have learned to live a fairly normal and full life with all of it. I think it is important to understand that no matter what our struggles are in life, we can learn to make the most of it. Life is short and no one ever said it was going to be easy. I think the more struggles we overcome, the stronger we are.
It has been a while since I have written about Multiple Sclerosis and considering I had an appointment a little more than a week ago with my new neurologist; it might be a good time to write a little about what I deal with day in and day out with Multiple Sclerosis. The real reason I do not write much about it anymore is I do not think it is good to dwell on things we have no control over, but it is important to help others that do not have MS understand what it is all about and others that live with this unpredictable disease to know they are not alone. I say this because I remember when I was first diagnosed, I felt so incredibly and painfully alone.
One of the most important things when living with any chronic illness is finding a specialist that you trust and can work well with. Over my years with Multiple Sclerosis, I have had my fair share of specialists that I respected and trusted, but then there were those I would do anything just to avoid them. The only reason those I trusted, respected, and admired are not my specialist anymore is that they retired. I have only met my new specialist was virtually, but she said one thing that won me over, she knew, admired, respected, and loved my first neurologist. As simple as this may sound, I have been missing my first neurologist since the day he retired. It did take me time to be accepting of him because he was the one that confirmed I had Multiple Sclerosis. The only reason I left the practice he was at is because the neurologist that was taking his place insulted him when speaking with me and this was a HUGE no, no!
During my two decades of living with Multiple Sclerosis, (WOW that sounds like a LONG time), I have faced and dealt with various issues. Of course, some of what I have struggled with have ranged anywhere between being a minor inconvenience to almost unbearable, and everything in between. Symptoms involved with Multiple Sclerosis and any other chronic illness can be different for each individual because we are all unique.
I am sure that most of you know about Multiple Sclerosis because you or someone you know has it, but I am going to take this time to provide you a brief overview, and then I will describe the issues I battle with every day of my life. I will begin by explaining what Multiple Sclerosis is.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that may become disabling of both the brain and spinal cord. With MS, the immune system attacks the myelin, which is the protective sheath covering nerve fibers and creates communication issues between the brain and the rest of the body.
What are the types of Multiple Sclerosis?
Unfortunately, in 2020 there is still not a way to foresee with absolute certainty how a person’s disease will advance and or how fast this will happen. The four main types of MS have been established by the: International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials of MS and were defined as the following explanations.
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS):
This is the first occurrence of neurological symptoms that are caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system. Although the occurrence must last for at least 24-hours to be considered a characteristic of MS, it still doesn’t meet the specifications for an MS diagnosis because those that experience CIS may or may not have MS.
It is when CIS comes along with lesion on a brain MRI, which is typically seen in MS, that the probability of the person having a 2nd MRI is high, and being diagnosed with RRMS is very common.
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS):
This is the most common form of MS with 85% of people being diagnosed originally with it. RRMS is distinguished by undeniably defined attacks of new or increasing neurological symptoms, which are known as relapse or exacerbation and are typically followed with partial or complete times of partial or complete remission. While in remission, all symptoms may disappear or the symptoms may continue and be permanent, but during this time there isn’t any progression seen. RRMS can be further described as either active, which is with relapse and or confirmation of new MRI activity in a specific time frame, or NOT active, as well as worsening or not worsening.
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS):
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is a type when one was initially diagnosed with RRMS and progressed into SPMS. The progression from RRMS to SPMS is due to the increasing worsening of neurological function over time. SPMS can also e distinguished as either active, not active, as well as progression indicating disability accrual over time.
Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS):
Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is classified by increased deteriorating neurological function from the onset of this disease and without early relapse or remissions. Just like the first few types of MS, PPMS can also be distinguished as active, not active, progression, and without progression. Only about 15% of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS.
The symptoms for each person living with Multiple Sclerosis might be very different, slightly different, similar, but they will never be exactly the same because we are all very different. I really did not mean for this post to get so long, so I will briefly share with you the symptoms I deal with both daily and or randomly.
The way I discovered that I had MS all those years ago, is because I lost vision in my left eye and went to the eye doctor. Never in a million years did I expect that this vision loss was the start of my journey with Multiple Sclerosis. After going through the MRI to confirm the doctor’s suspicions, I was put on an insane amount of steroids, which even though I completely and utterly detest steroids; they did help restore my vision. One would think I would have been relieved to learn I wasn’t going blind, but I often think the diagnosis was worse than the diagnosis.
Through the years, I have experienced a wide range of symptoms that have varied from mild and tolerable to awful and intolerable. A few things that have been a constant are pain, numbness and tingling, and spasticity. Sometimes I think that if I had one day without any pain, numbness and tingling life wouldn’t seem as normal. My legs always have that numbness and tingling sensation from my knees to the tips of my toes. It can make walking be challenging depending on how bad it is, but normally I am fine with walking. My back hurts every minute of every day from the middle to lower back, but I try not to let that get me down too much. There are times when the mixture of pain, numbness, and tingling can contribute to muscle weakness. I also experience a lot of fatigue and then have a hard time falling asleep. It is an annoying cycle!
Another symptom I have dealt with over the past two decades that is not very often is vertigo. There was a time several years ago when I was having vertigo very bad, but had a doctor’s appointment with my neurologist and drove myself to the appointment. I did well driving when a little dizzy because I managed to keep between the lines. It is insane that I hardly could walk a straight line, but drove perfectly fine! I have also dealt with the MS hug, which is not a huge anyone ever wants. The MS hug feels like there is a huge snake around you and just keeps squeezing. Another issue I deal with at least three times a week is headaches/migraines. Headaches/migraines are a form of pain that I can’t deal with.
Thank you for visiting my site today and reading about my LONG journey of living with Multiple Sclerosis. It has been a long journey and one I never wanted, but one I wanted to give up on 20 years ago. I am thankful that I did not give up and followed advice from my dear Poppy. When I was diagnosed, my Poppy told me that I was strong enough to handle this disease and to always remember that no matter what I am going through, someone else is going through something a lot worse. I have held onto his words all these years and hope that I can inspire y’all to never give up because you are far stronger than you ever knew.
I know this post got a little long and longer than I anticipated, but there is so much involved when living with Multiple Sclerosis. All the challenges you experience throughout your life are making you stronger and therefore you can inspire someone else to never give up! I am looking forward to reading your comments and I promise to respond as quickly as I can! Please never forget that I am always sending y’all LOTS of love, comfort, support, and many positive vibes!