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I’m Sorry, but I Can’t Remember: MS Mental Fog

I first received my MS diagnosis while I was in a graduate program for literature. One of the key components to graduation is the Comprehensive Exams. In these exams, it’s expected to memorize key dates, figures, concepts, and timelines to do essay identifications and write several seminar length papers with little to no help over 48-72 hours. Prior to the diagnosis, I knew I was struggling with memory issues, but I assumed it was from lack of sleep. After my diagnosis, I realized what I experienced was a form of MS mental fog.

Granted, post-diagnosis, my University was required to make accommodations for me, but my pride struggled to allow it. Acknowledging that I have memory issues is something I still struggle with today: as someone who needs their brain for their living, knowing that it isn’t working properly is a huge blow to the ego.

All of this is to say, that this post is one of my harder ones to write because of how sensitive I am about my memory.

What is MS Mental Fog?

In more technical medical terms, MS mental fog falls under the cognition category. Cognition includes information processing, memory, attention and concentration, executive functions, visuospatial functions, and verbal fluency. As listed on the NMSS website, more than half the patients with MS experience some form of cognitive dysfunction. You have cognitive dysfunction if you experience one or more of the following (but not limited to):

  • Struggle with processing information appropriately with one of your senses, like something tastes off or does not feel like it should.
  • Remembering new information, such as names or tasks.
  • Decreased ability to concentrate.
  • No longer able to multi-task or divide attention.
  • Inability to plan or prioritize tasks (important to unimportant).
  • Decreased ability to judge spatial distances or think abstractly.
  • Struggle to find words in a conversation or writing.

I know I’ve struggled with all of these at one point or another, with some of them being an everyday occurrence like the fatigue.

Dealing with Memory Issues

I assumed my memory issues had everything to do with a lack of sleep from graduate school. Like many of the “problems” I was having, the solution would be to simply sleep when I got a chance.

I got the chance on several occasions and while it did help with my memory because anytime a person is “well-rested” they improve to a degree, the problem did not go away.

But once I got my diagnosis, it was like a flood-gate had opened. I had successfully repressed and blocked out any acknowledgement that there were deeper cognitive issues up to that point. Now that I knew what was going on, I had an “aha!” moment and felt like my cognitive issues got worse.

I don’t believe they got worse, but rather, I finally acknowledged that they existed.

Teaching was a passion and I realized how much harder it became. Remembering simple concepts, answering common questions all became more difficult. I found myself having to plan out my lessons to the very minute to ensure all the important things were covered. Half my time was spent planning my classes while the other half was spent grading.

It was little wonder I had no time to work on required work for graduation. I didn’t push myself too hard because I felt useless with my memory issues. I think I hoped it would somehow go away or I would find a key to fixing it so I could get back on track.

Testing Acuity

I eventually got so frustrated with my cognitive issues that I spent a whole day testing my acuity in a lab associated with my neurologist’s office. I wanted to get a baseline of my abilities, but I also wanted to figure out if I truly was getting worse like I suspected.

A mentally trying day, I was given a series of tests where they would ask me a series of questions to test my memory. I had to rank things in various orders, come up with synonmns for words, and other tests that really stretched my brain power, reaching far in my mental reserves.


It was one of my least favorite rounds of testing, but I made it through it.

They gave me the results: I did have some memory issues, but I wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. They mentioned the only reason why I noticed it was because I was in graduate school and needed to use my memory more than other patients, but it was small comfort.

They provided me with some insight on how I could manage my cognitive issues, but I was doing everything I needed to do already.

Seeing Some Improvements

When I got pregnant, I put concerns about my cognitive issues on the backburner. It wasn’t until after I gave birth to Jai and getting more sleep that I noticed I had a better time remembering things. It wasn’t perfect, but my cognitive issues were better.

I don’t know why I improved my cognitive abilities. I assume that during the pregnancy, my body was able to heal in the same way it healed the lesions I previously had.

I still am not at one-hundred percent. I struggle with memory recall or committing things to memory. Word recall is a struggle on a daily basis, and I still feel this barrier in my brain that prevents me from feeling like I have full access to my mind.

The Emotional Toll

This particular symptom of my MS takes a larger emotional toll than fatigue or numbness. Fatigue is omnipresent and numbness is a sad reminder of my illness – but memory fog really hits me in my ego and feelings of self-worth. It’s so hard to say to a friend “I know you told me this already, but I can’t remember what you said…” because it feels like I didn’t listen to them in the first place.

I tell acquaintances that I don’t remember their name or their partner’s name. I generally play it off as a symptom of “getting old” if I don’t know them well, but with closer friends, I will fully blame the MS. Everyone understand because I know everyone has their own form of memory blanks.

I am just painfully aware of the blanks which is what frustrates me so much.

The biggest toll the memory fog plays is in my relationship with Ash. I swear up and down that I remember a conversation in a particular way, and he remembers it differently. I get extremely frustrated because it feels like he’s not listening to me or trying to mess with me, but deep down I suspect that he’s right and I just can’t remember anything because of the MS.

Having memory issues is one of my biggest personal fears. When I learned about Alzheimer’s, I freaked out over the idea of losing control over my mind. MS creates the same sort of fear: with each exacerbation I have, I increase my chances of cognition issues becoming permanent. What if my MS takes me down the road similar to Annette Funicello? Would I know who I am or would I be trapped in my immobile body?

As with many other symptoms, I’ve learned to place my fears aside and work through the steps of self-compassion to manage the MS. I am keeping myself mentally active through reading, writing, teaching, and playing puzzle games (all recommended by the people who tested me), and stretching myself mentally often.

I still have my moments where I am extremely frustrated by my lack of mental abilities, but they are becoming more infrequent. I think that’s all I wanted to say, but I can’t remember.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton

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2019: A Year of Self-Improvement

In 2018, I did some reflection on the importance of self-improvement with a chronic illness. It’s something I wanted to do prior to my diagnosis: live my best life and become the person I imagined I would be when I was fifteen. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get side-tracked in my twenties and it took my diagnosis and becoming a mother to finally realize that I needed to make changes.

Taking the steps toward self-improvement while managing a chronic illness can be overwhelming. Knowing where to begin and what to do was discouraging. Looking around online, I saw wellness challenges, but rarely geared towards someone with a chronic illness

These “regular” challenges were great for someone who didn’t have to fight fatigue, numbness, and the depression that came from coping with an illness. It was hard to make the logical leap to tailor them to my needs. It felt overwhelming to even attempt to do so.

That’s why I wanted to take the opportunity of the new year to create a self-improvement challenge geared specifically for people with a chronic illness. You don’t have to have a chronic illness to join, so if you are just looking to make some small changes in your life at a stress-free pace, this challenge should work nicely for you.

New Year; New You

I always love the new year because it gives me an opportunity, mentally speaking, to view my slate to be clean. To riff on an Anne Shirley’s quote: the new year is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.

Many of us make resolutions and vows of how we plan to approach the coming year, though I am notoriously bad about waiting until today to come up with any thoughts on the matter. I decided that I would be more proactive in 2019, so I created a challenge that I would be willing to undertake and share it with my readers.

As you make changes, big & small, so will I. We’ll take this year as an opportunity to improve ourselves together.

The Challenge: Self-Improvement with a Chronic Illness

Dealing with MS and any chronic illness can lead a person to feel stuck and unable to make any meaningful forms of self-improvement. I know that not long after my diagnosis I was dealing with a lot of heavy emotions that I froze for a few years. But deep down I wanted to make some personal improvement changes, though I didn’t know where to begin.

This wellness challenge works within that specific framework: I want to make changes, I am not sure “how to” or “where to” start, but what I am currently doing isn’t working.

For 2019, I am challenging readers to make the self-improvement changes they’ve always wanted to do but were either afraid to start or didn’t know how to start due to a chronic illness.

What the Challenge is…

This Challenge is a gentle way to work on self-improvement no matter the situation. All the mental and emotional exercises, thoughts, anecdotes, and research will be arranged for the user to make meaningful life changes, rather than a quick fix. This challenge also is:

  • judgment-free.
  • accessible no matter your level of fitness, physical abilities, state of your illness, and financial situation. If you want to make changes, you can.
  • free. You will not be paying for any aspect to participate.
  • focused on making positive changes.
  • support-based. There will be a corresponding Facebook group where you can talk directly to me and others participating in the challenge.
  • a chance to make the changes you’ve wanted to make no matter what they are.
  • drop-in/drop-out. If you only want to do a quick short-term goal, we will be working in 3-month chunks of time. If you are coming to this challenge later in the year, then you’ll be able to get a couple of goals done before the end of 2019.

I will provide the framework needed to start you on your journey. This framework will contain the tools you need to easily personalize your own journey to wellness. 

What the Challenge isn’t…

This isn’t a weight-loss challenge. This isn’t a healthy eating challenge. If you want to lose weight or eat healthy, you are welcome to make that your final goal but do not feel like it is the only path to self-improvement. This challenge also isn’t:

  • about making you feel bad about yourself or your goals. Everyone is unique and beautiful and any positive life-change is a good life change.
  • expecting you to follow everything by the letter. I do recommend following as closely as you can, but it’s meant to help you in the best possible way. Only you know yourself best.
  • requiring big life-goal changes. There will be several short-term goals and one long-term goal, but all goals can be as big or as little as you need them to be for the year.
  • going to be easy. While we will be focusing on a gentle approach to each week, there will be moments towards deep, meaningful changes that may be unpleasant to reflect on. You are encouraged to go at the pace best suited to your needs.

As stated, this challenge won’t be easy at times (but why call it a challenge if it was?).  There may be times where you want to give up, but I am going to encourage you to keep going because by December you can reflect over this year with pride.

Making the Most of the Challenge

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for the weekly newsletter. This is where you will get the weekly challenge updates, writing prompts, free printables, special offers, and all sorts of exciting information I want to share with you, my reader. 

I am reverting back to my 3-day-a-week blog posts, but you’ll only have access to my third post through newsletter subscription, so make sure you sign up so you don’t miss a single post from me.

MS Mommy Blog this Year

You may have noticed that the blog switched from MS//Mommy to MS Mommy Blog. With the new year comes a new look and some slight re-branding. The blog has a new logo and set up, so please check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

Looking forward to taking this exciting new journey with you!


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The Importance of Movement

It’s fall, which means colder weather makes it difficult to get moving to either exercise outside or make it to the gym. Perhaps because of the season, it is more important than ever to keep moving. As we head into winter, chances of weight gain increase along with seasonal mood changes that might be mitigated with some form of exercise.

Yesterday, researchers released a study regarding the importance of exercise and health. It’s something I’ve known a long time from health class and personal experience: exercising makes me feel better. If I sit still long enough (even in the span of a few hours), I start feeling bad.

That was the point of this study: the longer we sit during the day, the more danger we put on our health in the long-term. Sitting for vast spans of time and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. This study wasn’t providing new information, this article from 2014 discusses how dangerous sitting for hours on end is for our bodies. But this study was another confirmation of what researchers were saying: movement is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While the studies weren’t talking about the emotional impact of a sedentary lifestyle, more of the long-term impact, aerobic exercise is a form of anti-depressant for those suffering from major depression. A person should never quit their drug-regimen in favor of running without consulting their healthcare professionals first, but adding running or some other high-aerobic workout to the routine might increase the anti-depressant impact for mental health management.

This information is great to have to make informed decisions without an autoimmune disease that impacts fatigue levels, but living with MS, getting out of bed can be a hardship some mornings.

What to do when your body works against you?

I count myself lucky with my MS: my disease is rather benign and easy to manage compared to someone with PPMS, SPMS, or even some versions of RRMS. But it can cause my mood to swing, my depression to kick into high gear, and send my fatigue into overdrive for no reason other than “just because.”

Getting out of bed to go for a run some mornings is particularly rough when my body just does not want to move. Additionally, I’ve suffered from being overweight and depressed, so I understand how each individual factor can impact personal motivation and ability.

So what can you do?

  1. Speak with a trusted healthcare professional about what you can do to increase movement in relation to your particular health concerns or limitations. You want to find an expert who will be sensitive to your situation to provide positive encouragement, but also one who will point you in an appropriate direction for the types of exercises needed to get you started.
  2. Even if your doctor is providing you with generic information, use that information as a starting point with your own research.* Find simple exercises you can do from bed or the couch while watching television. From there, you can build up your type of exercise and the amount of time spent.
  3. Drink water. Water helps energize muscles to help prevent fatigue, protect joints and the nervous system (a huge plus for MS), and decrease MS symptoms.
  4. Keep your goals reachable and manageable. If you know that getting out of bed will be difficult most mornings, see about adding a different type of exercise that can be done from bed until you have a good day.
  5. If you have to miss a day or forget, just plan to restart tomorrow. Don’t look at a day off as a failure, but just something that happens. Try to maintain an attitude of moving forward rather than dwelling on forgetfulness. Don’t overdo it if you do miss a day – with MS that can set you back from exercising tomorrow.

*Note: your own research must be done with extreme caution and consideration to your ability levels. Do not put yourself at risk.  Read my disclaimer about health advice here.

Lack of Motivation

I find that the lack of motivation is my biggest obstacle to exercising. I wish I could write, “do this and you’ll always be motivated!” but the truth of the motivation obstacle is this: it varies from person-to-person and moment-to-moment. What keeps me motivated may not apply to another person and what keeps them motivated would never work for me.

When dealing with a chronic illness, motivation can run thin, sometimes without being the individual’s fault, but because of the way the illness impacts brain function. Having physical impairments stacked against you can be depressing on its own.

So how to combat this?

It’s never going to be a “snap your fingers and get over it” solution. That is not possible and won’t work. Rather, figure out what is important to you at the moment. Is it disease management? Depression management? Having more energy day-to-day? Wanting to see the numbers go down on the scale? Figuring out that primary starting place may be enough to get the ball rolling and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Having reports released about the importance of exercise are validating for me on my health journey because it shows that I am on the right path, especially on days when my energy and motivation are at its lowest. I just have to move forward and try not to be discouraged by a bad day or my MS.

What prevents you from exercising? What keeps you motivated to exercise? Relate your stories below in the comments section.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Good for the Nerves: Fall & MS

MS is a disease that’s affected by the weather, particularly extreme temperature variables. Summer and wintertime can be particularly rough because of the temperature swings on either end of the thermometer. The temperate or more moderate weather of the spring and fall can offer some relief for those who need it.

I know that for myself when it’s a consistent mid-70’s with low humidity, I am at my most comfortable. I find that I have more energy, able to sleep better at night and find the need for a midday nap to be lower. I still need naps because I have an energetic toddler, but I can skip the nap with minimal impact on my evening energy levels.

I know that my MS situation is different from others, so what is comfortable for me to function may be uncomfortable for others. That’s the unfortunate truth about MS – while fall is the ideal season for me to be my best, it can make others miserable. If fall isn’t your season, that’s okay because there’s bound to be another season that works best with your illness.

Fall Weather & MS (in the South)

All of this is to say that the fall weather makes me happier. I feel like we get more temperate days in the fall than we do in the spring, though if I looked at the temperature statistics I am probably wrong.

In the South, fall means that while we may still get 90-degree days, it feels like the day’s heat dissipates faster in the evenings and takes longer to be oppressive in the mornings. It also brings more rain during the hurricane season, which is less helpful because of the humidity, but ideal in keeping temperatures lower.

More Activities to Keep Moving & Healthy

As discussed on Tuesday, fall festivals are a great way to get out and enjoy the outside with family and friends. Going on hikes, particularly in the South, are more pleasant because the leaves haven’t dropped just yet, so there’s enough shade from the sun in the forest.

Walks are more pleasant to take in the evening, more importantly, less of a mental hassle when you don’t have to consider bringing a bunch of cooling supplies to keep from overheating (for me: ventilated shoes, water, and a hat).

As a runner, I find that some of my best personal records happen between the months of October and April because of the milder weather. I also don’t run into the issues of dehydration headaches after a race that I get in the hotter month. I get these headaches no matter how much I hydrate before, during, or after the race.

If physically able, yardwork is less oppressive as well. Raking leaves is a great cardio activity to get moving, as is trimming bushes.

While hydrating is still extremely important for those of us with MS, I find that it’s not as imperative as it is in the hotter weather. I also find my means of hydrating open up: I am a huge tea drinker and love drinking herbal tea in the fall. While drinking straight water is always recommended, drinking herbal tea is easier to swallow than straight, boring water.

Relaxing Atmosphere: Less Stress, Less Flare-Ups

Scientifically speaking, fall is a more relaxing time of year: we’ve been conditioned to enjoy it at least in the United States. Fall elicits cozy feelings, warmth, and togetherness ahead of the holiday season. The idea of sitting by a fire pit with a cup of mulled cider, a blanket, and good company is extremely relaxing.

My happy place is Pumpkin Spice Lattes which are a huge indicator of fall. That first sip of the year always relaxes me in the  “ah, fall is finally here” sort of way.

Stress is a huge factor for flare-ups, at least for myself, so having relaxing evenings helps minimize my stress. Any stress that comes during the fall is usually the kind I enjoy, i.e. planning gatherings, parties, events, and outings.

While my first flare-up happened at the beginning of December nearly six years ago, most of my flare-ups happen in the winter and summer months. I think because I have worked hard to make fall a relaxing time of the year for myself.

If you have MS or a chronic illness that is affected by the weather, what do you do to help manage it during your favorite seasons? What is your favorite season and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Talking to others about MS

There comes a time to reveal a difficult diagnosis to those outside the immediate family.

This can be a stressful or liberating experience. Friends may have suspected all along or been completely surprised by the information shared with them.

Revealing your diagnosis is an intimate act because you are sharing something personal with a friend in the hopes they will be supportive.

Because we cannot control others’ reactions after such a revelation, waiting until you are ready to talk is extremely important for your emotional health.

When to Say Something

First of all: you do not owe an explanation for your health. If you choose to divulge your diagnosis, that is a decision only you can make. Do not let anyone else force the matter from you.

If someone is visibly unwell and been so for a while, it may be harder to keep diagnostic information from others, particularly if treatment starts. It may be a relief in telling others because there is finally some information to share, but don’t be surprised if holding onto that information a little longer is more important.

While there might be a temptation to tell people immediately after the diagnosis, waiting until the information is processed is best. It allows for better preparation both with reactions and questions. Knowing which friends can handle the information with care and sensitivity helps in deciding who gets what information first.

But there may be some friends, despite waiting until you are ready, that may scale back the friendship because they don’t know how to handle your diagnosis. This hurts, but being ready for it will help mitigate the pain versus being blindsided. I made this mistake a few times and each time I wish I had waited to reveal my diagnosis or not bothered at all.

Only you will know the right time to divulge information, there isn’t a magic number or “best by” date to tell others.

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