stress-and-ms

Stress and MS



Stress and MS.

These two go hand-in-hand. Without one, you wouldn’t get the other. Stress is a universal problem, something everyone deals with at some point in their life. Sometimes it is good, it motivates us to push through a problem for a solution. Other times it can hinder us and negatively impact our health.

I’ve talked about stress multiple times on the blog, but I knew that for MS Awareness month it deserved its own post. Stress plays such a big role in coping with MS, that for some of us, it induce our initial symptoms.

What is Stress?

Experts talk about stress on the morning talk shows. We complain to friends about it. Universally, we know and understand stress. But physiologically, what is stress and how does it affect someone who isn’t suffering from MS?

Stress is the body’s response to changes in mental, emotional, or physical changes. While the body is designed to handle stress, too much can trigger a negative physical reaction. If enduring a period of long and extreme stress, you are more likely to get sick. Your body starts to work against itself: ulcers, headaches, depression, anxiety/panic attacks to name some conditions induced by stress.

But it’s not always a bad thing.

Stress as a Positive

I firmly believe in good and bad stress. I thrive on positive stress: working on an important personal project and working up to the deadline to complete it.

Stress is one of the main drivers to get me to write as much as I do for the blog. It keeps me on track and keeps me posting.

I find that it’s such a major motivator in my life: I am freaking out to complete something, but I feel so productive once it’s accomplished. Turns out that “good” stress is a thing: it’s also known as eustress. Eustress we know we can handle and it’s usually short-term. It’s not necessarily easy to handle, but it’s manageable and can be used to drive us forward.

It’s what helps make an effort towards self-improvement.

Stress as a Negative

When we think about stress, it’s usually negative. It’s what causes us to freeze and feel burnt out. It’s hard to work through and can leave us feeling tense and angry.

This sort of stress is the kind that shortens your lifespan. It’s the kind that you have very little control over. When life throws hurdle after hurdle at you, and there’s no way to get out from underneath it, it’s this form of “distress” we experience.

This distress is where morning shows stake their segments upon. We buy books, browse blogs, pin ideas, and take classes all trying to cope with the distress we experience. We want to get rid of it because of how uncomfortable and miserable it makes us feel.

Unfortunately, we have very little control over when it ends and what it does in our lives.

Stress and MS

I spoke with my neurologist a year or so into my diagnosis and mentioned a potentially stressful situation. I asked him about how this situation would impact my health and my MS.

“Negatively,” was his response, “ask [those involved] to knock it off and do you want a prescription to give them?”

We had a good laugh over the absurdity of doing such a thing, but it got me to thinking. I was still in the middle of a stressful situation with graduate school and I wondered if it was contributing to some of the “secondary” MS symptoms I experienced: memory fog and fatigue.

I was not wrong: stress does lead to flare-ups. Curious enough, having MS (or any chronic illness) can cause stress too. It turns into a vicious cycle: you worry about the disease, the disease acts up, which stresses you out even more.

Exacerbations Induced by Stress

This study, published in 2004, looked at all the studies associated with MS, stress, and exacerbations over the period of thirty-eight years. They found a connection between stress that increases the chances of exacerbations with those diagnosed with MS.

If you have MS and found that your exacerbations or just your normal symptoms get worse when coping with a stressful situation, you aren’t imagining it. I personally found relief in knowing that managing my stress was a way to lower my chances of getting an exacerbation.

I understand that I am in a unique position to be able to manage my disease to lower my chances of an exacerbation. Not all people with MS are able to do so, if at all. There are days where stress gets close to causing an exacerbation, but I am able to recognize what is happening to help slow everything down to avoid it.

The Emotional Toll

Anecdotally, I can say for certain that extremely stressful situations, particularly relating to my personal life, increases my chances of getting an exacerbation. I was shocked at how quickly a flare-up appeared when I was in the middle of an extremely stressful moment and my arm started to go numb. Normally, I wake up with the exacerbation. It doesn’t literally happen before my eyes.

Thankfully, when I resolved the situation, the numbness went away within a day.

What’s most annoying about stress is that I have to plan my life around it. I have to take it into consideration when making major decisions. Will this freak me out? Will this bring on an exacerbation?

As I mentioned in my posts about toxic relationships, I’ve had to learn to be okay with cutting toxic people out of my life because of the problems the relationship induces. It’s discouraging when I have to manage relationships for my MS because there’s always this fear of lacking compassion on my part.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with feeling selfish which is always an uncomfortable place to be in.

Managing my stress is emotionally draining and stressful in itself. Later this week, I will discuss how exactly I manage it. Hint: self-compassion is involved along with learning to no longer care.


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Featured photo credit: Leah Kelley from Pexels

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MS Symptoms: Optic Neuritis

The very first MS symptom I experienced was Optic Neuritis. I woke up one morning in a hotel room unable to see out of my left eye after a stressful experience. I’ve talked about this particular symptom throughout the blog because it played such a significant role in getting my MS diagnosis.

From the time I’ve spent in online MS support groups, I’ve found that the majority of other people with MS received their diagnosis after experiencing the optic neuritis exacerbation. I imagine it is the shock value: waking up and suddenly having a blob in your field of vision? You have to pay attention to what is going on because it is literally in your face.

What is Optic Neuritis?

Simply put: it’s an inflammation of the optic nerve which causes a temporary loss of vision. It can be painful and is primarily linked with Multiple Sclerosis and a few other autoimmune diseases such as Lupus.

Symptoms of optic neuritis include:

  • Pain
  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Reduced field of vision
  • Loss of color (colors are muted or vision is grayscale)
  • Flashing lights

Optic neuritis is primarily treated through steroids to help reduce the inflammation.

I cannot diagnose anyone online, but I can offer a suggestion to bring to your healthcare professional for discussion:

If you are experiencing loss of vision in one or both eyes and your otomotrist, primary care provider, or opthalmologist are unable to figure out what is going on, consider asking them to test for optic neuritis. I wish someone had told me to consider this option early on as it would have reduced months of confusing and frustrating tests and gotten me the necessary treatment sooner.

Canary in the Coalmine

While the L’Hermitte’s Sign is one of the first indications that I am really stressed out, waking up to an optic neuritis blotch in my field of vision means I have an exacerbation requiring medical intervention. Sometimes I get numbness in my limbs, but I know that I am in trouble when I cannot see or am losing vision in one of my eyes.

Prior to my diagnosis, I was completely unaware as to what was causing my optic neuritis flare-ups. I thought migraine auras, as I had migraines previously but no auras. I would eventually get a migraine and the optic neuritis would fade away, but I can imagine it was a coincidence.

Now, if I get the slightest blotch in my eyes, I immediately contact my neurologist so we can come up with a treatment plan. Sometimes we wait and see if it gets worse and other times I get on some steroids to help reduce the inflammation. Regardless, I know I need to figure out what is stressing me out to cause the initial inflammation episode.

Invisible Symptom = Lying?

Many people with MS have that story.

That story of: “but are you really sick or are you just lying for attention?” My optic neuritis gave me my first and hopefully the only story of ableist treatment by others.

It was prior to my diagnosis and I volunteered in graduate school over the summer. This position required my sight. No amount of accommodations would work: I needed to be able to read to perform my duties as a volunteer.

I tactfully told the people running the program that I could not volunteer and teach at the same time due to some health concerns. I couldn’t stop teaching, so I figured all unpaid work could wait until I was feeling better or at the start of the fall semester.

Because it was summer and I made plans prior to my flare-ups, I went to a concert with a friend and posted about it on social media.

I didn’t realize this caused a stir with those I volunteered for until someone unaffiliated reached out to me. I remember the conversation divulging how people said I lied about my health to get out of volunteering my time.

I was flabbergasted at so many people: at the person bringing this information to me; those in charge; and everyone unaffiliated with situation talking about how I was faking my health issues. My health issues were none of their business and they did not know how I got to the concert. I told the person who started the conversation that concerts do not require sight and I deserved a bit of a break from my health issues if only for a night.

This accusation of shirking my duties made me feel insecure about my health that I felt obligated to overshare with the program once I got my diagnosis. Up until recently, I would explain my issues with MS as a reason for not doing something.

I am at a point where I realize that I do not owe an explanation for myself or my health.

The Emotional Impact

Warning: talk of self harm ahead. If you or someone you know self-harms, please know you are not alone.


Now that I know how to treat this exacerbation, I typically go with the flow and it’s more of an inconvenience than anything. I am bothered when it happens, sure, but that has more to do with feeling frustrated that its happening in the first place.

But when I didn’t know what was going on, this symptom caused the greatest emotional breakdown I had prior to my diagnosis. I needed to see for school and work, I could do neither. I was terrified because the doctors were not providing me with any information or hope of getting better.

Each day, I would wake up hoping I could see out of my left eye again. Each day I woke up unable to see I grew more and more anxious and frustrationed with my body.

I remember taking a shower one day, in the middle of my worst optic neuritis exacerbation (I couldn’t see out of both eyes), completely frustrated over no answers to what was happening to me. I started bashing my head against the side of the shower wall because I was so angry at my body that I wanted to knock the sight back into my eyes.

Fortunately, Ash was there and heard the banging that he immediately jumped into the shower to stop me from causing any serious damage. I was lucky to not concuss myself or cause any lacerations. I just remember him holding me down to stop me from harming myself further and comforting me as I cried for myself.

It was one of my darkest emotional moments.

Even thinking about it puts me back into that mindset of abject hopelessness. That complete lack of control and confusion is indescribable. I hope never to be in that place again.

Once I was in the hospital after my MRI, I felt so much relief in finally getting treatment. An answer was secondary at that point, but I was glad to be on the road to receiving one. If you are interested in reading how I’ve learned to manage this symptom and my cognitive fog from Monday’s post, please sign up for my newsletter. I will be discussing both symptoms in Friday’s newsletter.


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Featured Photo Credit: Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash


2019-MS-Awareness-Month

Through Adversity Comes Beauty

Normally Friday’s posts are for newsletter subscribers only, but for the 2019 MS Awareness month, I want to open up the posts to all readers. Raising MS Awareness is very important to me, so I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. If you aren’t a newsletter subscriber already, sign up now.


This year, MS Mommy Blog’s MS Awareness logo is a heart-shaped ribbon with a lotus flower at the center.

The lotus is deeply symbolic across the world, due to the plant growing out of the murky mud into a beautiful flower. So is the same for those of us with MS (or any chronic illness for that matter): through the murkiness of our disease do we grow into beautiful beings. The lotus reminds us to be compassionate, courageous, mindful, inner peace, and wisdom. These are qualities necessary to managing a chronic illness.

So for this year’s month of MS awareness, let us keep the symbology of the lotus within our hearts and remember through our personal adversity we are still beautiful people. The adversity shapes us and makes us stronger.

Ways to Raise Awareness

Just like last year, the MS Mommy Blog has a variety of ways to spread awareness on your social media accounts. If you use any of these images, please tag the MS Mommy Blog or use the #msmommyblog.

Facebook Profile Frame
Follow this link to try out this year’s profile frame.

Twitter Header (tag msmommy16)
Follow this link to go to the twitter header download page.

Facebook Banner (tag MS Mommy Blog FB Page)
Follow this link to go to the Facebook banner download page.

MS Mommy Blog Store

Throughout the month of March, the MS Mommy Blog store will be adding new shirts to help spread MS Awareness and show off the “Many Strengths” we have as we fight MS. A portion of each purchase will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Follow the link below to see the wide variety of shirts available.


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Overcoming Roadblocks with a Chronic Illness

If you are taking this journey to wellness with a chronic illness, an understandable first concern will be: what about the normal roadblocks I encounter with my illness? What if I have a flare-up and cannot do anything for weeks time so it sets me back?

These are valid concerns and I am here to tell you that it will be okay when that happens.

Despite my best efforts, I still get mild MS flare-ups throughout the year. Because of my blog, I’m more aware that during the transitional times of the year, spring into summer, summer into fall, I am more likely to have some form of a flare-up.

These flare-ups can set me back a day, a few days, a week, and in one extreme case, a few months (though that’s been a while). 

I have learned to accept that these flare-ups are normal and move forward in my journey in spite of them.

New Journey; New Frustrations

Whenever starting a new journey there’s always moments of self-doubt. Will I succeed? What will the success look like? What would failure look like? How do I avoid failure?

There are always a ton of questions. When dealing with personal goals that require us to do extra work, such as adding in an extra walk for the day, looking over a boring task that you’ve been avoiding, or working through a particularly emotional part of your life; it’s easy to get stuck and want to avoid dealing with it altogether.

That’s part of the problem, something gets frustrating so we put it off and then we get discouraged and the cycle continues. Adding in a chronic illness where things happen out of our control adds an additional layer of frustration.

Chronic Attacks!

In the Multiple Sclerosis communities, we have many different names for when the illness/disease takes over: flare-up, exacerbation, and my personal favorite, the relapse. If you have another autoimmune disease, chronic illness, or personal wellness roadblock, you might have a different name for it.

To avoid confusion, let’s just call it an “attack.”

Attacks happen. You know they are going to happen and that might be discouraging, but it’s part of your normal like it or not. We might as well take a moment and embrace it. Our normal is not the same as anyone else’s normal. Let’s be honest: no one’s “normal” is like anyone else’s with or without a chronic illness.

The best thing we can do in these situations is to recognize that attacks will happen and prepare ourselves for dealing with them effectively. If you know what triggers an attack and how to manage it, then make a game plan.

Make the Changes Anyway

Since we know roadblocks with a chronic illness are going to happen anyways, there’s never going to be a good time to make the wellness changes you’ve been wanting to make. That’s why now is the time to make those changes regardless.

I would love to have a day where I don’t deal with any fatigue so I can do my yoga or respond to a bunch of emails that end up taking several hours. But I won’t get that day and if I do, I cannot plan for it. Chronic illness never allows me to fully plan when and if things get done.

If I want to do yoga or be productive, I have to make those changes regardless. Roadblocks with a chronic illness are normal, so it makes sense to accept them and work with the roadblocks when it comes time to start a wellness journey.

It sounds like I am saying “just do it,” and on the surface level, I am. But what is different is how you approach the “just do it” attitude. I am reducing a very complicated situation down to changing perspective because that’s the first step in a very difficult and very personal journey.

It’s all a Matter of Perspective

If you’ve been in the middle of your illnesses long enough, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to have a “normal” life. Concerns for attacks can rule your days, so you forget how different concerns would interfere with those who don’t cope with a chronic illness.

A car breaking down can take someone out of commission for weeks at a time, like an episode for us. Twisting an ankle might keep a person from exercising for a week until they recover, just like an attack.

Sure, we have the added concern the same things that happen for “normal” people happening to us PLUS dealing with an attack, but the point is –  everyone has things that can bring up a roadblock and stymie all progress made when trying to live a wellness-based life.

Maintaining the perspective that there is always a concern for an attack, but focusing on it ending (even though you don’t know when) and finding small ways to work around it will keep you going. Obviously, some attacks will prevent you from moving forward because if you are bedridden and there may be little you can do to adjust. However, if you are bedridden but able to lift a weight, even if it’s a book for a couple of repetitions, the very act of doing something may be enough to help keep you going.

Adjust your perspective to see that you are not alone because everyone has roadblocks, and that your roadblocks just look a little different than others.

Roadblocks with a Chronic Illness

As you begin your wellness journey, expect the roadblocks or attacks to happen, and embrace them. I am not recommending leaning into them to make excuses, but say to yourself: well, this is going to happen and I can’t necessarily change it, so I might as well work around these roadblocks to bring about a positive change in my life.

I cannot guarantee it because I am not a healthcare professional, but there’s a chance recognizing these attacks as normal and adjusting your perspective to be prepared for them might help lessen the attacks when you get them. It may never prevent them and what damage/time taken away from your life, but when you are ready for something you know how to effectively deal with it.

I have found that I’ve shortened the length of my attacks when I am prepared and don’t allow the attacks to discourage me or my progress. I tend to have an attitude of “well this is an annoyance, but I clearly need to slow down because I am overworking my body in some way.”

This suggestion and method of approach are not “one-size-fits-all” but if you’ve never tried to prepare yourself for these attacks in mind, it would be worth trying to account for them over the next couple of weeks.

For Wednesday, look for a post on how to begin the process of planning for and accounting for roadblocks.


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Now What? Beyond the Diagnosis

This post was originally published in March 2018.


On Wednesday I published a deeply personal post about the first couple of months after getting my MS diagnosis and how I went through the coping and grieving process. Because it was an emotionally charged post, I wanted to balance it out with a post about finding acceptance and the healthy ways I’ve tried to manage my MS both physically and mentally.

First, let’s get this out-of-the-way: Any changes made you have to want for yourself and they will occur in the amount of time appropriate for you.

Do not let people, myself included, tell you that you have to make changes in a specific timeline or before you are ready.

Do not read this post and feel like you aren’t doing enough to manage your grief or your diagnosis. You are unique and different from me and that’s okay.

You will make the changes when you are ready.

Despite this, there are things I cannot recommend:

  • Staying stagnant and giving up
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Refusing to be open to new experiences

In my last post, I engaged in all of the above behaviors at one time or another, so when I say I cannot recommend them, I say it from personal experience. If you find that you are engaging in one, some, or all of these behaviors, it means you are still working through your grieving process.

That’s okay, but ideally, you want to move beyond the grief at some point because it brings personal peace that makes the pain and frustration more manageable.

So what does it mean to transition into acceptance?

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