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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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A Typical Day with MS

MS is a disease where each person’s experience is different from another’s. With three different types of diagnoses, Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS), Relapse-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS), and Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS), the disease can behave differently from person-to-person. Within each type, there are a variety of symptoms that may not be experienced by each person. A typical day with MS will vary, but I wanted to spend today’s post discussing mine.

A Typical Day with MS

If I am in half-marathon training, then I will get up with the alarm clock really early. I typically get 5 – 6 hours of sleep which I know is not enough, but it’s hard to go to bed immediately after putting Jai to bed. I want to spend time with Ash, so I don’t get to bed until 11pm most nights.

My mood and energy are generally fine on these mornings. I keep my exercise gear set out so I don’t fumble looking for it. This allows me to sleep as late as possible before making the 15-minute drive to run with my mom.

After my run, I have to rush back home so Ash can leave for work on time. I will be full of energy at this point, but I start my first cup of coffee for the day. I probably drink 3 – 4 cups of coffee throughout the day and at least one cup of black or green tea in the afternoon to keep my energy levels up. I definitely do not drink enough water, which may be hindering my energy levels in its own way.

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2019-MS-Awareness-Month

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Portions of this post appeared during 2018’s MS Awareness Month. I have updated to reflect new information.


What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes the demyelination of the central nervous system. These attacks will disrupt signals from one part of the body to another which are expressed in a variety of symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, weakness, speech difficulty, and more serious manifestations.

Because MS is autoimmune, it means that the body attacks and damages itself sometimes beyond repair. 

There are three different categories of MS a person will receive when getting their diagnosis (Clinically-Isolated Syndrome [CIS] is the fourth type):

  1. Relapse-Remitting (RRMS): symptoms appear randomly and can range in severity. Once treatment of the symptoms is complete, the patient will return to “normal,” though some symptoms may persist after the flare-up. The disease progresses slowly if at all. 85% of new diagnoses receive the RRMS classification.
  2. Primary-Progressive (PPMS): neurological functions worsen at the onset of symptoms though there are no distinct flare-up or periods of remission like with RRMS. 10-15% of new diagnoses receive PPMS classification.
  3. Secondary-Progressive (SPMS): Around 50% of RRMS patients will progress into SPMS within 10 years of their initial diagnosis (specifically those who do not treat their MS). This is a progressive worsening of symptoms and neurological functions over time.

Anyone can get MS. That’s the scary thing. But there are certain groups of people who are more prone to the diagnosis:

  • People between 20 – 50
  • People further away from the equator
  • Women are 2 – 3 times more likely to get an MS diagnosis
  • Parent or sibling diagnosed with MS (~1-3% chance)
  • People with low vitamin D levels
  • People who had mononucleosis or another virus linked to MS at one point in their life
  • Already diagnosed with one autoimmune disease

It is estimated that around 2.5 million people globally have the MS diagnosis.

Busting Misconceptions

  • Getting the MS diagnosis is not a death sentence. Fifty or so years ago, before anything was known about the disease or ways to help treat it, it may have been. But now that there are so many disease-modifying therapies out there and complementary treatments, it is easy to manage the disease and help slow its progression.
  • No one is the same. If you have MS it is not going to look like mine nor is it going to look like your friend’s cousin. Yours or your loved one’s experience with MS is going to be unique to you and that’s okay. Do not compare yourself to others.
  • Start that family if you want.¬†If you are physically, financially, and emotionally capable, the decision to have a family should not be decided by the MS diagnosis. While there may be a genetic component to the disease, you are unlikely to pass the disease down to your children.
  • No, it is not spread through the blood. Unfortunately, many blood-related organizations are still very backward when it comes to their information about MS. The Red Cross recently opened it up so people with MS could donate blood, but local and smaller blood collection agencies may reject you if you disclose your diagnosis.My heart was broken when Jai’s cord blood donation was rejected based on my MS diagnosis. They claimed they would use it for MS research but I have no way of following up with them.
  • You can look and be glamourous¬†despite an MS diagnosis. Just look at Selma Blair at this year’s Vanity Fair party. Using a walking device can double as a fashion accessory and wearing gowns can be a more common occurance. MS does not have to take away your sense of style.

An Invisible Disability

MS is a disease that can external and internally manifest itself. People with mobility devices like canes or scooters, or have handicap allowances outwardly express their MS so outsiders can be more accommodating.

But there is a whole group where all the manifestations of the disease are internal: no devices, handicap provisions, or a way for outsiders to see that we have MS.

This is what makes it an invisible disability.

Just like people with mobility devices, allowances may still need to be made for us, i.e. opportunities to rest, take extra time to work on a project, or need a few days off to treat a flare-up, but getting those allowances can be met with resistance.

My one negative experience was weeks before my actual diagnosis. I just got out of the hospital from a 5-day round of intravenous steroids to treat my optic neuritis and was in a grocery store with my mother. I was extremely weak from the steroids, lack of sleep, and overwhelmed emotionally from the experience when I slowly rounded a corner with my cart (I needed it as a means of support) and an older man started cussing me out when I got in his way.

He was telling me that I needed to give way to him (I actually had the right of way in grocery store etiquette) due to his age and I needed to move quicker. I tried to explain that I was too weak but he moved my cart while I was holding it, cussed me out, and flipped me off as he walked away.

It was a humiliating experience. And I have been fortunate not to experience anything like it again.

Will there be a Cure?

At this point in time, there is no cure. But there is a lot of positive research coming out around the world about possible treatments and steps closer to a cure.

There are plenty of drug therapies out there that help minimize the impact of flare-ups and the progression of the disease, but we still have a long way to go before getting rid of MS and reversing its damage altogether. By raising awareness we can help keep the research momentum going and hopefully see it disappear in our lifetime.


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Personal Growth (after having a child)

Today is Jai’s 2nd birthday.

I wanted to spend the post reflecting on how much my life changed for the better since his arrival two years ago.  It’s going to be a post about me, but hopefully not too sappy when I talk about Jai and his impact on my life.

Life before a Toddler

To be cliche, life before a child is relatively uncomplicated. Any complications I had to deal with were of my own making. I was in graduate school, dealing with interpersonal drama, and trying to manage my MS. Granted, at the time, I didn’t see how I affected everything around me and how I could untangle myself from my complications, but I wasn’t ready to receive the wisdom that life experience gives to tell me that.

To be fair, life with a child isn’t any more complicated than without – it’s just what becomes complicated shifts and you are now responsible for another human being. Life is complicated in a different way.

Before Jai, my life was completely unfocused. I had to figure out how to handle my diagnosis, I needed to re-prioritize my life, and I needed to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for the long-term. Many moments were spent just allowing myself to be distracted from figuring out what I wanted to do and allowing myself to remain in a rut.

This would include binge-watching TV, comfort eating, playing games, teaching without forward momentum, and finding other means to avoid dealing with what kept me from finding focus.

I thought when I re-prioritized my life after accepting my MS that I was done, but I still engaged in avoidant behavior when it came to making major life decisions. I needed to drop toxic people from my life (and be okay when they left), make serious professional decisions, and do a better job managing my health.

I think in some part having a child was another means of distracting me from making those decisions. I had a biological desire to have a child, but I also wanted to push decision-making down the road for a couple more years. Not a good reason to have a child, by the way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the parents.

Changing for the Better

It wasn’t an instantaneous change when Jai was born. I had to recover, readjust, and reprioritize my life with a new family member. A newborn provides a great distraction for those looking to be distracted. But after my MRI in July 2017, coupled with Jai’s increasing solid food diet, I realized that I needed to make some serious life changes.

On the days I drove to work I saw a sign that said: “be the person your dog believes you to be.” I always thought it was a silly sign mainly because I am a cat person and I never gave it much thought to the philosophy behind it. Once I had Jai I reflected on what the sign truly meant (but switched out “a dog” for “a child”): a child views a parent as a protector, educator, and comfort. I realized that I needed to become the person Jai thought I was to the best of my ability.

That’s when I decided to begin my journey towards healthier living, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Jai didn’t make me change, that wasn’t and never will be his responsibility. I was changing for Jai and mostly for myself. I realized that I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life and that unhappiness was going to impact Jai.

But it would be dishonest to say that I would have made these changes with or without a child. I would like to think that I had enough self-awareness to make the changes eventually, that I would get tired of my status quo, but I don’t think I would have gone in a positive direction. I suspect I would have given up on a lot of things and just existed, waiting for my MS to progress to the point of no return.

I think that having something outside of me and dependant upon me, beyond a cat, was my “rock bottom.” Having Jai was both the highlight of my life up to that point, but the wake-up call I needed to have to make necessary changes. Again, not his responsibility, but for me was the kick in the pants I needed to make improvements.

There are plenty of days where I wish I made these changes before having Jai, but I don’t believe in indulging too much in regret, so here I am.

Moving Forward

I am hoping that I will continue to grow and change in positive ways for Jai. I want to be the person he believes I am: confident, caring, kind, strong, and comfort. It’s important that I model positive behaviors for him so he can become the person I know he can be.

I just find it so hard to believe that another person can make someone want to change for the better. I wanted to be a better person for Ash when we first met, but I moved at a glacier’s pace for him. With Jai, when I made the decision to change it was much faster and more persistent.

I think the best birthday present I could give Jai is my commitment to him and continuing to be the best, yet acceptable imperfect, parent he needs in his life.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Teaching Children About MS

Ash and I haven’t had many conversations about how we would explain my MS to Jai, mainly because it hasn’t come up. The time is coming where one of us will need to sit down and explain why Mommy isn’t like other Mommy’s despite all that I try to do.

Because I haven’t had a conversation with Jai, I did some research and compiled in one place how to effectively speak about a parent with a disability/chronic medical condition. Unfortunately, the internet is surprisingly sparse about how to have a conversation with a child about a parental disability.

If you’ve already had the conversation with your child and want to share how it went, please comment with your story and suggestions below.

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