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MS in the Time of COVID-19

I wanted to write a post about what it’s like to have MS in the time of COVID-19. A pandemic that overwhelmingly affects people with underlying conditions, which MS is. Chronic disease is an underlying condition. Adding in an immunosuppressant DMT can increase the risk of not being able to fight COVID-19. 

Does this mean I have an increased chance of dying from COVID-19 if I get it?

It’s not a simple “yes” or “no.” The answer is mostly, “I don’t know, but I can point to what the experts currently say on the matter.” Then I have to do what is right for me to stay safe. 

MS and COVID-19

First things, first. I am not a healthcare worker. Nor am I in public health. My knowledge in this area is minimal. It starts and stops with the amount of research I am willing to do on the matter. Therefore, take what follows, not as a replacement for medical expert advice.

And that’s what I want to may a point of: do your research on your condition. What you find might bring small comfort. 

When I sat down and researched my risk as someone with MS, who at one point in time was on an immunosuppressant DMT, I was shocked by what I found. For the current medical research out there, I am not at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19 if I got it. If I were older or had a comorbid condition, then I would be at a higher risk of contracting and struggling to fight the illness.

Outside of the MS, I am healthy. I have asthma, which is problematic. Still, my asthma is so well under control that you could make the argument that I don’t have it (diagnosed in childhood).

But if you have MS, your MS alone will not increase your chances of not being able to fight COVID-19. It’s everything surrounding the MS that might cause issues. That is why we, as people with chronic conditions, must be vigilant in how we approach this illness. 

Listen to current guidance from reputable health organizations, like the CDCWHO, or NHS. If you live in the United States, turn off the TV during the daily press briefings. Rarely will you get useful information on how to stay safe at this time, unless it is coming from the NIAID director. It is hard science and facts that will keep us safe and get us through this. Not intuition or feelings.

This is a great resource for what you can do to stay safe while living with MS.

When I was a Statistic

I recognize that not everyone is as lucky as me with their MS or chronic illness. At the very beginning of this crisis hitting the United States, I genuinely believed I was going to die from COVID-19. I swore that my MS would be the cause of it or my DMT.

For a solid month, I believed I was the person the news referred to when they said “underlying conditions” and “immunocompromised.” I was immunocompromised while on Tecfidera. But given the side effects I experienced and the pandemic, I decided to drop the DMT. I will be speaking more to my decision, and to my neurologist, on what my next steps will be in a later post. 

During this time, I was frightened. What I was most afraid of was not the illness itself, but leaving Jai and Ash. Jai would barely have memories of his mother, and I desperately wanted him to at least remember the love I have for him. Three is much too young to lose a parent, and my fear was for him rather than myself.

Believing I was a statistic brought on additional stress and frustration. It escalated my chances of an exacerbation (though I have yet to have one). It made my emotions run all over the place. I felt out of control, and I’ve talked about how problematic that is for me before. Grouping myself into the statistics was toxic for my mental health. 

I had to reign it in for myself and my family. That’s where the research helped me have a realistic picture of my situation. It gave me the necessary tools to feel more in control and how I managed my MS moving forward. I needed to find ways to provide myself comfort.

Finding Comfort

I want to preface this section by saying I am incredibly privileged to be secure in my home, my work, my food, and my family situation. I know not everyone is as lucky as me.

So, where do I find comfort at this time?

For me, it’s staying up-to-date on the latest science. I make sure to get it from vetted, reputable sources, not opinion-based “news” sites. There is only one way to look at the pandemic, and that is through hard science. The beauty of science is that it is always evolving. It is ever-changing when it runs into a dead-end or a faulty hypothesis. It adapts and finds new answers that push everything forward. 

It is through the science that I’ve found that I don’t need to live with the same level of fear I did a month ago. It is where I found my comfort.

But that said, the science is changing so much daily that it is sometimes best to give myself a day or two break from the latest news. Some days I only look at the information in the morning and don’t bother to interact with it for a day or two. 

Instead, I’ve created schedules for myself and the family that I stick by as much as possible. I try to create some version of a routine for us to help with our mental health.

Other things I am doing that provide comfort:

  • I minimalize our interaction with the public as much as possible. I’m getting us down to grocery shopping every other week. 
  • I made masks for the whole family. I wear the mask and gloves each time I have to go shopping (I properly dispose of the gloves, in my garbage at home).
  • I social distance as much as possible on runs or walks.
  • I wash my hands for 20 seconds and avoid touching my face for the day if I’ve been out in public.

The most important activity I do is to remind myself that this is temporary and will not be forever. I view all of this as a passing situation that I have to deal with for the next few months (or years), and will ultimately be a blip in what I hope will be a long life.

Yes, it hurts to be away from friends and running buddies. Yes, it hurts not to be able to go out in public spaces whenever I want. However, I am helping those on the frontlines of this fight by not putting myself in the hospital. 

Ultimately, I do not know which way the wind will blow if I catch COVID-19. I could be asymptomatic, it could be like a bad flu. Or it could be so devastating that I do need to be put on a ventilator. I don’t know how my body will react to it if I get it. Therefore, I take this time not to be angry at the injustice of it all, and it is unjust, but to appreciate what I am getting out of it. I am getting time with my family, time to read, time to explore new hobbies, and time to learn more about myself. 

I am grateful that I can write that last sentence. I know not everyone can.

We are in a difficult time, and living with MS makes it even more challenging. But the current science says that our MS alone will not increase our chances of getting and dying from COVID-19. The comorbid conditions impact that. I hope you find the same small comfort I did when I learned this information.

Remember, continue to follow the appropriate guidelines and keep yourself safe. We are in this together, and together we will get through it.

Attention to Chronic Illness Bloggers!

The MS Mommy Blog is looking to collaborate with other chronic illness bloggers for this year. If you have a chronic illness blog and would like an opportunity to tap into the MS Mommy Blog audience, please contact me here. I look forward to hearing from you.


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Reaching Out to Others

I struggle to ask for help. Ash will tell you that he has to drag it out of me when he knows I am struggling. I will get frustrated in those moments and give into his offers for help. Here’s how bad I am: when I was pregnant with Jai, I refused to ask for help even when I needed it. I had something to prove, mainly to myself, that I wasn’t helpless. While being independent isn’t a bad thing, learning to be okay with reaching out to others is equally important.

It’s humbling when I admit I need help. It feels like a weakness when I do. I am not imagining it either, American culture does not encourage asking for help. With the reemergence of the “bootstrap” narrative, it can lead us to feel awkward when we want to ask for help. Individually, Americans are happy to help those around them. But looking on a broader scale, Americans tend to prop up those who find success with minimal help.

This can lead to the rest of us feeling judged anytime we need to get help.

It would be nice to do everything on our own, but with a chronic illness, that’s often impossible.

Chronic Illness & Asking for Help

Having a chronic illness means we will need to ask for help at some point. It may be from family, friends, or healthcare providers. When we ask for help, we are performing an act of self-care.

But getting to the point where we can ask for help is the trick. Often, we’re dealing with an invisible illness. When we reach out for help, and we know we don’t look/act sick, it can feel like we’re being unreasonable. For myself, I feel like I am taking advantage.

If I need help from anyone, I will bumble out justifications why I need the help. I often feel like others won’t understand, or I need to remind them that I have a chronic illness. At times, I feel like I manage my MS so well, that others forget I even have it. So when I need help, I am coming from a place of “they will think I am taking advantage of them,” or “they will think I don’t really need the help.”

I recognize that I am being unfair to others when I take this attitude. I am not trusting that they will understand or that they don’t remember. People remember I have MS when I tell them. It also comes from a space of not believing others when they say, “let me help you.”

Learning to be “Okay” with Help

It is okay to ask for help. For the most part, you know what you are capable of doing. So when there comes a time where you need to reach out to others, do it.

But if you ask for help, show appreciation for whatever help you receive. I have helped others, and sometimes I receive an insult in place of gratitude. You may find it’s a similar situation when you ask for help: you feel vulnerable, and when you do, you may be slow to express your gratitude. But you want to preserve your friendship and be able to ask those people for help again.

Be sure to express your appreciation. Be okay with asking for help. Work on releasing any feelings of vulnerability and look at getting help as a sign of your inner strength.

You Are Not Alone

Coping with a chronic illness is a lonely affair. Your symptoms, your struggles, your victories, they are all internal fights for the most part. These battles become hidden from the outside world. It makes dealing with a chronic illness one of the loneliest journeys you’ll make in your life.

But you are not alone.

There are support groups out there relating to your illness, online and in-person. If you are uncomfortable with the support group dynamic, you can always read blogs and lurk in forums. You can find connections out there and similar stories/struggles to your situation.

The more you reach into these safe spaces for your illness, the more comfortable you should become in recognizing that there is normalcy with your disease. When you normalize your experience, it should be easier to reach out to others to help you. You see that getting help is part of the disease and there’s no shame in doing that.

Help Others Help You

In September, I reflected on the need some people have to help you cope with your illness. You can always say “no” to their help, but sometimes they are insistent, and you do need them.

To be clear, you are under no obligation to allow people to help you if you don’t want it. But sometimes it is easier to give in to the insistence and let them help.

In these scenarios, have a pre-set list of things you are willing to receive help on. It may be driving you to appointments, meeting for social interactions over coffee/tea, or dropping a pre-made meal off. By having an “okay” list to draw from, you won’t compromise your values, and you won’t be left struggling to find something for your friend to do.

It’s hard to accept help from others, but we cannot pretend we are an island. Sometimes it’s essential to reach out to others and let them help us cope with our chronic illness.


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Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

One of the hardest parts of having a chronic illness is the uncertainty that comes with it. How long will my attacks last? How long do I have before I get permanently worse? What’s the point in setting reasonable long-term goals if I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

It’s very easy to go to a negative place with a chronic illness. Even today, after feeling settled about my diagnosis and where I am in life, I have moments where I get negative about my situation. There are days where it feels like the MS is overrunning my life.

That’s why taking the steps for self-improvement can be hard because it feels hopeless to even start. But I want to say that no matter where you are at in your illness, there’s always an opportunity to set goals for personal growth.

Long-Term Goals as Complementary Treatment

The very act of setting a long-term goal while dealing with a chronic illness is a declaration that you are fighting the disease. It’s acknowledging that the disease will not be completely control your life – but you will be getting the control back.

Recent studies focused on the importance of setting goals, specifically with patients diagnosed with a chronic illness. Working with healthcare providers to establish long-term care goals related and unrelated to chronic disease management found that patients benefited from patient-centered care.

Additionally, setting goals outside of disease management, such as making lifestyle and wellness changes for overall health, found that patients positively benefited when no longer focused on disease management metrics.

When we focus on creating beneficial long-term goals either with disease management in mind or not, there are positive outcomes that manifest from the simple process of making the goals. It’s saying “I am going to be here a while and I am not accepting defeat in my disease.”

Hope, while there seems to be very little of it nowadays, does play a role in disease management. It’s not about being unaware of the reality of the situation or not being realistic about the diagnosis. Rather, I would argue it’s a statement that you make to yourself and with others that you are not allowing the illness to have the upper hand despite the ways it manifests.

By maintaining hope and setting long-term goals, you are taking on a more active role with your care and helping to stack the odds in your favor by doing what you need to do to get the best possible care given the circumstances.

Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

If you are taking the 2019 Wellness Challenge with MS Mommy Blog, you probably have a long-term goal you’re working on this year. Why am I bringing this up now, at the end of January? Mainly because if you are like me, and I am admittedly average, it’s around this time that I struggle to maintain my resolutions and goals.

I am also bringing it up because it’s to recognize and honor the importance of long-term goal making. I think it’s normal for people to discount the importance of goals, especially when coping with a chronic illness of sorts.

If you haven’t established a long-term goal for 2019, it’s never too late to start. The key is to set a reasonable goal that you know you can undertake.

Even if the goal is to have a five-minute conversation with your healthcare provider about the direction of your care and you know it will take all year to work up the courage to do so, this is a reasonable long-term goal to set for yourself.

This is why I settled on the S.M.A.R.T. method to work through this year. It keeps your goals grounded and applicable to whatever you are looking to do for the year. Make sure you sign-up for the newsletter to get the latest information on how to help set up reasonable long-term goals for the rest of the year.

This Coming Month

February will be focusing on the importance of self-compassion and chronic illness, especially when it relates to self-improvement and wellness. It’s easy for us to get caught up in feeling frustration with our limitations and chronic illness. But if we practice self-compassion and go easy on ourselves whenever possible, we’ll find that maintaining our goals will be easier.

Stay tuned for February.


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Featured photo credit:  Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash