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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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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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?

Read More


Red Hats for Little Hearts

This post was originally published in December 2017


The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone and for those of us who craft, we tend to use that crafting skill as a cathartic outlet. For me, I have a lot of energy and so I crochet as a means to keep my hands busy and out of trouble.

It works most of the time.

I really enjoy making something for another person. I’ve made a Griffin, Phoenix, the Lorax, and Scrump (from Lilo & Stitch) dolls for various friends and family members. The look of joy that comes on the receiver’s face always thrills me considering the time, thought, and effort put into the project.

Because this week’s theme is about generosity, I wanted to highlight a personal project my mom and I did with our crafting. The campaign is in February, so I wanted to provide enough time to raise awareness and give readers a chance to create something.

This year my mom mentioned that there is a program that collects handmade hats for newborns to raise awareness for heart health. February is heart health month in the United States, so this campaign is meant to raise heart health awareness for mothers and their newborn children by providing handmade hats for the little ones.

These hats will be distributed to local, participating hospitals to all babies born during the month of February.

How to Participate

This page provides all the necessary information, but here’s the quick run-down.

  • Find your state and select a group participating in the cause
  • You may need to contact the coordinator to get more information on how they want to receive the hats and their personal deadline
  • Make as many hats as you want and send them out before the deadline
  • If you are not a crafter or don’t have the time, consider donating to the American Heart Association

Restrictions

  • Hats will need to be simple, so please do not add any bows, pom-poms, or flowers to them (these pose choking hazards)
  • Currently, this program is only in the United States, but I have a couple of links below for other yarn-craft donation programs outside the States

Knitting Patterns

Crochet Patterns


Other Crafts for a Cause

If you make some hats (or participate in another project) be sure to post a picture of it in the comments below. I would love to see how they turn out!


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Photo Credit: Michelle Melton