Having a chronic illness like MS comes with a truck load of emotions, problems and confusion. It is bewildering, and all this comes on top of symptoms which impact your life is so many ways. Fatigue, pain, loss of sensation, and cognitive issues. There are so many, and somehow you need to make sense of them, and learn to live your life with some semblance of normality.
The one issue I have not mentioned above is stress, and how it can contribute to an exacerbation of all of these conditions. In my relapsing remitting phase the greatest source of stress for me was emotional. I kept everything inside, and this caused my fatigue, mobility and sensation to suffer. I was fortunate at that time to have no financial, work, or social stress, but the impact was still there.
Now, 27 years since diagnosis I am in the next phase, Secondary progressive MS and it is now teaching me new lessons. Suddenly I was no longer able to work, due to mobility issues, and chronic pain from a car accident. My ability to support myself was gone, and I had to resort to Disability Allowance, which has been a saviour. As part of my therapy after the crash I started seeing a psychologist and this has led me to meditation and journaling.
You would think a 47 year old would be able to handle stress better, especially emotional, but it was only from having a peaceful 20 minutes every morning, and writing down my emotions was I able to let go of these stresses which made me feel worse. I now have a technique which I use almost every day.
Do I still get stressed? Yes, but now I can see it happening, and I have learned how to burst its bubble. Resulting in my MS not flaring, and allowing me to manage my symptoms in a much more controlled way.
I'm seven years into my MS journey, still in the RRMS stage, and doing my best to keep a positive outlook on things. My symptoms so far have mainly been a mixture of sensory annoyances, pain and fatigue. Because of my age and my job, I don't tell many people about my diagnosis as I don't want to be treated differently. Unfortunately, I'm aware this means that when stress raises its head, I can't explain my difficulties to my colleagues.
Stress heightens everything for me: pain gets sharper, tinnitus gets louder, extremities get number, thinking gets slower, and overall I can feel like I'm having to get through my day sunken underwater with heavy weights strapped to me, while others all move around on the surface, oblivious and carefree.
Life is stressful enough on its own without the stress added by MS, and if I spend my time expounding this stress wondering about the "what ifs" and "when’s", I fear I could one day discover that I've lost years by worrying and forgetting to live.
So, I'm respectful of stress but I don't let it sink me. When I have upcoming stressful events, I plan hours, days, and sometimes weeks ahead. I write to-do lists. I stick to a decent sleep routine. I turn off screens. I read more. I get outside. I remind myself to breathe deeply, right down to my stomach. I also remind myself that this feeling will pass. When an unexpected stressful event happens, I do pretty much the same; I just have to be a bit more forceful with myself.
I can't live without stress, none of us can. But it's important to remember that while stress can make MS that bit worse, if we have appropriate tools to manage it, we can get through to the other side relatively unscathed.