I’ve been living with Multiple Sclerosis unknowingly and knowingly for almost thirty years, and in the last 12 years I’ve known lesions in my spinal cord are the root cause of pain and my body malfunctioning. I know my body is damaged from MS, I sense where it’s going, and yet it still surprises and frustrates me each time it worsens. It’s decades in the making, but changes feel like they hit me suddenly.
What was previously manageable might now be more intense and upsetting. I might still be able to cope, but there’s a looming fear that it might worsen and become unbearable. The unknowns of whether it is temporary or permanent and whether it will subside or progress add to the distress. I wonder whether my MS is just acting up or if this the beginning of my physical decline.
I think in this moment it’s good for me to figuratively zoom out while looking at my health over the years. I look beyond today, this week, this month and this year and review my collection of medical records, journals and lessons learned since my MS diagnosis. In doing so, I remember how the pain in my legs is not new at all. Medical questionnaires reveal I’ve been circling my lower legs and forearms for where it hurts for over a decade. I have volumes of notes documenting symptom management efforts. They include physical therapy, medication, yoga, stretches, physical activity, topical treatments, supplements and prescriptions all intended to mitigate MS spasticity.
I have a menu of remedies and good health habits I try to incorporate every day to combat pain caused by spasticity and slow any decline. Sometimes it’s enough, and sometimes I need more. All of it takes setting goals, tracking, built in routines and visual reminders to ensure I do them.
Being active is a treatment that helps me feel better not only physically but emotionally about the pain. Stretching, strengthening and movement do all of the things that physically help manage spasticity, and they help maximize future mobility. When I haven’t moved much at all, the pain feels like damage and degradation. When I’m active and my legs hurt, emotionally the pain feels more like recovery. Some may question whether physical endeavors make my legs hurt more, but my experiences have proven my overall pain is less when I’m active.
Zooming out helps me gain perspective and remember what I already know. It helps me create a plan for determining what I can do differently, what patterns might exist, and what helps or harms me. It helps reduce my fear and anxiety for what’s happening and what may come.