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Benefits of Journaling with MS

By Matt Cavallo

When I reflect on my early days of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, journaling was critical to me being able to accept my diagnosis and transition to a new life with MS. I never really kept a diary growing up, but I had always been a writer. As a teen, I wrote poems, songs and short stories to express my feelings and emotions. Then, in my late twenties, I needed to draw deep upon those skills to help me emotionally navigate the most trying time of my life.

It started while I was laying in my hospital bed, experiencing my initial onset of symptoms. My legs weren’t working, and I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own. I felt trapped in my hospital bed and experiencing things I didn’t know existed like CAT Scans, MRIs (with and without contrast dye), and the most medieval of all neurological tests, the spinal tap. Up until this point, I had never been seriously sick a day in my life and had never been hospitalized, making these experiences so foreign and bizarre to me that I felt incredibly propelled to chronical this new journey.

At my request, my wife brought me a notebook my first night at the hospital. Sleep at the hospital is hard to come by. The IV needle sticks to the cotton blanket ripping at your veins as you turn in your sleep. The Zamboni-like floor buffing machines pass by your room many times overnight with their engine humming and bristles bustling as they shine the heavily trafficked hospital hallway. And who can forget the night nurses who harvest blood around two or three in the morning so that the doctors can have updated labs when they arrive in the morning. 

My experience was fourteen years ago, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday because of my journal. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells, the emotions, the floral print scrubs and curly shoulder length dark brown hair of Shelly, the nurse who held both my hands tightly as I cried in pain during my lumbar puncture. All of this was in my journal.

Maybe you are sitting there reading this and thinking that this sounds great, but I am not a writer. Or you were like me and hadn’t written in a while. Either way you might be thinking what is in it for me? Why should I start writing? The answer is surprisingly simple: Writing is good for you.

In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported a ground-breaking study in which patients who were asked to write about a stressful experience actually got better, whereas the patients who weren’t allowed to write about their experience showed no improvement. "By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings," he explains. "It helps you to get past them."

Another benefit of journaling with MS is memory. If you are like me, then your MS may have an effect of your memory. By journaling, you have a tool that can help you recall a symptom or situation that you may have had in the past. Keeping a symptom journal can also help you talk to your neurologist or remind you of symptoms to bring up during your next visit.

In addition to memory, there are other cognitive benefits of journaling. Writing helps keep your mind sharp. It helps you connect the dots and complete thoughts when some of the cognitive issues that arise with MS may make critical thinking and functioning difficult. Journaling also helps you cope with the emotion, anxiety and unresolved feelings that may arise as a result of your diagnosis.

Now that you know about the health benefits of journaling. Writing doesn’t come naturally to everyone. In part two, I will give you tips and tricks about how to journal your MS journey.