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Don’t let MS get inside your head

By Dan Digmann
“Oh, come on! It’s all in your head!”

I’m sure all of us living with multiple sclerosis have heard an unsupportive friend or family member flip those snarky words at us to avoid hearing about or helping us through our MS realities.

Scientifically speaking, they’re absolutely correct. I mean, just look at the legion of white lesions sprinkled throughout of our MS-effected brains. Totally in our heads! 

I remember once when such a statement was made to me at the absolute wrong time that I frankly followed up with, “You are so right! It is in my head! And you know what? It’s also in my spine and entire central nervous system.”


I was undeniably 100 percent correct in my comment, but here’s one thing all of us with MS need to remember to prove the naysayers wrong: for as easy as it is to let your guard down, don’t let MS get inside your head. Allowing the disease to mentally set up camp inside your mind has the potential to paralyze you before it ever could physically phase you.

Within a month of getting diagnosed with MS, I called in sick to work twice within three weeks. The constant numbness in my hands had crawled up through my forearms and into my shoulders. Even my ankles and toes started to tingle. This was the onset of a no-longer-elusive MS exacerbation I was warned of and relentlessly feared.

It’s as though I immediately had turned into Fred Sanford from the 1970s sitcom “Sanford and Son”, thinking, “Oh no! This is the big one!” as I left a voicemail for my boss, Linda, to let her know I wasn’t feeling well, again.

For that fleeting moment, MS was in my head. It turns out I merely had a really bad cold, which, I eventually learned, would momentarily irritate the MS symptoms I already had. You see the difference, right? Momentarily irritate, not permanently exacerbate.

Lesson learned, and my continued education in living with this disease eventually exorcised this particular MS demon out from inside my head.

For the better part of the past five years, the arches of both my feet have ached in excruciating pain. Like they’re bruised, but without the black and blue. 

The opinions of two different podiatrists had determined I was suffering from plantar fasciitis, and the best they could do was give me custom-designed orthotic inserts. After consulting with both my now-retired neurologist and my newly appointed neurologist, the foot pain was not MS-related.

Giving the one podiatrist another chance, I was told what I had was some sort of tendonitis, and I just needed different shoes. Nearly $150 later, my feet still hurt.

I seriously doubted each of the aforementioned medical professionals and essentially had convinced myself that what I was dealing with really was a super-secret MS symptom that even the best of doctors couldn't detect. 

Yes, give in Dan. Just chalk it up to MS and move on, one sore step at a time. 

Just as MS was getting ready to check itself into my head, my wife, Jennifer, encouraged me to see one more podiatrist for yet another assessment and opinion. She had good luck with him for one of her foot concerns, so I asked myself, “Why not?”

With that one visit, it’s like the heavens opened up and the foot healings began. Hallelujah! Yes, he also said I had plantar fasciitis, but he told me what was wrong, helped to decrease the inflammation, and offered reliable treatment recommendations.

Because I didn’t give into MS playing with my mind, my feet haven't felt this good in more than 1,825 days (that’s five years to you and me).

One of the best ways I’ve dealt with my MS is treating it like it’s a competition. A game of sorts. Baseball has innings. Football and basketball have quarters. MS and I have minutes. Hours. Days. Months. 

More than 21 years into the battle with MS, I’m still winning.

This has less to do with the fact that I still can walk and work full-time and is more about my ability to mentally stay in the game and ahead of the tricks MS can play on my mind and me. One of the biggest downfalls in any competition is when a team or player allows an opponent to get inside their head. Skills, agility, and sheer talent only go so far if your opponent has you second-guessing your every move.

MS has challenged me on several levels. I can’t go running anymore because I’m left-side weak and was falling down too much. I started growing a beard because I couldn't handle a razor to shave my entire face. I no longer drink coffee at work if I know I have to sit through an hourlong meeting.

These adjustments are because of my MS, but I don't question what I could have done differently or long for what might have been. Rather, I look at where I am, who I’m with, and where we can go from here. 

Yes, I’m always aware of my MS, but I never allow it into my head beyond the many scars that it already has left on my brain.