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Don't be quick to blame MS for all of your challenges

By Dan Digmann
Don-t-be-quick-to-blame-MS_1.jpegI will respectfully disagree with anybody who says there’s nothing easy about living with multiple sclerosis.

Yes, the MS-induced numbness makes it more difficult to button my shirt or confidently go for a brisk walk because I can’t always feel my feet. Of course, its unpredictability obstructs my willingness to readily commit to social engagements. And let’s not forget about the unfathomable fatigue that can knock me out for hours on end.

These are just a smattering of high-level symptoms many of us with MS face on a daily basis. Challenging, frightening, overwhelming, and sometimes depressing realities we must overcome.

Still, after living with MS for nearly 21 years, I stand firm that there is something incredibly easy for each one of us who is living with the disease: quickly blaming MS for every challenge we face.

It’s like we were diagnosed with MS, and now we have a ready-made scapegoat every time things don’t go right, such as when we drop a pen, feel exhausted, forget what we were trying to say or urgently have to go to the bathroom. “I have MS,” we rapidly reason. 

Not so fast. One thing I refuse to do is give MS more credit than it deserves. I’m better than that, and so are you. 

I get it that we can legitimately point the finger at this progressive illness of the central nervous system. Symptoms such as numbness, fatigue, cog fog and bladder issues are very real, and they’re MS problems I deal with quite often.

But by merely shrugging our shoulders and holding up our hands as if to inaudibly say, “Oh well,” we’re handing all the power and authority over to MS. 

Here are three ways to rethink your MS realities and give yourself some agency to empower yourself and take credit for all you’re doing to stay ahead of the disease.  

1. Instantly chalking up the issue to MS prevents us from pinpointing the source of a potentially treatable problem.

Feeling as though my hands always were asleep was among the initial reasons I went to my doctor because something didn’t seem right. Several tests, scans, and procedures eventually led to my formal MS diagnosis on Valentine’s Day 2000. 

My neurologist said, “Your MRI, spinal tap, and series of symptoms reveal that yes, Dan, you have multiple sclerosis.”


And so I moved forward content with knowing that MS was causing my numbness. That is, until a dear friend of mine who also has MS was tested for and diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in her hands. 

Wait, what? So, Cathy, you’re saying that the numbness in my hands potentially isn’t MS but is the result of my excessive typing as a professional writer? Why, yes, I am setting up an appointment with my neurologist for testing of this right now. Can you imagine if I could treat the numbness because it wasn’t the MS?

Keep dreaming, Dan. The test results came back, and the disease is why your hands are numb.

This isn’t to say I was or am in denial of the fact that I absolutely have this disease. However, there is no harm in looking further into the reasons behind the symptoms per chance it’s something that could be fixed.

2. When possible, proudly take responsibility for some of the symptoms you’re dealing with on any given day.

I can’t tell you how exhausted I am as I’m writing this. It’s a little after 7 in the evening, but my wife, Jennifer, and I actually slept in until 10 this morning and got well over nine hours of sleep last night. 

Stupid MS. It’s like it always is trying to hold me back and keeping me from doing the things I enjoy in life and… oh yeah, that’s right. 

Jennifer and I were outside yesterday trimming our overgrown shrubs in front of the house as temperatures climbed to the upper 80s long before noon. And I moved the hose multiple times to water patches where we planted grass seed last weekend, and then I spent the afternoon responding to emails and paying bills before talking to my parents as I cut down more flowering plants while the sun set and evening got cooler.

Yes, the MS added to my tiredness, but I am the reason I’m exhausted tonight. I brought this on myself. Go Dan! 

You see what I’m saying, right? MS likely is at the root of my symptoms, but before I give MS all the underserved credit, did I do anything to encourage it? Sometimes, no, it truly is just because of my MS. But other times, yes, I know my limits but push them anyway. For example, MS does cause bladder issues, but if I drink several cups of coffee within an hour, frequent and urgent trips to the restroom are all on me.

Rethinking in this way can take some of the onus off MS and put more on me, for better or worse.

3. Remember that those of us with MS don’t own the markets on things like fatigue, clumsiness, brain farts, and the like.

I think we've all been there before, and I’m sure we all were equally as offended as we explained our MS fatigue to a friend not living with the disease and in a seemingly unsympathetic voice says, “I understand. I get tired too.” To which we think something like, “You jerk! You have no idea! How dare you compare your fatigue to what I’m experiencing with my MS!”

But stop. There is some truth in what we all are saying. No, someone who doesn’t have MS can’t even start to comprehend the fatigue we’re dealing with. But, yes, everyone knows what it’s like to be tired.

Rather than separating out levels of symptoms as more extreme than what those who don’t have MS are living with, it helps to think more that we’re all in this together, and we all are doing the best we can.

If I drop something, I don’t blame my MS. Granted, these sorts of mishaps happen to me more often than I’d like because of my MS, but the reality is that dropping things is something that happens to everyone. And the sooner I realized and continue to remember this, the less I feel that MS is getting the best of me. 

4. Go beyond blaming MS 

Those of us living with MS are dealing with a lot. It’s a beast of a disease that confounds even the smartest of researchers. Think about that for a minute: it confounds even the smartest of researchers.

Still, you’ve found ways to stay ahead of, keep pace with and fight to keep up with it each day since you were diagnosed. Go you!

The reality is, yes, MS is going to find ways to complicate and control parts of your life. But changing and reworking some of the ways you think and the approaches you take can help you to move forward in spite of this disease that none of us asked for.

In my experiences, I’ve learned that it helps to not quickly blame MS for all of the challenges I’m facing. Going beyond that helps to ensure I don’t miss out on fixing a treatable symptom, empowering myself by recognizing the control I do have, and realizing I’m not the only person dealing with symptom-related issues.

This is why I encourage you to not blame MS for all of your challenges and not give the disease more credit than it deserves.