What MS has taught me - by Melanie Suda

I was diagnosed with Remitting Relapsing MS (RRMS) a week before my 15th birthday in 1991 and have now had this condition for 30 odd years. Despite the rollercoaster of everchanging symptoms, relapse, and remission on a regular basis and now the challenges of Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS), it has been a great teacher and helped me learn more about myself, the community and the world at large.

It is a life experience that I can now say I am grateful for as it has taught me grace and acceptance of my lot despite the ups and downs.
Originally, I experienced a tumultuous first few years in and out of hospital, having regular steroid treatment and what my neurologist called explosive MS symptoms. I also explored complementary therapies to deal with my symptoms like massage, yoga, and meditation.

To put my experience into context, it is important to remember that back in 1991 there were no disease modifying therapies (DMTs) available and the medical advice was to go home and wait for the inevitable decline with no guiding prognosis to attach a life map to. Today, with the help of MRIs and medication, doctors can give those more recently diagnosed a plan on how to deal with their symptoms and slow down the possible progression of the condition.

MS for me has thrown up many challenges over the years from problems with vision, mobility, bladder and bowel changes as well as the constantly fluctuating sensory issues and fatigue which can make planning appointments with friends, family and others difficult at the best of times.

Regardless of my variable health, I have found a few tools that are essential to coping with this condition:

  1. Faith
  2. An optimistic outlook
  3. Self-care
  4. Self-compassion
  5. Gratitude, and above all
  6. Hope

I tackle MS from all angles by ensuring that I eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, exercise and sunlight and maintain social connection through volunteering at my local Church and attending an MS support group. Music and maintaining a sense of humor are also helpful ways I have found of coping with the mental and physical challenges MS throws up.

I do these things alongside following the sound advice of my treating doctors and coming to my own decision about which DMTs to use. This collegiate approach has proved a good one for me.

We live at a great time in medical history with new understandings and discoveries occurring at an exponential rate. By using a holistic approach to managing illness, you can put yourself in the best position to benefit from new advances in healthcare and hopefully, even a cure.

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