Tag: chronic illness

The Impact of MS on Mental Health

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and although I have talked about MS and depression before, it feels right to talk about it again this week. We also know I like to set the record straight on how soap operas deal with MS, and the current storyline in EastEnders is no exception (I’ll come back to this in a bit).

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It’s not unusual to experience some kind of impact on your mental health when diagnosed with MS. There are a variety of reasons that it might happen as well, which can sometimes be difficult to get your head around. It’s a bit chicken and egg. “Am I feeling down because I’ve got MS, or is MS making me feel down.” Let me explain.
You can categorise the reasons for MS related mental health problems. They are either directly or indirectly related to MS.
Directly related symptoms include nerve damage which means the wrong emotional signals are going to your brain. This means that you could feel sad for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It also includes the psychological reaction to MS. You might feel grief, anger, resentment and uncertainty to name just a few things. Not related directly to MS include factors such as your personality type. That is to say that certain emotional reactions are just who you are. You may also have had depression regardless of MS. The same goes for stress and anxiety. Lastly, you might experience mental health problems as a side-effect of medication.
Roughly 50% of people with MS suffer from depression at some point, but as you can see, the reason behind it can vary greatly. That means that treating it can too. We all need something different. For some people, that’s talking-therapies or medication. For others that’s taking some time out, doing something that sparks you joy.
There’s another symptom of MS called “emotional lability” or “emotionalism,” which is something that I have. If you have either of these things, you’ll find that you have disproportionate or irrational emotional reactions to situations. Something really small might happen that you display excessive amounts of frustration or anger towards. You might laugh inappropriately. Sometimes I cry with laughter then switch to sobbing my heart out. I feel overcome with sadness and I have no idea why.
Prior to being diagnosed with MS, I considered myself to have fairly sound mental health. Sure, I had times when I got stressed and I had periods where I felt down, but for the most part I’d describe myself as a cheerful soul. I rarely felt life get on top of me. I never experienced the “black cloud” over my head.
The first experience I had of “not being ok” was during the period of awaiting diagnosis. The waiting game was horrible. I felt constantly sick. That knot in my stomach. When were they going to tell me what was wrong with me? I felt forgotten. Abandoned. Lost in the system. Much as I feared the inevitable outcome, I wanted to be put out of the torturous game of waiting. Every time my phone rang I wondered if it would be the hospital confirming my fate. I was OBSESSED with the arrival of the postman for the arrival of letters from hospital, with some hint of answers.
And then I got my answers. I won’t lie, I experienced relief. And then I just powered on through. Like nothing had changed, when the reality was, it’s probably the most significant thing that has ever happened to me. I maintained a façade of coping. Feeling ok with it. And deep down I really wasn’t. Everyone kept telling me I was being strong. And in my head, strong equated to still smiling and laughing. Being ok. Continuing to breeze through life. So that’s what I did.
I went through chemotherapy in June 2018 to hopefully halt (or at least dramatically slow down) the progression of my MS. I took six weeks off work to recover and towards the end of that, I experienced my first brush with anxiety. The thought of going back to work made me feel terrified. I didn’t know how I was going to react. I didn’t know how others were going to react to me. I was genuinely scared. This was when I first started receiving Reiki, and to say it helped is an understatement.
Somewhere along the line it all got a bit too much and I finally allowed myself to feel everything that I had been bottling up. I cried and cried. I felt grief and mourned for the good health that I previously had. I felt the guilt of being a burden to work and colleagues, my friends, family and more than anybody, Dave. This wasn’t the life he signed up for. I felt scared for the future. I was in pain and I was furious with the injustice of me of all people having this condition. I envied people that got ill, but made a full recovery. I shut myself off, didn’t feel like going out and spent a lot of time either sleeping or just sat, staring into space. I lost my get-up and go. It felt dark. I was still functioning but I felt numb. I was doing nothing more than going through the motions.

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One day, I had an appointment with one of the MS Nurses, and had a real download of how I was feeling. She’s not a counsellor so she couldn’t help in that respect but she did come up with a magic pill. She told me it would help to ease the physical pain I was in, but would also help to lift my spirits a bit. And it really has. I know when I’ve not taken it, that’s for sure.
Now, I feel that I’m out the other side of that dark time. I still have the odd day where the realisation of the condition that I have hits me like a ton of bricks and I feel like crap. But it’s becoming more and more infrequent. I now accept that some days I’m going to be fed up. But I do what I can to find escapism, whether that be in a book, a TV series, hanging out with Poppy or finding something else that sparks happiness in me.
There’s one other factor that can affect depression in MS patients that I have deliberately held back as I want to talk about it in relation to EastEnders. And that’s that there’s other stuff going on in your life unrelated to MS that’s causing your mental ill-health. I’m hazy on the details as I don’t watch it, so I’m only telling it as I understand it, but in a current storyline, a character with MS takes her own life. The soap describes the storyline as wanting to “explore the impact of MS on mental health.”
I think it’s great that they’re drawing attention to the impact that MS has on your emotional wellbeing. I’ve already said that at least half of people with MS will experience some form of mental ill-health. So why did I say at the start of this blog that I’m unhappy about it?

Dinah with Karen Taylor in EastEnders
Because it’s extreme. Irresponsible even, with 100 people in the UK being diagnosed with MS each week. What kind of message is it sending out about an already misunderstood condition? It’s terrifying enough without a suicide storyline happening in the background. If your only knowledge of MS is someone who is impacted by it so badly that they choose to take their own life, it doesn’t bode well. You don’t know at that point that very few people with MS are permanently confined to a wheelchair. Having said that, even with that knowledge it doesn’t mean that we don’t fear that we might just be one of the unlucky ones. So please don’t scare the living shit out of us unnecessarily.
The thing is, this character has a lot of other stuff going on outside of their MS, as well as their MS being a stage that many will be fortunate enough to never reach. I just don’t think it’s a realistic representation of how MS can affect people mentally. It’s the most extreme example of it. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. It’s disrespectful to those that do suffer this badly to say it doesn’t. All I’m saying is it’s not the norm. What scares me is that someone newly diagnosed, that doesn’t yet know much about the condition see’s it. What scares me is that the message that sticks around from this will be “person with MS kills themselves because of how horrible MS is.” And that’s not a true reflection on the reality.

A week in the life of an MSer – Wednesday

8am – Wake Up
A natural wake up this morning as no work. Just as well really as legs feel terrible. Not dragging myself out of bed in a hurry.

9am – Get Up!
Time to get up – I’ve got a Reiki appointment at the MS Therapy Centre at 11, but like to get in just before for a natter with some of the other attendees. I stick on a load of washing and grab some breakfast.

10.30am – MS Therapy Centre
As always, it’s a mad-house, even though it’s not too busy. After seeing a woman in her 80s with MS on the news last week who does it every week, the centre are planning a trip to the indoor sky diving near the Trafford Centre in Manchester. I get my name on the list – seems like fun and boldly tell Pete (the chairman) I’d be up for doing a charity sky dive for the centre. My Reiki Master, Nicola is the therapist at the centre and she gave me my certificate for passing my 2nd degree attunement course. I’m now qualified as a Reiki practitioner! Then I head in for my therapy with her.

Midday – Reiki done!
Although I can give myself Reiki, it’s never quite the same as it is as receiving the therapy off someone else, so I like to go and receive one every couple of weeks. It keeps me well balanced when I’m giving a lot of energy healing to others. The weirdest thing happened today. I always know when Nicola has picked up on something as there’s something in the way she asks me how I am. I told her I have no idea what happened but it was so weird right at the end. We think I might have attempted to leave my body – she literally sensed it and I felt a whoosh down out the bottom of my feet. It’s not really the kind of thing you can put into words. She said overall things felt very peaceful though which is a good way to describe how I feel at the moment. My therapy leaves me feeling relaxed but energised.

12.30 – Back out
This Wednesday I’m definitely a lot busier than I usually am – I try to relax a lot more but as I’m not feeling bad from a fatigue point of view, I’m taking advantage of it! My work BFF who left last week has picked me up for us to go out for a meal. It was so nice to catch up even though she’s only be gone a week!

4pm – Home
I spend about half an hour chilling out before heading over to Dave’s. I feel ok, but my legs are still feeling a bit “off”.

5pm – Dave’s
I get to Dave’s and am welcomed in the warmest way from Pops! I get straight in my pyjamas and into bed!

6pm – Poppy cuddles and TV catch up
On the couch with Pops and catching up on the soaps (yes, yes. I know! I love Corrie though!) We don’t really move. Dave has a nap and I read a bit of my book between episodes. The whole evening is just quite chilled, and also very lazy!

10pm – Bed
Head to bed so I can get half an hour of reading in before I go to sleep. I’ll be up a little earlier tomorrow as I’m going to work from Dave’s and he lives a bit further away.

11pm – Sweats
I’m getting on top of the covers this evening. It’s one of those nights where my body temperature just doesn’t want to drop. I’ll get in at some point on the night when I finally cool down!

A week in the life of an MSer – Tuesday

6.50 – Wake up
Really don’t want to get up today! I knew I’d pay for last night’s outing but I’m off work tomorrow so that’ll get me through the day! I do my usual body scan to see what’s hurting and what’s not. There’s a little twinge in my ankle but I think after I’ve walked about a bit it should be ok!

7.45 – Arrive at work
I’m on my own for most of today, so hopefully I’ll be reasonably busy to keep me occupied and symptoms at bay!

10.30 – Ankle
This flipping ankle of mine has flared up again. Oddly, it’s actually better in shoes with a small wedge, but I’m in flat shoes today.

1.00pm – Dinner
I have a flick through Facebook on dinner. When I first got diagnosed with MS I joined loads of groups then proceeded to leave them all. I’ve rejoined one called MS-UK though and it’s really good. It’s a great place to check in about random symptoms and knowing if that’s MS or not. Today I’ve learned that my having a constant need to itch it totally related to MS!

6.00pm – Out of Office
That’s me done until Thursday now, so out of office is on and I switch off the alarms on my phone at the same time, otherwise I’ll be getting woken up dead early.

6.30pm – Home
I’m knackered and I strongly debate getting a take away. I really cannot be bothered to cook. I end up making a one pan rice thing though. There’s enough for three days too so I won’t have to worry about cooking for a couple of days.

7pm – Mail
I’ve come home to not one letter from the hospital today but five! The first one is to cancel my next nurse appointment, the second is to give me my blood forms for my next blood test, another two are more appointments and the last is from my consultant summarising my annual check up last week. All was well and no major concerns. My 25 metre walk took six seconds longer but I don’t think that’s a concern. Last year I tried really hard feeling like I had something to prove so I probably almost sprinted! He’s also recommended I increase my Vitamin D to 5000iu a day. To put that in a bit of perspective, the High Dosage off the shelf Vitamin D tablets are about 1000iu.

8.30pm – Bath
The weather has been cold and horrible today. When I get that cold, I struggle to warm up and that’s when the twinges and cramps in my legs start. The reality is, I’m pretty lucky – I can move about like normal (with the occasional hobble) and apart from my ankle, the worst it is is discomfort – not real debilitating pain.

10pm – After Life
In bed and finishing After Life – the new Ricky Gervais series on Netflix. Definitely watch it! It’s brilliant. Whilst watching, I give my legs some Reiki in the hope it’ll ease some of the cramping and restlessness.

11pm – Lights out
Time to go to sleep. Today’s not been a bad day in terms of fatigue – just slight dull aches and discomfort in my body.

A week in the life of an MSer – Monday

As March is MS awareness month, I thought I’d write a series on a week in the life of an MSer. I’ll write everyday but I might not get them posted everyday but I’ll do my best!

Enjoy!

6.40am Wake Up
Although I feel groggy, there’s no aches this morning which is a relief as my ankle has been giving me quite a bit of hassle over the last few weeks.

8.02am – Arrive at work
Get into work and log on. Catch up with a couple of colleagues about how my weekend was. We just slept a lot this weekend which was much needed!

9.30am – Toilet Trip
Luckily I’m like clockwork in the toilet department. Because of certain nerves that are damaged, I don’t usually realise I need to go for a number two until it’s VERY short notice 🙈

11am – I need something to do
I’ve run out of stuff to do. And this is when my fatigue really sets in. Even though I’ve slept all weekend I’m feeling tired. Fatigue always gets worse when I haven’t got stuff to distract me from it.

Midday – Found stuff to do
I’ve managed to find something to keep me occupied and I’m feeling better for it. It’s a bit early for dinner though. I work longer days so although colleagues are going for lunch, I’ll probably leave it another hour or so

1pm – Lunch
I take my lunch on my own – the time on my own helps me recharge my batteries. I tend to switch off with a book for half an hour. I never used to take my dinner and I was really struggling with fatigue. So I’m now trying to behave myself and actually take my dinner break!

4.30pm – Final Stretch
I always used to have finished work by now, but I’ve changed my shift pattern this year. I now work four longer days with a Wednesday off. It’s really working for me, having that rest in the middle

6pm – Finished!
Today has been a good day but it’s not done yet. This evening I’m heading over to an Essential Oil and Chakra course. I’ll grab food on the go.

9.30pm – Finally home
It’s been a really long day so I’m straight in my pyjamas with my feet up catching up on MasterChef! I’m starting to feel the tingling a bit more prominent in my feet and have a bit of restless legs. This is totally normal when I’ve been really busy all day. No pain though. I’ll also take 4000iu of Vitamin D.

10.40pm – Sleep meditation
My “sunrise/sunset” alarm clock goes off at 10.45pm so it’s time for a quick 5 minute meditation which I can guarantee will send me to sleep!

“But you don’t look sick.”

I read an article earlier today which raised the point of being asked to give up a priority seat on the train. It stirred something in me and I felt the need to share my take on this story. 

Not long after I was diagnosed, I was on the tram in Nottingham during rush hour. I was knackered and my balance isn’t the greatest – especially on the tram! I also struggle with sensory overload and I’ve found that crowds, like when you’re squashed in like sardines, really unsettling. I’ve come close to experiencing panic attacks in those environments. So on this day, I chose to sit down in the only available seat. A priority one, which we all know are for disabled people, pregnant women or children. If we are sat in one, we know we should move for someone that gets on that needs that seat more than us. 

I really needed that seat that day. But someone got on with crutches and a broken leg. So I immediately got up and let them sit down. But the question is, should I have? But then how do other people react to that if I don’t? People certainly look at you with a certain amount of judgement. 

Recently it was brought to my attention that someone had questioned the fact that I park on site at work but I can also drag myself to the gym. Which in fairness I haven’t done for a while as I’m struggling with fatigue. Again, it’s that same judgement as on the tram. At work, we’re only allowed to park on site permanently if we are working a late shift, or if we are a blue badge holder. The alternative is that we park a short walk away on the Bolton Wanderers stadium car park. It’s roughly a 7 – 10 minute walk. No, I’m not disabled enough for a blue badge and I wouldn’t want to be disabled enough for one. I wouldn’t wish that upon myself or anyone. But what I can say, is I wouldn’t in a month of Sunday’s park that far away from my destination anywhere else. It hurts me to walk continuously for anything more than 5 minutes. The pain varies. Some days it’s like my calves are on fire, on other days my right ankle is really tight and causing a lot of pain. If it’s not that, I’m just bloody shattered and it’s a walk that I just don’t need. My legs feel like they’re being dragged through treacle.

But back to the gym. It’s not like I’m running on the treadmill. In fact I barely go on the treadmill. If I am in the gym, I’m generally lifting weights, in an attempt to keep my strength up. As it tends to be static, it doesn’t cause the same pain as walking can. And if I’m having a bad leg day, I just work the top half of my body. If I’m tired, I just don’t go to the gym but might do some yoga at home. The bottom line is, if you don’t use your limbs, you might just lose them.

The point is, when you have an invisible illness you’re constantly being judged. Yet it feels as though no-one takes the time to understand. Choosing to remain positive about your condition can be a poisoned chalice too. Because if I’m smiling, I surely can’t be struggling, can I? Yes. Yes I can. 

Actually, “how can you go to the gym, but need to park on site?” is an absolutely fair question. Without being in my shoes, I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Same as the priority seating on public transport. The message to take from this blog, is if you have a judgement about someone, seek to understand. And that’s whether it’s about an invisible illness or otherwise. 

Going Strong

Although I go for appointments every month I only see Danny once every three, and today was my day to see him. The last couple of times I’ve been to see him I’ve been feeling pretty fed up, but today it was nice to be able to go in with a smile on my face. 

I vowed not to get too hung up on my lymphocytes (white blood cell count) because it’s normal for it to fluctuate month on month. There are also theories about the slower it building up, the more effective the treatment. I didn’t want to get obsessive about that and wanted to do my best to remain calm and to just let Danny let me know if there was anything to worry about. I did however give in today. After a bit of a cold that I recovered better from than the rest of the family over Christmas, I was a little concerned and it made me want to check in.

My white blood cell count is at 0.6. For the average person, that’s rubbish, but for me, that’s good. The idea is that they get back up to 1 (which is the low end of a normal person) in time for the second round of treatment this year. So six months on and I’m just over halfway there which is a good sign. I’m glad I gave in and asked!

I’m feeling good so far this year I don’t tend to prescribe to the whole “this is my year” vibe, but I actually feel like this year could be. Who knew?! Certain aspects of my life feel a little odd at the moment but they’re definitely not dulling my sparkle, which is all I can ask. All in all, there’s no January blues to be seen here, and I’m feeling really uplifted.

I’ve started my new shifts at work now too. Today’s my second Wednesday off since going on them but it’s way too difficult to tell if they’re working for me yet. Surprisingly though, working until 6 is not as grim as first anticipated. Last Thursday and Friday it would be fair to say that I was just as bloody knackered as usual, but after 18 days off over Christmas it’s no real surprise. So I’m not calling it a failure yet!

For anyone who isn’t a friend of mine on Facebook, you might not know that I have been studying an HR qualification – Advanced Employment Law. The assignment was due around about the time that I went blind in my left eye, so I ended up deferring it. That was 18 months ago. The CIPD (who I studied with) have been great and continued to let me defer it, but in October I decided that after roughly 15 months, I needed to just knuckle down and get it done. I found out on Friday that I’d passed it which I’m over the moon about. It’s a stress off the list and it’s another string to add to the bow. Prior to being diagnosed I was really keen to pursue a career in HR case management. It’s still not a complete write off, but I guess my desire to further and develop my career is not a priority at the moment. I’m really just happy doing a good job in my current role in Learning and Development. MS had made me realise that a career isn’t the be all and end all. And at only 32, there’s nothing stopping me picking it back up again when I feel called to do so. 

I feel as though I’ve spent my life developing myself academically, and right now I’m enjoying developing myself in terms of who I am and how I am. I’m enjoying pursuing mindfulness and meditation. Exploring my spirituality. On Saturday, I’m doing my Second Degree Reiki which will make me a Reiki Practitioner and that’s really exciting too.

When people ask me how I am, I often say plodding along. But right now, it’s fair to say I’m skipping!