Stress Begets Stress Begets Stress When Living with MS

  • Isn't it annoying that stress has a negative impact on our health? I mean if we're already dealing with emotional and mental strain, we clearly need endorphins not ulcers! Why isn't there an immuno-modifier that can address this issue? And since we're talking about lacking immune systems, let's talk about stress and MS, because that combination is truly unjust. When you have stress and MS, it begets more stress and more MS, leading to even more stress and more MS! I pause to throw a dirty look at who or what ever is behind that serious misjudgment in human design.


    So for whatever reason you are dealing with more than your share of stress. Maybe your best friend is moving, your 10 year old is having night terrors and your pet ran away from home. And wouldn't you know... all of this is happening during the summer. Thanks Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame)! Summer is the season when the entire northern hemisphere joins together in a celebratory game of Frisbee. Well, not the entire hemisphere. When you are paralyzed by neuron swelling heat, chances are that you're hovering at the sideline. And when your legs give way and your face is planted in the dirt, no one can hear your muffled call for a change in venue.

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    "Meditation anyone?"


    Nope, you're on your own for this one. But once inside, the cool conditioned air shrinks those neurons back to "normal." Deep Breath. Ok, you're cool, you're refreshed and your neurons are comfie cozy. But in spite of the temperature shift, you can't stand long enough to make dinner and you're too dizzy to even think about the dishwasher. What's up with that?  Cue the music and start the clip reel with that oh-so-familiar soundtrack. "OMG, I'm progressing." "Will I ever be able to do these things again?" A script perfectly synched with images of a wheelchair bound you trying to get around tight corners in your home that no longer fits your needs. When out of nowhere, you excitedly yell at the dishwasher. This is an attack!!!


    "Phew",you say to yourself.  "I'm not worsening. All I need is some Solumedrol and I'll be back to my version of normal in no time."


    Okay, enough with this thinly veiled second-person speculation. I'm the one who snivels in the summer, I'm the one who lives in constant fear of progression, I'm the one who is excited about the steroid panacea.... and I'm the one who went to the neurologist clicking my metaphoric heels knowing that I will be treated and that there is an end to some of these scary symptoms. Call neurologist, make an appointment, and breathe. I'm not progressing, phew!


    So there I am, on the examination table. Having just performed my neurological-dance. Touch your nose now my finger, now your nose and my finger, walk on your heels, now your toes, etc. etc. etc. waiting patiently for my doc to write the script for my infusion when he hits me. (Figuratively of course!)


     "This isn't an attack, Amy - it's stress."  And before the "sssss" sound had completely left his mouth, I interrupted with a louder than intended "Are you kidding me!!?"


    All of these worsening symptoms; my pathetic excuse for balance, my inability to stand more than five minutes, the feeling that the world around me is moving in ways I'm not... all of this is because of STRESS?  Now that's just wrong!  Why can't I have a normal stress response? Where's the heartburn or high blood pressure? I want something that a little Alka-Seltzer or Alpha-beta blockers will help me through, but no, I have to deal with more symptoms. And OMG, if this isn't an attack, then maybe I AM progressing!


    And with this newfound stress my symptoms get even worse and I do the only thing I can think of. I put my fingers in my ears and sing Mary Had a Little Lamb 20 times over. This can be a very effective, albeit temporary, coping mechanism. I suggest that you use this technique sparingly. If taken too often you run the risk of becoming immune to its positive effects and more significantly, alienating yourself from the world at large.

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    So I went home from that appointment and struggled with my new Zen Rx. I think the hardest part for me, was getting my head around the fact that all of this had nothing to do with my renegade immune system. I could actually do something that would make a difference. I'm not used to that kind of control. MS is always slapping me around and I can't even bob and weave let alone return the smack. This unfamiliar ground made me feel powerful and inept at the same time. It's what I've always wished for- a little control. Only now I'm stressed with my new responsibility.


    It's difficult for me to find a technique that works with my personal symptom set. (ie. I get dizzy with little provocation.) And you know what that means; more stress! Finding my way out of this Catch-22 was looking less likely every minute, and as I put my hand to my brow and sighed a huge sigh... my exclamation could be heard next door. That's it!


    So here's what I do, and what I don't. First, I shut off the news and read the New Yorker cartoons to stay current. It's so stressful to hear what they are doing wrong and who hurt who and what deserving person didn't get what they deserved. No room for that! Next: I make time to spoon on couch with Wally (my kitty). His sleep schedule is a constant reminder to take a break and recharge my neurons. And finally, the Pièce de résistance. I take many... long.... slow.... deep.... breaths.


    I personally recommend taking these deep, healing breaths a minimum of 10 times daily (or as needed). Of course you should continue with the normal breathing for the rest of the day, it helps to keep the rest of your body operational!


    I've never been so excited for September to arrive. And while I'm not in the place I need to be in the Stress/MS/Take a Deep Breath program, I'm so glad to have found an avenue in the road that will take me out of this viscous circle. Hopefully this customizable technique (with the help of strategically placed post-it reminders) will make me better prepared for the stressors to come. I made my very own DMD (Disease Modifying Drug); One that can even help those who aren't diagnosed with this crazy, incurable, unpredictable, stressful disease. (Note to self: sell Alka-Seltzer stock)


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    And there's one more unexpected perk from this experience.  It's one that my husband is very psyched about.  Get this:  I take pleasure in my ability to unload/load the dishwasher on a daily basis. As far as dinner making goes...well, I'm  not sure about that one. But at least it won't be my MS limitations getting in the way of that. No, my dinner prep limitations are in an entirely different category! ;)


    Thanks for reading!

Published On: September 27, 2011