I was never really in-tune with my body – at least, not before multiple sclerosis knocked my off my feet. For decades, I hardly paid attention to my overall health, energy levels, and apparent absence of pain.
OK, if I was sick for a while, like with a flu episode, I was aware of the symptoms I endured during that time. If I was injured, like when I broke a leg skiing as a kid, I was fully conscious of how much it hurt – until it didn’t anymore.
When hurts or hiccups, numbness or nausea, tinges or tingles went away, I simply went on with my life. I sort of forgot they had happened.
Then I was diagnosed with MS.
Let me just get this off my chest.
Until I was 50 and found out I had MS, I basically just played life by ear. But once I was diagnosed, I was all-ears, when it came to the subject of MS. At least, after I had cried my heart out over the whole deal. I knew I was in over my head.
I had to pay attention to my own body more than I ever had done.
No, I didn’t want to become a hypochondriac, boring myself and others with incessant organ recitals and physical complaints. On the other hand, I needed to become more cognizant of constant and intermittent symptoms, MS patterns (if you can even call them that), and potential triggers.
Here’s an example. Heat is a well-known trigger of MS symptoms. When the weather is hot, when I am stuck in a crowded spot, or when I am working out, I have had to be more clued-in to my own core temperature. I don’t walk around with a thermometer, but I have learned to estimate when it is approaching a dangerous level. If I can find a way to cool myself off in time, I can sometimes beat the curve and minimize some of the ill effects. But not always.
Migraines are another example. These horrendous headaches are a hallmark of life with MS for many people. And certain foods can predispose us to blaring migraines. When I can avoid these, it can make an enormous difference. I’ve even learned to recognize the early symptoms of migraine, as they set in. Often, I can tell while I am still eating something that contains a trigger (such as MSG, aspartame, or even chocolate). If I stop promptly and take migraine meds, I may thwart part of the attack.
Maybe that sounds like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t for me.
Pre-MS, I had grown pretty accustomed to operating on autopilot, from a health standpoint. Essentially, I lived by a simple standard: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fret it.”
Post-MS, that changed. In fact, I began to recall weird health episodes and troubling symptoms that had come and gone over the years and to connect the dots between those dark days and MS.
It baffles me to consider how many years I lived without paying any attention to strange sensations (or lacks of sensation) that I experienced in the past. Maybe I would have found out I had MS a lot sooner.
Frankly, I’m not sure if that would have changed the picture much. But it might have helped me to understand and live better amid such strange and unpleasant episodes.
And I wonder how many others simply stroll through life without cluing in to their own symptoms. How many times does a person sit funny (or sleep in a strange position) and find that a foot or a hand has gone numb and begins feeling all prickly (like pins and needles)? When normal sensations return, does that person ignore or forget what happened?
With MS, that’s pretty much a daily thing, no matter how we sleep or sit. So we learn to pay attention. We take note of it. Then we get up and fight anyway.
Face Reflected in a Mirror by Julian Alden Weir 1896