Written by Julie Wahlers.
My Multiple Sclerosis journey…
I talked to Green Divas Meg and Lynn about my journey to health after my MS diagnosis in this Green Divas Health & Beauty podcast segment. Listen then read on for more details…
For me, acceptance of my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis did not equal surrender…
I thought I was healthy—I was forty-one years old and in the prime of my life.
I worked out regularly, often with my new husband and at times with a trainer. On the weekend, my husband and I would ride 30-40 miles through the vineyards of Germany on our bicycles. I would have classified myself as healthy, maybe even very healthy.
I ate relatively well most of the time, at least compared to other people. I was always conscious of what I ate and usually chose the low sugar, low-fat option if there was one. I didn’t drink regular soda and only drank diet soda when water wasn’t available. As I said, I thought I was healthy.
The first sign that something was wrong came when my husband and I were on vacation in Greece on Valentines Day, 2014. As we walked back to the hotel after a long day of sightseeing, I noticed a slight limp on my right side. I also kept tripping on the sidewalk, and it was hard for me to keep up with my husband. The fourth time I tripped, my husband looked at me and said, “What is wrong with you?” I shrugged my shoulders and laughed. I chalked it up to the uneven sidewalks in Athens and maybe the wine.
That next week I noticed that with each day my limp got noticeably worse. I thought it must be the long-standing hip problem I’d had since my high school cheerleading days. I saw two different orthopedic doctors and got an MRI of my hip. They told me that eventually I would need a right hip replacement, but I needed to wait longer because I was too young. One orthopedic surgeon even watched as I walked down the hall and commented, “You do have a limp, don’t you?” but he didn’t offer any suggestions or advice.
Listening to my body…
About a week after the last orthopedic appointment, I realized that my worsening limp was not due to my bad hips. I was getting up an hour earlier than usual because I had become so slow at getting ready for work. I tried to dry my hair, something I’ve done a million times before, but the brush was so heavy in my right hand, I literally couldn’t keep it above my head. When I held the brush up, it would drop onto my head.
That same day, I was trying to sign documents at work. Again, it was something I’ve done a million times, but when my brain told my hand to sign, my hand wasn’t responding. I watched my hand move in slow motion.
During that same week, I started bumping into walls. I lost all sense of where my body was in space. I lost my balance while walking around a corner or while walking down the sidewalk. I would have to reach out and grab something to stabilize myself or use my forearms against the wall to prevent myself from falling. I also had to hold onto a dresser or nightstand to brace myself when I got out of bed and when I put my clothes on, or I would fall.
By the end of the week, I had bruises up and down my forearms. I worked as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, and I was covered with bruises. I kept getting strange looks, and a few people even questioned me about the bruises.
Once I realized that my hand was involved, I immediately suspected MS. Ten years earlier, I was diagnosed with optic neuritis, inflammation of the optic nerve, which is often a precursor to MS. One morning, ten years ago, I noticed the lower left quadrant of my left eye was completely black. I saw a couple doctors and was diagnosed with optic neuritis. After three days of IV steroids, it went away. I followed up with a neurologist who gave me an MRI and told me that I did have brain lesions, but they were small and were not in the right location of the brain to justify an MS diagnosis. He didn’t seem to be worried about it. He told me to watch it. I followed up with him for a few years, and then I stopped. I had actually forgotten about it, until now.
I am right handed but, because of my progressively worsening paralysis, I found myself compensating with my left. This was only three weeks after the first symptoms. I would try to pick up something with my right hand; it would fall. Soon I was brushing my teeth, maneuvering the mouse, and even signing my name with my left hand. My handwriting looked like a third grader’s, no matter which hand I used.
It took me twice as long to do anything: to shower, get dressed, walk to the bathroom, walk to the car. Every time I would lie down, my legs would go into action. Relentless leg spasticity disturbed my sleep all night long. About every 30 seconds my right leg, and sometimes my left as well, would contract intensely, then release. I was exhausted before I even got out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want to go on. I didn’t know who I was anymore. My body had betrayed me.