The MS Chronicles: Living Well with a Chronic Illness

I’m writing this as I sit in the waiting room at my neurologist’s office. It’s a familiar place even though it’s far from the first neurologist I’ve seen. Sitting around me are the usual suspects- the elderly stroke victim being cared for by her adult child, the Parkinson’s patient, or the new patient with chronic pain or migraines who is in obvious misery while filling out mountains of paperwork.

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago. It was a long and drawn out process of MRIs and so.many.doctors. It’s a story I may write someday but I feel that so many things have changed from those first weeks and years of battling this invisible illness that in many ways it’s hardly the same disease.

As someone who thrives on predictable routines and structure, multiple sclerosis has been quite the curve ball. In other ways, my type A personality has been a huge benefit in my battle against MS. The longer I travel down this road of chronic illness, the more I realize there are some strategies that you can use to maintain your sanity and keep your life together even when you health is struggling.

1. Ask and accept help

I have control issues.  There.  I said it.  Serious control issues.

It’s not that I mind if someone helps me with my laundry or loads the dishwasher for me.  I’m fine with it as long as they do it the right way.  (Which is course is my way).  Obviously, I realize this is a problem for me and it’s one that still requires that I make very conscious efforts to ask for help.  Life was not meant to be lived alone.  We’re created to live and do life together in a community.  So whether it’s a spouse, your church small group, or your extended family, ask and accept their help graciously.  99% of the time when someone offers help, they’re being genuine and are more than willing to provide what you need.

2. Determine your bare minimum.

I have this bad habit of jumping in over my head when it comes to household tasks.  Of thinking that I absolutely HAVE to do ALL THE THINGS right at that very minute.  The result of that is always the same for me- fatigue, pain, and all those other fun things that MS throws at me when I over do it.

The solution to this for me has been to determine my “bare minimum”- or identifying the least amount of a certain task that needs to be completed.  For example, we just got back from vacation and my laundry piles are insane.  I’m usually a weekend laundry person but this week I’m doing the bare minimum amount of laundry each day to get through.  Trying to tackle all this laundry at one time and start back teaching after break would have been a recipe for disaster.  So far, no one has had to go without clothes and I’ll get them all washed eventually.  Next week I’ll be back to my regular routine but for right now I’m choosing the bare minimum with my laundry.

3. Use routines and schedules to keep things together- even when you’re not.

My girls are 5 and 7 and I’m always amazed at what they’re actually capable of doing.  I wholeheartedly believe that routines and schedules are good for kids anyway but they’re also a huge weight off my shoulder when it comes to the physical demands of running our home.  Routines for getting ready in the morning, cleaning up after mealtime, etc are integral to my sanity and allowing things to keep chugging along even when I don’t feel like it.  And for heaven’t sake, USE YOUR FREEZER!  Even my 7 year old could read the freezer instructions on a casserole if I needed her to.

Don’t get me wrong- these are all parts of my life that are a constant struggle for me.  No one I know would describe me as laid back and easy going.  But sometimes, just sometimes, my Type A personality comes through for me.  And whether you battle multiple sclerosis or just the day to day fatigue of parenting, hopefully these strategies are helpful.

Comment below with your ideas and strategies for keeping it together during tough times!

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