The MS Chronicles: Cognitive Issues and Multiple Sclerosis

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago, my worst fear was not being able to walk.  I imagined a life of mobility issues, walking canes, and wheelchairs.

The starting line for my first ever Walk MS event

I never expected having to avoid hot summer day or ration my energy to make it through a day. To the pre-diagnosis me, multiple sclerosis was completely a gross motor issue.  Over the years I’ve learned that’s far from real life with this disease.   I’ve learned that if you talk to five people with MS, they’ll have five completely different stories and sets of symptoms. Thankfully, my MS is mild at this point and the chances are high that I’ll continue to live a full and reasonably active life,  for which I’m immensely grateful for.  Even in the past ten years, treatments for MS have become much better and I’m optimistic that will continue.

The symptoms of MS I didn’t expect to deal with were the cognitive impairments that come along with it.   On a daily basis I battle symptoms like forgetfulness, difficulty finding my words when speaking, and my processing speed. I’m a natural planner with very strong Type A personality tendencies.  Those personality traits have been useful as I navigate the cognitive issues that have come along with my disease. 

The good news is that over the years I’ve also developed a couple of strategies that allow me to function both at work and at home without too many issues.

Strategy 1:  WRITE it DOWN!  

There is no way I could live without writing things down.  I need reminders for even the most automated tasks.  (Yet another reason for me to use my bullet journal!)  I write to-do lists for home and work along with making digital and written reminders for phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send, or even questions I need to ask my husband when he gets home.

Crossing the finish line at my first Walk MS with my daughter and husband- a moment I won’t ever forget!

Strategy 2: Give yourself wait time

As a teacher, “wait time” is an important task when we ask a student a question.  Basically, it’s the idea that we don’t demand a response from a student immediately but give them time to process.

It’s also something I have to give myself, especially when someone asks ME a question.  For example, let’s say my husband asks me what time we need to leave to get to a certain event or a student asks me a question about a reading passage.  While that sounds like a simple question to answer (and I probably know the answer), many times my brain simply will not have the words to answer immediately.  It seems like forever but if I simply stop, look at him in the face (or even close my eyes for a second) and process what he’s asking me I can formulate a accurate answer.  Many times those cognitive issues become worse when I get overwhelmed or overstimulated so whatever I can do to calm myself and not get frustrated is always helpful.

Strategy 3:  Give grace (to yourself and those around you)

My forgetfulness is frustrating to me.  It’s also frustrating to those around me.  Give yourself grace when you might use the wrong words and embarrass yourself.  Give grace to those who may get annoyed with you when you do forget something or can’t remember their name. It’s going to happen.  But tomorrow will be a new day.  And new days should always be celebrated!