If you've just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you're likely to feel overwhelmed. Even answering the question “What is MS?” takes a rudimentary understanding of both the immune and central nervous systems. Words such as “T cells” and “demyelinate” require a medical dictionary, so you've barely digested the news before you're confronted with a new vocabulary. And just as you're getting good at understanding what you've got, you're confronted with a whole array of choices for treatment and symptom management.
The truth is that learning to understand and live with MS is a process. And it's a lifelong process, best taken one step at a time. You start out by finding a way to accept your diagnosis, move into education, and then master learning to manage the disease. This doesn't happen in a month or a year, but in a time frame that is uniquely suited to your own way of doing things. And while treatment is best started early, you can ease into other things, such as an exercise routine, a better diet, or joining a support group.
Your MS education will likely come from a variety of places, including your neurologist, local or national organizations, the Internet, books, and pamphlets. But the most important things you'll learn are those things you gain through experience — by living with MS. You get to know your quirks, your temperament, and your limits by living day to day with them. No two people have MS in exactly the same way, so self-knowledge is your most important ally.
Along with understanding the ABCs of this complex disease, you'll also learn something about who you are as a person. This is the unintended but unavoidable consequence of living with chronic illness. You'll find unexpected stores of courage, determination, and hope inside yourself. You'll become familiar with your own limits and frustrations, and in the interim find new ways to do old things. What you may perceive as a future of limits is really just an invitation to define yourself in a new way.
It's the good news about MS that has people talking: the new disease-modifying drugs, the diagnostic tools, and the accelerated race for a cure. There is more reason to be hopeful about MS than ever before, and this new optimism pervades the MS landscape. As the mysteries behind MS slowly come to light, your choices have broadened. These days, there are a variety of drugs to choose from that may alter the course of MS along with its symptoms. There are clinical trials to consider, and alternative therapies — such as yoga — to explore. There are also a multitude of ways to get involved in the cause.
This book is intended to be a helping hand in coming to terms with MS. Not only will it help you to define MS, it will also assist you in learning how to manage MS. Management involves taking good care of your health, creating a network of supportive friends and family, and getting a firm grip on your emotional health. You'll also get a better handle on treatment strategies and learn the best way to control your symptoms.
A diagnosis of MS is often an unwanted guest in your life. It changes the way you see tomorrow and the day after that. But breaking down the tasks in front of you can make it seem less daunting. Knowing that a lot of other people are walking in the same shoes and are living successful and fulfilling lives can ease your sense of isolation.
You've got options. It's what you choose to do that matters.