Four Ways to Help You Battle the Stress and Despair of Exacerbations

Selling our home. Moving. More renters than available inventory. Pressure to close. Pressure to find an acceptable new home. Squeezing three people and two cats from a large ranch into a tiny townhouse.

Sad. Tense. Frustrated. Anxious. Worried. Scared.


This is my life, reminding me of an old Broadway play: “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!”

Enter an exacerbation

Enter an exacerbation. It’s been several years since I had one. I wasn’t the least surprised when it hit. The timing couldn’t have been worse. But really, when is a good time?

The day we moved my legs were numb, weak and fatigued. My stomach was tied in knots and my bladder was, well, a wholly mess. I couldn’t sleep. It was impossible to unclench my jaw. My head felt heavy from cog fog and the dizziness was full steam ahead. Yikes.

My neurologist ordered an MRI of the cervical and thoracic spine. Two hours of loud banging that even a pair of earplugs and headphones couldn’t silence. I never had trouble getting through MRI’s before but with the recent experience of serious tinnitus in my right ear all noises are amplified a hundred times over.

Note to Self: Make another appointment with an audiologist.

When it rains, it pours

When it rains, it pours, and this is my thunderstorm. Every corner I turn, there’s a boatload of unhappiness. I can’t find my umbrella.

How can I save myself from despair? How can I take back control of my body, mind, and spirit?

My usual positive-thinking self is stuck somewhere in the haze of cog-fog. Where is it? Wait, is that it floating toward me?

It’s slowly sailing my way. I’m in the first stages of feeling my left toes again. My balance is better and my cog fog is lifting. What helped me stay afloat while I was waiting?

1. Never sail your ship alone

Confide in people you trust. Family, friends, trusted colleagues, spiritual leaders, professional counselors. No one can go it alone. Talk about your situation to let your feelings out. If think you’re depressed or suicidal consult with a professional psychologist or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

2. Find your Utopia

Arrange time to relax and de-stress. Watch old movies, read a book, write in a journal, call a friend, take a bath. Do whatever helps you unwind and unclench your teeth.

3. Speak with your doctor

Whenever you’re experiencing an exacerbation speak with your MS specialist about what you’re going through. Make a list of what you want to talk about, including your symptoms. Speak to her by phone or make an office appointment. Discuss medications and/or alternative therapies. Don’t allow the conversation to end before all of your questions are answered.

4. Go easy on yourself

Stress happens! It’s a part of life that we can’t avoid. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re experiencing a flare up. It’s not your fault, you have MS. No blame here. This is the time to go easy on yourself. Do whatever it takes to feel better. Prioritize what needs to be done and put off the rest until later. Your health is the most important thing in the world.

Holding onto hope

I’m no Pollyanna. I don’t expect anyone to bounce back to happiness and joy instantly. I’ve been in the depths of depression several times over the past 30 years of living with MS. It’s not easy to rebound; it’s unnerving and scary. But if we don’t hold onto hope, if we can’t give ourselves a chance to rest and if we won’t become mindful of our priorities then what do we have left?

Given a choice between joy and despair I think - no I hope - you’ll agree that joy feels so much better. I wish you good health and a full heart. Always.

"We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity." ~Barbara De Angelis

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