Listening to Your Body
Last updated: January 2023
Whether it’s progressing quickly or slowly, the unpredictability of multiple sclerosis can really lead you to question yourself. Am I fatigued or am I just tired? Did I fall because I’m clumsy or because I experienced foot drop? Is this a new symptom? Oh no, is this another relapse? When you’ve grown accustomed to a disease impacting your body and life the way MS does, it’s easy to start second-guessing every little sensation you encounter. Some of the top questions that I get are along the lines of, “Do you think this is because of MS?” where they mention something that’s happened to them. More often than not, I tell them what I am writing about here: listen to your body.
Causes for concern
With MS being so unpredictable, it’s very easy to panic if you're not feeling right. Many people who have the disease, myself included, are accustomed to being fine one minute and not the next. I used to even worry about going to bed sometimes, in fear that I might wake up with some sort of new issue or full on relapse.
Am I having a relapse?
That’s what happened to me through my first several exacerbations; I was fine prior to sleeping and then woke up with parts of my body no longer functioning properly. So I understand the fear and concern that comes when you start to suddenly not feel so good. The fact that starting steroids at the first sign of a relapse can be crucial in lessening its duration only increases the anxiety and importance of properly figuring out if MS is the problem.
Know your triggers
When asked if a symptom or sensation is cause for concern, at first, I usually tell folks not to panic (remember, stress makes everything worse). I then tell them to think back: has it happened before? I also tell them to think about what has triggered symptoms in the past. When you experience a MS symptom or sensation, your body is talking to you. It takes some time and experience to understand what it’s saying though.
Understanding how your body reacts to things
For example, I’ve learned over the years, that if my vision starts to blur, it’s not the start of an exacerbation, it just means I’m too warm. If I start tripping or even falling, chances are I was very active the day before and I simply need some rest. The longer you live with this disease, the more you are able to put two and two together when it comes to how you feel.
Go with your gut
The longer you live with MS, the better you are able to understand your own body. You begin to realize that any number of activities, emotions, or even environmental changes can have a big impact on how you feel. After some time though, you’ll realize that when something is really wrong, you’ll just know. After many years, as weird as it might sound, when I’ve experienced a full on exacerbation, I just knew it. I could feel it happening. I knew by the way I felt that it was different. I knew that I needed more than some rest. It was almost a gut feeling that told me, “This is different, this is serious, you need to talk to your neurologist NOW.”
Learning to listen to your body
So while it’s important to step back and look objectively at what triggers your body has been exposed to recently, it’s also important to listen to that gut feeling you have. If you take a second to calm down and not panic, your body will tell you how concerned you should be, and many times, that gut feeling is how it does it.
Through experience, you’ll learn to listen to your body. You’ll realize that not every sensation or symptom you experience is cause for concern. You’ll also learn that your body will tell you when you really need to be concerned, you simply have to be ready to listen to it.
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