A questioning looking man stands in front of a bar and give a thumbs up to another man with shaky legs also giving a thumbs up

Stumbling and Sober: I’m Not Drunk, I Have MS

One of the problems with multiple sclerosis (MS), is that many of its symptoms are so “generic” they can be easily mistaken for other conditions. Before being diagnosed, a doctor may write off your pain, pins and needles, or numbness, as a pinched nerve. Muscle tremors, noise sensitivity, and insomnia are all certainly signs of stress, right? You know how it goes.

Mistaking MS symptoms to be the result of some other medical problem is one thing, but sometimes this happens with people you encounter in everyday life. Today I want to share a story about one of my personal, and comically stereotypical, experiences that I know many others can relate to.

Painting the picture

Let’s set the scene. It was 2013 and I had managed a trip to Ireland, somewhere I had always wanted to visit. I actually had the chance to meet a couple of people I met online in an MS support group! There were so many things I wanted to do and so many locations I was looking forward to seeing. I was so excited, not only because I had dreamed of this moment since I was a child, but also because I was now into photography and there were so many great photo opportunities that I would never have in California. This was going to be such an amazing experience!

Where I was at with MS

At the time, I had relatively recently had the worst exacerbation I’d ever had. When I asked the neurologist I was seeing, “What do I need to do to get out of this wheelchair?” I was told that I probably needed to start getting used to it because this is the course of the disease. To me, a 22-year-old who was just discharged from a 6-week stay at a physical rehabilitation hospital, that was an utterly unsatisfactory answer to my question. So I left and started looking for a new neurologist.

New meds and new determination

Soon after my search began, a person with MS that my Dad met while at work recommended an MS specialist in my area. His office quickly called me and squeezed me into his schedule. When I first saw him, he seemed so detailed oriented, knowledgeable about MS, and intelligent. When I told him what my previous neurologist had told me about the wheelchair he said, “Naw man, that’s BS, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” He started me on 10 days of Acthar injections (an alternative to steroids) and wanted me to start an infusible DMT called Tysabri. I immediately agreed, despite what sounded like some scary-sounding possible side effects.

Before long, I was back on my own two feet. I was still a bit wobbly but I walked every single day because that’s what I told myself I would do if I could ever get out of that hospital and that wheelchair. I felt so motivated and unstoppable - like there was nothing I couldn’t do. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m going to do things! So when a friend offered to let me stay with them in Ireland, I of course took them up on that offer.

Saint Patrick’s Day festivities

Because I was staying with a friend, I was able to visit for quite a long time (almost a month). I just so happened to be there in March, which meant I would be there for Saint Patrick’s Day! On the morning of, I made sure I had all my camera gear and we took the bus to the city center where the holiday festivities were already in motion. There were decorations, people wearing big hats, and even a huge parade. People seemed to be heading in and out of every shop on the street which I was currently walking down, while trying to find a better view of the parade.

Are you OK?

As I was walking down the street (without a cane), a small red pub was approaching on my right. As I got closer the large bouncer in front of the door took a step toward me with a hand raised. I stopped, wondering what he was going to say to me, and then a look of skeptical concern appeared on his face. He lowered his hand a few inches and asked me, “Are you OK?”

This confused me, so I briefly looked down at myself to make sure I wasn’t bleeding everywhere or something. As I thought, nothing seemed to be wrong but then...I got it. He thought I was, like so many others celebrating around me, drunk. I kind of chuckled and told him that I had MS and that I didn’t even drink. Slightly annoyed, I resumed walking past the bar and down the street.

This or That

Have you ever been accused of being drunk when it was really your MS?

I’m not drunk, I have MS

While I continued looking for a good spot to see the parade, I reflected on what just randomly happened. My initial reaction was that of annoyance, but then I thought about the circumstances. I was in my 20s, other than a slight gate abnormality, I looked totally fine, and I had a large camera looking like any other tourist. I was in Dublin, Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day of all days and many people walking around the city had obviously started drinking a while ago. Of course he thought I was drunk! I mean, I don’t think you could have staged a better “Mad Libs” setup. I laughed to myself and decided this was the most hilarious “Are you drunk?” moment I’ve ever had and probably ever will.

I’m sure you’ve experienced someone mistaking your MS for something else. I know many might not find it as funny as I find my little story, and that’s completely understandable. In the comments below, share a time you’ve experienced something like this and how it made you feel.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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