a woman standing up to face the monsters around her

Supportive Friends and Family Make MS Less Nightmarish

I remember, as a young girl, waking up in the middle of the night to a strange, scary sight. My oldest sister, with whom I shared a bedroom, was being choked very aggressively. The culprit? Herself. Both of her very own hands were wrapped tightly around her neck in an apparent quest to strangle the life from her as she struggled to break free - from herself. Frightened, I yelled for my father who ran to our room to assess why he was frantically awakened from his slumber, and upon seeing my sister in dire straits, jumped to her rescue.

My father came to the rescue, and we were safe

He used his strength to pry the 'culprit's' hands from the 'victim's' throat - both of whom happened to be one and the same. I watched the horrific scene in a state of fearful confusion. Daddy, once he got my sister back to coherency, consoled her by explaining that she'd had a nightmare, but it was okay, that he's with her and she's safe. After a bit, she was settled enough to return to sleep. I returned to sleep also. The 'attack' was over; Daddy chased that 'ole nightmare away, and we were safe.

Waking up to my body betraying me

20-plus years later, I awakened in the morning in another state of fearful confusion, but it was my own scene this time. My eyes opened to extremely blurred vision, legs like jelly that could not support me standing, and dizziness. The unsuccessful yet very much necessary attempt to take a step toward my destination - the bathroom - resulted in my legs AND my bladder collapsing simultaneously onto my bed.

The first signs of MS

At this time in my life, I lived in my own home with my young son 30-40 minutes away from my parents, so frantically yelling for my Daddy to come to my rescue wasn't an option. And even if he could have come running, there couldn't have been a simple waking me up and consoling me by explaining that it was just a nightmare because this was most definitely real. 6 years later, I would find out just how real that morning truly was. That was what my neurologist believes was the onset of my multiple sclerosis (MS), when my body had indeed been attacked - by itself.

What caused my immune system to attack my body?

MS happens when your immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin along your spine. Myelin coats your nerve fibers to protect them. Without this outer shell, nerves become damaged and scar tissue may form. The damage means your brain can't send signals through your body correctly. What happened to make my sister have a nightmare attacking herself? We don't know. Why did my body decide to attack itself? We don't know. The cause of MS is unknown. What we do know, to date, is that it's considered an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues.

MS is a lifelong condition

I also know that, though my sister awoke to a reality where she was safe from harm from her nightmarish attack, I awoke to a reality where the nightmare was to live on. MS is a lifelong condition with symptoms such as fatigue, pain, bladder and bowel problems, movement and coordination difficulties, vision and cognition changes, and possibly even emotional/mental health problems. A diagnosis of MS meant that I had to adapt to a new lifestyle which I've often referred to as my 'new normal'.

My loved ones 'rescue' me with their support

Luckily for me, even if my 'nightmare' couldn't be chased away, as Daddy told my sister, it's okay. He, my mother, and my loved ones let me know that it is okay and that they are with me each time they render unconditional love and support along this challenging journey. When they acknowledge that there’s so much uncertainty with MS and are open to being understanding and flexible. When they make themselves available to help me with even the everyday things I may need help with. When they don't leave me behind, but are able to either be with me or make it possible for me to be with them. Those are the times I feel 'rescued,' and those are the times that living with multiple sclerosis is not so nightmarish at all.

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