MS & Lent: A good reason to get quiet

In my school days I got involved in the Christian Union, a group of young Christians in my school. I got seriously into my Bible and all things God-dy. Every morning, before the everyone else in the school was awake and the bustle of hundreds of other children echoed through the drafty old building, I’d sit on the stairs doing Bible study.

When considering this piece on Lent, I thought back to those days, reading about the forty days and forty nights Jesus spent in the desert and trying to figure out what was it all about? To be honest, I was a little jealous that Jesus had ALL that time to himself

When I was reflecting on his story, I thought about being in a place without the company of others, without basic necessities among thorny prickly plants? For three days and night, during a trip India, myself and a friend went on camel safari in the Thar Desert. Scorching in the day the sun beat down on us and freezing in the night, we got tucked up in our sleeping mats and lay under the vast, star-filled sky. And it was a uniquely lonely sensation.

But for people with MS there are always reminders of a desolate place- I’ve never been SO alone than on the days and months after my MS diagnosis. The uncertainty, the devastation, the morbid thoughts of a life un-lived and then there was all the choices I had NO clue how to make. MS is my barren desert and that desert represents to me what life is like in the first few months and even years of life with MS. But I eventually walked out of that desert. There are still some thorny parts of me and one of them is distraction from myself.

I’m prone to sitting surrounded by books, gleefully sitting alone for hours, absorbed or turning on the radio first thing to get a dose of politics or sitting scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through my Twitter feed. Distraction and denial of what was going on in my ‘real’ life. My phone is always with me, I’m rarely uncontactable and there’s always a source of information (wanted or otherwise), close by. This is really useful for us if we want to be distracted from what really matters and I’ve been distracted from what really matters.

In my early life, I learned that Lent was a time to give things up (chocolate, sweets, my Granny’s butterfly buns!) but also a time to make some new habits like being kinder to my siblings or being more helpful. The habit of sitting in the quiet of the early morning is something I’ve returned to in recent years. The habit isn’t easy but the simple process has subtly helped me deal with issues in healthier ways. It helps me deal with vagaries of MS, the depression, the fatigue, the balance issues, the cognitive issues. There have been times when my belief system has been wrung out, left to crisp up in the pounding noise of MRI scanner or when my dignity flowed down the leg of my trousers as my damaged/very sensitive bladder emptied before I could even pretend to be near the facilities.

I protect my mornings because it is in this sacred space I connect with my inner strength and power. No matter what is going on in the day, how bad my MS is playing up, when things get too much, I can tap into that peace and strength. The morning time I spend on my own, meditating, reflecting on a piece of writing, has given me greater understanding of myself. I think this is where this Lent thing started. Someone had a great idea to get away from it all, to find peace and to listen to their inner power. For the next forty days, I’ll go with doing something every day that makes my or someone else life, a little bit better and connects me to my own inner power.

 

©Emma Rogan 2018

This piece was first published on the MS Ireland, ‘MS and Me’ community blog on 14th February 2018.

Advertisements

When ACEs High is not a good thing

This is a brilliant talk from Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. She talks about The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE). Are ACEs  the greatest unaddressed public health threat facing the world?

“We understand how early exposure to adversity affects the developing bodies and brains of of children”

More than 17,000 adults took part in the original Adverse Childhood Experiences Study at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997.

“ACEs are common. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs.

The ACE score, a total sum of the different categories of ACEs reported by participants, is used to assess cumulative childhood stress. Study findings repeatedly reveal a graded dose-response relationship between ACEs and negative health and well-being outcomes across the life course.

ace_pyramid_lrg-medium

Image from the website of the CDC

Being exposed to trauma and toxic stress everyday in childhood messes with the brain-body stress response system. It impacts the development of so many body responses.

“When the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for the following:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Poor work performance
  • Financial stress
  • Risk for intimate partner violence”

Here’s a list of the conditions and diseases that are related to high ACEs scores. This is a topic I’ll be returning to in the coming months.

Altered Lives: Diagnosed with MS

This is part pf the Altered Lives campaign by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI). Here I am having a chat about what being diagnosed with meant to me.  Akin to Dorothy, it was a complete life-changing, mind-altering event. After the whirlwind, things are much better now but I learn something new about myself everyday. I’m staying interested and take it easy.

From online support to Face to face 

The current situation for young people with MS in the early 20s or under-18, is urgent. 

We know this is a formative stage of life, I know that support post-diagnosis has the potential to impact positively or negatively, the next 50-70 years of life. When diagnosed we’re are presented with awful news. It is how we deal with it, the support we get and the expectations from those around us that will influence our choices and how great our life will be. As the good folks at ShiftMS say, MS doesn’t mean giving up on your ambitions, just reimagining how to achieve them.
Dublin MS Meetup Group

I started the group in March 2010; I wanted to connect with other people with MS, particularly those who were of similar age/life stage as I am. From day-to-day management, diet, fatigue, medication, medical professionals, relationships, coping strategies, treatment information…we talk about all of this and none of it too. Essentially, it is about meeting other people, making friends, sharing experiences and building relationships of solidarity with people who understand what we might be going through without having to explain every little thing about our MS.

Monthly Meetings

The group meets every month in the IFI Cinema in Temple Bar, Dublin, on Saturdays around noon. There’s a Meetup page for the group (http://www.meetup.com/Dublin-Multiple-Sclerosis-Group/. People sign up to it and see the details about the dates and times of Meetups, make suggestions and share information. We alternate in terms of those who host the meetup.

I’m shy! Meeter Greeter for newbies

An important aspect of the group is the Meeter Greeter- someone to meet before the general gathering. This makes it easier in terms of feeling welcome and getting to know people.

Facilitation

Usually I facilitate the group (in as much as a group of adults need) and we are very mindful of the need to ensure it’s a safe space for people to express themselves, to be heard and to be listened to. It is also a place to enjoy the banter and the company of others!

Get online and connect

Shift.ms is an online forum for people with MS and is particularly aimed at young people. I have searched and there are a number of people under 18 on the site that I would encourage young people with paediatric MS to connect with.

Connecting with other people is a great way to discover and replenish your lust of life in those early days post-diagnosis. 

© Emma Rogan 2017

MS & Decisions: Who decides?

We never know what issues are going to come up at the Dublin MS Meetup Group. This month’s #MSCafé was no different. 

We gathered outside the IFI Temple Bar in warm sunshine and surrounded by the sounds of the city. Here people meet one another for the first time, catch up with old friends and, in the jigs & the reels, slowly begin to open up. 

Group facilitation 101: it’s a good idea to have a process to welcome first timers & greet more familiar old timers. It’s also important to provide focal-point for discussion

Facilitation is vital to help ease our fears of social interaction with strangers-  you know, the awkwardness that comes with meeting new people can be eased with good processes. 

Decision making: Healthcare & medical

Who gets to make them? What information is available? Where does the information come from? When does the decision need to be made, if ever? And HOW the heck do we actually make the choice? Benefit/risk ratio, side effects, no effects, needle phobia, hospital hatred & clinic conundrums.

The topic of the day was Treatment  Decisions and people quickly got into the tough stuff.  When you don’t trust your clinician to make appointments or follow-up, to actually get to a decision about treatment can be another 20 steps in the making. And what if the message you’re getting from the HCP is you’ll need to get worse before you’ll get a place on a clinical trial? How messed up is that? But how do we know if we heard them right? How do patients navigate the dreadful health system? 

We need witnesses, allies we trust and who will come with us on clinic visits when we need them. Someone who hears the details while you’re having an “Oh shit” or “WTF?” moment. Usually not your mother/father nor someone who’ll dominate the conversation.  Choose wisely.

We chatted tremors, ‘systemic failures’, follow-up (or not) by HCPs, having a witness at appointments (they are there to hear what you don’t & for moral support- not to play hero) and the joy of having children. We giggled at the awkward silences that come when you crack an MS joke with people who aren’t MSers *insert awkward silence/TutTut/weird reaction here*.

People are strong, people are wise, people are kind & people are…people. We meet in the Dublin MS Meetup Group to share our experience, our skills and act to bring positive change in our own lives. How do you connect with other people living with MS or do you bother? Let me know if the Meetup thing looks good to you.

Founded 7 years ago by me, Emma Rogan, the Dublin MS Meetup Group is the original & longest running MS Meetup in the world. We’re proud of who we are and what we’ve  achieved.

Check out Dublin Multiple Sclerosis Group http://meetu.ps/c/csNn/1792V/a

Copyright Emma Rogan

MS Marathon

If your fitness plan for 2017 needs a boost (esp MSers), join in this Friday & Saturday (first weekend in March). The 24-MS Marathon started in Czech Republic in 2011 now thousands of people across Europe are getting involved. You can get moving you’re own body, do what you can and support from home/get friends together in your local gym/park etc.

Stay in touch @emmadragon & share your photos. #MS24

Sustainability: Food choices

This week I’m talking delicious jellies, chocolate and the glorious wagon to Sugar Rush. Seems like the start of the nutritional strategy and New Year isn’t going all that well…

I was busy chomping chocolate and forgetting my routine. To all intents and purposes, I’ve fallen off the wagon. The cold weather has been my perfectly reasonable excuse for increasing my sugar intake- delicious warm coffee with a jolt to keep me perky for the start of the day. But that’s all it is, a shitty excuse for making bad choices.


I’ve a serious penchant for jellies and M&S do a wonderful vegetarian version. Veggie Percy, Veggie Caterpillars and all sorts of animal-shaped sugariness. However, just because there aren’t ingredients from animal hooves, doesn’t mean the sugar isn’t packed into every bite. And how does it happen that I succumb to temptations of the ickiness? Here goes…  After work there’s the rush, public transport (totally unreliable Dublin Bus and Irish Rail) picking up Little One from the creche, the commute to home, dinner… let’s just say there are time when I indulge. Before I know it, I’ve opened a packet of Percys, eating a handful of snakes and my blood has turned to a sticky toxic mess.

This is okay- my body doesn’t let me forget I’ve messed up. I get a morning-after experience from it (yes too much sugar is hell the next day) and it feels as though my mind is soaked in gunge, taking longer to process the basics as well as being muddled. Now, we all know my MS brain doesn’t need anymore hurdles. For this week, this start of Spring, I’m back on the veg, the nuts, the water and I’ve rededicated myself to putting the better choices in terms of food and leave the last of the Colins back in my pantry. Better in the bin but I’m just not ready….

Do you have any dietary habits that you’re finding hard to crush? Let me know what’s going on for you and  together, we can keep the Colins, whatever form they take, in the back of the pantry and away from our bodies. Comment, Tweet  @emmadragon and make the best choices you can for now.

Check out the Overcoming MS Recovery Programme and the book by George Jelinek- a great resource for people newly diagnosed with MS, the oldies or for anyone with a loved one with the condition.