Here is everything you ever wanted to know about MS, but were too polite to ask.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system. Much like the plastic cover that houses an electrical wire, the myelin of our nervous system—the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve—covers and protects our nerves and channels electricity to the correct place in the body. Essentially, my myelin is being attacked by my own immune systems. Traitorous scoundrels. Wretched hive of scum and villainy. All I wanted do was pick up some power converters.
Sorry, I geeked out for a moment.
Anyway, the demyelination leaves scars, often referred to as plaques or lesions. These lesions are dotted throughout my brain. You can see a couple of them in my MRI image below.
What’s that you say? My brain looks so sexy? Oh, go on, you flatterer. Those little white dots are the lesions. Incredibly, this scatter shot of lesions has avoided a lot of important brain parts. Much like Dick Cheney quail hunting. The MS buckshot missed the quail and only hit some minor right-wing attorneys.
Scientists don’t know what causes this in my particular nervous system. They don’t know how to cure it. But here are some of the things that doctors think may have accelerated the progression in me. These are things you can do for yourself to help your myelin last your whole life. And even if you have the myelin of Wonder Woman, you should do these things anyway.
Get more Vitamin D. If we had our levels checked, most of us would find that we are Vitamin D deficient. Part of the blame for this falls at the feet of our dermatologists, who are forcing us out of the sunlight for the sake of healthy, cancer-free skin. The sun is a major source of Vitamin D. And while this freckle-faced redhead is more than happy to sit in the shade, wearing a very large hat, I have to supplement my D. I take a capsule every morning. I now buy fortified milk and orange juice. I try to eat more leafy greens. You won’t find me getting rickets like some sailor of yore. Now you know the secret of why Popeye ate so much spinach. Well blow me down! Toot toot
Stop smoking. I know, I know… Hey pot! Meet kettle! Smoking has been linked to accelerating MS symptoms. I smoked in college and for a few years after. I quit for a while, and picked up the habit again after I got divorced. I’ve quit for good now. But I will freely admit, I quit because I had to. Dr. Sister (that would be my sister that is a doctor) would kill me herself if I didn’t. I wish I could unsmoke every cigarette I sucked down. I also wish I could go back and work for Google circa 1999. I can’t do either. I miss smoking. I really do. On the other hand, how would I ever hope to do 27 laps around the skate track in under five minutes if I was still smoking?
Relax. I mean that literally. Try to de-stress. Extreme stress can not only worsen symptoms of MS, some science-y types think it might actually increase the risk of developing it.
I also mean… relax. There are some things you can do to MAYBE stave off this stupid disease. But it seems like it may have an element of the random to it. So why worry about it? Do what you can to be as healthy as you can. Wear your seat belt, eat more salad, smell the flowers. Other than that, we are all kind of along for the ride.
MS is not a death sentence. It’s a life sentence. But I won’t do hard Andy Dufresne time in solitary. It will be more like Martha Stewart prison: hanging with lots of interesting, tough, smart women who occasionally hit each other, then crochet a scarf. MS isn’t fatal, a common misperception. It is, however, something I will be managing for the rest of my life. And I will manage the shit out of it.
I might need a wheelchair someday, but until then I plan to be on eight wheels—not four.