Thank you the MS Society of Canada for inviting me to be such a big part of the #mentalhealth day!
Multiple sclerosis can be an isolating disease – you can feel alone and cut off from the world. If you are struggling with your mental health, it’s important to talk to those around you.
A month after my 15th birthday, I woke up one morning and my left eye had stopped moving – it completely froze in place. I went to the nearest emergency room where a doctor told me that my eye was just tired and should be given a few days to resolve itself. Three days later, it was still not moving. I went to see an eye doctor who told me I had a brain tumor. When I was referred to SickKids Hospital, I was eventually diagnosed with MS.
I have had four major relapses since my diagnosis. At 21, I spent half my year with a cane, which I still have because I struggle with weakness and balance issues. My latest lesions are in my occipital lobe, which worries me because having my vision affected is one of my biggest fears.
When I am having a bad MS day, I allow myself to be sad. If I receive bad news, I give myself one day to feel sorry for myself. After that, I turn to my coping mechanisms – the three tools I use to maintain my mental health.
The first tool is talking. On bad days, my first step is to call my parents, aunt, and my friends. They let me talk through my fears, remind me that I have support, and help me figure out how to get back to my normal self. My mother is great because she lets me cry and talks about the emotional aspects with me. My father is logical like myself, so we talk about it from a clinical perspective and consider all my options to help me move forward. I find that by combining both outlooks, I can face my MS with a balanced frame of mind.
The second tool I use is exercise. I love to box and run so when I feel stressed, I go to a boxing class with my trainer or for a run with my family, friends, or my service dog. Exercise is a big part of my mental health because it reminds me that I am lucky to be able to do those things. I also know that exercise is important for individuals with MS and helps release happy endorphins, which can improve mental health.
My third tool is my diet. Over the past 10 years, I have studied nutrition extensively and actively worked towards developing a diet that works for me. I find that when I eat right, I feel good, but when I stop my diet, I don’t. I truly believe that physical and mental strength go hand in hand — you need them to work together. Everything I do to be physically healthy only helps strengthen my mental health.
The MS Society’s Peer Support Program and Knowledge Network also offer services where you can reach out and talk to people with MS if you are feeling isolated. MS can come with debilitating symptoms, so it is critical that we talk about mental health for people living with the chronic disease. A healthy mind and a healthy body are equally important, so people living with MS who are struggling with their mental health should seek help and take advantage of the many resources available to them.
For Bell Let’s Talk Day, I want you to know that you don’t have to face the challenges of MS alone. You can reach out to the MS Society, friends, and family. Try to see the beauty in each day and pick one goal for the day, even if it’s just getting out of bed or making the effort to talk. You will be glad you did.