I suppose there’s never a good time for a relapse. It’s never really convenient to have the connections in your brain severed or temporarily disabled, but if I had to pick a time of the year for it to happen, it would definitely not be those few days between my birthday and Thanksgiving. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. The temperatures cool. The leaves turn. Everything smells earthy and rich. Family and friends get together for bonfires. Almost EVERYTHING suddenly has a pumpkin-flavored option. Life is generally good for those few, short days in between my birthday celebration and the holiday weekend and I look forward to it every year.
I had a lot going on that summer and fall and looking back now, that stress likely contributed to my relapse, or at least increased my chances of having one. When I think about all that I tried to take on at work that year, I get angry with myself for not stepping back and saying that enough was enough. That was 6 1/2 months ago and though I feel like I’ve aged about 5 years, I also feel like I’ve somehow simultaneously gained about 10 years of wisdom. Being diagnosed with a chronic, sometimes disabling, illness will do that to you though.
From the moment I had my first significant symptom nearly 2 years ago, I knew that MS was a possibility. As time passed, that possibility became even more likely so I won’t say that I was surprised by the eventual diagnosis.
What surprised me was how much I lost as a result of the diagnosis. As I progressed through that second major relapse, I seemed to lose something more each day.
The connections in my brain were unreliable and sporadic. I got confused easily and had a difficult time formulating complete thoughts. Huge chunks of my memory were foggy. Conversations were confusing and difficult for me to follow. I missed meetings and appointments. I could not rely on my brain to get me through the day.
I was sad and embarrassed and angry, all at the same time. I couldn’t get my legs to walk without visualizing every movement my legs, feet, and ankles had to make to complete the motion. Talking and walking were out of the question. I thought that was the new me. I thought that my brain had been ruined and that I would struggle to keep up with a conversation for the rest of my life. It’s unsettling to know that you don’t even realize how impressive your brain is until it no longer works the way it’s supposed to. Have you ever had to think about the various steps involved in making your legs climb stairs or how your brain knows exactly how high to lift your leg to clear the riser? No? I didn’t either, until it stopped working. Turning to science, I began to read everything I could find about neurogenesis, or brain cell regeneration. I took an interest in activities designed to exercise and strengthen brain function such as jigsaw puzzles, games to strengthen hand-eye coordination, and various language and memory challenges.
Exercising my brain had suddenly become a vital part of my day and before I knew it, my long lost brain started to come back to me. I began realizing that I could walk short distances without visualizing my steps. I could read through a report at work with ease and actually formulate an intelligent response. I could suddenly tell a story at dinner without forgetting what I was talking about and needing a reminder mid-way through. Just as quickly as those connections were lost, they began to be rebuilt and as I sit here writing this blog post today, I can say with confidence that I have gained at least as much as I have lost.
It wasn’t immediate, but as my brain slowly made the necessary repairs or found new workarounds, I became a little bit more like my old self again. Perhaps even better. I won’t ever say that I’m thankful for my MS but if it had to happen to me, I’m thankful that at least I could learn a little bit more about myself along the way. As I continue to work to rebuild my confidence and my cognitive abilities, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible mystery of the human brain and that’s probably not something I ever would have experienced if not for MS. I find it truly fascinating that given the opportunity and the effort, the brain actually has the ability to develop new connections to work around the diseased tissue.
Having gone through the experience of first tissue death then re-growth, I feel a renewed connection to and appreciation for my awesome brain. It might have polka dots and it may be cloudy at times, but it’s mine and it’s amazing!
Inspired by the Daily Post prompt: Rebuild.