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What is MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults, often diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40 and, in Australia, affects three times more women than men. As yet, there is no cure, however; through extensive and ongoing research, it is hoped that one day MS may be able to be cured and even prevented.

There is no known single cause of MS, but many genetic and environmental factors have been shown to contribute to its development.

In MS, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the fatty material – called myelin – around the nerves. Myelin is important for protecting and insulating nerves so that the electrical messages that the brain sends to the rest of the body, travel quickly and efficiently.

As the myelin breaks down during a MS attack – a process called demyelination – patches of nerves become exposed and then scarred, which render the nerves unable to communicate messages properly and at risk of subsequent degeneration. This means that the brain cannot talk to other parts of the body, resulting in a range of symptoms that can include a loss of motor function (e.g. walking and hand and arm function, loss of sensation, pain, vision changes and changes to thinking and memory).

Living with MS - My experience

Daily life with MS is unpredictable! I currently have about thirty lesions (areas of scarring where my immune system has attacked the myelin sheath surrounding my nerves in my central nervous system) and these lead to a range of symptoms that come and go. 

There are days when I barely notice that I have an illness at all - my body feels strong, my mind clear, and I feel as fit and healthy as ever. And then there are days when I am reminded that I do have MS - fatigue washes over me, strange sensations arise in different parts of my body (my tongue or my toes may feel like they are burning, my arms may ache, or patches of my skin may feel tingly or warm), my head may feel dizzy and I may feel a little off balance, my memory may feel noticeably poor and my mental processing speed may feel slower. 

I am very lucky as the number of days when I feel fit and well far outnumber the number of days when I don’t, and I strive to do my best to keep it this way. 

Stress and MS do not go well together, and so I try to minimise stress by managing my inner thoughts and emotions and the way I interact with the outside world mindfully - I am particularly inspired by Buddhist psychology and the teachings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Looking after my body is also really important to me, and so I try to follow a Mediterranean way of eating, and get plenty of fresh air and activity. I love to walk and climb, and I have recently started learning how to sail, and swimming in open water in Port Phillip Bay. 

I take a medication called Tecfidera twice each day. Tecfidera works to lower inflammation and lower the ability of the immune cells to get in and attack the central nervous system. It does have side effects, and at times these can be quite unpleasant, notably gastrointestinal challenges and hot flushing of the skin, but for me, these are well worth the discomfort to keep my MS from progressing. 

Every day I feel grateful that even though I do have MS, the advances in research mean that I am able to reduce the impacts of my illness with medications and feel hopeful for my future, and I want to do my part to help ensure that research will continue to increase understanding of the nature of MS and one day there will be a cure!

If you would like to learn more about MS, the below sites (which are just a select few of the many out there) offer a lot of really helpful information below.

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