I hope that this headline has shocked you. Because too many people know too little about multiple sclerosis. And I tootled along, for many years, unaware that MS was a mental health problem. I should point out, that during these many years that I had been blissfully unaware of the mental health problems, were after my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Yes, I had been told that multiple sclerosis was a neurological condition. But, I had not stopped to consider what that might actually mean. I had assumed, as many may have also done, that a neurological condition affected the nervous system and might lead to some physical disabilities.
One of the neurological deficits that can occur, is absent-mindedness or forgetfulness. This is becoming an increasing problem for yours truly. But, I know what you will say: “Everybody has spells of absent-mindedness”. And, that is very true.
However, the forgetfulness that comes with MS can be severe, To the point, where I am sure that early-onset dementia is a real possibility.
What is Multiple Sclerosis
The short answer is that MS is a neurological disease. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. But, what does that mean to the unfortunste individual who has just been given a recent diagnosis?
It can mean many things:
- Mobility issues
- Unaccountable pain
- Digestive Problems
- Vision Impairment
- Speech Difficulties
- Cognitive Loss
- Sleep Problems
- Bowel Difficulties
- Bladder Issues
And, those are just some of the headline problems that you may encounter. I have seen lists, compiled by dedicated MSers, that number several hundred.
When we understand that multiple sclerosis is a brain disease, we can appreciate how it can present so many different symptoms in different people to differing degrees,
Having watched, not so long ago, a documentary on brain development, I have come to understand how the brain develops, giving each of us a unique personality. Currently, my multiple sclerosis symptoms of most concern are speech impairment, brain fog and cognitive loss.
But, why do these diverse symptoms occur and what causes multiple sclerosis? Medical science has no known cure for MS and, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t know the reason why we develop multiple sclerosis.
NOTE: that I used the phrase develop multiple sclerosis because MS is not an infection that we catch. It is not the outcome of bacterial infection or virus. Although, both conditions are suspected of activating the immune system to cause the MS to develop.
Autoimmune Disease Action
When autoimmune disease begins the immune system mistakenly identifies the host body as being alien tissue. It is believed that, in MS, the immune system recognises myelin as being the alien tissue. Myelin is the protective sheath that surrounds the nerve fibres in the central nervous system.
When the protective coating of the nerves becomes damaged it can disrupt the correct flow of the nerve signals. If the myelin damage exposes the underlying nerve then the nerve can die and cause permanent paralysis.
Nerve Function is Mental Health
Nerves control all functions of the body. They control the muscles that power our limbs. They transmit sight, sound and taste sensations. And, they control the vegetative functions of the heart, lungs and other organs.
The nerves affected by multiple sclerosis are, predominantly in the brain. Explaining why the resulting symptoms can be so diverse and unpredictable.
Occasionally, the affected nerves are restricted to those solely in the spinal cord. In this situation, the form of multiple sclerosis is known as Spinal MS.
If you are fortunate enough to have spinal MS, if fortunate is the right word, you are unlikely to experience the cognitive effects of brain fog or memory loss. A good friend of mine has this form of PPMS. His legs are paralysed but, he has no cognitive dysfunction or visual impairment.
Now that we have established that the neurological disease of MS is a mental illness. It is logical to assume that brain function is being compromised.
Therefore, brain damage could be the result of MS disease activity. While this may sound a little melodramatic, I believe it is very probable. In my own case, I don’t think any brain damage has been severe or permanent.
Because my thinking ability and memory do restore during periods of intermission. I believe that the lesions, that show in my MRI, are areas of inflammation impeding good nerve transmission.
The Stigma of Mental Health
While I have never been aware of being stigmatised from having MS. Many people with mental health problems do experience discrimination and stigma.
For the most part, multiple sclerosis is an invisible illness. It is only when you need to resort to using a wheelchair that your disability is in full view.
Furthermore, it is probable that only a few people think of MS as a mental health issue. But mental health problems are surprisingly common:
- It is estimated that as many as 1 in 6 people experience mental health problems
- 10% of children and young people have a clinically diagnosed mental health condition
- The predominant, worldwide, mental health problem is depression followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
You can read more about stigma and discrimination on the website of the Mental Health Foundation.
What is my Multiple Sclerosis
My early symptoms were a simple tingling in my arms and face. However, within a few years, my eyesight was being impacted.
After this, I started having continence problems. I frequently felt an urgent need to urinate. But, often could not empty my bladder. This urinary urgency was not painful, at that time.
However, the current urinary need can be very painful. This has now extended to bowel discomfort. Where I often feel as though my bowel needs to evacuate. However, defecating proves to be very difficult.
My eyesight continues to be a worry. In fact, at a recent eye examination, my optician informed me that my optic nerve in the right eye was dying. I have since been referred to an opthalmologist who took a slightly less harsh view. But, confirmed that the optic nerve was quite badly inflamed.
I have resumed regular visits to my MS nurse. She is a new specialist to me. It has been quite a few years since I last saw the MS nurse. And things, and people, change.
But, I have learned to live with the condition better. I am now comfortable with the fact that I am disabled. And I have found a way to remain happy despite the obstacles and difficulties.
One other aspect of my life is becoming a fixture. This Blog has established a place in my life. It not only provides me with a much needed emotional outlet. It continues to stretch and exercise my mind.
Trying to maintain my mental health has become all-consuming. It is a very positive way that I can try to minimise the detrimental effects of MS.
Benefits of Language Skills
It may seem to be a complete change of subject. But, I am learning to speak Spanish. I like to holiday in Spain and I like to get acquainted with the Spanish people I meet.
Furthermore, I love new eating experiences, so I can combine two loves. If I am to keep multiple sclerosis in check. I need to keep building my intellectual abilities.
So, learning a new language and travelling to new places improves my mental health. And that helps me control my multiple sclerosis.
Finally, learning a new language has done little to improve my linguistic abilities but, it has improved my brain fog a great deal.