Topic / Blog

Managing multiple sclerosis and college

Bri is currently studying for her bachelors in Health Sciences and was diagnosed with RRMS in 2018. She hopes to use her degree to help educate others with autoimmune diseases and advocate for disability rights. Here, Bri shares her story and how she manages college alongside her diagnosis.

When I walked into the E.R. in April of 2018, I really had no idea how my life was going to change. Oh, I thought I did, but I had no idea it would change for the better. 

I knew I was in a downward spiral only a severe, untreated flare can bring. Half of my face was unresponsive like I’d had a stroke; my body was numb from the waist down, with my right side quickly becoming affected above the waist too. My words were slurred, and I was exhausted all the time. Dozens of other symptoms had combined to create the storm I just knew would get me help. I knew I was going to finally be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That was where my limited knowledge of my coming situation ceased. 

I didn’t know that life was about to change dramatically, and strangely get so much better.

Many pwMS speak of the relief they experience when they finally get a diagnosis. I experienced that, and immensely. I’d be experiencing odd complaints for a decade at that point, and my very first symptoms could have appeared even earlier than that. 

Over that time, I saw a lot of different doctors. A few misdiagnosed me, and even more told me it was all in my head. Some people thought I was being a drama queen, or even making it up entirely. That’s a story for another day, though.

Back to my diagnosis in 2018; all the mysterious symptoms I had been experiencing were finally acknowledged with a name. 

After the relief washed over me, all I could think was, “What in the world do I do now?” Always having been a voracious reader, I immediately began researching anything I could about MS. I was mainly interested in ways to manage it naturally. Don’t get me wrong, I am on a DMD; I just wanted more to help on a daily basis. 

I should probably add here that I quit eating meat six months prior to my diagnosis. My husband and I watched the documentary, “What the Health,” and gave it up right then and there.However, we didn’t give up dairy. I was a junk food vegetarian only working out twice a week, max. 

So when I began looking into holistic ways to manage MS, I quickly found the different protocols. A few caught my eye, but specifically OMS. I loved the research backing it up, and it honestly just made sense for me. When it came down to it, after being vegetarian for six months, the only animal protein I could consider adding back in was fish. 

I ordered both the book and cookbook online, and within a month of my diagnosis, was trying as hard as I could to make the steps part of my life.

Now, 18 months later, some steps are second nature to me, and I’m definitely reaping the benefits. Before I was diagnosed, I had to quit my job in the beauty industry because of intense back pain, fatigue, and brain fog. Now, I’m back in college full time, getting great grades, and am able to work there part time as well. 

I practice yoga daily, and can run my fastest mile since I was 13. I see a therapist and acupuncturist regularly, and enjoy time outside with my family a lot. 

I only experience the odd symptoms here or there, with no serious physical issues day to day. I sometimes jokingly credit my recovery to my own stubborn attitude to get my life back, but I know OMS played a huge part. 

I’ve utilized so many things I learned in the book. From adding in seafood weekly and ditching dairy, to stress reduction and exercise, it all plays a part in my wellness. I’ve had to modify certain parts of my life to accomodate my new normal, but it’s all been worth it. 

If I backslide on the steps, I can notice it in my health immediately. Once I get back on the right path, I’m back to my normal. Besides a few pesky lesions, I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been. I feel like I’m living life on my terms, and not on the whims of MS anymore. 

As for being back in school, there’s a reason; I want to help as many other people who were in my shoes as I can. I want to be the advocate I so desperately needed.

Being in college with a chronic illness comes with its own set of challenges.

All around me are students worried about the typical young adult stuff - “What do I wear tonight?” “Who’s going to be at the party this weekend?” And things of that nature.

I’m more worried about whether I remembered my medication planner, if I’m going to need a change of clothes if the weather changes on me suddenly, do I need to drink more water for injection night, and things like that.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think I necessarily have it harder than them. You can’t compare apples to oranges, and our experiences are unique. 

I’ve written about how I manage college and a chronic illness on my blog before, and here are some of the best ways I’ve found to manage it.

  1. Stay Active 

One of the biggest ways I keep up in school is by staying active. I don’t have a lot of time - if I’m not in school, I could be working, volunteering, cleaning, cooking, etc. However, if I don’t make time to move, I won’t be able to do those things for long. Whether it’s just taking the long way around campus to get my steps in, or hitting the gym for a yoga class, I’ve made this one a priority this semester, and it shows.

  1. Don’t Forget Lunch

Staying fueled throughout the day is essential for me to do well in my classes, especially if I’m working out. During the week when I’m busiest, I like to keep it simple and nutritious. This week, I made Tabbouleh Salad to mix with some hummus and eat with pita chips or cucumber slices. I also make homemade Larabars when I need to eat on the go. Making sure I’ve got something ready when I need it is crucial for me.

  1. Use a Planner

If you don’t use a planner, I don’t know how you live life. If I didn’t use one, I wouldn’t show up to half my events or finish half my assignments. They don’t have to be fancy and color-coordinated - a simple, free version online does the same job. I keep track of everything there - my doctors appointments, speaking engagements, assignment due dates, etc. 

  1. Stop Stressing

I used to be a bit of a Type-A, driven, perfectionist. Since starting back at school with MS, I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work anymore. I’ve been a fan of meditation for awhile, but I’ve realized it’s a necessity for me in school. Being able to keep everything in perspective and slow my mind down a bit has been so helpful this semester.

The biggest thing about school and chronic illness? It’s possible, if you just learn to accommodate your new normal a bit. We might have to do things differently, but we can get them done. 

Tips
Hide commentsShow comments

Aileen (not verified)

This is a beautifully, well written article that explains many of trials people with MS deal with. It’s great that the holistic way is working for you! More often than not, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is a happy moment. Happy because it’s proof that it’s not all in your head. Proof that you now have a name. Proof that you can now look into ways of improving your life. Most importantly, if someone says “Oh, it’s all in your head,” you can respond with “I have proof it isn’t!” Smile and leave it at that.