Facial Numbness Was My First MS Symptom

Michelle Clos, age 45, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her 30s after an episode of facial numbness. She cut back on her 70-hour workweeks when fatigue crept into her life, and now finds that napping can help prevent dizziness and feelings of instability when walking. But she can still run 5Ks with energy management and gets great joy helping other people with MS achieve their goals.

I had my first MS episode in 1990 when I was a senior in college. I was unable to walk and went to see my doctor. I was diagnosed then with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder related to MS. My doctor basically said there was a 50-50 chance that I would have MS, stay away from stress and have a good day.

I left with that and a lot of fear that it would return. I would fall asleep every night wondering if the next day was going to be the one I couldn't walk. Then I changed my strategy and decided to focus on what was good and working every day instead of what wasn't. I decided to put it out of my mind.

In 1994 I had another episode. My doctor told me he could give me medication, but it was a lottery system and I didn't feel right taking medication from people who had serious problems. I was in grad school and I didn't get diagnosed because my doctor didn't want me to carry that label at such a young age.

Then in 2001, I had more symptoms. The right side of my face and body went numb. That was when I was officially diagnosed. One of the reasons it took so long was that I was in denial. I went to the doctor by myself and didn't even think about having my partner go with me. I just wanted to find out for myself. I was on automatic pilot—I was not thinking of the future because it was too overwhelming.

  • After the numbness went away, I didn't have outward symptoms for a long time. Then, over the course of three years, an insidious fatigue crept into my life. I had been promoted to a managerial position at work and was working about 70 hours a week.
  • I started getting dizzy and fatigued and that was a crossroads for me. I was always going to have MS, so did I want to climb the corporate ladder and let my health and quality of life suffer and not have the energy to do things I wanted to do? I decided to step down from my position. I moved down to 32 hours and then down to 20. I have found I can work about four hours before I have to take a nap.

If I don't take naps, I have dizziness and instability when walking and difficulty finding words when I talk. If Im practicing energy management, I can even run and compete in 5k races. Knowing I can still do those things is what keeps me going.

Another part of my passion is helping others. Shortly after I had decreased my work hours, I started coaching people with MS. I later worked on a national program that uses the principles of positive psychology, which means focusing on and cultivating the good things in life instead of its dysfunctional aspects. I used this to help people enhance their outlook and overall wellbeing and live better with MS.

I was so blessed with my story, so I wanted to give back. It was so rewarding that I do believe focusing on others and helping others creates positive thoughts and feelings.

I have had to look at what my thoughts are about MS and what expectations I place on myself. And Im thrilled to work with people with MS and help them create a plan to achieve their goals. It's nirvana for me, being able to share my experiences with people and help them come up with a plan.

To stay healthy, I try to be conscious of how Im feeling physically and take care of my needs appropriately. If Im tired, I let myself rest, and make sure I get enough sleep every day. I also have a very supportive partner who does a lot for me and helps maintain our house.

I also take really good care of myself. I became an expert on nutrition and learned about what I should be eating. I was always an exerciser, but I didn't know how to run. I started off walking and progressed to running. I have learned the difference between fatigue and couch laziness and how to ignore the latter.

My biggest fear is losing my cognitive faculties and MS can cause cognitive symptoms like difficult processing or finding a word. But I know that it doesn't lead to dementia like Alzheimers and I can use tools to help prevent it.

I am a very proactive person about the disease and I have to have a strategy for dealing with symptoms. I have tried to keep the stress in my life to a minimum and have really embraced positive psychology. I focus on what makes me thrive and do well.

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