What I Wish I Knew About the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

"The control I had once had in my legs was quickly disappearing, and the clean sounds of my tap shoes soon became muffled, scuffing scrapes."

Brittany Quiroz sits on a stairs with her arm resting on a cane. Words next to her say Multiple Sclerosis What I Wish I Knew

Photo Courtesy of Brittany Quiroz

Bodies are fascinating. We’ve learned about how our bodies work in science classes. You might remember hearing about the nervous system and its communication between the brain, spinal cord, and the complex network of nerves. 

But learning about and physically experiencing what our bodies are capable of doing are two completely different things. 

Personally, everything I had learned about the body's nervous system was pretty much forgotten after I passed the exam in school. It wasn’t vital to bring the knowledge along with me to my tap or ballet classes. And I definitely wasn’t singing about the topic of science on stage—a musical about how the body works was yet to be produced by Broadway's greatest minds. I was a performer. I wasn’t a stranger to long nights of strenuous rehearsals. My body was in a constant state of go go go, and I knew I could always rely on my body. It never let me down, and it kept up pretty well with what I asked of it. Dance classes, vocal lessons, acting workshops, and auditions. I put my body through the wringer, and my body held up. 

Then I got hit with the diagnosis of a disease called multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition that caused my immune system to attack itself and eat away at the protective coating of my nerves. Turns out I had been experiencing physical symptoms indicative of MS for years leading up to my diagnosis. Numbness. Tingling. Drop foot in my left leg. Cognitive obstacles where I couldn't find a noun to save my life—I referred to everything as “the thing, the thing.”

My balance and everything I had learned in dance was thrown out the window as I continued to reassure those around me that I was in fact not under the influence of alcohol—especially not on a Wednesday morning. The control I had once had in my legs was quickly disappearing, and the clean sounds of my tap shoes soon became muffled, scuffing scrapes. The clean, crisp ping of my tap shoes was a memory. I would swear that I had a good grip on my favorite coffee cup, then down it went crashing to my tile floor. 

My body had ramped up its game to really show me just what it is capable of doing. I immediately went into a “I wish I was prepared for this” state of mind. A “I wish I knew” theme. 

So I froze. Froze in fear, in panic, in concern. That was my response to the unknown. But getting comfortable with something foreign cannot be done without first giving it recognition. Thinking back to the first time I opened up my high school anatomy book, I remember it looking like a foreign language. Back then, the more I became familiar with the subject matter, the information became more comfortable to me. So, after I was diagnosed with MS, I started to educate myself more about what exactly my body was doing. 

By allowing myself to really acknowledge what my body was doing and observe the changes, the sensations, and even the obstacles, it became easier for me to navigate through it all. Learning about MS and its effects allowed me to be more comfortable with my diagnosis. I wish I had known that MS and the effects it would have on my body might even fascinate me one day, as it has now. 

Perception is everything if you want to get really good at being boldly courageous. When my left leg decides to go numb, of course it’s a bit overwhelming. But I like approaching how I look at the bizarre effects MS has on me through a different lens. Changing how I view the challenging symptoms puts me in the driver seat, making me feel as though I have the control. So I approach my changes with humor. Humor has always been my greatest defense mechanism. Instead of having a meltdown when my limbs give out, I laugh it off and am grateful I landed on something soft. 

Is it scary when I can’t think clearly? Absolutely. Is it challenging? You bet your unbalanced behind it is. But phantom symptoms can also be a bit intriguing when experiencing just how powerful the human body is. The diagnostic process of an incurable and progressive disease is heavy, but on top of knowing the ways in which MS would affect me, I also wish I knew my perception of my new reality carried more weight.

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