Multiple Sclerosis & The Power of Athleticism

Multiple Sclerosis & The Power of Athleticism

By: Rachel Mitchell

I’ll never forget the morning of January 14, 2019. After several days of not generally not feeling well, but chalking it up to being the busy “back to school” season, I woke up that morning like every other day. Except when I got out of bed, it felt like both legs had fallen asleep. Thinking I just needed to walk it off, I went to the bathroom to get ready for the day. I sat down on the toilet, and when I tried to get up, I couldn’t. My legs could not support my body weight. I told my husband what was going on, and we were instantly on our way to the ER as it was 5:30 in the morning. When I arrived at the ER, based on my symptoms, they were concerned that I was having a stroke. At that moment, I knew in the back of my mind that it was Multiple Sclerosis.

You see, it all started 90 days earlier. Around Labor Day, I began to notice some intermittent tingling/numbness in my right shoulder. I was heavily into CrossFit, so initially, I thought it might be a pinched nerve or some other kind of injury. I sought out a sports chiropractor and saw him consistently for 6 weeks. His treatments would help temporarily, but never permanently. At this point, he recommended that I see a neurologist for further evaluation. I thought he was overreacting, but wanted to get to the bottom of whatever was going on, so I made an appointment. At the appointment, we discussed my symptoms, family history, and lifestyle. Although the neurologist said he thought it was likely a brachial plexus injury of some kind, he recommended a brain MRI to make sure it wasn’t something else. The MRI came back with 1 almond-sized lesion in the corpus callosum part of my brain. It was then that the idea that I could have multiple sclerosis was introduced. I know now that MS is tricky to diagnose, so, the plan at that point was a hefty dose of oral steroids and a “wait and see” approach.

6 weeks later, I had my first relapse that left me unable to walk without assistance, with slurred speech, and motor function so poor I was unable to sign my discharge paperwork at the hospital. I received multiple days of 1000mg steroid infusions, spent weeks in physical therapy re-learning how to walk, and received my permanent handicapped placard in the mail. I started treatment but also started to experience the stages of grief - first denial, and then anger. I spent the better part of a year just really mad that this had happened to me at 28 years old. I began to go to local support groups, and connect with others who had experienced a similar diagnosis. And eventually, I started to exercise again. The first milestone I met after my diagnosis was walking a single mile without stopping. I started to believe that there would be sunshine after this storm.

It’s been just over 5 years since my diagnosis, and while I do live with MS every day, if you didn’t know my story, you’d never guess it. I work full-time for a software company, I am an active member at a local CrossFit gym, and I am a wife and mom to a 2-year-old little boy. 5years ago, I had to re-learn how to walk, and this past September, I completed my first triathlon. MS is far from the diagnosis that it was 20 or 30 years ago. The treatment options have come so far, and there is so much more hope for living a long, happy, normal life with MS. It took a while, but I can now confidently say that my life has changed for the better because of my diagnosis. It is a daily reminder that we only get one body, we have to take care of it. For anyone facing a similar experience or diagnosis, remember that the comeback is always greater than the setback and there are always better days ahead.

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