Distractions, missing words, the name of a friend that doesn’t come to mind. Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect a person’s attention, concentration and memory, and these are just some of the cognitive symptoms of the condition. I have had them for a few years, and have put a number of strategies in place to manage these symptoms a little better.
I had a hard time accepting how MS affects my cognitive functions. I felt that my brain was no longer functioning properly and that there was something wrong with me. I felt less efficient, which is something hard to live with in today’s society – a society strongly focused on performance. Over time, with the support of my loved ones and the help of a cognitive therapy (a kind of ‘rehabilitation of neurons’), I realised that it was possible to manage these symptoms and to remain productive.
Tips for your working life
I’m lucky that my area of work gives me a lot of flexibility on how I manage my workload. I have a part time job, and work 4 out of 5 days at home, in the comfort of my apartment, without the fatigue and pain that many people encounter when travelling to work. On top of this, I have also made the following changes to my work life, which help me to deal with my MS symptoms:
- I have more breaks than I used to
Before, I was able to concentrate for 6 hours straight. This is now impossible, so I take regular but short breaks to have a coffee or take a shower. I used to take 2 hours for lunch before I was affected by the condition, now I have shorter lunch breaks, and more breaks during the day, so I still take the same amount of hours in total
- I prioritise tasks
I always start with those that require the most attention and concentration, and finish the day with easier tasks that require less amounts of energy
- I use new technology and reminders
You cannot forget an appointment, whether professional, medical or social, and my phone works as my memory – it saves me from covering my apartment in Post-it notes! However, to keep my brain active, I still try to remember the events, before the phone reminds me of them.
Tips for your personal and social life
I also had to change much of my personal life to deal with the cognitive symptoms of my MS. These are some tips on how I do it:
- I meditate
This helps me to focus my mind and gather my thoughts, which tend to be very scattered! On the one hand, full-consciousness offers me a space of rest and serenity. On the other hand, it helps to improve my concentration.
- I put less pressure on myself
Before, I was always stressed and annoyed. For example, I would get annoyed if I forgot a person’s name. But then, I learned to see things in a simpler way. I started laughing at my own forgetfulness, and started to simply ask the name again! Everyone, including people who have no illness, have days when they are less effective. When I have a less productive day, I don’t feel guilty anymore, I simply work more the next day – but only if I feel better. To be honest, I have significantly less pressure in my current job, so dealing with fatigue became a lot easier.
- I read every day and see my friends
I read even when I’m tired, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I also see friends to keep an active social life and stimulate my brain.
- I respect my need for sleep
My 10-hour nights are sacred! Fatigue greatly increases my cognitive impairment, so I try as much as possible to get enough sleep and not go to bed too late.
- I make my memory work
I test my memory by having fun and doing things that bring me pleasure. I love art, so I took courses to learn new things about this topic, but mostly to make me happy. I definitely can’t remember all the things I learned in the course, but that doesn’t matter!
The only thing I don’t do is to play video games. Many people find this helpful, but they bore me to death! I will gladly return to learning English or Spanish though – I find that a much better way to make way to make my neurons work. Above all, I prefer what I call ‘intellectual activities’. For me, that’s the best way to remain active.
Why not learn more about MS or take on a ‘Dare’ in our Truth or Dare activity.