In the classic sense, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a dis-ease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) that most commonly affects young adults. Sclerosis means hardening; MS means that there are multiple areas of hardened tissue in the brain and spinal cord. The word disease means a loss of a feeling of ease (i.e., dis-ease), or otherwise stated, a loss of a sense of well-being. This is a meaningful definition for MS patients faced with a bewildering variety of other specific symptoms. Often, patients afflicted with MS have difficulty describing just how they feel. Although the MS patient appreciates and understands this concept, many healthy persons, including physicians, unfortunately, often do not.
The neurologist recognizes MS as a disease with many different symptoms that come and go, thus affecting different parts of the nervous system. To be considered as a manifestation of MS (an attack), a symptom should last at least 1 day (24 hours). Any of the presenting problems of MS may appear singly or in combination. Some of the symptoms can be evidence of other illnesses unrelated to MS.
The question “what is MS?” is like the proverbial blind men and the elephant: the description depends on the individual experience. The following questions have been arranged to help you build a working knowledge of what this illness is.
My MS is my MS. Each person who has MS has different symptoms, different manifestations of the same symptom, and different ways of dealing with (or not!) the illness. I hope that my remarks are of help to someone somehow, but I do not claim to know what is best for anyone else with MS. Indeed, many times I am not certain even for myself. Unlike what MS is, I do have a sense of what MS is not. For me, MS is not a blessing. MS is not a curse. MS is not my fault. MS is not something that anyone could have pre-vented, and MS is not an excuse. Perhaps, most importantly, MS is not the end of my ability to live and to love.