The cure to my MS lies in being able to trick my brain.
The point is, don’t read this thinking you stumbled on a cure, the title was just a title.
During the time of Covid I’ve been making a point to take walks in the morning as frequently as I can. Being home and working from home has afforded me the opportunity to take advantage of the cool mornings even if the day would end up scorching hot.
On one of these walks recently I was thinking about the conflict between my body and my brain and how my brain (our brains) can be so smart but so stupid at the same time.
If you don’t how MS effects the brain, the short version is that MS attacks the Myelin sheath that covers the nerves in our brains and spines. In the absence of the Myelin the signals that run through the nerves may slow down, get disrupted, or get broken completely.
In my case, I presume, the signals are slowed down. I can still walk but often my legs are out of sync. For example:
- When getting out of the shower, I’ll put my left foot out of the tub but when I try to pull my right leg out, it doesn’t move.
- Changing walking speeds, my right leg doesn’t respond like my left leg does. My left foot moves forward quickly but my right foot is still moving slowly.
- When standing up or reaching high (standing on my toes) my body depends heavily on my left leg. After 10 years of this my left calve and ankle are noticeably (to me) smaller and weaker.
- Changing directions, whether walking or standing still, my entire body prepares and makes the adjustment but my right leg stays the original course or stays still.
You can imagine that this causes a number of trips and stumbles. Luckily the falls have been infrequent and mild.
Our brains are incredible. They can develop new pathways. They can switch from doing something deliberately to automatically seamlessly. Take a breath… now hold your breath… now continue to read this and begin breathing normally. Your brain functions at a level higher than you can even comprehend. It balances your body weight, controls your hands as you communicate, monitors your surroundings, takes in information from the people you are listening to but also from the things you aren’t listening to directly. Your conscience and sub-conscience work together seamlessly in order to create this marvelous picture of the world around you. Not just that you physically see, hear, smell, touch, and taste but also what you feel emotionally. Sadness, surprise, fear, excitement, jubilation are just a few. Do you realize that you can make yourself sad? Your brain has the power, even if you’re happy, to recall a sad memory. When at a funeral, in extreme sadness, your brain can still conjure up the happiest memory you have of the person you’re grieving. Seamlessly your brain can feel the sadness but at your command or someone else’s request can recall the happiest thought.
Take notice, have you given any thought to your breath in the last couples sentences? Assuming you’re not passed out, do you see that your sub-conscience takes over at will in order to keep you alive whether you are focusing on it or not. INCREDIBLE!!!!! That is AWESOME in the truest sense of the word.
When it comes to walking, the easiest solution to tripping when I walk fast is to walk slow. It’s called the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid, for the uninitiated.
But this is where our brains become so smart that they are stupid. I can’t override the signal to or from one leg or the other. Trust me on this, I tried. If I look drunk/silly dragging my feet around the neighborhood normally, watching me trying to walk and cheat my brain at the same time must be down right hilarious. My movements become exaggerated and uncoordinated and unfortunately I still stumble. So instead of having a simple limp I end up looking like the Tin Man in need of oil trying to Waltz.
See, as soon as I tell my body to slow down, the signals slow down. The normal signals act accordingly but the signal through the damaged nerve slows down too. I can tell my body to slow down but the communication to my right leg slows down automatically.
And here’s the last part of the equation because, if you’re healthy and your brain functions normally, you might be thinking “well Ryan, you fucking half-wit, I can make one leg move fast and the other move slow.” Here’s the rub with MS though. Even if I move a leg independently, the signal is still slow. Trying to lift my leg quickly engages spasticity. My leg and my foot end up shaking in a weird sort of Elaine from Seinfeld dance move.
If I can’t trick my brain, I’m left having to retrain it. To be Continued…