Make things easier for yourself in 2012

You may have made all sorts of new year's resolutions in the past that involved doing things that are pretty difficult, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or exercising more. I want to encourage you to do something that will actually make your life easier.

I would like all of us to take a hard look at how our MS is affecting our lives in terms of getting the day-to-day stuff done. This is certainly not easy, as acknowledging loss of function must be one of the hardest parts of this disease. However, regardless of how much we wish things were different, struggling against some of these physical impediments that MS has tossed in our paths often just ends up adding to our fatigue and making us more frustrated.  

Therefore, I would like each of you to make a list of how accomplishing everyday tasks in your life has become a little more challenging. For instance, do you find that:
  • You are increasingly holding onto walls and furniture to walk without falling? 
  • You will leave a parking lot if you cannot find a parking place close to the entrance? 
  • You wish it were a little easier to get in and out of the bathtub or off the toilet?
Here is the good news – many of these things can be made easier for us. There are solutions for these problems, once we admit that we need a little help.
For instance, you can:
  • Consider getting a cane if you are having balance issues or are unsteady on your feet. Many people who get a cane or walker say that they wish they had done it sooner. If you think you are not ready yet, go ahead and get one for hard days or "just in case." Ask your MS doctor to refer you to a physical therapist who can help you get a cane that fits you and teach you how to use it properly. (Read more: When should I get a cane if I have multiple sclerosis? And, Adaptive Equipment, Emotional Adjustment.) 
  • Get a disabled parking placard (aka "handicapped tag") for your car. Having access to those parking places closest to the entrance of a store or office building can really make a huge difference (especially on a hot day) by allowing you to conserve energy or get out of the heat. Your doctor should have all the forms that you need and will be able to help you fill them out (you may also need him or her to write a prescription for the placard). Again, you may not need to use it often, but it is wonderful to have "just in case." (Read more: Get a handicapped parking placard.) 
  • Bathrooms can be dangerous places, with slippery hard surfaces that are unforgiving if you fall. It can also just be annoying to need help to do personal things like use the toilet or take a bath. An occupational therapist can visit your home and help with things like installing "grab bars" next to the toilet or bathtub/shower.  Your MS doctor can give you the necessary referral to an occupational therapist. (Read more: Make Your Bathroom Safer and Easier to Use, and  Occupational Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis.)
Look, I know that admitting to yourself that your body is malfunctioning in one way or another is emotional. Tangible manifestations of these problems, such as canes, parking tags or grab bars, often serve to make these problems feel a little more real.
However, you must remember that life is not a contest. We all need to do the best we can to enjoy our time here without striving for perfection, but aiming for feeling good about those things that we can do. That said, make your list and give yourself a break by pulling in little "helpers" where needed. You'll be glad you did.

If you would like additional information about adaptive equipment, disabled parking placards or home modifications, contact an MS Navigator at 1-800-344-4867 or You can also learn more about home modifications in Shelley Peterman Schwarz' new book, Home Accessibility:300 Tips for Making Life Easier.  

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Julie Stachowiak, PhD

Julie is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Health Category. She is an epidemiologist who is also a person living with MS, Julie has an in-depth understanding about current research and scientific developments around MS. She also has first-hand knowledge of the frustrations and anxiety surrounding the disease, as she had MS for at least 15 years before receiving a diagnosis in 2003 and has had several relapses since her diagnosis.