Empowered by Activism

My husband, Dan, and I were talking with some women at lunch a few weeks ago. They were sharing stories about an exercise class they teach and how rewarding it is to see their students’ progress.

To stay involved in this exercise-related conversation, I commented about how I was looking forward to starting physical therapy (PT) to treat some weakness associated with my multiple sclerosis.

I often say that I’m weak. My arms and trunk feel weak. And my legs? Yeah, they just aren’t working for me anymore. This is not totally surprising considering that I was diagnosed with MS 17 years ago.

“There is such an empowering feeling when I am able to exercise,” I told the ladies.

Then it hit me: Empowering feeling? I truly know a thing or two about inducing a sense of empowerment, and it has absolutely nothing to do with exercising. Unless, of course, you think of advocacy as exercising your legislative muscles.

Dan and I just had our most recent workout when we ventured down to Lansing (Michigan’s state capital) in early June to meet with our State Senator Judy Emmons and Representative Kevin Cotter to advocate for issues affecting Michigan’s older and disabled citizens.

This was the sixth consecutive year we have actively participated in Older Michiganians Day to advocate for Michigan’s MI Choice Medicaid Waiver Program. This invaluable program provides the assistance I need for daily living such as helping me with meal preparation, accompanying me to my PT appointments, cleaning and grocery shopping, while Dan continues working full-time at Central Michigan University. Did I mention that Dan, my loving husband of nearly nine years, also has MS?

It is such a rush to meet with our legislators to show them the faces of two people with MS who live within their respective districts and explain to them why we traveled all the way to Lansing to meet with them.

On this trip, we reminded our legislators how the Medicaid program saves the state millions of dollars and how it is making it possible for me — one of their constituents — to continue living in my own home and positively contributing to my community.

What has become extra special is that we’ve developed such good relationships with our elected officials that we no longer have to formally introduce ourselves to them. They know us, understand MS and are all ears when we talk with them. Our annual trip and regular emails throughout the year continue to keep MS and the MI Choice Program in their minds so they are cognizant of these important issues as they make laws and set budgets for our state.

We’re doing what we can to inform our elected officials of the issues we’re passionate about and hope that as a result of our visit, our state legislators will protect Medicaid for the 19,000 people who live with MS in Michigan.

Dan and I always tell members of our MS self-help group they are and should be their own best advocates. We’ve realized that MS advocacy is our passion, and it has sparked incredible opportunities to make a difference in our lives — and others’ — lives. 

Nobody knows your personal situations and circumstances better than you, and you can help move us closer to a world free of MS by making your voice heard and opinions understood. Register for the National MS Society’s Action Alert to receive news and information about MS advocacy news and legislative issues.

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Jennifer Digmann

Diagnosed with MS in 1997, Jennifer Digmann and her husband, Dan, who also has MS, maintain a nationally-recognized blog, regularly guest post for Healthline.com, have served as speakers for many MS events, and co-authored the book Despite MS, to Spite MS.

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  • Sonia   Jun 30, 2014 2:41 PM
    Hi there I'm sonia and I'm 23 from Yorkshire in England uk
    I was diagnosed around 9 months ago and after feeling extremely down for a short while I've began to feel empowered through others such as dan and Jen and they don't even no it!
    Let's keep going
  • Sonia   Jun 30, 2014 2:41 PM
    Hi there I'm sonia and I'm 23 from Yorkshire in England uk
    I was diagnosed around 9 months ago and after feeling extremely down for a short while I've began to feel empowered through others such as dan and Jen and they don't even no it!
    Let's keep going
  • Avatar
    A_J_  Jun 30, 2014 7:12 PM
    Thanks for letting us know...I live in Grand Rapids Mi. So much needs to be done concerning handicap access, in restaurants etc, not only here but in so many other cities. Thank you for taking time to have legislators know concerns about ms.
  • Dennis Raymond   Jun 30, 2014 7:53 PM
    My wife Joanne was diagnosed at age 55 in 1999, with the neurologist saying that from the appearance of her brain lesions, the MS likely started in her body at about age 14. She had been mis-diagnosed to have arthritis years before. She's been confined to a wheelchair for 7 years, but in that time, we have been swimming a 1/4 mile twice a week, and doing pulley pulls a couple times a week, plus a hand bicycle, and stretches in the wheelchair. I also hang her up in her sling in our HoyerLift once a day for at least 30 minutes. She just had her Baclofen (anti-spasmodic) pump replaced, after serving her well for 6.5 years. She writes and directs plays at our church every 1 to 1.5 years (for the last 30 years), is an avid reader, and leads a book study/author visit 3 times a year, plus makes quilts and fancy bags. Her MS doesn't define Joanne, she has the upper hand!
  • Diane Combs   Jun 30, 2014 9:33 PM
    Wonderful read. I'm in Michigan. I would love to be an advocate but never know where to start.
  • Anthony Romero   Jul 1, 2014 2:13 AM
    Hello, my name is Anthony Romero and I have had Ms since 2003. I work as a Paramedic/Firefighter for Kern County for 15 years. I continue to work hard and keep my head high. I would love to go back in the Navy as a Reserve, but MS is a disqualifer. I served from 91-95 and the Navy refused me to go back in. Wish I can reverse that rule.
  • Linda Taylor   Jul 1, 2014 9:24 AM
    It is wonderful work that you are doing. My husband was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia last April and in May I was diagnosed with MS. There are some similarities with motion problems and both are immune issues. A helpful drug for my is Ampyra but the side effect is not great, therefore I am off it for a wee and will try again. I thinks that tere will be many more choices bewtween effects to help and side effects to hinder.
  • LenBertin  Jul 1, 2014 12:43 PM
    Everyone has a voice and we can use yours. Please contact your local chapter and ask to join others just like you in the advocacy efforts the MS Society conducts. Just like the Digmanns, your story can make a huge impact on the lives of persons living with MS and disability. Join us in that effort and share in making new strides to stop the devastation multiple can cause.
  • Avatar
    refusetoquit  Jul 5, 2014 11:08 AM
    Good for YOU Jennifer, and your no-named husband. lol Your word's hooked me, I usually pass on legislative jargon, but your EMPOWERMENT is now recognized. Finding a passion. Michigan is lucky to have you. I'm in WI and ALSO have the help.......keep it up!