Photo of Alanna Palumbo

The Four Stages of Processing my MS Diagnosis

Alanna’s story may sound familiar, perhaps all too familiar to some. 

At 25 years old, Alanna Palumbo was your quintessential self-starter: motivated, persistent, and like most young people, trying to find her place in the world. On the outside, her life was perfect: her boyfriend had recently proposed, and she had just been promoted to Art Director at Impact North, an advertising and design agency in Toronto.

But behind the scenes, her life told a different story. She was experiencing frequent unexplained migraines that were beginning to grow increasingly frustrating, along with issues with balance, fatigue, and nausea. And then, one day, out of nowhere, she developed temporary double vision in her left eye.  

“I remember feeling like something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I felt off and confused for two years because doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. After pushing for an MRI from my family doctor, the scan showed multiple small lesions on my brain,” says Alanna.

In 2018, Alanna was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Being diagnosed with a disease – one that the medical community has not yet been able to cure – can be an overwhelming experience. The drastic change in Alanna’s life brought her through turbulent stages of emotions before she finally came to terms with the disease. Living with her diagnosis wasn’t only frightening; it was also frustrating and taxing on her mental health. But occasionally, Alanna could see a bright side to her MS. Today, we take a deep dive into the emotions Alanna dealt with as she processed her diagnosis:

FEAR

At first, my symptoms were frightening. Every day, I experienced a new feeling from these symptoms, and facing the unknown was terrifying. I was scared to learn that after a year of taking my medication, it wasn’t working. I felt okay, but my scans said differently. I then switched to a different medication and although I had high hopes, it also failed to achieve the outcomes we were looking for. I am now in the process of choosing a third medication which we hope will succeed in halting the progression of my MS.  Although learning new information about MS can be scary, every person in my life has been incredibly supportive and is always willing to help.

Today, what worries me most is that my symptoms can get worse at any minute. Even though I’ve accepted my diagnosis, a cure would mean so much. I could live without the fear of not knowing what is next.”

FRUSTRATION

“Not being in full control of my body is hugely frustrating. No one explains the overwhelming nature of a diagnosis, and then suddenly, you’re expected to make life-changing decisions about medication. A year following my diagnosis, I had more lesions appear on my scans, adding more devastation.

So much about MS can be unfamiliar to some, so I’ve had to explain my diagnosis, all while still trying to understand the diagnosis myself. It was frustrating, but at the same time, it made me realize who supports me most.

Just before my diagnosis, I got engaged. MS hit hard because my partner and I didn’t know what the future would hold and how my MS would progress. It’s overwhelming – fatigue, pain, and migraines– all of which have the tendency to put a strain on even the strongest of relationships. To be with someone who is healthy and then suddenly diagnosed is tough. However, my fiancé has been there for me entirely and continues to support me wholeheartedly.” 

DEPRESSION

“Balance issues affect me the most, triggering bouts of depression. Since this is my worst symptom, it just continually reminds me I’m not at my best, and to fix it, I must wait for it to pass – which can take days or even weeks.

Before my first symptoms, I never felt depressed. Now almost every day, I can’t escape the feeling of being overwhelmed. I am also always trying to portray that I’m okay to others when inside, I’m not. That, for sure, affects my overall mental health.” 

OPTIMISM

 “The most considerable challenge of MS isstaying positive and focused. I feel added pressure to push myself to be positive and healthy even at my worst, especially in front of family, friends and coworkers. Since my diagnosis, I make sure MS doesn’t hinder my work performance. Whether I allow myself to be a leader or step back to create, I am my guide, and my coworkers are extremely supportive.

Three years after my diagnosis, I do feel optimistic about my MS, even though it’s scary knowing I could have this forever. I am confident that I will get through it and get past all obstacles, no matter what happens. There has been a significant change in my attitude about MS since the beginning. At first, I was just relieved to be properly diagnosed, but relief was quickly replaced by the sense of fear brought on by this terrifying diagnosis. As I became better informed and more open with those around me, I have been better able to take my diagnosis in stride. This major shift in perspective has allowed me to give my body and mind what is needed most so that I can achieve all the things I truly desire in life.

Overall, I think my MS has made me ten times stronger as a person, so whatever it brings next, I can honestly say I’m ready to take it head-on.”

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