Have you ever tried to make your way through the day in a world of groggy and foggy fatigue? Or felt so off balance and under the skin boiling and brain-numbing blurry that all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and stare at a blank screen?
Well, Sue Bugeja has. Living with multiple sclerosis has changed this 49-year-old Mount Martha resident’s life dramatically. First diagnosed with optical neuritis and sent along to an eye specialist where the tests were inconclusive, Sue had been feeling exhausted, off-balance and weak for some time. But there were two young children to chase, a home to look after and a job that demanded attention. Surely everyone in the same situation felt that tired. But her body and mind felt strange. Her eyes were playing funny buggers and sometimes she felt so hot she thought she’d slipped on 20 shag-pile sweaters without knowing it. She explains.
“I thought I had an inner ear problem initially when my first child was born but didn’t think anything of it. Looking back, that was probably the first sign. I had all the symptoms of vertigo and felt so disorientated. I finally had an MRI and was diagnosed with MS in 2010. I remember holding a kids’ party for my daughter a few days after and walking around as if nothing had changed — I was in a daze — until I began having injections two to three times a week. One of the worst things about MS is losing confidence. You second guess yourself because it’s hard to make decisions and you wonder if you’ve made the right one.”
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease and affects two to three times as many women as men. Put simply, it includes random autoimmune attacks that damage the insulating myelin sheath of the central nervous system, but Sue has found that regular exercise brings relief. She has begun working with exercise physiologist Elise Robinson at Pace Health Management in Mount Martha and the results have been impressive. “The more I do, the better I feel. You know, seven out of 10 people with MS are depressed and many consider ending their lives. Exercise has changed my outlook. It’s helped with my balance, strength, spasticity in my legs and brain fog. There are always going to be days when I feel weak and not up to it, but the exercise keeps me going and has dramatically improved my quality of life. I’ve also lost around 25 kilos.”
Elise continues. “In 12 weeks, Sue has improved cognitively, emotionally and physically. She still experiences stress triggers, which ‘bring the blanket down’, but these episodes have been happening less. Her program is aerobics-based and includes balance, resistance and circuit/strength exercise. You can exercise your way through MS.”
Sue agrees. “I also do yoga twice a week and take time out when I need to, but I have to keep going. The kids need me. I need to feel the best I can to keep moving forward. There’s no choice.”