I Have MS, MS Doesn't Have Me
Jessica Ahern grew up in Connecticut and moved to Colorado in 2015. She works as a social worker in Jefferson County to help support families and children who are facing challenges and crises. Jessica is passionate about her work and dedicates much of her time to service to her community. In 2018, at the age of 27, Jessica was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Six months prior to her MS diagnosis, Jessica began experiencing severe symptoms – she lost feeling her right arm and hand and sometimes her feet would go numb. “Then, I couldn’t feel anything in the entire right side of my body, starting at my forehead, all the way down,” explains Jessica, “I couldn’t even feel parts of my tongue and my mouth.” She went to see an orthopedic specialist who told her she looked fine and recommended she make an appointment with a neurologist.
Shortly after her MS diagnosis, she had an exacerbation in which, among many other symptoms, she lost vision in her left eye, lost function in her hands, and couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. “My first doctor dismissed my symptoms and told me I was likely having a pseudo-exacerbation, so I began looking for a new neurologist and found the Rocky Mountain MS Center,” says Jessica. “The doctors and clinicians really listened to me and assured me, but they were also pretty stern about the importance of treatment and explained all of my options.”
Jessica also connected with Rocky Mountain MS Center’s MS Young Professionals Network (MSYPN) soon after she was diagnosed. “It was like a breath of fresh air to be able to talk to people and ask questions. Most of all, it was amazing to have someone else know exactly what I mean when I say, ‘I have brain fog’ or ‘I couldn’t feel my hands today’ or ‘I’m exhausted,’ or whatever I may be experiencing. I have a great support system and they do everything in their power to support me and understand, but there’s just a level that no one can understand unless they’re living with it themselves.”
This year, Jessica signed up for the MSYPN team for RMMSC’s Multiple Summits for MS (MS4MS). “I decided to use my participation in MS4MS as a way to be public about my diagnosis on social media. All the closest people in my life know that I have MS,” Jessica explains. “To tell my story on social media was my first step to raise awareness about MS and become an advocate.” “Since then, many people have reached out to me to tell me that they have a family member or friend that’s been diagnosed and asked if I could connect with them. That’s huge for me and it’s something I really want to do. In August, Jessica successfully summited her first ever fourteener — Mt. Sherman. She had not felt as well as she had hoped over the summer, so was feeling a little nervous about embarking on the hike. “This hike was a beautiful metaphor for the challenges those facing MS and all chronic illness face. It brought me through the ups and downs I’ve experienced with this disease and gave me what I need to keep fighting. I have MS, MS doesn’t have me. When you are living with MS, you often feel invisible. On any given day, I’m feeling a million different things, none of those things are nice, and nobody can tell. I think it’s so important to talk about MS with others to help them understand all of the invisible symptoms that people experience.”
As a social worker, I understand how important it is to recognize your own privilege: you don’t realize certain things about the barriers in the world until you have to live them yourself. It was eye opening and very humbling. I pay attention to the world very differently and I want to make sure others do, too.” I knew that I wanted to take my diagnosis and not just be a patient but also be an advocate. I’m learning so much about disability, invisible illness, and chronic illness. I felt like I needed a voice and there are so many others that do, too. It’s not easy, but I think it helps me to heal – knowing that I’m not only living with MS, I’m also doing something positive with it.”