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Living With Multiple Sclerosis: New Reality Is Like a Chess Game

Posted on May 03, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Katie E. Golden, M.D.
Article written by
Angela Haupt

  • Though she struggled with balance for years, Brittany Quiroz was stunned when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2019.
  • Quiroz knew she could easily spiral into depression. She focused on advocacy and connecting with others living with MS instead.
  • One of the hardest things Quiroz has dealt with is comparing her old life to her new reality. But she’s determined to continue to find ways to enjoy what she loves.

Brittany Quiroz grew up in the performing arts. She was the theater kid you’d see tap dancing down the aisles of the grocery store.

Singing and dancing are physical pursuits, so everyone around her noticed when she struggled with balance. Starting around age 14, Quiroz would fall down in dance class or trip at inopportune moments. Years later, at work, she asked her office security guard for camera footage and made a montage of all the times she fell.

Quiroz and her family always wrote it off as run-of-the-mill clumsiness. Then, in 2019, she tumbled down the stairs and got bruised so badly, she remembers her body looking like a Picasso painting. After that, her left leg stopped functioning properly.

She went to the doctor to see if she had injured herself during the fall. Her primary care doctor sent her to see a neurologist, and within a month, she got a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

The news came as a shock. Quiroz had to immediately leave work to get a steroid infusion for treatment, before she even had the chance to process what she had been told.

Since being diagnosed with MS, Quiroz — now 33 and living in Corona, California — has struggled with anxiety and depression. Her life is almost unrecognizable compared to her old existence. To keep the negative emotions from consuming her, she’s focused on lifting up others who have chronic illnesses and on working to change the way the world perceives disability.

Channeling Anxiety Into Advocacy

Quiroz has a history of depression. After she was diagnosed with MS, she remembers telling her husband that she would spiral quickly if she didn’t “do something to spin this into a positive direction.”

“I knew that if I wasn’t proactive, and didn’t do something uplifting, I was going to plummet,” she said.

She logged onto Facebook and searched for MS support groups, but none suited her needs.

“It was just negative, negative, negative,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘This is not what I need to be reading right now.’” So she turned to Instagram, where she found patient advocates who seemed more positive and who are now close friends.

Almost immediately, Quiroz started her own website — A Hot MS — and an Instagram community, where she blogs about her experiences with MS and connects with others living with the chronic illness. In a recent Instagram post, for example, she explained why people should never allow someone to make them feel guilty for canceling plans — which is common for those who live with MS.

Quiroz wants to change the perception of what disability looks like, while inspiring and encouraging those who are also adjusting to their new lives. She often hears from fans who appreciate her no-filter style. And her online platforms have proven to be a helpful way to stay optimistic and engaged.

Being Sick Is a ‘Full-Time Job’

Soon after the pandemic hit, Quiroz was laid off from her full-time job — which she and her family considered a blessing in disguise.

“The lack of income from me has definitely been a hard thing to adjust to,” she said. She had been making “decent money.” But she’s in the process of applying for disability, which could help make up for some of that lost salary.

Quiroz also makes some money as a voice teacher, “which is fun and rewarding and so awesome,” she said. She conducts lessons virtually. This allows her to work from home and on her own schedule. Additionally, she writes columns about MS for various publications, including MyMSTeam. She has also consulted on apps for people with the condition.

But much of Quiroz’s time is spent managing her MS.

“You are the only person who’s going to advocate fully for yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you have the best doctor — you still need to be on top of it.”

In addition to MS, Quiroz has fibromyalgia, asthma, dermatitis psoriasis, and plaque psoriasis, which means there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of. She also has to spend time researching the side effects of her medication and whether a new treatment might conflict with something else she’s taking.

And of course, there are frequent doctor appointments. “I’d be lost without my calendar,” she said.

Battling a Brain That Won’t Cooperate

Quiroz’s biggest struggle right now is coping with MS-related brain fog.

“I know that I’m very intelligent — I graduated high school early with a 4.2 GPA,” she said. “But some days, I feel like I’m functioning at a fifth grade level, mentally.”

She has trouble recalling certain words or can’t express what she’s thinking as clearly as she’d like to. She’s had to accept that, with MS, she’s not always in control of her own acuity.

“I used to be able to multitask and efficiently do 10 things at once. And now if you’re talking, the dog is barking, and the TV is on, and I’m trying to cook, I don’t even know what my name is,” she said.

To cope, Quiroz and her husband have “fire drills,” or plans for what to do when she’s having a really difficult cognitive day. That includes a list of easy dinners, and an agreement that she’ll head into a quiet spot in the house — away from her barking dog, for example — so she can have peace.

Quiroz credits her husband with providing constant support. “I am so blessed to have a spouse and a partner in life that, if I’m ugly crying, he’ll just hold me and say, ‘OK, we’ll be here for an hour if you need an hour to get it out,’” she said.

Her parents and best friends check in on her frequently, especially when she’s having a hard time. They know that humor is her defense mechanism. So when she stops making jokes, they start to worry and step up their support.

Making Adjustments

Navigating life with a chronic condition is “like a chess game,” Quiroz said. “You figure out what adjustments you have to make to accomplish your goal.”

She uses a walking cane for increased mobility. And occasionally, she uses a wheelchair — especially if she’s at a theme park or a farmer’s market. “I’ll be princessed around, because it just kills my mobility,” she said.

Temperature changes, whether it’s heat or cold, also bother her. When the temperature drops, she becomes stiff. She craves 65- to 75-degree weather year-round.

One of the toughest parts about adjusting to life with MS is the comparison to her old self. “That’s something I’m still kind of grappling with,” Quiroz said.

She’s determined to continue enjoying the activities that have always filled her with joy. She and her husband love to fish. She remembers once lifting and showing off a 40-pound Dorado that she had caught. Now, she can’t imagine how she would enter a boat and then stay balanced during a trip, and she knows that outings with large groups probably wouldn’t be safe.

However, she’ll find a way. “I don’t care if you have to duct tape me to the side of the boat,” she said. “I’m going to do it.”

And that’s how she gets through life with MS: by keeping a positive attitude, even when it’s really hard. Perception is everything. “If you’re gonna look at all the negative, that’s all you’re going to see,” she said.

Instead, Quiroz has accepted that MS is the hand she’s been dealt, and she can only change the way she reacts.

“This means that I have to do things a little bit differently,” she said. With a positive outlook, “You are going to be a billion times more successful at finding new adaptive ways of continuing to allow yourself to be you.”

Brittany Quiroz told her story as part of a partnership between GoodRx Health and MyHealthTeam, which creates social networks for people living with chronic conditions. MyMSTeam is the social network for people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Members share their firsthand experiences, practical tips, and emotional support in a secure online community. Medical experts and specialists share trusted information via articles, videos, and virtual events. MyMSTeam is free to join and available via mobile app and the web.

GoodRx believes sharing your health journey can educate and inspire others. Want to tell your story? Follow these steps to share yours.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Katie E. Golden, M.D. is a medical editor with GoodRx and a board-certified emergency medicine doctor who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Learn more about her here.
Angela Haupt is a freelance journalist who has specialized in health and wellness for nearly 15 years. Learn more about her here.

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