By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
On Christmas Eve 2014, Tommi Mclaughlin of Spearfish, South Dakota, lost her balance because of multiple sclerosis (MS), fell over backwards near the family Christmas tree, and fractured two vertebrae in her back. It wasn't the best of times.
About the fall, 64-year-old Mclaughlin in a telephone interview said, “I still walk and am still up and at 'em. With multiple sclerosis, (besides balance issues) I also have fatigue, weakness in my legs, and (certain sensations) in my legs, mainly.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, MS is a “nervous system disease” affecting the brain and spine, primarily the myelin sheath, which protects the nerves. She first noticed symptoms in the late 1970s and was diagnosed with the relapsing/remitting form of MS in 1987 at 37. Fortunately, and unlike many people, she hasn't had MS-related problems with her vision. She walks relatively well without any aid, she said, but does have problems walking longer distances and keeping her balance.
She said, “I was in denial for the first 20 years after being diagnosed. I finally accepted (having MS) only about five years ago.” Her worst experiences with MS were after the births of two of her children, when she had MS-related fatigue, muscle weakness, and depressive symptoms.
Unfortunately, MS hasn't been the only Mclaughlin family disability-related issue. Tommi has seven children. Her 35-year-old son has been on medication for Tourette syndrome since age 9 and unable to work due to having Tourette syndrome and MS. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes stereotyped, repetitive, and involuntary vocalizations and movements.
Mclaughlin also has a son with schizophrenia, who currently lives in a group home after having a psychotic episode in which he entered a convenience store, took a beverage, and declared he didn't have to pay for it because he was God. In referencing this son, she said “losing your child without losing your child” was the most difficult thing that had ever happened to her. For a while, she said, this son didn't even recognize her as his mother.
She said, “A sense of adventure has kept me going. I've just looked at all my challenges partly as learning experiences and also as to what I can bring out of them to make my world a better place.” Mclaughlin has written online, and in support groups has helped others going through similar situations.
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