MEET BETH ERICKSON
When were you diagnosed with MS and what was the first thing you did after you found out?
I was diagnosed in Oct., 2002. After I found out I went straight to the internet. What I read was terrifying but I just had to continue to educate myself about the disease. At that time there were limited options as far as medication, so I wanted to be aware of all my options. I then just went to bed. I was very sick at that time and could barely walk. I spent the next three to four months in and out of bed. It gave me time to think about my future.
What advice would you give to someone just finding out they have MS?
Don't lose hope, don't pack away your future dreams and get an appointment with an MS Specialist immediately. I think one of the most difficult things about MS is you really do not know what the future holds (although I guess no one really does). I mean, are you going to be in bed for awhile or will the disease subside? How fast will it progress? What medication will I be on and will it work to help me maintain any sort of stability? Can I work? What do I tell my colleagues? There are just so many questions that one has to contemplate that it can be overwhelming.
Do think about these things and talk with others who have been through the process. You are not alone. Most importantly, though, it is important to continue to make future plans for fun things to do. When an individual stops making future plans, that is a difficult place to be. So it is important to continue to dream of things you want to do in the future.
As far as doctors are concerned, it is critical that one who has just been diagnosed get in with a reputable MS Specialist--even if you have to travel a long distance. By going to an MS Specialist, you will get the best care --and shop around. If you don't like one, go to another. Do not settle.
What is something good that came out of your MS diagnosis?
I took the time to do a great deal of self-reflection to identify what was really important in life and what makes me happy. I used to be a Type A individual who was highly driven to succeed in my field. I now realize that the success I had was great, but what is really important is to help people in whatever capacity I can. I am a professor. I spend a great deal of time helping students in a multitude of contexts.
It has also given me the strength to rid those with negative energy out of my life. I surround myself with individuals who are adventurous, hopeful, compassionate, empathetic and fun. I don't bother myself with a great deal of negativity. Finally, most importantly, I have met individuals with whom I never would have met had I not been diagnosed with MS. I have met some wonderful individuals and have made some great life friends.
What is your morning routine?
I get up at 4:30-5:00 am because my yellow lab, Baxter Maximus, pushes me out of bed with his nose. After taking my Neurontin, Viitamin D and Provigal, I get dressed, do some stretches, and we go for a 2-3 mile jog. I then feed my pup, shower, get dressed, sit down with my breakfast and a cup of coffee. I love the mornings. It is during this time that I can think with the greatest clarity.
How has MS affected your daily life?
I live in an area where it gets quite hot in the summer. In fact, next week it will be well over 100 degrees. Consequently, my husband and I travel a great deal to northern climates during the summer months (or to the Southern Hemisphere). This summer, we spent 5 weeks in South Africa. Otherwise, on a daily basis, I eat really well. My diet consists of fruits, vegetables, meat, rice, gluten free breads.... Very little sugar, no gluten, etc. I exercise everyday if possible. I try to work mostly in the mornings until mid afternoon and then take time off to do whatever I want. I try to make sure to get plenty of sleep.
Can you remember your saddest memory of your life?
My saddest memory was when I lost my last Yellow Lab, Bodie. Bodie was given to me shortly after I was diagnosed and when I was not doing so well. She had epilepsy so we both struggled together. Bodie was the first dog I had ever owned so she was special. She was with me at all times except when I was teaching. I still miss her everyday.
Can you remember the happiest moment of your life?
There are two moments-- 1) the day I got married. Even though my husband and I eloped, it was just wonderful to know I had a partner for life. 2) My other happiest moment was the day I finished my Ph.D. Getting a doctorate is a hellish process and to be done was a huge accomplishment.
What is the greatest achievement you have done since being diagnosed and how were you able to achieve it?
My greatest achievement has been to become a Full Professor at my university where I teach. How I did it? I was fortunate in that I had some great colleagues who helped me along with research. It takes a community to achieve this and we have a great department where we help the next person in line reach the next level.
In a university context, it is simply important to be easy to work with, to work hard, and stay out of trouble. I tried to do both of those things. I also kept my MS diagnoses fairly quiet. My immediate colleagues knew, but the students certainly do not, nor did my Dean-- although he does now.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Just keep dreaming. If you feel poorly, get plenty of rest. Take care of yourself. Figure out who you are and what makes you happy. It's all a journey---embrace it! I know this sounds trite-but do. You are not alone--far from it!