Crystal Muscatello joined the Army National Guard in 2006. She was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and was honorably discharged in 2015.
This is her story on how she is dealing with multiple sclerosis.
It is one of the most overwhelming feelings I experienced, knowing there’s active deterioration in my brain when managing a flare-up with multiple sclerosis (MS). The body sends many confusing signals, leaving a feeling of vulnerability, deep concern, and weakness.
Iraq was terrifying, sharing a space with hostile enemies in a war zone. MS is terrifying because you’re at war within yourself. You have a destructive battle going on in your body, and you are playing both sides! I practice a complementary and integrative approach with MS, stretching to every approach to recovery, and have experienced some profound healing.
When I first was diagnosed with MS, I was in denial. I didn’t accept it until I was hospitalized over six months later. I was losing my eyesight, balance, and experiencing many other confusing symptoms. I had no idea what MS was. I experienced some damage in my brain and optical nerve, and was told it was unlikely to regenerate, but felt and had an inner knowing I was on a path to recovery.
The Mayo clinic reported complementary ways to cope with chronic illness and cancer. The study found when spirituality was practiced it increased resiliency. Also, those practicing emotional fitness, spirituality, prayer, and affirmations reported less pain.
When I was hospitalized and realized I had no idea how to move forward, I recall asking, “What am I doing wrong?” and “How did I get here?” I was given advice to frame my questions positively. I asked my own natural intelligence and the infinite intelligence of the Universe, “What is the best, most positive way to heal myself?”. This was the turning point for me.
The next thing that crossed my path was Qigong, a mind-body therapy and complementary and integrative medicine. I became fascinated because I could “feel” the movement of peaceful, calming energy down my back. Qigong sounds like “CHEE-gong” and is like yoga. The gentle movements and stretches, breath work and meditation, mindfulness, and spirituality increased my quality of life multifold. It was helpful with reporting symptoms to my doctor.
Qigong lets you be your own massage therapist, your own acupuncturist (without the needles), therefore, you get an in-depth look at your body as a whole. You discover what areas of your body feel pain or any other symptoms that MS might affect, like numbness or tingling. The best part of practicing Qigong was evoking a loving conversation within myself because I had to let go of my training as a killer to start to heal.
I highly recommend having a medical journal to share the responsibility with your doctor so the best solutions may be discovered.
A gratitude journal was another key player in taking the best route to a greater quality of life. Gratitude helped transform many unfavorable emotions. My pain management doctor at VA gave me a book, “Flourish” by Dr. Marty Seligman, which touched on PTSD, depression, and some techniques to adapt. I learned gratitude works instantly to calm the frazzled nerves and memories. It described how to use a gratitude journal, and the results.
Write in your gratitude journal daily by describing three things you’re grateful for and why.
“Important to reach out for help”
It’s extremely important to reach out for help when you are experiencing symptoms, and not to isolate or shame yourself. Also, I started to let go of the idea of “healing the MS” and just started to be happy and healthy because the stress of curing yourself does damage as well! I seek support by being honest with my friends and family to let them know I’m playing everything by ear until I feel better.
Also, I carry a “plan B bag” in the trunk of my car so I am always prepared, not allowing MS to stop me from living my life. I take breaks at work often that won’t stress me out and add fun, like listening to music, eating a healthy meal outside with a colleague, or calling a friend. I continuously seek ways to provide the best environment for myself, like air and water quality, nutrition, and relationships, within myself and with others.
VA supports me in many ways. I not only found the doctors who understand and honor how I want to move forward, but I have started to make friends and grow into the community already present.
I have a great team of healthcare professionals next to me, helping me get back to my healthy, well self, and often used them as a sounding board for other considerations I have with complementary and alternative medicine. They encourage me in my efforts which leaves me with a great feeling knowing my doctors support me and view my efforts positively.
“VA took care of me when I felt broken.”
VA has been a HUGE part of my healing, the pain psychologist, neurologist, general provider, and therapist all worked together to help me get comfortable again and start living the life I was meant to. When things were really tough, VA outsourced me to University Hospitals, and this extension of healthcare was truly helpful. VA took care of me when I felt “broken”, helped me regain stability, and ultimately played a huge role in my happiness.”
Over six years after my MS journal began, my doctors gave me objective evidence of an incredible healing. My optical nerve damage has nearly disappeared! Remember MS is somewhat unpredictable; in the same year I got my objective evidence of healing I experienced my second flare-up!
My doctor tells me reaching a state of NEDA means “No Evidence of Disease Activity”. Strive to reach NEDA with me! Talk with your doctors, dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to a proven self-care plan, and enjoy the new generation of MS medication that is halting MS in its tracks!
March is National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month.
The Veterans Affairs Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence are dedicated to improving the quality and consistency of health services delivered to Veterans with MS across the country. To learn more about the Centers and multiple sclerosis, please visit our website at https://www.va.gov/ms/or contact us at MSCentersofExcellence@va.gov.
About the author: Crystal Muscatello is from North Royalton, Ohio and joined the Army National Guard in 2006. She served state side for a couple of years, then deployed to Iraq in 2009. In 2015, she was honorably discharged from the military, and opened a Self Care Consultation and Coaching business. She often uses the discipline learned in her military training to manage her life. Crystal still serves her country by volunteering to relieve Cleveland of litter, as well as helping Veterans, women, and wildlife.