when multiple sclerosis messes with your ability to taste food

A few years into my life with multiple sclerosis, I started noticing that food and beverages tasted … off.

Coffee was bitter. Wine was acidic. Sweet food was bland. And, worst of all, I couldn’t taste salt very well.

The folks at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Momentum Magazine interviewed me for a story about taste dysfunction called, “Does this taste weird to you?”

The article starts by featuring yours truly:

As a salt-lover, Meredith O’Brien used to eat Ritz crackers upside down to savor the salt crystals dissolving on her tongue. But one day, two years into her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, those same crackers tasted like plain paste. The next morning, her coffee tasted burnt. Red wine at dinner tasted sour. When O’Brien, who is based in the Boston area, brought up the issue to her neurologist, he said he’d never heard of such a thing.

“Taste alterations are a primary MS symptom that has flown largely under the radar,” confirms Mona Bostick, a dietitian-nutritionist in Greensboro, North Carolina, who also lives with MS. A 2016 study in the Journal of Neurology suggested that 15% to 32% of people with MS may experience taste deficits. A 2019 study in the Journal of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology puts that number closer to 40%. The latter study also found that 68.4% of survey respondents complained of dry mouth, which further dampens flavor, as saliva helps taste buds do their job.

Read the rest of the article — which also quotes fellow MS patient and author Trevis Gleason, a chef who shares his “umami bomb” tips — here.

disability justice project features meredith

I was honored to be invited to serve as a fellow for the Disability Justice Project. As part of my work with the group, I’ll serve as a mentor to a journalist as she works on journalistic projects.

Here’s how the group defines itself:

The Disability Justice Project (DJP) is a strategic partnership between the Disability Rights Fund, an international NGO funding grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) in the Global South, and journalism educator and human rights filmmaker Jody Santos and other nationally recognized media makers from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism in Boston, Massachusetts. Based on a fellowship model, newer professionals with lived experience of disability from the Global South are paired with mentors/professional journalists in the U.S. In an exchange of ideas and experiences, the fellows learn about digital storytelling from some of the best in the industry, while the mentors learn about the global disability justice movement from frontline activists – with the goal of incorporating that new understanding into their reporting for publications like The New York Times and The Guardian or for broadcasters like PBS and ABC.

The group recently ran a feature story about me as I’m writer and journalism faculty member who has a disability (multiple sclerosis). The article entitled, “Meet DJP Mentor Meredith O’Brien,” began:

Disability Justice Project mentor Meredith O’Brien has always loved reading and writing. “As a kid, I was often reading and trying my hand at writing little stories,” she says. “I’d find notebooks around the house and just start writing stories in them.”

talking women & health with authors & poets

Author Christina Chiu — who wrote the powerful Beauty (do yourself a favor and read it!) — invited three writers to tackle the topic of women & health, while she also shared candid stories of her own illness, as well as her son’s experiences with food allergies.

Among her guests:

Sandra Beasley, the author of the memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, and more recently, Made to Explode: Poems, spoke about her food allergies and how she has embraced her disability as a part of her identity.

Poet Julie E. Bloemeke — whose collection of poems, Slide to Unlock, “investigates how modern technology redirects our erotic and familial lives” — discussed not only how she dealt with depression, but how it and various therapies for it influenced her writing.

I, meanwhile, read aloud a section of my multiple sclerosis-centric memoir Uncomfortably Numb where the neurologist who first examined me — after an MRI showed a lesion on my brainstem — suggested that my symptoms of numbness were likely “psychosomatic.”

I hope the discussion helps give people with illnesses and/or disabilities some sense that they are not alone.