how to get through a brain mri when you’re claustrophobic

Young woman lying and relaxing on bench in Barcelona beach, Catalonia, Spain.

One of the many aspects of having multiple sclerosis that rattle me is the fact that I have to endure regular MRIs of my brain and spine to determine if MS has caused new damage and whether my current disease modifying medication is still working.

For some folks, this isn’t a big deal. They lie down on the scanning bed, allow themselves to be tucked in with a soft blanket, listen to music through special ear buds, and are perfectly content inside that narrow MRI machine tube for anywhere from a half-hour to an hour-and-a-half (depending on what’s being scanned).

I am not one of those people.

If you are claustrophic like I am, these scans can be a nightmare.

I spoke with a writer from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Momentum Magazine about how I’ve learned to cope with my MRIs without having a panic attack. This doesn’t mean I like these scans any more than I ever did, or that I no longer experience the strong desire to flee once I’ve been delivered inside that machine. I’ve just figured out what I need to do in order to get through it.

Here’s how the story begins:

Meredith O’Brien won’t soon forget the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan she had in 2014. “I didn’t know my head would be locked down in a hard plastic ‘face cage,’” she says. When she told the technician she was claustrophobic, he directed her to a mirror she could use to see around the room. “I know he was trying to be kind, but I had a panic attack,” says O’Brien, 51, a Boston-based writer with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). She ended up removing the blankets given to her and getting out of the machine to calm down before trying again.

Here’s a link to the whole story: https://momentummagazineonline.com/7-tips-for-getting-through-an-mri-if-you-have-ms/

Image credit: Momentum Magazine.

podcasts, youtube series feature ‘uncomfortably numb’

I rang out the wretched 2020 and rang in 2021 with interviews about Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir with podcasters and the host of a YouTube series.

We talked about adjusting one’s life to an unexpected turn of events (like having the world shut down because of COVID, as well as, obviously, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis), the impulsive decisions we can make when we’re under stress (like “panic adopting” a puppy just months after getting diagnosed with MS, as many folks have done amid coronavirus shut-downs), and the impact of about writing about very personal topics.

Spoonie Author Podcast

Dianna Gunn, of the Spoonie Author Network — a network “devoted to sharing the stories of disabled, d/Deaf, neurodiverse authors (and/or authors who manage mental illness and/or chronic conditions) and educating abled people about what life is like for us as ‘Spoonie’ creatives” — conducted an interview with me where we discussed how a multiple sclerosis diagnosis upended my life and forced a stubborn me to pace myself when it came to my day’s activities (something with which I’ve had mixed results).

The Situation and the Story Podcast

Weeks later, Chris Moore, of The Situation and the Story Podcast — which interviews authors about “the ways our various identities and intersectionalities inform our stories and make us who we are” — chatted with me about writing this intensely intimate memoir which covers rough emotional terrain, from my own illness and questions about who I’d be as a writer if some of my symptoms worsened, to the death of my mother with whom I had a challenging relationship.

Dr. Brandon Beaber’s YouTube Multiple Sclerosis Channel

Then I heard from a California-based neurologist who specializes in multiple sclerosis, Dr. Brandon Beaber, who asked if I’d speak with him about Uncomfortably Numb and my experiences as an MS patient.

Dr. Beaber, the author of Resilience in the Face of Multiple Sclerosis, has a YouTube channel packed with informational videos about all things multiple sclerosis.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Dianna Gunn, to Chris Moore and to Dr. Brandon Beaber for the time you spent discussing Uncomfortably Numb.

writer suzanne strempek shea hails ‘mr. clark’s big band’ as ‘a timeless story’

sundays-in-americaAward-winning writer Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of nine books, including novels and works of nonfiction, praises Mr. Clark’s Big Band:

With a journalist’s commitment, a teacher’s passion and a mother’s heart, Meredith O’Brien brings her readers to a community leveled by sudden loss then bundled in music’s ability to heal. As well as illustrating the author’s stellar talent, Mr. Clark’s Big Band shows her radar for a timeless story, one that underlines in gold the power of the unsung heroes all around us.

Strempek Shea teaches creative writing in the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, and is the writer-in-residence and director of the creative writing program at Bay Path University.

Image credit: Amazon.