What is Awareness?

by Crystal R. Mendoza Paulin

The National MS Society is celebrating MS Awareness Week with the campaign We Are Stronger Than MS. I must confess these awareness campaigns usually make me question:

What is "awareness"? What does it mean to be aware? 

In some ways I have always been aware of MS. The words multiple sclerosis were laying about somewhere in the back of my mind where I kept other anonymous labels for neurological disorders. But simply because I was aware of MS did not mean I knew what it meant.

I remember attending my first MS support group meeting clearly. It was the first week of May, 85 degrees clear and sunny, and after an exceptionally long winter the sunshine felt like a breath of fresh air. Our meeting coordinator, Shari, waited patiently past the usual meeting start time to see if more members would arrive. Of the eleven usual members that attend the group meetings, only five arrived. And so I was introduced to the effects of heat sensitivity in people living with MS.

One by one, the members around the table told their experiences and struggles with the heat. Many of them second-guessed their ability to safely go out but ventured forth to the meeting regardless. Eventually, Shari shifted the topic to the methods members used to beat the heat and retain their independence. The group immediately relaxed and laughed at each other's often unusual methods for cooling in the summer. (If there is one thing I admire about the MS Society, it is their ability to always focus on the empowerment of the people.)

Still, the experience has stuck with me throughout the years. What else do I not know about MS? What else do I need to be aware of? What about those other anonymous neurological disorders sitting in the back of my mind? There's always so much to learn about these things and that is what MS Awareness Week and other awareness campaigns are all about.

So tell us about what you're going through. Or join the National MS Society and share your breakthroughs using the hashtag #WeAreStrongerThanMS.

Stay Cool,

Crystal R. Mendoza Paulin

ThermApparel Co-Founder