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Meredith O’Brien investigates her MS diagnosis with ‘Uncomfortably Numb’

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

Meredith O’Brien wasn’t intending to write a book about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was in the middle of graduate school and writing another book entirely, about a middle school band in mourning (published in 2017 as “Mr. Clark’s Big Band”). But as she struggled with her diagnosis, it began to seem like the right project.

A first draft “had all the rich details, but it lacked perspective,” she said. But as time went on, she dug into the research. “I sat down and interviewed my children. I interviewed my husband. I put in a request for all of my medical records.”


In the newly published memoir, “Uncomfortably Numb,” O’Brien writes about coming to terms with her diagnosis, but also about losing her mother and dealing with her aging father while parenting three teenagers. To get access to how she was feeling, at one point she downloaded all of her texts “to try to remember my mindset.”

“Writing about it I recognized the depths of my denial initially,” O’Brien said. “I was not listening to my body or to what my research was telling me. There was an emotional barrier that I had to get through.” Lately, she said, "I think I’m doing a better job of acknowledging my limitations. I’m trying to spend more time figuring out how I can do things rather than emphasizing what I can’t do.”

O’Brien hopes the book will help others facing MS or similar conditions. "Like many chronic illnesses, MS has symptoms many people wouldn’t recognize. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye,” she said. "I’m hoping that the book gives comfort to people who have chronic illnesses whose symptoms are often invisible.”

At 7 p.m. on May 20, O’Brien will appear at a virtual reading via the Southborough Library. To register, visit


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at