Being diagnosed with a chronic disease isn’t an easy thing to go through. The emotional impact of a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis can be particularly challenging because changes in mood are among the symptoms of the disease. But with the right support, it’s possible for many people to thrive and live happy, productive lives after being diagnosed with MS.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system by disrupting the signals of communication between the brain and body. This disruption is believed to be caused by the body’s immune system attacking its own myelin, a fatty covering that protects nerve fibers. The resulting disruption can lead to numbness, weakness in the extremities, speech issues, vision problems, and difficulties with muscle control. And the extent of these symptoms significantly varies from person to person; one patient may be blinded or paralyzed, another may find their symptoms largely benign.
Adapting to Life with MS
People with MS have to face the possibility of no longer being able to do certain types of work or recreational activities in response to their symptoms. Facing these types of significant life changes can bring fear, anxiety, grief, and depression. MS only adds to these emotional difficulties by adversely affecting the part of the brain involved in controlling emotions.
Although the emotional impact of MS is more difficult to see its physical manifestations, they’re often just as significant. The unpredictable mood swings associated with MS mean that someone may find themselves crying over an advertisement one minute, and then snapping at a friend the next. Managing these changes in mood is a non-trivial part of treatment.
Coping with Emotional Symptoms
The emotional instability caused by MS is best managed by a combination of therapy, mood-stabilizing medications, and honest communication. There are a number of excellent support groups for MS where people can connect and share their experiences, which can be emotionally cathartic and a great way to learn new information and strategies for managing MS. Outside of support groups, many people find that simply speaking to a friend about your feelings can help prevent mood swings from building up.
Another important part of managing emotional symptoms is exercise. Physical exercise has well-established positive benefits for mental health, including improvement in mood, stress relief, and increased mental alertness. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can be particularly useful for patients of MS because they’re useful for teaching stress management.
Models of Success
Clearly MS isn’t without its challenges, but with the right support, countless individuals have proven you can work past those challenges and continue to thrive as a person. Montel Williams continued his award-winning talk show for nearly a decade after his diagnosis of MS. Even our founder, Jean Griswold was diagnosed prior to founding Griswold Home Care. She lived to be 86 years old and accomplished a lot, even when dealing with her disease.
Professional athletes like Stan Belinda and Josh Harding continued to play competitive baseball and hockey for years in spite of their MS. And all year long, everyday people continue to achieve their dreams and live richly in spite of their MS. People like them have proven that with the right support, living with a chronic disease like MS doesn’t have to stop you from living life to the fullest.
Do you know of anyone living with MS who has struggled with the emotional aspects of the illness? How have they been coping? If you know of anyone dealing with MS — or who inspires you with MS, we’d love for you to share your stories of them with us in the comments below.