Although multiple sclerosis (MS) is considered to be the “snowflake” disease in that no two people with the condition are exactly alike, the magnitude of symptoms we experience can be very similar across the board. During my diagnosis period, I felt like I should have been compensated with some sort of goody bag or spa day voucher due to all of the information coming at me, and I know others with MS can relate.
I was thrown into a vortex of medical terminology I didn’t yet understand, while also being pingponged back and forth between diagnostic testing and exams. Yet, I was supposed to keep it all together as best I could. It almost felt like I was immediately being set up to fail. My body was already going through an array of symptoms and neurological reactions just because my immune system didn’t get the “you’re supposed to fight the enemy, not yourself” memo.
But what about the emotional side of the coin? Depression is a major factor among people living with MS, and I feel it is one of the symptoms that people don’t discuss enough. I’ve struggled with depression since my diagnosis in 2019. Once I add in the factor of being a people pleaser, I have a whole new level of disaster on my hands. The two definitely don’t mix. It’s easy to fall into a dark place where I want to curl up and stay put for a while. But knowing what the healthy approach is and comparing it to the recluse approach can make a world of difference when navigating through some nasty depression and mood changes.
I have found some success using the following five strategies when I’m facing tougher mental health days with MS.
When I need a day or two (or three) to shut myself out to heal, by all means, I do it. I’ll binge-watch my favorite show on the sofa, grab my favorite snack, and turn that phone off! I can’t be there for anyone else when I’m not at my best.
People pleasers tend to fall apart when we can’t help others. I know from personal experience. I’ve learned that when I’m having a tough day, if someone asks for advice, I can reply, “I want to do my best to help you through this, but right now, I’m under construction.”
I’ve learned to share my experience with depression with those around me. No, I don’t mean bombarding the boss before a huge meeting with a story of despair. Instead, I’m talking about opening up when the time is right and when I feel comfortable expressing myself to friends or family. I need to remind myself that people aren’t looking to judge me, and it helps me be more open with others.
Unfortunately, there’s still an ugly stigma attached to being upfront about mental health issues, which I’ve never understood completely. It’s just as important as physical health, yet we’ve been taught generation after generation that it’s still a “hush-hush” topic. The more we share, the more common it becomes. It feels good to take those baby steps in sharing what I’m really feeling. Chances are, the person I’m sharing with has felt the same way.
It’s not easy to share something imperfect or what may seem “embarrassing” about myself, and I know many others with MS feel the same way. So if you do decide to share, be proud of yourself! That took a lot of guts!
Depression can make anyone feel alone and worthless. I know this firsthand. It can be the result of living with MS or may even be a side effect of medication. Regardless, talk to your doctor, loved ones, family members, and friends. Explore all possible solutions for therapy and treatment, and know that you’re not alone. After all, they never gave us a guide to depression in our diagnostic goody bag.
MyMSTeam columnists discuss multiple sclerosis from a specific point of view. Columnists’ articles do not reflect the opinions of MyMSTeam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. MyMSTeam content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.