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The Truth About Staying Positive With MS

Written by Francie MacDougall
Posted on December 14, 2021

After one of my recent columns, I responded to a comment asking how I stay positive. My response was predictable — something to the effect of exercising and eating well. It’s bothered me ever since, because my response was not really accurate.

So I thought I’d share what works to help me stay positive in the face of multiple sclerosis (MS).

An Antidepressant

I didn’t like the first one I tried — I thought it kept me from losing my temper when I needed to lose my temper (my husband was teaching our toddler daughter to climb a tree and then leap down). But with the second prescription, I was more inclined to take the unpredictable in stride (sort of). It helped me cope and not despair when I hit a roadblock. Since then, I’ve noticed that if I miss a day or try to get off of them cold turkey — bad idea — I suffer. I didn’t smoke pot in college, and I don’t like depending on anything like a mood-altering chemical, but the benefits far outweigh any concerns I might have.

A Good Therapist

I’ve been seeing someone twice a month for two years. It helps because my therapist knows me by now, helps me navigate which things to try to change, and what to accept. The acceptance part is hard. My sessions are regular reminders that perfection is impossible and that I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed. He listens, so I save up my most worrying, embarrassing, frustrating stories for him. And sometimes we laugh. You need a listener, and someone who asks good questions.

Positive Entertainment

I have inadvertently changed the type of media I consume. I used to appreciate a novel or movie with a thought-provoking, challenging plot. Not so much anymore. I get enough fear and discomfort from my MS. Give me a sense of redemption, a bit of hope, and kindness whenever possible. I’ve noticed that even these columns tend to end on a positive note, and although every day is not positive, it helps to look up rather than down.

Good Friends and Family

I don’t find it as easy to make friends as I used to. When I meet new people, I think I can see expressions of pity or fear in their eyes. But there are those who have known me for years and watched what I’ve been going through. They know the real me and that I’m funny, kind, and maybe a bit of a mess. They like me for me. And it’s the confidence that comes from those encounters that helps me when I meet new people and make new friends. To return the favor, I try to not talk about my health too much, which works and fails in equal measure. We all have baggage, and friends need to feel supported too.

Remote Social Interactions

The pandemic has been tough on social interactions, but different organizations in my city have had all sorts of Zoom programming. The museum and galleries have hosted artist talks, and we could ask questions. Several community organizations have had lecturers, all of us on Zoom, who’ve shared interesting insights and information that I would not have access to otherwise. My alma mater had great programs that I dialed in for. I hope that these organizations continue to Zoom as well as have in-person programming. I’m starting to get out more, but remote engagement seems like a great solution for those days when I just can’t handle my physical unpredictability.

Otherwise, my level of positivity depends on the weather and the barometric pressure, a disagreement with a family member, stress about anything, hormone fluctuations, and other bits of randomness. I don’t know if those factors are MS-related. They could just be universal.

So, yes, I do try to exercise and try to eat well. I actually take Pilates with a woman who has a disease similar to MS. We talk and laugh with our instructor the whole time, rarely talking about our health challenges, politics, or religion. The classes work as much for my head and heart as my muscles. But that’s just me.

MyMSTeam columnists discuss multiple sclerosis from a specific point of view. Columnists’ articles don’t reflect the opinions of MyMSTeam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. MyMSTeam content isn’t intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Posted on December 14, 2021
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Francie MacDougall is a freelance writer who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. She was diagnosed with MS in 1990. Learn more about her here.

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