You have multiple sclerosis (MS). Now what? Whether you found out months ago or your doctor just told you days ago that you might or definitely do have MS, you are undoubtedly full of questions, confusion, and shock over the news. Regardless of where you are in the middle of full blown symptoms or if the symptoms that first led you to get tested have now all but subsided, you are now faced with the daunting new reality of your life. You have MS. Now what? First things first. Let’s sort out those feelings you’re having.
Sorting out Your Feelings
While not everyone who is newly diagnosed with MS is going to feel the same emotions in the same order and to the same degree, it is important that you allow yourself enough time to fully experience each emotion, no matter how uncomfortable they are, in order to eventually be able to release the emotions and move on towards the other end of this long tunnel you are facing, where acceptance and wellness await you. Yes, you can actually feel well and be sick at the same time! This process all starts with allowing your brain to come to terms with what is going on inside your body. Let’s talk a little bit about each of these emotions that you may be currently feeling, or maybe you have been stuffing down and avoiding.
MS is one of those diseases that hits you like a ton of bricks and then orders you to get up quickly and start moving. Everyone feels a little bit of shock when they receive news of a serious disease, like MS. However, most people don’t have the opportunity to sit in a state of shock for very long. Quite rapidly, the realities of your new life full of awareness, doctor visits, tests, and daily treatments will force you to move through the initial phase of shock quite quickly.
Have you ever experienced a burn or a pain that was so bad your body almost went numb to the pain? Your brain has a very similar response to emotions that are so painful it goes into denial mode and numbs the impact out. A little bit of denial is normal and even healthy in the initial moments proceeding an MS diagnosis. It is during this phase that you will jump into survival mode to start making all of the lifestyle and medical changes that will make you healthier and more capable of thwarting the disease off in the long-run. If you were to become too fully immersed in the painful emotions that surround a new diagnosis, you may feel like giving up instead of fighting.
On the flip side, too much denial can get in the way of some of the most important parts of your new diagnosis. If the denial becomes so severe that you refuse to accept that you do, indeed, have a very serious illness, you may prevent yourself from taking important steps. Full blown denial may prevent you from learning everything you can about your disease, from making important decisions about your treatment, and from seeking the support of your loved ones. If you know that you need to accept it on the surface level, but feel like you may be stuck in denial deep down, take a moment and try to focus on some of the other emotions that may be bubbling just below the blanket of denial.
Confusion is certainly one of the primary emotions that you probably felt early on or are experiencing right now. There is just so much to learn about MS and so much that research still doesn’t know. Your doctor will immediately begin talking about more tests and treatment options, as well as lifestyle changes you need to make and symptoms that you will need to track. Part of your confusion may be more than just trying to figure out everything about your MS; you may also be trying to figure out why this happened to you in the first place. It is important to let that question go. Nobody ever deserves to get MS, and you certainly did not do anything to make it happen. This is just another one of those unfair things that can happen to good people for no reason at all.
Anxiety is one of those emotions that never completely goes away for people with MS. The disease is just too unpredictable and the symptoms sometimes seem to come on for no reason. If you feel anxious, you need not feel like there is something wrong with you. Anxiety is a very normal reaction to a disease like this. That being said, you will have to find a way to face your anxiety and your fears and worries head on if you ever expect to live a somewhat normal life again. Meditation and stress reduction strategies will become your best friends and allies at keeping anxiety from making you freeze up. If the anxiety becomes so great that you cannot function on a basic level (such as sleeping and eating right), then you may want to seek professional help from a mental health counselor or enroll in a meditation or yoga class. Another solution may be to search the internet for music and guided imagery that are designed to help with stress and anxiety.
If you receive a diagnosis of MS, you have every right to feel whatever emotions you have, but when it comes to anger, you are especially justified. This sucks! It is NOT fair and it should NOT have happened to you. Your family needs you. You need your job. You don’t want to have to deal with this. Anger and resentment are normal feelings and you deserve the right to fully experience them. In normal doses, allowing yourself to feel your anger is the only way to eventually let it go. Anger can be an incredibly powerful motivator to get you active in doing everything you can to fight this crappy disease. You have a serious battle on your hands and anger may give you just the energy you need. When you don’t allow yourself to experience the anger that you have against your disease, it may begin to explode out at events or people you don’t want to be angry with. If you find yourself lashing out at the people you love (like your friends or family members), the people in your medical team, or strangers out in public, you may want to consider talking with a therapist or taking an angry day to vent and maybe journal about what it is you’re really angry about.
The previous five emotions don’t sound very fun, but are crucial steps to reaching the glorious emotion of relief. Reaching this stage doesn’t necessarily mean that you will never feel the other emotions again. In fact, you will probably find yourself cycling through the emotions quite sporadically and may not even feel them all in the same order. However, when you allow yourself to face the negative emotions, you allow yourself to release them in order to make room for the positive emotions, like relief.
There is a bit of relief in finally knowing what you didn’t know before. Now you know that all of those symptoms were not just in your head, but instead have a real name. With this real diagnosis comes the opportunity to make a real plan of action, to start learning everything you can about MS and to start taking back your life again and learning to not just live with the illness, but to live a life full of wellness while being fully present.
You can do this.