Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
I recently went to a teleconference organized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and met a group of very positive people who seemed to have taken charge of their Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and were actively searching for answers to their problems. I went there to give them information and hope but their positive attitude, adaptability, and matter-of-fact approach to their condition inspired hope in me.
When you receive the diagnosis of MS, you, among other things, also find out that symptoms develop unpredictably. There is no known prevention. The cause is unknown and no cure exists! That is some start, isnt it? This is enough to throw a person into despair. But positive people dont stop there. Amid these uncertainties, they begin to see hope. Instead of looking down, they begin to look up.
When you begin to look up, you will learn that MS has no significant effect on life expectancy. No two patients are alike or follow the same course. Nine out of ten have long intervals with few or no symptoms. One in three have few or no symptoms years after onset and nine out of ten have none to mild memory or learning impairment.
Whether you are looking down or looking up makes a difference. There is enough information to make one anxious and pessimistic or optimistic and hopeful. Someone rightly said, "Nobody knows enough to be pessimistic." So, you dont know what you may find or come to know that might be helpful to you. Frank Cousins, who survived more than twenty years after he was given just a few weeks to live, used to say, "Accept the diagnosis but dont accept the verdict that comes with it."
Children with MS generally do better than adults with regard to their self-image. Most of them are optimistic about the future and have high expectations of themselves. It tends to protect them from an overwhelming anxiety about their illness. Wouldnt it be wonderful if we could mimic a childs attitude but make sure that we dont become complacent regarding treatment?
Fear hits us when we think we are losing control of our lives. Let go of the need to control your life in the old way. You cant have the same kind of control you had before the illness, but you can acquire a new sense of control. Do the following: 1. focus on problem solving 2. Know everything you can about your illness and rehabilitation.
If one allows the fear of future to get out of control, it can overwhelm one with anxiety and despair because everything then looks hopeless. Perhaps that is why "triumphant patients" live "one day at a time" so they do not become overwhelmed with fear of future. Triumphant patients think about the future only to plan and prepare.
Recognize and avoid all such thoughts as, "I am letting down my family," "I caused my illness," "I am a burden to everyone," or "I am no good for anything, anymore." Thoughts of guilt and shame thoughts increase pain, compromise ones immune function and cause depression.
Dont let MS rob you of your self-worth. MS Society has a great slogan, "You have MS. MS doesnt have you." Jimmy Heuga, the 1964 Olympic bronze medalist in skiing, once said, "I have MS but it doesnt have me."
Depression is highly treatable if you do not keep inflicting new emotional pain on yourself. People with chronic illnesses inflict emotional pain on themselves by comparing their present with the past-- for example, how much they could do then and how little they can do now. They compare themselves with others, saying, for example, "Everyone is going to a lake or to the mountains and having a good time and look at me, I can hardly crawl."
Guilt and shame about your illness and lack of acceptance of it can inflict more emotional pain. Do not focus on what you cant do. Focus on what you can do today.
Here are a few positive behaviors and characteristics that are found to be helpful in the psychological management of MS and other life time illnesses:
Educate your family about your illness. Family support and family education and understanding of your illness are greatly helpful.
Stay actively involved with your family life. Christopher Reeve, the actor of Superman fame, now paralyzed from the neck down, sits in his chair with the life sustaining equipment and intently watches his children play basket-ball.
Find your faith in the higher power, if you dont already have it. It is very helpful.
Participate in organized community activities. Volunteer your time for a community project.
Innovate, improvise, and problem solve as to how you can get around your problem and increase your ability to function. Our attitude greatly affects the quality of life we live.
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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications