MS and Relationships
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a formidable foe. The actual damage it causes in your brain is dramatic and the impact can be devastating. But the impact of MS does not stay contained to one specific area of your life. The literal damage to your brain is matched by the figurative damage MS creates in other areas.
Your work may suffer due to missed days and decreased ability to perform. Your mental health may suffer because of the challenging shift in self-perception, self-esteem and the increase of stress. And, illustrating the widespread power of MS, your relationships may suffer.
In a world where you have limited control over contributors to stress, it's enormously valuable to make sure your relationships aren't among them. The negativity of poor relationships can worsen MS symptoms, and the positivity of healthy relationships acts as a support that cushions the impact of changed functioning.
You, as the person with MS, and the people in your life must be willing to make changes. It takes two to create and maintain a beneficial relationship and only one to destroy the progress.
Skills for the Person with MS
Intentional or not, there is a lot of stress put on the person with MS in ac relationship. There is pressure from the outside and pressure from within. When normal problems arise in the relationship, it will be easy for others to point fingers at you. After all, you have changed. Don’t set your sights on avoiding blame and mistakes, though. The goal should be to make the relationship as rewarding as possible. Here’s how to be a TEAM:
- Track MS – Insight, self-awareness and self-monitoring all mean essentially the same thing: knowing yourself, your symptoms and your triggers. Without the ability to accurately monitor your MS symptoms, you cannot react to changes in symptoms. Use tracking sheets, journals and charts to identify and understand the trends and patterns. Also, investigate your emotional and behavioral reactions to these trends. Does feeling worse make you feel like giving up hope? Does feeling better make you believe more strongly in your relationship? Asking these questions increases your awareness. Unless you know yourself, you cannot know MS.
- Educate – Now that you have a good understanding of yourself, your changes and your triggers, work to gain a better grasp of what MS is and what it does. Education will provide you with useful information about where you are and where you are going. Are your symptoms solely from MS, or are other factors involved? Always use the best sources to gather information to avoid confusion and misunderstandings associated with flawed data and opinions.
- Assertive – Honest, open, assertive communication gives you the best chance of maintaining a strong relationship. Check in with your relationships throughout the day, not only when situations become poor. Let them know what you are doing to improve your symptoms and the relationship. Along the way, let them know what you would like them to do. As long as the requests are well-meaning, it will be hard for them to decline.
- Mental health treatment – With MS, the question is not if treatment is needed, but what treatment and how much. This is not a failing on your part, but rather, the acceptance that MS creates issues with grief, depression and anxiety. Individual therapy, group therapy and support groups are available. Be creative and willing to experiment to find a good balance and maintain symptoms. A therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy assist in helping relationships as well as finding interventions to manage MS symptoms.