Mental health and multiple sclerosis- A topic I have been meaning to write about on this blog but I have been avoiding is the topic of mental health and multiple sclerosis. It is not that I do not think it is important, quite the contrary, as a strong mental outlook is crucial to being able to will yourself to battle the disease. To quote Shakepseare, “Aye, there’s the rub” as how do you develop a strong mental outlook when you are facing a degenerative disease and possibly depression? I wish I had a great answer to this question, I don’t. Since my diagnosis I have struggled with depression and writing about it is not easy.
Since my MS diagnosis I started to notice issues with my mental health. The truth is that it could be due to MS and my heightened awareness of my health that I began noticing the symptoms and that they were present all along. Regardless, I sought the advice of mental health professionals and I was diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and I was told that I was bi-polar. You can imagine my excitement-first MS and now I was crazy (which may not surprise anyone who reads this blog). True to form, I was prescribed a drug which was supposed to help. Upon review of the potential side effects and some soul searching with my wife, I didn’t take the drugs. I felt there was enough going on with my brain that I didn’t need anything else attacking that area of my body. The mental health diagnosis was almost two years ago and I have been doing fine. The elimination of alcohol and sugar from my diet seems to have balanced me. My wife can tell you, I don’t get the severe high and low swings I was susceptible to previously. Actually, I feel the most clear I have ever felt.
(To be clear, I’m not suggesting to anyone that they avoid taking any prescribed medication. I am just reporting my own experience and not recommending that anyone do the same.)
For me, there are three tough challenges to face with regards to mental health and living with multiple sclerosis. First, it takes time to accept you have an un-curable degenerative disease. I think that anyone presented with that prospect would be depressed. MS sucks and you can’t help but worry and wonder about how the disease will affect not only yourself, but your loved ones as well. I have found that it has become easier over the years, especially as I have empowered myself to get healthier, but the doubt and negative thoughts never completely subside. I have accepted that too.
Secondly, it is hard to effectively deal with your own thoughts and feelings when you have people around you, however well intentioned they may be, trying to tell you how to feel and act. What I have found is that is not only okay, but necessary, to tell people giving me ‘helpful advice’ to back off and let me be pissed off if I want to be pissed off. I’m human and it is natural. In addition, I don’t know if any of you feel this way or if it is just me, but I feel at times I always have to be ‘on’ and somehow inspirational to others who don’t have MS. I have often thought, “hey wait a minute, shouldn’t you be trying to inspire me?”
Lastly, in order to get more healthy I realized that I needed to exercise and improve my diet, however, mental health issues can impair your ability to get motivated. For motivation impairment there is only one remedy- old fashioned will power. I don’t know how many times I knew I needed to go for a run and couldn’t pull myself off the couch. However, the times I willed myself to do it I would get about 15 minutes into the run and notice that the funk I was in would start to lift. By the time I returned home I would be feeling great. After a while, I started to remind myself of these experiences when I needed a shot of will power to get going. The more I did it, the easier it got.
Being diagnosed with MS can be initially devastating and may cause depression. I don’t like it when people try to tell me how to feel about it and I’m not about to tell you how you should feel either. However, try to find ways to help yourself cope and get stronger. One recommendation I would make is regular exercise. Exercise has been found to have a positive impact of people’s mental health (see link- The_relation_of_physical_activity_exercise_to_mental_health) and has the added benefit of building a stronger body. The other recommendation I would make is don’t be afraid to talk about how your feeling. If you can’t talk to family or friends, seek help with a professional. I went to counselling to get help and sometimes having an impartial person to dump on can make a world of difference. Talking about your mental state can be tough, but it isn’t a sign of weakness; asking for help is a sign of strength.
Until next time,