Exclusive Content

3 Reasons Your MS is Unique

By Gay Falkowski

Just as there is no one else exactly like you, there is no MS experience exactly like yours. Remembering this important fact may help you avoid unnecessary worry, sadness, and frustration as you manage life with MS.
 
It’s common for people with a chronic illness such as MS to compare themselves with others who have the same disease, according to Josh Smyth, professor of bio-behavioral health and medicine at Penn State. But that doesn’t mean comparison is a good idea.
 
Whether you’re comparing yourself with someone doing better or worse than you, research studies suggest both types of comparisons can be harmful. Downward comparisons can lead to sadness or worry if you think you’re destined for a similar fate. Upward comparisons can lead to dejection if you believe you’ve failed in some way because you’re not doing as well as they are.
 
Understanding why the MS experience is unique for everyone helps people with MS, as well as friends and loved ones, manage expectations. Support becomes less judgmental and more empathetic with the awareness that others may have different needs and ways of coping. Here are three reasons MS is different for everyone:
 
1) MS can affect the body and mind in many ways, none of which are predictable or consistent from person to person.
 
The reason your symptoms are unique can be found in the way MS attacks the central nervous system. Thousands of nerve pathways run through the brain and spinal cord, the two components of the CNS. The symptoms of MS (and there are more than 100 of them) you experience depends largely on which of your particular nerve fiber pathways are affected. For example, you may feel tingling, numbness, sensations of tightness, or weakness when loss of myelin occurs in the spinal cord. If the nerve fibers to the bladder are affected, you may be dealing with urinary incontinence. If the cerebellum of the brain is affected, imbalance or incoordination may be a problem. Since the plaques of MS can arise in any location of the CNS, it is easy to understand why no two people with MS have exactly the same symptoms.
 
2) Everyone has a different psychological and emotional filter through which the MS experience is processed.
 
How you react to and cope with an MS diagnosis and life with MS depends on many factors, including your personality before the illness, previous experience with illness or crisis, and unresolved anger or grief from the past. Your emotional reaction to learning you have MS may even be more disabling than the illness itself until you adjust and embrace the ‘new person’ you’ve become because of MS. Though reactions vary, the grief process generally contains five stages as described in the Kubler-Ross model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each person moves through these stages at their own pace and not necessarily in the given order. MS relapses, new symptoms, and changing life circumstances can result in new losses, and the cycle of grief starts anew. When supporting another person with MS, be aware that they may be in a different phase of the cycle than you are. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or move through the process, however, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or “stuck”, counseling from a therapist who is familiar with the challenges of chronic illness can help you move forward.
 
3) Healthcare and self-care is not the same for everyone.
 
MS strikes young and old, male and female, people of all ethnicities and nationalities, the wealthy and the disadvantaged. However, access to the best MS care – typically found at MS centers – is not available to all. Sometimes the centers are just too far away. Or transportation is lacking. Or without good insurance, treatment isn’t affordable. Your MS experience is different not only because of the resources available to you, but also because of how well you take care of yourself. Healthy eating, exercising, keeping up with preventative healthcare, maintaining positive relationships, finding pleasurable activities to enjoy – these are activities most anyone can do to improve life with MS. In short, your MS is different when you take charge of the things in your life you can control.