Exclusive Content

5 coping strategies for being diagnosed with MS

By Matt Cavallo

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is devastating. When I was first diagnosed, I was only 28 years old, recently married, and working my way up the corporate ladder for a real estate development firm. Life right up until my diagnosis was going according to plan and I was not prepared for the shock of waking up one spring morning in 2005 to not being able to feel my legs and feet. The emotional roller coaster that ensued followed me through a hospitalization, physical and aquatic therapy to learn how to walk again and then, about a month later, my diagnosis. 

If you are going through a similar diagnosis, or are reading this on behalf of a friend or loved one, you are not alone. It is estimated that about two hundred people are diagnosed with MS each week in the U.S. There are more than 400,000 people living with MS in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million people worldwide. MS typically presents early in life between your 20s and 40s with a greater occurrence in females than in males. 

The good news is that there has never been a better time in history to be diagnosed with MS. When I was diagnosed with MS, there were four FDA-approved MS treatments. Today, there are 16 approved treatments, including oral options. The reason there have been so many scientific breakthroughs during the past decade is because there is strength in numbers. MS is the most common neurological disorder diagnosed in young adults and, because of this, there is strong support from top research and nonprofit organizations to put an end to this devastating disease.

While there is strength in numbers and recent scientific breakthroughs, being diagnosed with MS is incredibly isolating and can make you feel like you are the only one. If you are having difficulties coping with your diagnosis, here are five strategies that can help:

1. It’s okay to grieve – Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the five stages of grief that we experience when we are learning to live with loss. Being diagnosed with MS is a loss of our previous life and the start of our new life living with a chronic illness. Allow yourself time to go through a grieving period. As you go through the difference stages, it is helpful to acknowledge each stage and talk about it with loved one. This way you bring them into your mind state as you come to accept your diagnosis. 

2. Communicate your symptoms – Those closest to us want to help, but they often don’t know how. MS can be an invisible illness with symptoms such as fatigue and forgetfulness. We typically respond to visual cues. For example, if you have a broken arm and are wearing a cast those around you can empathize with your situation. Cognitive symptoms, however, are not visible, so they are often more difficult for people to understand. Communicating these symptoms verbally with friends and family will give them insight into your daily struggles and insight to what your life is like with MS.

3. Seek support – With a large number of younger people living with MS, there is a large community of support to tap into. Communicating with friends and family can help you relate your condition to them, but there is nothing better than connecting with other people that are living with MS. There are MS Focus support groups in many communities that offer meetings. There are also support groups online if you can’t make an in-person meeting. Many educated and inspiring MS bloggers also can be found online and share their experience with MS. Whether you want to participate in a group or read a blog post, learning from the experience of others can help make you feel like you are not the only one. 

4. Get educated – Organizations such as MS Focus offer great online or in-person education. If reading is not your thing, there is a great catalog of videos with advice from MS professionals. The more you learn, the more you can ask your neurologist about what is right for you and your MS. When you become educated to your condition, you feel like you are back in the driver’s seat and able to make informed decisions about living your best life with MS.

5. Get professional help – Depression is commonly associated with people living with MS. If you have tried all of the above and are still struggling with your diagnosis, seek a mental health professional. There is a sense of comfort in being able to talk to someone openly about the changes you are going through with MS and the difficulties that you are having in accepting those changes.