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MS and Mental Health Matters

By Mary Pettigrew

A couple weeks ago I found an old file labeled as “therapy,” but I couldn’t remember what was in that file. When I opened it up, I found some interesting notes regarding doctor notes, documents, personal notes, therapy session topics, and other items from when I was an outpatient for a one-week psychiatry program. This was in April 2011. 

I was newly divorced, had been recently diagnosed, and found myself in a dark, confused place. I remember feeling as if I was falling down the rabbit hole and needed to reach out for help ASAP. I didn’t just want to find a therapist to meet with, I wanted to find a medical clinic where I could be admitted as a patient for intensive therapy because I didn’t trust myself to be compliant enough to show up on my own. I didn’t want to be given that option to cancel appointments either. I didn’t know where to start, so I first contacted the MS clinic and was transferred to a nurse who helped get the process started. She was amazing and I moved forward into intense therapy and I try to continue meeting with a therapist to this day.

It was my decision to reach out and register for a one week of outpatient psychiatric therapy, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more. In truth, I wanted to be inpatient, but my doctors told me this wasn’t right for me at this time. I needed a day-to-day regimen, but not in the form most psychiatric hospitals offer. My desire was to seek help and a program that would keep me compliant – and to show up. And I did! The patients at the facility there were dealing with a plethora of conditions. No one had MS, but we all had something in common – mental health issues.

One of the main things I learned from my experience there was how to get my needs met. This included understanding emotions, learning communication tools, and listening barriers. 

Emotions are normal. The way we react or respond to emotional triggers are important to getting our needs met without feeling guilt.

Some effective communication skills are:
  • Stay focused, as hard as it may be.
  • Listen, and listen carefully.
  • Try to see their point of view before interjecting your own.
  • Respond to criticism with empathy.
  • Own what’s yours.
  • Use “I” messages.
  • Look for compromise.
  • Take a time-out to process if necessary.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Ask for help.
Listening Barriers: these are quite hard for people with MS.
  • Automatic talking
  • Selective listening
  • Being a fixer
  • Using “you” or “we” statements
  • Absolute statements
  • Daydreaming or drifting off
  • Being “right”
  • Derailing (avoidance)
  • Name calling or belittling
  • Being the reactor
Favorite quotes and phrases:
  • I think, I feel, therefore, I behave.
  • Don’t give yourself grief over the grief.
  • Is this a feeling or a thought?
  • Feel your feelings vs. feeling sorry for yourself (there is a difference).
  • Be present. Just show up.
I hope there are others who can glean something from my stories and experiences. If not, I hope you all find your own path. This was mine.