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Volunteering to improve my life with MS

By Dan Digmann

The harsh realities of life with multiple sclerosis are exactly that. They. Are. Real.

At times the fatigue, the numbness, the cog fog, the paralysis, the bladder issues, the spasticity, and every other possible MS symptom is so real that it almost seems like it’s fake. 

Is this really happening? I mean, we can’t make this stuff up, and I often can’t believe the MS realities I – and nearly 1 million other people in the United States diagnosed with MS – endure each day.

I am here to offer insights into a practice that can help in handling the daily challenges we face in living with MS: Take some time each week to volunteer within your community.

Seriously, Dan? After you connected with us about all the life-altering MS issues we’re dealing with, you are telling us to add more to our already full plates and volunteer? 

I understand. It potentially can take a lot of work to volunteer, but I am convinced that you can spare the next three minutes of your time to hear me out as I make the case for how you can benefit from volunteering.

Two quick disclaimers – 1) This post isn’t related to any kind of a New Year’s resolution to do more volunteer work or convince others to do the work for me; and 2) I share this not as a medical expert or as a person with specific data to support my claims. Rather, I share it as a person who has lived with MS for more than 23 years and can testify to the collective value of volunteering.  

The roles of volunteers can fit you wherever you are and whatever skillset you bring to the table, whether it’s doing anything from serving as a friendly listener on the phone from the comfort of your home to coordinating the refreshment table at a fundraising event, or painting the bedroom walls in a new home for a family who lost their home in a fire.

Also, there are many (dare I say countless) organizations that need help and selfless support from volunteers looking to give back and make the world a better place. 

And no, I’m not turning this into a “let’s-join-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya” essay. I’m talking about a “we-are-all-in-this-together” call to action. 

Benefits of volunteering for an MS-related organization (such as MS Focus)
  • This is your wheelhouse, so you have an immediate understanding of why the organization’s work is so important. You also will have the automatic acceptance and understanding from people who know what you’re going through.
  • It’s empowering to know you are doing something that will improve the lives of people (including yourself) who are living with MS.
  • You will make MS about more than you and the issues you’re dealing with. In addition to using your story and experiences to encourage others to move forward, you’ll gain valuable insights from others to move forward yourself.

Benefits of volunteering for a non-MS-related organization
  • You can take time away from MS and focus on other areas that are deserving of your attention.
  • Connecting with people outside of the MS community provides opportunities to gain new perspectives. 
  • When learning about other people’s stories, you can increase MS awareness when you share your stories with them.

No matter if it’s for an MS or non-MS organization, volunteering has been proven to improve people’s self-worth, self-esteem, and sense of purpose as well as their ability to overcome depression. It also can help to reduce our feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger.

Take time to think about the organizations that interest you most, search for them online, and connect with them to see where they can include you and your volunteer assistance. It truly will be a win-win situation for the organization and for you.

After all, how many times have we each heard a story from a volunteer who said something to the effect of, “I volunteered because I wanted to help other people, but it turns out they were the ones who helped me even more.”