The Emotional side of Multiple Sclerosis

It’s not uncommon to think of Multiple Sclerosis as only a physical condition. That’s all one can see (unless looking at an MRI)- symptoms from the damage it causes to the nerves resulting in problems walking, balance, muscle weakness or vision loss.

MS is much more than the physical. Even though not everyone has the same nor all of the same symptoms, MS causes a wide range of hidden symptoms. There is a massive impact on our emotional and mental health including mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Many people experience changes to their emotions or behaviour that don’t seem to make sense to them.

You may easily burst into tears, or suddenly get very angry or even burst into painful giggling. These emotions may build up very quickly, and you may have no control over them whatsoever. Situations can go from 1 to 100 in an instant and you’re left wondering what on earth is after happening? This has happened far too often in my case. It’s scary, exhausting and the emotional fall out on a family can be devastating.

As with all symptoms of MS, the different symptoms we have will depend on where the lesions or scarring is on our brain or spine. The part that controls our emotions is on the frontal lobe and it is two parts (to simplify). One-part forms emotional responses while the other allows you to control these responses. MS lesions can form in the part of your brain that allows you to control your emotions, causing a disruption to your control. It is important to learn coping techniques to help you to respond in these instances. It also important to remember as with any symptom of MS, there may be a number of different factors.

For many, the emotional and cognitive effects of the disease represent its greatest challenges. It is not just at diagnosis but throughout our lifetime. Every time we are faced with a new symptom or a relapse that upsets our plans or causes us worry, it is having an impact on our emotional state. The negativity kicks in and the downward spiral starts, and we can get sent down the path of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘what now?’. The guilt we might feel from cancelling with friends or family, the strain we feel we put on our partners, the lack of sleep, all these and more add to the emotional turmoil we put ourselves through.

It can take really take its toll on you. If you’ve had to make life-altering changes such as giving up work or losing the ability to drive, the reduced income then causes financial worries and additional stress. All these can have a serious impact on your emotional health and in turn your self-image.

There is no simple fix for all our issues, concerns, and mental health issues, just like there isn’t one pill that cures everything. There are things we can do to support good mental health including good communication with our medical team, joining an MS chat group to meet like-minded people and talking to your local MS group to get information on the different talk therapies available to you. Consider counselling, psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and self-help groups. Adapting to change takes time and we need people there for us to listen to our fears and concerns. We need kindness & people to listen. There is always someone who will listen.

It is common for us, for people with MS, to grieve for the life we once had and the adjustments we have had to make since diagnosis. The emotional impact can blindside us and creep up on us, especially when our we are going through challenging times. It takes a long time to make peace with your body and accept its limitations. It takes time to make changes, to stop putting others first, to stop feeling guilty for a life not lived. But change does come in time. And in the meantime, we focus on a life well lived.

If you need support, contact the helplines below and visit these websites:

Depression & Bipolar Disorder Support
Tel:  Freephone 1800 80 48 48 (available 7 days, 10am-10pm).

Dealing with Emotions and MS