Grief, Depression and MS

This week Rosie Farrell talks about grief and in particular, how she has dealt with depression. Read on for an enlightening piece on what can be a very challenging experience. 

The way we each deal with grief varies. The grieving process is anything but linear; something that my rational side hates. I’ve had so many people tell me at different points that I’ve been in denial - that I’ve got to allow myself to grieve.

So my brain constructed the stages of grief as this box-ticking-type exercise that had to be completed and at the end you would have this magical sense of acceptance. But grieving can’t be forced. It may have taken me months to shed a single tear, but ‘denial’ allowed me to run a half marathon, refusing to be stopped by a disease that eventually did just that, and a year later it allowed me to view a wheelchair as my ticket to freedom rather than a symbol of what had been lost.

After diagnosis I started to hear about the grieving process and how depression is a part of that. I started to fear that feeling sad about my MS would trigger my depression again. I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 10 after enduring horrendous bullying at school. After that, I struggled with depression throughout my teens, thinking the way I felt was normal and would never change. How wrong I was. Pieta House in 2010 saved me, they helped lift the veil and behind it was this amazing world I was ready to leap into. They set me free and I’ll be forever grateful. 

I had three beautiful years before my MS diagnosis. I felt like I was living for the first time. In a way, when the diagnosis came in 2015, that attitude was what got me through. I knew I had survived depression and I was going to survive this too, I was going to learn to live with it because I still so strongly wanted to taste all that the world has to offer.

The fear of becoming depressed if I allowed myself to get upset about my MS, however, took me down the path I wanted to avoid. The depression I feel with MS is totally alien to what I experienced before; it's wrapped up in a daily struggle to survive with a host of symptoms and pain that often reduces me to tears. It’s wrapped up in a loss of identity, the loss of a version of myself I felt I’d only just found. 

I remember watching the “It’s the little things” advert about depression. But what happens when you live with a disease where the little things are often impossible? Sadly depression in the context of chronic illness is never addressed, particularly in the context of where it’s a symptom of damage caused by the disease or a side effect of disease-modifying treatment.

My MS and pain flared up this winter: knocking my confidence after an amazing summer. I isolated myself from the world around me. Yes, with MS there often comes a crippling loneliness when you spend an increased amount of time at home due to pain and fatigue, but this was different - I wasn’t just lonely, I was losing all sense of myself and it had crept up on me. I didn’t want to go outside and when I did it would fill me with dread. 

I knew it was time to ask for help again. With MS, no two days are ever the same. Nor is the way we grieve, so it’s totally understandable that someone would need help in order to make sense of it all. Asking for help this time was as much about a preventative treatment as anything else because it stopped me getting to where I had been in the past and it taught me how to manage the grieving in a healthier way.

Whether acceptance truly exists I don’t know, but I do know that despite how hard life with MS can be, it can also be beautiful and enjoyable in totally unexpected ways. There will always be tough days but know that you're not alone, you've got through them before and you will do so again. And it's true; you'll never be the person you were before MS. That's because the person you are now is far stronger and more resilient than ever before. Even if it doesn't always feel that way, know that you are amazing and trust in yourself because you've got this. 

Further information and resources

Rosie Farrell is chief sub-editor and designer with Irish Country Living. She blogs at www.sherunswithms.wordpress.com

For more information download MS Ireland's booklet on MS and depression

If you feel you need to talk to someone, here are some organisations that may help: 

The MS Information Line: 1850 233 233

The Samaritans: Freephone 116-123 or email jo@samaritans.ie

Pieta House: Freephone 1800 247 247 or visit www.pieta.ie

Aware: Freephone 1800 80 48 48 or visit www.aware.ie

For a list of therapists in your area, visit www.iacp.ie or talk to your GP