By Penelope Conway
I want to talk about the elephant in the room. No, not a physical elephant, silly. I don’t think one would fit through my front door. I want to talk about depression among people living with multiple sclerosis.
Many people don’t like talking about how much a person’s life changes with an MS diagnosis or how much their life is actually spinning out of control. It’s hard facing the MS monster at every waking moment. Sure, someone living with a mild case of MS or who has a stable progression may think I’m crazy to even bring the topic up, but just because people aren’t talking about it or are choosing to hide their struggle, doesn’t mean it’s not real.
The reason depression happens is because our symptoms continually progress (meaning they keep getting worse), making life increasingly more difficult. We face things like numb body parts, fatigue, dizziness, vision loss, pain, emotional changes, decreased mobility, and lack of understanding from others. We lose jobs, friendships, financial stability and independence. There are countless challenges in every day, and as time passes they only worsen.
Personally, I have experienced changes to my body and feel them with such intensity that it’s hard to even put my disease progression into words. I can actually feel the numbness, pain and difficulties creeping up my legs, arms and my entire body as the day goes on. One day it was just my big toe that I couldn’t feel and the next it was my entire leg.
Coping with something that continues to progress over time brings on feelings of hopelessness, stress, despair, and a host of other mixed up, chaotic emotions. All I ever wanted was to fit in and have that carefree life that MS stole from me. Is it any wonder that depression happens? I mean, who wouldn’t get depressed knowing that their body was destructing from the inside, out?
There are times when it’s easy to face the challenges in a day, but sometimes it’s a battle between sanity and trying to hold on to hope for a better tomorrow. It’s when hope begins to fade and all that’s left is pain and confusion, that’s when the tears start to flow and depression rears it’s ugly head.
You may see me smiling, hear my laughter and admire my strength, but in actuality those things are covering the pain that doesn’t often get talked about…both emotional and physical pain. My smiles are real, but so are my tears. I have found that if I allow myself time to cry, the weight of everything I carry gets lighter. It’s much like a pressure reliever. I cry, vent, then take a deep breath, dry my tears and face the day. Just that little bit helps.
I also take an anti-depressant because I found myself crying all the time, even when there was nothing to cry about. I would cry over the silliest things too like forgetting a word or dropping a cup of water. Yes, me, the positive one.
I needed help and reached out to get my whacked out emotions under control. MS doesn’t differentiate between which nerves it’s going to mess with so when the nerves that help us manage our emotions short circuit, know that it’s just another part of a living with MS and that there is help out there. You don’t have to go through it alone.
If you are having a wonderful day, please don’t criticize someone that isn’t. Enjoy your day and share your sunshine with others. If you’re feeling defeated and frightened of the future, reach out to those around you for help, and if they won’t listen to your pain, questions and doubts, don’t be too ashamed to make an appointment with your doctor to talk about what’s going on.
Life may not have turned out the way you expected, but you have a story to share that can help people cope with the unplanned and unexpected. Talk about what’s going on with others. It’s time to let go of holding on so tightly to a life that once was and start living the life you have now, today. Take things one day at a time, and if needed one minute at a time.
*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.