As I leave the doctor’s office, the nurse says these two words to me. Before I hang up the phone, the medical representative on the other line says them to me. These positive words have stuck with me and I, too, have been saying them as parting words when appropriate.
The words “stay healthy” remind me of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness. It promotes a wellness approach versus a medical model approach, encouraging a healthy lifestyle as a means of preventative care versus reactive care that treats symptoms as they come along.
People living with multiple sclerosis can benefit from exploring this model. It can be a guide to reflecting on one’s life situation, to identify problematic areas, and to think of ways to address them.
A diagnosis of MS can put you on an emotional roller coaster—through depression, grief, anger, and anxiety. Learning to cope is important in dealing with MS more effectively.
Identify a support system with family and friends who you can call on. Attend a support group, if available. Seeking professional help is also an option.
You may spend a lot of time at home, due to inability to work, fatigue, or mobility issues. If you are homebound, let the sunlight in during the day. Organize and get rid of clutter to simplify your surroundings. If you are able to, take a walk and explore what your neighborhood has to offer. Find a pleasant and comfortable place that you can retreat to when you are stressed.
You may suffer a loss of income, or you may live on a fixed disability income. Adding treatment costs can lead to a financial drain. Ask for generic medications whenever possible. Payment plan options might be available if you can’t pay your bills all at once. Some pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs to lower co-pays, or eliminate them altogether.
Stimulate your mind with puzzles, books (or audiobooks), or learn something new. Creativity is also a good brain exercise, whether creating art, writing stories, or playing music. MS brain, brain fog, and cognitive fatigue, might feel like roadblocks to these activities, but practicing these activities can actually provide relief from some symptoms.
If you’re working, think of ways to simplify your workload. Ask for available accommodations, which can include a quiet space, an ergonomic keyboard, or a phone headset, so that your MS symptoms are not aggravated. If you need to take a break, consider taking a short-term medical leave through Family and Medical Leave Act (unpaid) or short-term disability benefits through the state.
Exercising regularly, eating better, and maintaining a good sleep schedule are all components of living well. Think of it as incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle. Seek out your favorite fruits and veggies, and make them staples on your grocery list. Recreational activities can also double as exercise, like walking your dog or biking through nature trails.
Dealing with MS symptoms can make you withdrawn, but it’s important to have a support system. Strengthen bonds, or mend broken relationships. When seeing family and friends, make the best of it! Talk over coffee, or play board games together. Schedule visits during the hours you feel at your best, and don’t feel bad if you need to turn down invitations.
There may be a question of “why?” when it comes to being diagnosed MS. Seek out your pastor, rabbi, or chaplain for spiritual counseling, if they are available to you. No matter if there is a place of worship or not, we can all use a little faith in our lives—in ourselves, our support system, our treatment team, and the possibility that a cure can be found. Accepting that we have MS and trying to be at peace with it can be spiritually uplifting, too.
Are you interested in exploring the 8 Dimensions of Wellness? Have you tried anything similar and found positive effects?
Shortly after earning her MSW degree from Columbia University and starting a career in psychiatric social work, KM was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She joined MS Bike Ride in Spring 2014 and hopes to become an MS advocate someday. For now, she continues to explore ways to make use of her talent and skills. Whenever she can, she volunteers for NJ Hopeline and keeps a food blog, theoldblueeats.blogspot.com. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and her nursemaids—cat, Mali, and dog, Moby.