Multiple Sclerosis is a disorder where your immune system attacks the myelin, or protective sheath, that is covering your nerves. Damage to myelin causes your body and brain to have difficulty with communicating.
Multiple Sclerosis is characterized by several different symptoms. Eventually, the nerves begin to deteriorate, which is an irreversible process.
So, how can you comfort a friend or family member that has been given this diagnosis? What should you say? What should you not say?
What NOT to Say
“But you look great!”
Though this phrase may sound nice and harmless, it doesn’t consider all of the invisible symptoms they’re dealing with- the fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, bladder dysfunction, and more.
Instead, say something like, “You look good on the outside, but how are you feeling?” This lets them know that you’re impressed that they seem to be doing well, but you are concerned about what exactly is going on.
“I’ve heard there’s medication that can cure MS.”
No- at this time, nothing has been discovered to cure MS. There are medications that can “modify” the disease that can control relapses in those with relapsing-remitting MS.
However, there is nothing that can help those who have the primary-progressive form of MS. Instead, ask I’ve they have heard of the latest medication on the market and what their thoughts are on it.
You should know that MS is not a “mind over matter” disease. The person suffering from MS can’t just “think” themselves well. On the other hand, it is true that they shouldn’t give in to anger and bitterness for prolonged periods of time- this can be counterproductive.
However, know that individuals must find their own way to deal with their disease and feelings surrounding it.
Instead, offer them some empathy and ask questions- they may not answer them, but at least you are showing your concern.
“I knew someone who died from MS”
Seriously- why would anyone want to hear something like that? There’s no alternative to this statement. Just avoid saying it- keep this information to yourself entirely.
You should consider alternative treatments such as bariatric pressure therapy, goji juice, or others. It helped cure my plantar warts, tennis elbow, etc.”
While it’s great that you found a therapy that works for you, individuals suffering from MS know all about complementary and alternative therapies/treatments.
They may have even tried a few already. However, don’t try to convince them to try something just because it worked for you. This can be quite irritating.
Instead, mention your own experience and if they want to know more, you can talk about it. However, don’t imply that it’s something they should try.
Just because something works for one person doesn’t mean that it will work for the next- keep that in mind.
Helping a Friend with MS
When you have a friend or family member that has been diagnosed with MS, they may pull back from the people and activities they used to enjoy. They will be forced to re-evaluate their plans and goals for life.
The changes they must make can be quite difficult. However, as someone who loves and cares about them, you can become a support system by learning all you can about MS and helping them learn to cope with it.
You should know that in some cases, they could be in a bad mood and resistant to your help- don’t take it personally. Following are some things you should do to help friends and family who have been given an MS diagnosis.
Show some understanding
First of all, you should do whatever you can to understand the symptoms they’re experiencing and all they’re going through. As with any other disorder, MS affects everyone in different ways, so it’s best to learn about their specific symptoms and look at ways that you can offer help.
Once you have an understanding of MS and the symptoms they experience, you will be able to plan ahead for any social outings, and bring along necessary supplies such as protein bars or cooling packs.
One great thing you can do is study MS together. A terminal diagnosis can be quite alienating. However, if you offer to learn with them as they deal with and adjust to their diagnosis, you are giving them the support system that they need.
Give them some support
Some great ways to show your support is by calling them on the telephone, continuing to invite them on social outings, and saying nice things, as well as avoiding the phrases mentioned above.
Doing all of these things makes them see that you’re not seeing their diagnosis as debilitating and you plan on carrying on your relationship as if nothing has changed.
If they’re experiencing a flare-up of their symptoms, or they happen to be feeling depressed, make some modifications to your plans to accommodate.
Prove to them that they’re not a burden by participating in activities that they’re most comfortable doing.
We all know that laughter really is the best medicine, and making sure they have a positive attitude helps to lighten the mood and helps to improve their overall well-being.
Get together and watch a funny movie, tell them a funny story, or just share some jokes. Another part of being entertaining is being a sounding board.
Allow them to express their jokes, ideas, and frustrations. Distract them by being a good friend and entertaining them in the way that you know best.
Your loved one does not want to seem like a burden, but you should offer to help them in little ways. Offer to drive them places, carry their groceries inside, or even bring dinner to them.
These are excellent ways to offer some assistance without being overprotective or overbearing. You should respect their boundaries and encourage their independence.
However, you should also know that they are going to need some help with daily activities and chores- especially when their symptoms are flaring up. If you’re not sure what to do, ask them what they need help with.
Adjusting to a diagnosis of MS will take some time, so make sure that you are understanding, supportive, and helpful. Unless they’re comfortable with it, don’t bring up anything about medications or procedures.
Always stay open-minded regarding procedures and treatments that they’re interested in trying. Don’t expect them to always be optimistic and positive, respect their mood swings and do what you can to cheer them up.
The best way to help someone with MS is to be there for them and try to stay positive- even when it gets hard.