The Anxiety of an Upcoming Test
I got an email the other day from another “I may have MS” patient. It got me thinking. You see, I get lots of emails from people who are wondering if they do or do not have MS, as well as people who are already in the process of trying to find out. I realized that they all seem to have one thing in common: waiting for their test results or even the test itself brings about a huge sense of anxiety that they don’t know how to deal with. Most of these people have never dealt with anything more than a simple blood test at the most so the thought of MRIs, blood work, lumbar punctures and seeing a specialist is scary! Even people who have had MS a great while can experience this anxiety; some people don’t like MRIs, spinal taps, or still have results to fear like whether or not they will end up being JC positive or even worse, have PML. Along my journey with Multiple Sclerosis I have experience a little bit of all these emotions/fears. ANXIETY. So when I get these emails telling me how time has slowed down for these people who can think of nothing but the unknown, I try my best to help and typically have the same thing to say to everyone.
Dealing with the anxiety associated with an actual test such as a lumbar puncture and how “I heard it is very painful” is a whole separate issue that I will talk about some other time.
We fear the unknown
You see, that is what we fear, the unknown; it’s human nature to fear the unknown. People fear death, as they have no idea what happens after they die; people fear the dark because they don’t know what is around the corner; and people fear medical tests because they have no clue what they will reveal. Is it just a pinched nerve? Stress? Something some pills will make go away? Or is it something chronic that will force them into a life that the many Youtube videos they have watched have painted a stark image of? All they can see is what they will lose and what they will have to give up. What will they get? Daily needles, frequent trips to the hospital, days in infusion centers, etc. At this point, people automatically assume the worst and that is when they come to me looking for answers.
Most people can live pretty normal lives
The first thing I tell them is this: people like me who blog, typically blog for the same reason. We have a story to tell, we have experienced things that are interesting enough to share. That is not the case for everyone. If I was diagnosed with MS, started a therapy, and lived a relatively normal and uneventful (medically speaking) life, would I have anything to write about that people would find interesting? No. I have been through a lot at such an early age, which has given me something to write about that people find interesting. With that being said, it can be concluded that most of the people writing about their MS experience online have dealt with the “not so fun” end of the MS stick. Lots of people diagnosed with MS, however, live pretty normal lives, and because of that, they try to keep it to themselves so you don’t really hear about it.
You're not doomed!
With all the content about MS online that there is, it appears (when Googling MS), that once you are diagnosed, you are inevitably doomed, which is not at all true. MS affects everyone differently, so I tell people that they can’t look at my story and assume that it will become their own. But as I said, people tend to assume the worst, so after they finish reading horror stories about MS for the day, they tend to imagine themselves in place of the people they read about while they sit there anxiously awaiting the results of their tests. “But what do I do?” they usually ask. And my answer sounds a lot more simple than it really is, but it’s, unfortunately, my best advice because it’s really the only thing they can do.
If you keep yourself busy, you won’t have time to sit and dwell on all the negative thoughts working so hard to burrow their way deep into your brain. Go on with life as if it were any other day. Watch movies. Go out with friends. Read. Do whatever it is that you do that keeps your mind thinking about something other than (for example) work or school. Do that until time passes and your test date arrives or your results are in. “Worry about it when it gets here”. There is absolutely no point in worrying about something you can’t change so wait until you can change it. Once your results are in, you will most likely have a new choice to make - a fork in the road. Left or right? Now is your chance to implement change. But if you have spent the previous weeks or month (or however long its been) stressing over the matter you won’t be able to make good decisions or even properly process the information you receive.
So just remember; stay busy to keep your mind on something, anything else, besides the upcoming test or test results. Don’t spend time worrying about things you can’t change. “In the end, everything will be OK. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
As I said, I am not so sure my advice to these people is any good. What do/did you do to deal with the anxiety of an upcoming test or the results of a test?
How do you feel before getting an MRI done?