Dreading Snow: “Being the man” with MS

Dreading Snow: “Being the man” with MS

One of the things I dread has happened this weekend: that’s right, our first big snowfall of the year hit us. Some people love the snow, some people hate it. I hate it. Not for the normal reasons that adults do (work doesn’t get cancelled, driving can be terrible, power can go out, etc). For me, a big snow storm further highlights the inadequacies I feel because of my battle with multiple sclerosis. For me, when heavy snow is announced, I cringe and hope really hard that it misses us. All for one big reason: shoveling.

While it may seem trivial to some, for me, not being able to go out and shovel snow is a massive source of sorrow. Not because I enjoy shoveling snow! Does anyone really enjoy shoveling snow? Well, honestly, there are times when I think it’d be fun. I realize I probably only think that because I can’t do it though.  The biggest issue for me, is that my wife has to do it.  She has to bundle up and go outside and shovel our steps and walkway. All the while I have to sit inside, going crazy, and feeling awful that I can’t do it for her. It’s not a lot to shovel, but for me, it’s the principle. It’s the way I was raised.

Wanting to be able to help

I see other husbands and boyfriends out there shoveling snow as my wife is suiting up to do the same and it crushes me. I’ve written before about some of the added issues that men face when they battle MS and this struggle of mine is at the very heart of that discussion. Not being able to go out and shovel for my wife feels devastating to me at times. It’s completely emasculating. Not because she struggles doing it. She’s fit, she’s strong, she’s from New England… it’s nothing for her to go out and shovel a little snow. This is certainly not about women being unable to do such a thing, this is all about me being able to do it. It’s because I want to do it. I want to shovel the walk and clean off her car. I want to make her life easier.

There’s also that old, likely outdated feeling, that this is my house, my castle, right? Aren’t I the “man” of the house? I should be the one taking care of it. Shoveling snow, mowing grass, doing all those things my dad did when I was a kid. It’s the same reason that I’m the one who gets up if there’s a bump in night.  It’s what my insides tell me is the “right” thing to do. To protect my wife, to do things for her, to be the “man”. Again, nothing about this is a statement of my wife’s abilities. She’s the most capable person, man or woman, that I know.

What do others think?

Part of me also wonders what the neighborhood thinks about me when they see my wife out there shoveling.  I’m usually never one to worry about what others think. However, with the feelings I already have about her doing it, it’s hard not to let this one creep in. He seems fine. Is he just lazy?

So why can’t I shovel? Well, sometimes I give it a shot and my body quickly reminds me that I’m not what I once was. Standing without falling is always an issue, even without icy conditions (let alone walking), spasms, fatigue, even the whole trying to stay warm while it’s cold thing can cause me problems.  There is also the issue that that amount of activity would likely lay me out for some period of time, even if it went well. I think you can understand that, when simply showering can present difficulty at times, shoveling snow can be an extremely daunting task.

A reminder of what has changed

That brings up another issue with snow and shoveling that bothers me. It reminds me of how my body has changed. It reminds me that shoveling snow would be nothing to the old me. The old me that played hockey, ran marathons, and worked out a ton in the weight room. After living with MS for 17 years, the rigorous physical activity that I used to crave is now a distant memory. That bothers me often, but when something like this comes up, it really hits home. I can’t help but think back to the days when I could have probably shoveled all day with no problem. The days when my concern was going to help neighbors shovel, not like now, when I worry about my own walk.

Snow, I dread it. It reminds me of better days and it embarrasses me. So it’s not only the summer that can be tough for those with MS (also, let’s point out that mowing the lawn bring the exact same situation). While struggling with this whole “being a man” feeling can be tough for me, I’m still happy I have that struggle. I see a lot of guys that apparently don’t feel that way anymore (ugh, I sound so old there right? Like get off my lawn and shovel your mom’s walk).

I don’t have a solution to all this and I’m not especially looking for one, but I thought I’d talk about it, in case anyone else has these feelings.  Especially other men. Maybe it isn’t shoveling snow, but maybe something similar. As always, I’d love to hear from folks, so hit up the comments if you want.

Thanks for reading,


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View Comments (23)
  • DianaDee
    2 years ago

    Devin, Hi! I was introduced to you via my significant other who has lived with an MS diagnosis for 35 years now and has been Secondary Progressive for most of it. He shared your article on Fatigue with me saying it really described what he deals with. He has experienced similar frustrations trying to communicate with others what that is like.

    My heart really goes out to you on this article because I had heard the same type of “manly” concerns from my other half. He wants to be able to “protect” and “do things for” and he can’t because of his mobility limitations. Even the act of picking out a card or ordering flowers online needs the help of an assistant, so it’s difficult to “feel like a man” when considering tasks he used to do at home.

    The whole “mental game” of dealing with the thought patterns and keeping oneself bolstered up and thinking positively is a full-time job. It’s easy for people to say, “well, just think differently about it”. When the disease affects one’s sense of identity, it’s a very complex process.

    Anyway, wanted to comment since what you said really resonated with me. Thanks for all the articles. Still working my way through them!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    DianaDee, Thank you so, so much for the comment. I can’t even explain how much it means to me for someone to understand!

  • Joelle Buck
    2 years ago

    I am a very independent single woman ,who was born and raised in California (31yr). I moved to Minnesota in 2002 and although I didn’t like it,I still could shovel enough to get out of my drive. I was diagnosed in 2006 and over the course of the past couple of years ,I have found myself not leaving the house for days due to weather related triggers or safety precautions. It is very depressing. I told my good friend that they will have to build me a “CLEAN ROOM AND I WILL HAVE TO LIVE MY LIFE THROUGH VIRTUAL REALITY”. It seems to be my only hope these days.

  • Jade1956
    2 years ago

    Devin, I feel your pain. I’m the most independent woman in the world, and now winter means falling on the ice, summer means monster weakness from the heat, and out here, we get tornados all spring and fall. I think I just don’t like weather. I can’t shovel snow, I can’t mow the lawn and I can’t plant flowers or harvest a vegetable garden. But I can stil laugh and love and learn and grow and find silver linings everywherre. And that’s what matters the most to me about me.

  • LuvMyDog
    2 years ago

    I am WELL aware that MS effects different people in different way. I was not trying to be mean or insulting, just honest, as I am with everyone. YOU are the one who uses words like “inadequasies and emasculating”, and you see “husbands and boyfriends out there shoveling….”. So what!! The problem is yours Devin, you think too much……. about what other people think. You’re too hung up on the “man” thing. People are people. I get just as frustrated that I cannot do so many of the things I used to be able to do. I have no one to help me which is why I push myself to go outside and do what must be done. You think I like it? You think it’s not painful and draining? Think again. Usually after a four hour stint outside snow blowing and shoveling, which I may add, has happened twice in the past week and a half, I can hardly walk, I’m in pain, and I do indeed worry about, how long will I be able to do this?

    You’re very lucky you have a loyal and loving wife who is ready to step in and help, to do the things she probably depended on you doing in the past. Be thankful for that instead of worrying about what the a**hole neighbors might be thinking or gossiping about. In my opinion, there are not enough nice, compassionate, loyal and respectful people in this world and never will be. After 35 years with MS, I still hate the thought that I have a disease that has put limitations on my life but I get up every day, when I can, and get on with life. If the people on my street were half-way decent, they’d show up and help me dig out of 3 ft. of snow. “Nice” people would say to themselves, there’s an older lady who’s out there shoveling and snow blowing and she looks tired, she needs help, I’m going to help her. If the people in your neighborhood were worth anything, they just might help out with the shoveling at your house. It’s unfortunate, but many people DO need help and not just people with MS. If no one has the decency to approach your wife while she’s outside and offer help, I wouldn’t worry about what they have to say, they’re not worth the time you put into being concerned about it. Get over the “man” thing Devin. There are a good many men who have had accidents, illness’s that have changed their lives forever and they, as well as anyone else with a disability, have had to accept and do things differently and to the best of their ability. Have you considered hiring someone to clear snow in the Winter? That’s what I get from a few friends all the time, “why don’t you hire someone….to shovel, snow blow, clean those gutters, dig out that garden, etc….” It sure would make life much easier but, I can’t really afford it and I guess I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can, keep moving, as my doctor suggested 30+ years ago.

  • trmuth
    2 years ago

    I am a newly diagnosed 45 year old woman. I was very touched by your openness. I especially appreciated your reminder in the comment thread that the disease is not the same for everyone. Your wife sounds amazing and your acknowledgement of her is strong proof of your loving relationship. Now to be a bit crass, should your neighbors feel some kind of way about your wife shoveling snow tell them to zip it and shovel it for her!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you trmuth!!!

  • Drew Swan
    2 years ago

    Devin, bro I first need to say thanks for being a voice in the MS community and I find your articles hit home for me so much, so thank you! This article specifically really teaches me because I live in Maine and I know all to well about snow. I was diagnosed a few years ago and as I read your story I feel like I’m stepping in the tracks that you have been in. I currently am hanging on with all my strength to keep working in the field of telephone lineman and Splicer, and I’m so close to reaching my tapout point. I have a wife and 2 girls, and at the age of 27 going on 28 I myself have come to the point where I had to give up my passion of hockey after having a spasm that left me laid out on the ground after a game for about 30 minutes. When it comes to helping the wife with just about anything inside or outside of the house, it truly is a struggle that I feel like know one really understands except for people I read about. I know I have a great support but I feel ya when you say you wonder if people think things when they see you kicked back when their is longer then a honey to do list to get completed. It’s frustrating deep down , and obviously anyone out their with MS wishes for that energy – and the ability to put in an effort to help out, without the days of recovery after. So I’ll end my comment with I’m right their with ya man, the only thing I feel like I’m good at is growing this beard out hahah:) it’s the small things that I can do that makes me feel like I accomplish something… as meaningless as that sounds 🙂

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks Drew! Really appreciate the comment! It’s always a little comforting to know when someone else “gets it”! Ha Ha, my beard started out because of MS! My hands get numb and I get spasms there too, so shaving started to become a bloody affair. Now I just let this thing grow and it’s sort of a symbol of my fighting and adapting to MS!

  • tfs
    2 years ago

    Terry.female. Devin: I think as a woman with PPMS, I need to LISTEN to your comments. Excellent as usual. You stated you “didn’t have a solution to your feelings and were not especially looking for one.” Part of your identity has been compromised by this disease of MS. For me you were expressing your feelings and are grieving this loss of identity. Your wife sounds amazing and you obviously appreciate her. Wonderful article and thank you for sharing. Always, always a pleasure.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you tfs! Always appreciate you reading and from hearing from you!

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    Not a male here but I thought I might comment anyway because, well, I can. LOL

    I was married when my MS was diagnosed. My husband jumped in and helped with almost everything I needed help with. Then he stopped or at least became resentful. I tried to do everything I could but my left side had been compromised and there were things I just couldn’t do.

    We had been married for 30 years when he told me he wanted a divorce because “He couldn’t deal with my MS anymore” (his words). I sure wished I could walk away from it, I didn’t want to deal with it anymore either!

    I guess I wanted to remind you that there are good spouses out there that want to jump in and help where they are needed. If she says she doesn’t mind, then take her at her word. Sometimes you need to tuck that “man” thing down and let her.

    Sometimes there have been things I wanted to do because I’m a mom or wife. I couldn’t do a lot of things because I couldn’t stand for long, I couldn’t chop food safely. I couldn’t even pick up my grandkids because I didn’t feel safe doing it! Now that was a real ego buster!

    Fortunately, my daughter was there to pick up the babies, lay them on my lap. It was still sad to not be able to pick them up. But I found that we sometimes have to fall back and punt. I had to be happy that I could still hold the babies, as they have gotten older they think my walker is fun to ride on as I walking along.

    It took me a lot of years but I finally understand that there were some other underlying problems in my marriage and he was blaming it on my MS. Not a nice thing to admit but there you are. Maybe there are things you can do around the house for her while she is doing things that you have always done for her. There are always compromises to be made in life and in marriage.

    I hope I offered some kind of insight. I never wish to come off as pushy but sometimes I do. We are all in this battle together, right?

  • DianaDee
    2 years ago

    Hi Julie,
    My significant other had a similar experience in his marriage of 23 years. His wife said she thought the vows of “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” was for when they were “older”, not in their prime. She left him once he started needing a wheelchair, even though he could do a lot himself and was still running his contracting business and supporting their family. Her involvement was critical, so he had to close the business and accept that he couldn’t maintain it. Her abandonment resulted in his disease progressing rapidly that year.

    My heart really went out to you when I read “I wished I could just walk away from it too”.

    Nick went on to re-invent himself and go back to school. With the help of assistants he has been able to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Work and start doing therapy part time with people locally. He works with all kinds of people, but specializes in mental health and disability. He is hoping to begin to work with people online and expand his reach. He’s currently working on a Ph.D and we are trying to figure out how to finish that and manage his health needs which have become very complex.

    Would like to know more about how things are now for you. Feel free to reply back.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Julie! I understand I’m very lucky to have my wife. I have some first hand knowledge of some relationships that didn’t turn out so well before her. Including some that blamed my MS, even though, as you have learned, there were much deeper issues than that, even if it seemed like MS was the issue to them at the time, it certainly wasn’t the real issue. As you said, those things aren’t always easy to see until you step away from it for a while. Although I mention “men” here (because like it or not, there are many of us who have this societal urge to act a certain way, do a certain thing, be a certain way), you could easily sub-plant “any person who is responsible” there. So I think that, as you say “tucking that man thing” away, can apply to anyone. Thanks so much for the comment and for reading!

  • LuvMyDog
    2 years ago

    Devin: Good post. But, being a woman and ALWAYS having to do everything for myself, I don’t feel sorry for a healthy woman having to “bundle up…” and go out and shovel snow.
    Times have changed, right? Women, so many years ago now wanted “equality”, so be “equal” and get your butt outside and be of help!! Women aren’t fragile little creatures as they appeared to be in the Victorian era.

    I was born and raised in New England. So many people over the years have said to me, “you’re nuts to stay here since you HATE the cold weather, why do you do it?”
    Why do I do it? Good question. The answers I give, I’m a creature of habit. I don’t like change. Where is it so much better? And now, I really can’t afford to move to a beautiful sunny, warm place.

    We have about 4 months of “Winter” and then the warm weather starts. The grass starts to green up. The bulbs start to bloom. I can start digging out my garden. And finally, for awhile anyway, the world seems a better place to exist.

    I see plenty of men who don’t get out and shovel right here in my neighborhood. I don’t believe it’s because their ill, not physically anyway. Most are lazy slobs and they’re raising their kids to follow in their footsteps.

    I was diagnosed with MS 35 years ago. There have been many struggles.
    When we have snow drifts of 37″ and the wind is howling, I’m outside, firing up my snow blower, doing my property and that of my elderly neighbor who can no longer shovel his driveway or sidewalk.

    I have MS. I am in pain. I have muscle weakness. I’m not rich and cannot afford to hire people to do the work for me, so I do it as I always have. I clear a 100×25 ft. driveway and a 100 ft. sidewalk.
    I was raised to be a responsible person and not to say “I can’t”. I do what I can.

    If I’m tired and weak and in pain, I rest and go back out and try again, that’s all I can do. I push myself. I get on my weight bench when my legs feel like cement blocks. My neurologist told me many, many years ago, keep moving or you won’t be able to.

    I did so many things when I was younger and much stronger. I was a baby power lifter, I lifted for almost 40 years. I ran. I swam. I did so many things that I can’t do now. Do I feel a little sorry for myself now that I’m “old” and have to struggle to do the basics just to exist? Absolutely.
    But, my father taught me that whining and crying were a sign of weakness, I believed him then and I live now by all the things he taught me about survival in the stinking overpopulated world.

    Should I whine and complain about being a poor little “woman” with a black belt who can no longer kick a** and run that 100 yd. dash in a matter of seconds?
    Nope. It’s in the past. I have a neurological disease that has put limits on my life and I have to accept that. Do I care what other people think of that? Not on your life. I have found that the majority of people we meet in life are phony and disloyal. Most, think of themselves first and the he// with everybody else if it will cost them too much effort.

    I have a handicap placard and I always park in a handicap space when I go to the grocery store or Home Depot or wherever. Have I ever heard anyone comment, “she doesn’t look sick, what is she parking there for….”
    Yup, I have…and I’ve turned around and confronted them and asked them if they were doctors, what do they know about Multiple Sclerosis and so on. Most are apologetic, some embarrassed, some, just plain ignorant and nasty.

    I rake, I dig out my garden every Spring, I mow in the heat of Summer. When I get dizzy and weak, I go inside to cool off and drink a pint or so of Gatorade. I push, I keep going as much as I can, but it does no good to complain.
    I get up on a 20 ft. ladder every Fall and clean out my gutters from all the leaves that fall off of the trees I’m surrounded with. I either do it, or it doesn’t get done.

    I know that I do more than any woman that I know, especially women of my age. And, I have Multiple Sclerosis. And, a heart problem. I will do whatever I can do for as long as I can do it, and I hope that’s a very long time. HOPE being the key word there.

    So Devin…being a “man” with MS really isn’t that different than being a “woman” with MS.
    We are human beings with an illness that stops us from being the “people” we used to be, but depending on the status of our MS, it doesn’t stop us from trying to be the people we CAN be if we continue to “try” and push ourselves to our daily limits, and not feel sorry for ourselves every day of the week.

    You seem to choose to worry about what other people think about you, I don’t.
    Do what you can. Push yourself. Keep trying.

    I…dread the snow.
    I…hate shoveling.
    I…hate firing up that snow blower.
    I..hate hauling out that 20ft. ladder to clean the gutters.
    I..find it hard to go out on some really hot days to mow and rake.

    I….am a (strong-minded) WOMAN with MS.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    LuvMyDog, Tim2101 Thank you for your comments. I’m happy you’ve been able to continue doing what you do, you’ve been very lucky. But to suggest that I or many of the other people with MS are whining or not pushing hard enough is extremely short sighted on your part. There are people like me that push hard every single day. Putting one for in front of the other isn’t easy for some people, not because they aren’t strong, but because their course in this disease has made them literally unable to move their foot. Please remember that this disease is different for everyone and that you may be on the more fortunate side of things. I have to say this for the many readers out there, do not feel bad, despite what some people may think, you can not will yourself out of a wheelchair, you cannot “push” yourself to make the damaged nerves in your body suddenly work. So thank you for your comments, but please consider the condition of others.

  • trloftus
    2 years ago

    Well said LuvMyDog! I agree. It does suck. Sometimes it hurts. We just gotta put one foot in front of the other. Eventually we’ll get there. Never give up.


  • Yoshitail9
    2 years ago

    Being from the Boston area I understand your issue. Thankfully it hasn’t been too rough of a snowy winter…YET. Coming up on my 38th year with MS.Still standing but this past year has been a marked difference with numbness/tingling/foot drop and left leg weakness but I am stubborn and still trying to do the snow chores. I have a snowblower for the driveway and walkway….sort of use it as a “walker” to hold myself up…seems to help. As far as the deck…to get the dogs out….I now just make a pathway for them rather than do the whole deck….and I do it several times…like when the snow level hits 2″. Last storm I probably did it 4-5 times….then I l get past my Sicilian stubborness….and ask my wife for help. Yup, all those things I can’t do anymore hurts…even if I wouldn’t do them if I could !

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Yoshitail9! I am in southern Delaware at the moment, but my wife if from central Massachusetts. Having visited her family, I can say you guys get a whole lot more snow than we do! It is by far a whole other level! I hear you about stubbornness though, that an an Achilles heal for me!

  • H Parks
    2 years ago

    Loved your article!! I’ve been looking into the differences between the male and female MS patients psychologically. For some reason a lot of people think I’m being sexist when I express my concerns regarding “being a man”.

    Thanks again!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you ben! Glad you have your daughters with you! I know all to well how even the simplest of tasks can be tough.

  • ben
    2 years ago

    Really likes your article. With that being said I feel the pain of being the “Man” a lot.
    I am separated right now and have my two youngest daughters living with me. Some days I have a hard time just getting up to make supper, other days I am raring to go.
    Luckily, like your wife she keeps an eye out for you and helps where you can’t. My daughters are the same way. Some days they watch to hard but none the less it’s cause they love us.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you H Parks! I think some people have considered me sexist too when that has absolutely nothing to with it. There are certain societal pressures that are heaped on top of us that not everyone can understand. I wrote more about it here: https://multiplesclerosis.net/stories/added-problems-man-multiple-sclerosis/

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