MS in My 20s Part 4: How MS Impacted My Mental Health
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) just a couple of months after I turned 20 years old. A few years before that I started experiencing random bouts of depression which I hadn’t yet learned to manage. What shouldn’t surprise anyone is that MS, and the life that came with it, only made my depression and overall mental well-being many times worse. Today I want to talk about just that; how MS impacted my mental health throughout my 20s and into my 30s.
My MS roller coaster
Most people with MS would agree that life with this illness comes with many ups and downs. Good days, bad days, and sometimes worse days. From the very start, my MS was erratic. The almost constant ups and downs, and violent zigzagging, of my personal MS roller coaster were utterly exhausting.
As I’m sure anyone living with MS can relate, I just couldn’t keep up! As soon as I felt like I knew where this wild ride was going, it would violently dart in the opposite direction. Would this ever end? What will MS bring me next month? Next week? Tomorrow? Hell, how will I feel in a few hours? This uncertainty alone was overwhelming.
Fear of my newfound unknowns
Of course, there was also the fact that upon my diagnosis I had absolutely zero knowledge about MS. I mean, I didn’t even know what MS was let alone what this meant for my future, how bad things would get, or what kinds of symptoms I might develop. Would I die from it? How effective would my medication be and what exactly was it even meant to achieve? My list of questions seemed to grow by the day, and it was a tad terrifying to think about. People fear the unknown, and it’s safe to say that I had plenty of fear to ruminate over throughout my 20s.
Did you try unplugging it?
For the entirety of my life before MS, my body worked perfectly. It did exactly what I wanted it to do, when I wanted it to do it. I never even thought twice about it. But not anymore. Now my body was starting to not listen to me. Or at least, not behave as it once did. For the first time in my life, I would tell my body to do something, and...well, the results weren’t what I wanted. This totally screwed with my mind and my previously held understanding of my reality.
Nothing seemed to work. Not my meds, not any of the alternative therapies I had tried, and of course not my body. Everything was broken, nothing worked, and I didn’t understand why. Why wasn’t anything I tried working? What was I doing wrong? What should I try next and why should I let myself think it will be any different?
One of the most vivid feelings I remember constantly experiencing was frustration. Pure, natural, unadulterated frustration. This feeling came in a variety of flavors. To name a few examples, there was frustration regarding what MS was doing to my body. Frustration over how once simple tasks were becoming impossibly tedious. Frustration that came from what felt like many futile attempts to calm my MS down. Frustration resulting from how MS was affecting my ability to participate in everyday life. And of course, frustration due to the social impacts of my MS. The list goes on, and on, and on.
My mental health garden
Between my pre-existing depression and the smorgasbord of stressors and frustrations that came with my MS, I had everything I needed to start my own garden of assorted mental health difficulties. My depression was just a small, lonely sprout in my new garden that came with the plot of land known as my brain. Thanks to MS, my garden would be fertilized with the fear that came with my diagnosis and watered daily with the subsequent stressors of this chronic illness.
As my garden took off, many new sprouts would randomly appear and grow faster than I could prune. My thoughts quickly grew more and more negative, and I constantly found myself ruminating on them. All day and all night. I became fearful of my future and guilty of things I wish I could change in my past. I felt like I couldn’t solve any of the problems in my life, even those that had nothing to do with MS. I felt helpless. Eventually, my garden became overrun by a tangled mess of confusing weeds. I eventually started to withdraw from life because it was all just too much for me to handle on top of my busy garden.
An overwhelming weight on my mental health
Being in my twenties, I unsurprisingly didn’t know how to deal with all of this. A heavy depression that didn’t seem to respond to medication, anxiety that took a while to even recognize, and minor frustrations turning into sudden outbursts of anger, to name just a few examples. It was all too much, and for a while, I was too embarrassed to admit any of this and seek actual help. So instead, I did what many other people my age did. I hid it. Well, I tried to that is. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong.
As it turns out, all the problems growing in my mental health garden thrived in this darkness. They grew out of control and flooded into every aspect of my life. It was overwhelming. I felt like I was stuck in a rip tide and being pulled further and further out into the sea regardless of how hard I tried to swim. My ruminating thoughts kept revisiting the idea, “I can’t do this! I can’t, I just can’t,” but eventually, after what felt like an eternity, I found that I could. I don’t know how, but I did.
Look for a path not a finish line
Looking back, it’s easy to see with astonishing clarity what I should have been doing to manage my mental health all those years. I know, I know, “hindsight is 20-20,” what’s done is done, but that’s my point. I can’t change the past. Obviously. However, what I can do is learn from it.
So again, I’m currently 32 years old, and I’m still in the process of getting my mental health garden under control. Things aren’t perfect but they are so much better. If the theme of my 20s was “mental health struggles” then I feel like the theme of my 30s is shifting towards, well, something new.
I have come to see this part of my life-long excursion through life with MS as a marathon, not a race. It’s not about reaching some finish line, clapping the dust from your hands, and being done with it all. It’s about finding a good path, maintaining a steady pace, and enjoying the journey called life, despite MS and its many tribulations.
Have you ever heard someone say the following: