MS & Socializing: A Few Things to Remember
While a disease like multiple sclerosis has a different effect on everyone it afflicts, universally it has an impact on your ability to socialize. Perhaps you are disabled and can’t drive, so you are unable to leave the house much. Maybe you are still doing fairly well, but fatigue still ends your day early. Maybe you can even hold down a job and survive but you aren’t well enough to actually thrive. When it comes to MS, there are many scenarios that can inhibit our ability to socialize with others. Like many things I write about, I struggle in this area as well, however, I do have some tips to help improve your chances of experiencing that crucial time with other human beings.
Remember it’s important
You’ve probably heard the phrase “humans are social creatures” a number of times in your life. There’s a lot of truth to it, humans have evolved to be around other humans. Even the most introverted among us require time with other people. The psychological effects of not allowing humans to interact with others can be severe (you can simply Google “solitary confinement” and see how it is often viewed as cruel and unusual punishment). I could go into depth about why you need to see and interact with other human beings, but if I did, this article would be way too long. Besides, I’m pretty sure most people will agree on its importance. No matter how introverted you are, you have to remember that it’s beneficial to be amongst other people. No matter how different you feel they may be from them. People with chronic illness have a tendency to isolate themselves, and you have to consciously fight against that. It’s important to think back to the times you have been around people that it felt good, focus on those moments to help get yourself over the hump.
I’ve written before how I tend to thrive more when I follow a routine and go to familiar places. Getting out is difficult for me, so I often set aside a standard day every week to get out. I have a set plan to go to a local bar and play trivia with a group of friends. I know I’m doing it every week, so my body is prepared for it. It’s also at the same place each time, so I’m familiar with it, I know how the temperatures run, I know where the bathrooms are, etc. Familiarity makes getting out with a chronic illness much easier. Even if you aren’t going to a set event every week, simply going to a place you know well can be of huge comfort, whether you realize it or not. If someone suggests meeting at one place, and you are uneasy, suggest somewhere you know a bit better. To go along with the planning theme, budget the appropriate rest time before and after activities. Knowing you have that time set aside can be very helpful.
Don’t be afraid to make suggestions
With familiar places being important, don’t be afraid to ask friends to meet go somewhere you are comfortable with. Sometimes, starting somewhere where you feel at home will allow you to carry on and go elsewhere. Many times, that can include starting at your actual home. Many a time, I’ve told friends, “Hey, why don’t you stop by and have a beer at my place first?” It’s beneficial for me. No matter what you’re planning, don’t be afraid to offer up a suggestion that will benefit you. It’s very easy to want to keep quiet and not draw attention to your illness, you have to get past that though. Remember, people are far more understanding than we give them credit for. Another key thing to think about with this topic, is that it’s OK for you to make the plans, you can invite people, you can start the conversation.
Just do it
If you are at all like me, you think of some social obligations and it becomes overwhelming. It’s easy to dwell on the “what ifs”. Most commonly, what if I start to feel bad. Well, my motto of late has been “anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly”. So what if I meet up with friends and begin to not feel well? I can just leave. I’ve certainly done it enough over my life with this disease, why not again? The point is though, that there are still benefits to that. Even if I get out and immediately feel like crap and have to leave, at least I tried. Maybe I even got to spend a little time with friends. It’s OK to not go the distance, you will still benefit, so just get out there and do it.
Don’t be hard on yourself
As important as it is to socialize with people, the attempt itself is just as important. If you plan to go out, but your body won’t let you or it makes you leave early, then at least you tried. That should be a source of pride because it really is easy to shelter yourself with this disease. Even if you tried to make plans to socialize and no one could make it out, remember, that’s not on you, you tried, that’s still a plus in your column. It’s important to accept that even if you don’t make it out, that planning and attempting it is still a tremendous success because it’s your body that failed, not you.
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