This is a conversation I wish someone gave me when I first received my diagnosis. While it is tailored specifically to MS, I hope some of the thoughts are universal enough for any difficult medical diagnosis.
CW: Discussion of suicide, self-harm, and depression within this post. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please contact Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in crisis, text CrisisTextLine to connect with a crisis counselor. You are not alone.
After I got my MS diagnosis I went through a period of shock and relief. I was shocked that it was MS but relieved to finally have an answer. Ultimately, the shock overpowered the feelings of relief and I found that my emotions spiraled out of control.
I don’t remember the first couple days, I think I was numb from trying to process the information: it was like finding out a loved one had died. Every couple of minutes I’d get distracted enough to forget, but as soon as I turned my mind to it, my heart sank and it felt devastatingly fresh again.
The numbness I felt was me unable and unwilling to process the news.
I was aware of MS since High School because my art teacher had it. I remember my mom telling me about MS, explaining why my teacher may seem fatigued or snappy towards the end of an afternoon class. I also remember sitting in the art room, watching my teacher gush about Cezanne and thinking two things to myself: one, “Oh god, I hope I never get MS;” and two, “it would be the end of my life if I ever got it.”
I was wrong on both thoughts. I may have MS, but my life isn’t over.
So You Have MS
Welcome to Club MS where no one wants membership.
Right now you’re searching online for meaning and information. There is a lot of information out there and I understand that this post is going to add to the noise. I wrote a simplified post about MS, but I recommend checking out the NMSS for thorough information on the disease if you want specific medical details about MS.
I am not going to offer advice on how to cope with the news of the diagnosis, but provide insight into what I went through to normalize your experience to a certain extent. While working through a diagnosis is unique to each individual, there are certain aspects to the process that is universal. You are not alone in this journey.
There’s a good chance you will go through a range of emotions like I did. Hopefully, relief will be one of them because there is a sense of calm with finally having an answer to what is going on with your body. It makes what is intangible – tangible. What was presumed to be just in your head is now externally acknowledged by a medical professional.
These feelings of relief probably won’t comfort you past the first 48 hours or so. But it is something to keep in the back of your mind for later as you move through your coping process.
The next set of emotions may be frustration and betrayal.
I was frustrated that my body was attacking itself but equally betrayed by it. Here I was, at the end of my 20’s looking at a lifetime of disease; where Ash would have to take care of me if I progressed past a certain point; and I would be a physical, mental, and emotional drain to all of my loved ones.
As a younger person, the idea of having a disease or getting sick was something that happened to other people. I took what was presumed perfect health for granted. I remember thinking to myself: I lived my life relatively well, I was a good person, I did what I was supposed to, why is my body punishing me? What wrongs was I atoning for? This does not happen to good people.
I sank into a deep depression. I was completely lost about what I was facing, how I would face it, and how I would get through it. I felt completely selfish because I could only think about myself. I couldn’t and didn’t want to think about anyone else.
I went to a very dark place and stayed there for several months. There were moments where I was suicidal over the whole situation. If I killed myself, I would regain control of an out-of-control situation. More importantly, I would be able to remove myself from Ash’s life and no longer be a burden to him. The sooner I did it, the sooner he could move on and find a healthier partner.
I never acted on it, never made any serious plans. Instead, I pushed it down the road: if I start to be a burden for my loved ones – then I would do something about it.
I am not saying, nor am I recommending entertaining these thoughts, but by pushing the desire back it helped give me the clarity to healthfully resolve my thoughts on the matter and get to a point where suicide was no longer a viable option at any point in time.
It was around this point that I realized I was going through a form of grieving after getting the diagnosis. Grieving a medical diagnosis for yourself is, in fact, normal. It helped contextualize what I felt in the months after my diagnosis. It also helped me move through the stages more effectively because I now knew what I was experiencing was normal.