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Friday, June 5, 2015

Fear: A Major MS Obstacle

Fear. Terror. Worry. Anxiety. Stress. 

It seems as though these emotions flicker on and off like a failing lightbulb, throughout every moment of my life with MS, passing through my mind on a constant basis.

It makes no difference how my day begins, whether it is a high-energy, positive day or a low-energy, dark one. Without fail, terrifying thoughts will intrude on my life, causing me great distress. How can we not feel afraid? The fears can be primarily physical worries: Will my symptoms worsen today? Will I be able to walk by the end of the day? Will my vision diminish to the point that I can no longer drive today? Or, they can be psychological in nature: Will my husband continue to love me despite this? Will be my children be able to cope with my illness? Will everyone still be around when things grow more severe?

MS has the ability to make me feel so vulnerable at times. The fear leads to feelings of helplessness, and I worry that I would not be able to protect myself if I needed to. Before MS, I felt physically and mentally tough, and I was confident in my ability to run, fight if needed, and get away from a potential attack. My husband, an ER doctor, works very strange hours; and I am often home with all of my children alone late at night. This got me thinking, what would I do to defend myself? I don't have the physical ability to get away. I started to feel like I may even need to consider a weapon to protect myself if needed. For me, these thoughts are incredibly unusual. I am very opposed to weapons and violence, and the thought of even owning one makes me very nervous. However, the helplessness I often feel has led me to consider it.

These worries can be truly disabling, even life-threatening in some cases. Some patients may find themselves so utterly consumed with crippling fear, that life becomes unbearable. This is the reason that we must learn to reach out for help long before the fear has taken complete control of our lives.

The good news is, there is hope.

Fear is a product of anxiety, and it is a natural response for human beings. Fear causes a "fight or flight" response, intended to give us an extra boost of epinephrine, increasing our heart rates and giving us the ability to run or fight in case of attack. The problem is, our anxiety is lifelong. It isn't short-term, and it doesn't end. So what is the key? How do we cope?

The key is to give a voice to your fears. Express them, share them, don't keep them in. Share them with friends, family, and other MS patients who will likely echo your feelings. Share them in support groups, with your therapist or physician, with a nurse or an online MS community. Share, and you will soon discover that your fears are not yours alone. Your fears are shared, experienced by every patient who lives with this illness. Your fears are not strange or abnormal, but in fact they are common, normal things.

When we start to see that our deepest, darkest inner feelings are not "crazy," we can begin to overcome. When we begin to realize that we are reacting in a completely normal way to a very difficult and challenging life situation, we begin to feel strength. If you hide these feelings, they grow. They are like a cancer, and they feed on our silence. Give your fears a voice, and soon you will discover that you are just one of many, many souls who are trying their hardest to live a happy life despite one of the most difficult illnesses. You are never alone. 

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