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10 Things You Can Do to Make Socializing Easier

By Gay Falkowski

Love it or hate it, socializing is good for your health. The happiest people, research shows, maintain good relationships throughout life. (Quality is more important than quantity.) But if you’ve got multiple sclerosis, getting out of the house isn’t always easy. You can feel up one day and down the next. It’s not surprising that you may get an invitation and wonder: “Should I go? Am I able to go? Do I want to go?” If the answer to these questions is “yes”, the following steps can help prepare you for almost any social adventure:

1. Share your MS story. Disclosure is a personal choice, but many people with MS who’ve told friends about their diagnosis generally say they’re glad they did. There’s relief in knowing you can be honest if you need to decline an invitation, cancel at the last minute, or leave early. If they know how MS affects you, they may be able give you support and understanding. Let them know you appreciate advanced notice of get-togethers and events.

2. Host events in your home. Inviting friends into your home for a potlatch dinner or a night of playing board games is a great way to socialize without the stress of going to an unfamiliar place. If you worry about having to cancel on everyone last minute because you don’t feel well, wait until you do feel well and invite friends over on short notice. Have a “come as you are” party and order pizza or delivery of some other favorite food. 

3. Store your energy. If MS fatigue frequently keeps you from following through with plans, try to boost your energy reserves several days before an event. Clear your calendar of all appointments and activities that will tire you. If you can, take naps, eat a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep

4. Scope out an event site in advance. Visit public venues so you can check for accessibility, and other important logistics such as bathroom locations. Can you find a quiet spot within the space where you might go for some respite if you’re feeling overwhelmed or tired? Sometimes taking a short break from the activity recharges you enough to keep going.

5. Prepare a bag of essentials to take with you. Medicines, face spritzer, a small bottle of water, a charged cell phone, extra pads or garments for toileting, a change of clothes – anything that might make you more comfortable and provide relief from the unexpected.

6. Do a dress rehearsal. If the event is one you’ll get dressed up for, know what you’re wearing ahead of time and make sure it’s something you’re comfortable in. You may want to ditch the high heels for some fancy flats. If you’re going to be outside, check the weather. Will you need a cooling scarf or a hat? Visualize what you will do while you’re at the event and practice what you’ll say or do in certain situations. Feeling prepared helps reduce stress.

7. During your outing, think about how you’re feeling. Tense? Take a few deep breaths. Be in the moment. Focus on the sights and sounds around you. Feel the ground beneath your feet. 

8. Don’t give up. If, despite your best efforts, you feel as though you want to withdraw, you may want to seek help from a counselor familiar with the challenges of living with a chronic illness. A professional can also help determine if depression is keeping you from wanting to connect with others.

9. Re-evaluate your relationships from time to time. If you have friends who continuously doubt you when you tell them how you feel, decide if they’re worth keeping around or not. Surround yourself with people who bring you up instead people who bring you down.

10. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Whether you go out with friends and make it through half an hour or half a day, you’ve done your best and that’s all that matters.