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MS and Mental Health

By Matt Cavallo

It is March, which means it is National MS Education and Awareness month. For this year, MS Focus is bringing awareness to the area of MS and Mental Health. I don’t think there could be a better year to talk about this topic because by this point most of us are feeling a little off mentally because of the quarantine. 

The more people I talk to, the more I hear how restless they are for our lives to “return to normal.” They feel confined and disconnected from the world. Zoom interactions are not a substitute for the real thing. Humans are social animals, and the lack of socialization takes a toll on us mentally. I think adults put on a brave face, but I see the toll it has taken on my kids and their friends. 

Having a condition such as MS makes this whole situation even more challenging. When you have a disease that can affect cognition, introducing new obstacles and protocols makes managing MS a lot more difficult. I, for one, am not feeling great mentally. I have some issues at work that are a result of my cognitive deficits. I try to hide them, but I am working on a major project which is putting my deficits under the microscope. 

This is creating stress in my life and we all know stress is the enemy. When I am stressed, I tend to let the negative self-talk creep in, become defensive, and doubt my abilities. All of this is leads to lesser quality work. So, now I have my self-worth tied to my job and my job worth tied to my MS cognitive defects, which is not a great place to be mentally. 

There are multiple components to my problem here. One is MS disease progression. Two is that progression is affecting me at work and in other areas. Three, it is hard for others to relate to my cognitive struggles because it is one the invisible side effects of the disease. Lastly, like it or not, there is a stigma around mental health so bringing up these topics requires more thought. If you find yourself struggling with mental health, here are some tips on how to get help.

1. Tell your neurologist if you believe there is an MS component. My mind is playing tricks on me with word recall and memory. I have had cognitive issues with MS in the past. These two factors mean to me that I need to at least inform my neurologist about my cognition. That way my neurologist can determine if it is MS-related and then we can develop a course of action together.

2. Talk to someone who you trust. One of the hardest things to do is admit there is a problem. On the other hand, if you do not seek help for a mental health problem, it will typically get worse until it consumes your every thought. When I am feeling like this, I tend to share these feelings with the person closest to me, my wife. My wife happens to be a counselor, so I have a bit of an advantage in that she is well-equipped to help guide me through these difficulties. But even if she wasn’t, I talk to her because she needs to know how I am feeling and why. This kind of effective communication leads to open discussions which has a way of making me feel better when I am struggling as I am now.

3. Talk to a mental health professional. Even if you do the other three steps, seeking advice from a mental health professional is something to strongly consider. They are an objective outside voice who specializes in helping with mental health concerns and can help you create a new path forward to feel better about yourself.

If you feel like you have no one to talk to or if you are having thoughts about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. For emergency situations, call 911.