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Managing MS with a Little Help from My Friends

By Matt Cavallo

Recently, my wife and I went to our good friends’ house for dinner and to watch a game. It was a warm night, so we decided to walk out to the patio. As we were walking out to the patio, the husband stopped me because he noticed a slight limp. He asked me if everything was okay, and I told him I had been having trouble with my right leg. (Before I go on, I know you are thinking this may not sound like typical dinner conversation, but my friends are both medical practitioners, so it is not uncommon for us to discuss health.)

He called his wife over and together they watched me walk. They observed the weakness on my right side. While I have had this problem for a while, I didn’t realize the limp was noticeable. They told me they wanted to see me start a yoga routine and I needed to work out to strengthen the leg. They were concerned and didn’t want to see the limp progress any further. I told them I wasn’t much for working out and the husband, without pause, said he would be happy to work out with me. 

Another good friend of mine and fellow MS Focus contributor, David Lyons, repeatedly checks in on me over the phone and through social media to see if I am following an multiple sclerosis fitness routine. He also thinks I would benefit from strengthening and stretching

These are just a couple of examples of how my friends have stepped up to help me in my battle against MS. This is all possible because I prioritize talking about health with my friends. I am not afraid to make myself vulnerable and share when I am having a tough time. 

The truth is that we all need someone to lean on. Even if we put on a brave face and are living our best, most positive life with MS, know that those closest to you want to offer help in any way they can. Help comes in different forms. According to Verywellmind, there are four different types of support:
  • Emotional support, which includes physical support, such as hugging, as well as listening and empathizing.
  • Esteem support, which is shown through encouragement, such as reminding you of all your good qualities and accomplishments.
  • Informational support, which is shown through advice, such as in the case of my friends who think exercise can potentially help my limp.
  • Tangible support, which means your friend took some type of tangible action, such as bringing food to you when you feel sick and can’t get out of bed.

Some people are better than others at offering and accepting help. For example, using esteem support a friend might say, “You look great.” That friend is trying to provide support but may not know or understand what a person with MS is going through. Saying, “you look great,” is a sensitive topic among people living with MS because many MS symptoms are not visible, so focusing on physical appearances implies that if you look okay, you must be feeling okay, too. For the friends, however, complimenting you may be their way of providing support in the only way they know how through esteem building.

Another area where people struggle is receiving informational support, especially in the form of advice. You may have friends forwarding you articles or ads of the latest MS therapy. They may also send over diet or exercise advice from something they read on the Internet. Again, you may feel reluctant to accept that advice because they may not know your struggle or personal situation. Just know that your friend cared enough to think of you when they found that information and thought sharing it with you would help. When people share information with me, I am always reminded of this quote from “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”, by Baz Luhrmann where he said, “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.” In the end, managing MS is easier with a little help from your friends.