The right support can make a huge difference in helping you manage multiple sclerosis (MS). When you reach out to family and friends, you'll get the backing you need for the physical and emotional effects of MS.
It's a lesson Seattle resident Stephen Kamnetz learned when he found out he had the condition nearly 7 years ago.
"I had no idea what MS was or what it meant for my future," the 32-year-old senior marketing consultant says.
Kamnetz opened up to a friend, a medical student whose wife had been diagnosed with MS just a few months earlier. With the couple's support, he began learning more about his condition and how to handle the changes in mood and behavior that come with the disease.
Besides talking to your loved ones, therapy, support groups, and online resources are among the many ways you can get the help you need.
Find a Therapist
There are different kinds of therapy that may help you meet the mental health challenges of MS. Your doctor will be able to help you find the right specialist for you. If you need more help for your search, your insurance company may be able to guide you.
"The National MS Society can also help by providing the names of mental health providers in a community that are in our database," says Kathleen Costello, vice president of healthcare access at the National MS Society. "The navigators can also provide important resources on mood and emotional support."
Different kinds of therapy work for different people. In some cases, psychotherapy can be helpful because it helps you understand why you feel the way you do and what the motivations are behind your behaviors.
"Be prepared to tell the therapist what you're looking for and what you think your goals of therapy might be," says Rosalind C. Kalb, PhD, of the National MS Society.
"Therapists have different kinds of training and areas of expertise," she says. "Sharing your goals and expectations up front will help you and the therapist determine if the two of you are a good fit. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask the therapist whether he or she has a sliding fee scale."
Cognitive behavioral therapy is another mental health treatment that can help you develop concrete problem-solving skills. And counseling can provide a safe space for you to talk about your experience without interruption or judgment.
"Finding the right therapist or support group may take some time, just like finding anything else that's very important to you -- a neurologist, life partner, comfortable shoes, or a new car," Kalb says. "You may have to look around and try out a few in order to make sure it's the right fit."
Join a Support Group
Your doctor can help you find a support group that meets your needs. Kamnetz says he got a recommendation for one that was geared to young adults.
"Immediately after diagnosis, this was incredibly helpful," he says. "I had no idea what was in store for me in terms of the path my disease would take, but meeting with people who had been down that road shed some light on the possibilities."
"Support groups come in all shapes and sizes," Kalb says. "If the first group you try doesn't meet your needs, schedule, or style, try another -- and keep trying until you find the right one for you."
Lean on Friends and Family When You're Ready
While Kamnetz found it hard at first to talk about his illness, he arrived at a point where he felt ready to open up.
"Eventually, I came out of my shell and started telling those close to me, which ended up being very therapeutic," Kamnetz says. "I was very fortunate as all of my friends and family were very supportive and helped me talk through what I was dealing with. I have never wanted for a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on."
Kamnetz says the impulse to isolate yourself can be strong, but it's important to let those close to you to stay in the know about your condition.
"Keep your friends and family close," Kamnetz says. "It will be tempting to be reclusive and shut off the world, which I did for a while as well. But being able to vent and discuss what you are going through with a loved one can be extraordinarily therapeutic."
Connect With Organizations
Groups that specialize in multiple sclerosis can help you get the information you need. You can connect with many of them online.
"The National MS Society is incredible," Kamnetz says. "They have ambassadors that will always take your call and answer any questions you may have about the disease or point you in the right direction of resources you need for any stage in your disease. If you have mobility issues, insurance questions, legal questions, they will do whatever they can to help. They also host many events to raise money to help find a cure and new treatments."
Fill Your Life With Things That Make You Happy
Make sure you make time for people and activities that are meaningful to you.
"My biggest piece of advice," Kamnetz says, "would be to think hard about the things you love and that bring you joy, and make it your purpose to do whatever you can to fill your life with those things."
Kamnetz says that once he made the decision to pursue a more joyful life, everything changed. "I started eating better, working out more, had a better outlook on life, and even signed up for and ran a marathon," he says.
"Since that day, life has just gotten better and better. I can safely say that I am much happier and healthier now than I was even before my diagnosis."