Keep your social life going strong -- with a little planning and some support from your friends.
"We encourage patients to do as much as they feel comfortable doing," says Robert Bermel, MD, medical director of the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Cleveland Clinic. The good news is there isn't anything you absolutely have to avoid, he says.
The trick to staying social is to think ahead and prepare for the unexpected.
Plan Around Your Symptoms
Keep a diary for a couple of weeks to see when your fatigue and other symptoms tend to pop up and what makes them worse.
Once you know your MS triggers and what times of day you have the most and least energy, you can schedule outings for when you feel your best. For example, if you always have more energy in the mornings, make plans for early in the day.
Before you go out, prep for any MS symptom that might happen while you're away from home:
Fatigue. To work around it, break your activities into smaller chunks of time. Instead of going to a back-to-back dinner and movie, see an early show, go home and rest, and then go out to a restaurant later.
Try to take it easy until it's time to go out. "Think ahead and curtail other energy-consuming activities earlier in the course of the day so you have enough energy for later, when you've planned the social event," says Dusan Stefoski, MD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Rush University Medical Center.
Ask your doctor whether you can take a stimulant drug or other medicines that give you more energy. Or just grab a cup of coffee or tea for a quick caffeine pick-me-up before you leave.
Heat. If warm weather makes your symptoms worse, stay indoors on hot days. Instead of taking a walk in the park with a friend, go to the gym or walk around the mall where it's air-conditioned.
Make plans for the morning. Not only is it cooler outside early in the day, but your body temperature also tends to rise in the afternoon. "As little as half a degree Fahrenheit can be enough to cause problems for a person with MS," Stefoski says.
Try these tips to keep cool and save energy:
- Take a cool shower or bath before you go out.
- Bring along a fan or misting spray so you don't overheat.
- In hot, humid weather, limit your time outdoors to less than 30 minutes.
Balance and walking problems. Take a collapsible cane, walker, or fold-up wheelchair to help you get around. Find out if the place you're going has ramps, elevators, or escalators.
Bladder issues. If you know it will be hard to find a bathroom where you're going, try not to drink much in the 2 hours before you leave. Wear an absorbent pad, and bring extras with you.
How to Talk to Your Friends
If you need to change plans because you're tired, be honest with your friends.
"My advice is always to clue the people around you to the effects of the disease up front," Stefoski says. If it's comfortable for you, tell your friends that you have MS and let them know what symptoms it can cause. Then if you have to cancel plans, they'll understand.
Need more ideas to help you plan your social life? Connect with other people who have MS through in-person groups or online. You'll not only make some new friends, but you can ask them for tips on how to stay active during flare-ups. You can also get advice from a counselor or therapist.