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How to Combat the Stigmas of MS

By Daryl H. Bryant (908 words)
Posted in Living with MS on February 12, 2015

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How to Combat the Stigmas of MS

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis will change your life. Not only will your health become a constant balancing act, but you may also notice changes in your social life and the way people treat you. Many patients experience stigmas, the most common of which are misunderstandings and frustrations from people out in public who do not understand the symptoms of the disease.

In order to combat the stigmas of MS, you must have a lot of patience, with yourself and with others. These tips on how to combat these stigmas will help you not only understand your symptoms but educate those around you to be more understanding and patient toward those with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Adapt to Your Surroundings

Your life with MS will involve a lot of adjustments. Schedules, plans, and anticipating discomforts and symptom break-outs will all become part of your normal routine. The more easy-going you are about these adaptions, the much easier it will be to avoid any possible stigmas or awkward situations.

While you may not be able to run all of your errands in one day like you used to, planning ahead will help you complete 2-3 of them with ease. Planning ahead involves making sure you have all necessary credit cards and coupons in a convenient location, using proper walking tools if necessary, carrying any medications you may need during your outing, and organizing a ride if you are unable to drive yourself.

Being prepared like this will help you reduce your anxiety by giving you time to complete each task without rushing. Without this anxiety, your mind won’t be distracted and your memory will be sharper, meaning you’ll be less likely to experience any embarrassment. You’ll also be better able to handle yourself if your symptoms decide to show themselves while you’re in the checkout line.

Have a Sense of Humor

Of course, sometimes embarrassing situations are unavoidable, regardless of diagnosis. While your MS may make the embarrassment that much more awkward, being able to laugh it off will help you reduce the tension and create a more pleasant atmosphere around the stigma. For example, announcing: “I’m not drunk, I just have MS” in your defense is one of the most popular ways to laugh off any stigma among the MS community.

Tripping, falling, and slurring are some of the most common symptoms experienced in public, but if you’re able to laugh it off with a quip like that one, you’ll not only make those around you laugh but also have them thinking twice about exactly what Multiple Sclerosis is. Talking about your MS within a lighthearted environment is one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce tension and educate your friends, peers, and even strangers about a disease many of them may never have heard of.

Educate the Masses

If you make them laugh, you might be able to teach them something. And one of the best ways to combat stigmas and get rid of them entirely is to educate the public about the disease they are stigmatizing. If your symptoms act up in public and people start looking at you strangely, speak up and tell them exactly what’s happening. If you’re nervous, try practicing in front of family members or friends in order to build your confidence.

Confirm with them that you’re using the right tone. You want to come off as friendly, not combative or intimidating, and approach the issue as if you’re answering the question of a friend. Remember, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Multiple Sclerosis does not have to dominate your life, your behavior, or make you afraid to venture outdoors and into the public sphere. In fact, those people might be just as embarrassed as you, and by explaining yourself and helping them understand, they’ll be less likely to stare and more likely to help next time they are faced with a similar situation.

Take Pride in Yourself

Taking pride in yourself, your accomplishments, and your personality is key to combating the stigmas of MS that you may experience during your outings. Living your life without shame will make it easier to call out those who try and make you feel uncomfortable. Having confidence will make it easier for you to laugh at your mistakes, and it will make starting conversations about your MS with friends and strangers alike much less intimidating.

Of course, this confidence may not come immediately. Learning to accept your diagnosis, to anticipate and adapt to your symptoms, and to become comfortable with the changes in your life caused by MS will take time and patience. Some days may be easier than others, but taking it one day at a time is the best approach to MS.

What do you think?

These few tips will help you combat the stigmas of MS you may experience, but there are also many communities where fellow MS patients can offer advice and support. If you find that your confidence and ability to stand up for yourself and educate those around you has worked to your benefit, sharing your stories and tips with others can be very rewarding.

Some MS patients have difficulty facing the public because of the stigmatization of their disease, and your words of strength and humor can help them build their pride and confidence. Talk with your doctor and other health care professionals to local MS support groups or go online to find MS communities, like blogs, message boards, and social media that may need a new user for a little boost of confidence.

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