Multiple Sclerosis is a complicated medical condition to live with. People with MS will experience many physical symptoms like fatigue, pain and visual impairment. Living with MS presents many challenges, not least the mental health impact of coming to terms with being disabled.

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Racing Granny

MS shouldn’t slow you down!

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The realisation of being disabled can have profound emotional consequences that can lead to bouts of clinical depression. This is a matter that your doctor can take very seriously, as I have discovered.

Depression in MS: a symptom or a reaction?

Suffering from depression is rather more than feeling “blue” or having an off day. The symptoms of depression are pervasive, disrupting your family life and causing behaviour changes.

Contending with and understanding your MS symptoms will require you to educate yourself on the ways of mental health. After all, MS is a disease of the brain with a fluctuating course.

The neural damage caused by MS can change emotional reactions and even alter normal inhibitory functions.

What you need to know

While we can’t all be irrepressibly happy every day. It is normal to feel low at times. Some days will lack that vital spark. Sometimes we wished we’d stayed in bed.

However, symptoms of depression occur most days. This feeling is constant and wearing, and will disrupt your normal routine.

The classic symptoms of depression include:

  • Altered appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Lack of energy
  • Noticeable agitation

It is essential to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you become aware of your depression. The sooner you address the problems, the quicker you can get your life back on an even keel.

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Anger Management
Hospital Bed

MS doesn’t have to mean the end of your dreams.

MS Mood Swings

Having been living with MS since 1994, I can vouch for the mood swings that people with MS can experience. Indeed, I can vividly recall the day when I learned that my brain was shrinking. I fell into a severe bout of depression for several days.

I pride myself on being a level-headed, educated man not prone to emotional outbursts and like to present a persistently cheerful mood. I firmly believe that an optimistic attitude is essential for living with MS.

Having accepted that my brain shrinkage is due to MS-related damage, I can redouble my efforts to maximise the remaining neural connectivity that remains. We all have a thing called neural reserve and I intend to use mine as far as possible.

Physical Symptoms

By the very nature of MS progression, the ongoing physical deterioration of the cognitive dysfunction caused by MS is a constant worry.

While these concerns give rise to persistent anxiety. My physical disability continues to weigh both my mood and my physical health.

Mood swings are not, generally, a common symptom of MS. Chronic pain and impaired vision are.

Moodiness and irritability

Emotional disorders are often dealt with by a psychiatrist and after family counseling (my wife), I consulted my local MS counsellor for some much-needed talk therapy.

For some people, both their mood and their outlook on life can be improved by sharing their concerns with other multiple sclerosis patients.

I decided that I needed to adopt more healthy lifestyle habits like eating better and sleeping better.

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Living under a Cloud
Operating Theatre

MS is not a death sentence.

Causes of MS-Related Anxiety

It has been mooted that the neural damage caused by MS can result in anger. Anger is a normal human emotion that allows us to express ourselves.

Anger can, in some circumstances, manifest in physical symptoms like:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tiredness

Meditation can be very effective at calming your anger and channeling your pent-up emotions toward more productive activities.

Emotional Changes

Emotional changes brought on by MS are not uncommon but inappropriate behaviour is quite rare. I have no problems with sexual disinhibition although this can probably be attributed to my age more than it can be to MS. I was born in 1958, so I am now, officially, an old man.

Some people are naturally gregarious and show their feeling only too readily. For other people, particularly people with MS an outpouring of feelings does not come easily. An outward expression of joy can be hard to find.

Emotional Symptoms

When people with MS exhibit inappropriate behavior, it is because they have trouble assimilating the many mixed emotions the condition brings on.

And when a multiple sclerosis patient has severe pain they will have very poor judgment when controlling emotional responses.

If poor judgment related to MS impacts everyday life, it is just part of the tapestry of MS life.

Mood changes

When emotional changes cause mood swings you can embrace the euphoria or sink into the oblivion of depression.

Emotional changes are normal, as are mood swings unless they get out of hand.

Positive Mindset

You are your best doctor. You can find emotional stability in your head. Think yourself well is not just a catchy slogan. Positive thinking has been shown to have remarkable effects.

A positive mindset is a great weapon against low self-esteem and other mood limiters.

Distinguishing Pseudobulbar affect from Other Conditions

What is the pseudobulbar affect?

The pseudobulbar affect may also be known as emotional lability is a condition where severe mood shifts cause inappropriate behaviour like uncontrollable laughing when a situation isn’t funny or uncontrollable crying when you are not sad.

This happens when there is a breakdown in communication within the brain. In people with MS, this breakdown may be attributed to brain lesions disrupting the function of neurotransmitters.

MS is generally unpredictable and can cause nerve damage in the brain or spinal cord. A person newly diagnosed with MS will require the support of family members for supportive counseling and emotional stability.

Pseudobulbar affect or emotional lability can be confused with bipolar disorder so a correct diagnosis is imperative.

Counseling and talking therapies are effective ways to treat pseudobulbar affect.

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Grief-stricken Woman
Exercise Bike

You can live a full life with MS.

MS can occasionally cause inappropriate behavior

Emotional outbursts and other such behavior, compounded with the other symptoms of MS, add to the challenging aspects of dealing with this debilitating disease.

So, if you have just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, don’t bottle up your inner feelings. A period if denial is one of the normal reactions to this traumatic news.

You will need the emotional support of your loved ones and you may need psychiatric medication to deal with your extreme irritability.

Your fears are not a sign of moral weakness and are typical of the anxieties commonly experienced by others.

They are natural reactions to facing a chronic illness. You may have frequent bouts of irritability moodiness. These are common emotional responses that accompany MS. They are not sociopathic tendencies.

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the immune system. Getting your head around the implications of this complex neurological condition will test the most optimistic soul. But, when this optimism fails, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation can have a positive emotional impact.

Summary

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the brain. But, your brain, and your mind can also be your best friend when it comes to fighting MS. While Brain fog is one of the common symptoms, a healthy mindset can have significant effects on the disease and might even be the optimal treatment.

There are some great resources out there if you need some help. The National MS Society offer great advice and can put you in touch with a reputable local health practitioner.

References

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