When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was confused to say the least. I didn’t know how to deal with the news other than to cry and seek comfort from my loved ones. After I’d learned to accept the prospect, I decided to tackle the disease head-on and get as educated on it as possible. As I started going to lectures and presentations on MS, I started talking to others battling the condition, and realized a striking similarity. Our new needs, the adjustments necessary to improve our quality of life, were similar to the needs I had while battling depression.
For a long time, I considered depression a burden I’d rather not call my own. Now I realize it had given me a head start in dealing with my next big challenge: MS.
Breaks are Important and Okay
One of the major changes I’ve experienced with MS is that my body always lets me know when it’s time to take a break. When I’m under too much stress, old symptoms flare up and I get migraines; when I’ve been ignoring the signs for too long, I can even experience a relapse. Long story short, MS forces me to take my needs seriously. I experienced a lot of the same symptoms when I left the job I loved. My working conditions deteriorated to a point where they caused depression, so I quit and took a huge break for several months, where I did absolutely nothing. I sat at home, went to therapy and lived off my unemployment benefit. I watched reruns of Star Trek and went to bed at nine or ten, sometimes even eight. I avoided people because it was exhausting to be around them, and I wanted to take care of only myself. I felt mildly guilty for it, but my depression prevented me from doing anything else, so I just went with it.
Now that my depression is more or less in check, I still spend entire days doing exactly that. I get the ice cream out and binge watch my favorite movie or TV show all day. And I don’t feel guilty anymore. I know now that when every fiber in your body tells you that it’s time to take a break, you need a break. So instead of fighting it, I take it and I’m not ashamed.
Note What Improves Your Mood
During my time at home, I noticed the man selling the newspaper in front of my supermarket would always thank me cheerfully when I tipped him or bought one of his papers. I realized it brightened my day tremendously to experience such undiluted positivity. So, when getting my groceries or even leaving the house had been an ordeal, I made extra sure I had change on me when I left the store, just to brighten both of our days. And I still do.
Around the same time, I realized the atmosphere at my hairdresser’s was so warm and welcoming that it lifted my mood just to be there. So, every once in a while I treat myself to a new haircut - not just to tidy up split ends, but also to enjoy an hour in the company of the wonderful people there.
The hardest lesson my depression taught me is if I didn’t care for myself, no one would. Because of that, I learned to voice my needs openly and clearly. This has been extremely helpful for me while living with MS, because I have needs many people don’t understand and may even take the wrong way. Even though I’m still struggling not to feel guilty about some of them, I’ve come a long way.
Appreciate the Small Things
Since I have been battling both depression and MS, I now literally stop and smell the roses. I visit the park when the dahlias are in bloom, I watch the sparrows steal crumbs when I’m in a café having breakfast with my loved ones, and when I go running, I make sure I run past the pond where the swans are raising their young. When we learn to appreciate the small things, this world really is such a beautiful place!
I never would have thought that experiencing depression could be a good thing, but now I’ve realized that everything we go through teaches us something, and if we’re lucky, we are able to understand and be grateful for it.