Life was good before Multiple Sclerosis. I had great friends. We would spend time together on the weekends going out to eat or bowling, and in the summer we would always plan hiking trips through the mountains. When MS became a part of the picture, those nights out and trips dwindled. It got to where I wasn’t even being invited to dinner anymore, they would just go without me. It made me downright mad to be excluded like that. I wanted to scream at them saying, “I have MS, I didn’t die.”
Amazingly, you discover who your real friends are once a challenge arises. They will either stand by you and hold you up or they will walk away dropping you like a hot potato. If they choose to walk away, let them. You don’t need anyone pulling you down. MS is doing a good enough job of that already.
For those friends wanting to understand a little more about how life changes for a person with MS, I’ve listed a few things here. Maybe they will help you to understand MS and help you to be a better friend in the process.
1. Sleep is important to us.
We need to go to bed early. When I say need, I mean NEED, and when I say early, I mean EARLY! Our bodies wear out faster because they are working harder to do just about everything. The simple act of walking across a room exerts twice the energy of a healthy person doing the same thing, if not more. We have to think to walk. It doesn’t come naturally like it does for you. Every step includes a thought process about how to pick up the foot and where to put it back down. Now, add to that all the other things you do in a day. Many times we will be in the bed before the sun goes down, which means we may not be able to have a night out with the gang or stay up to watch a late night movie on the couch. When we do sleep, the time is sporadic which makes us even more exhausted the next day. Sleeping through the night without bathroom breaks and being awaked by pain is a rarity. So, if we say we’re tired, we are “I haven’t slept in days and every muscle, bone and cell in my body aches” tired.
2. Schedules are planned around treatment and sleep.
No longer are we able to plan ahead for a special event. Our meds and sleep patterns changed that the moment MS became a part of our life. If we are out enjoying the night and have to leave early, don’t get mad or think we are being unsocial for being the first person to slip out unnoticed. When our bodies are screaming at us in pain, and our exhaustion has hit an all time high, we would rather be at home in the comfort of our PJs so we can hibernate on our own couch. This way, if we have a moment when things get too intense and we shed a tear or two, we don’t have to explain what’s wrong for the hundredth time. Just know that if we ever say “no” or have to cancel last minute plans, it’s not because we don’t want to be a part of what’s going on or because we are mad at you. Our bodies just won’t let us join in.
3. “Just come over and sit” is not as easy as it sounds.
For one, we have to get ourselves dressed and make ourselves presentable which exerts energy. Then we have to drive through traffic to get to your house which can be dangerous, especially if we have trouble with vision, numbness in our legs, dizziness or fatigue. So, although coming and just sitting at your house sounds simple, it’s not. It becomes even more difficult when we have to leave and drive back home, because by that time we are so tired that driving can be scary and unsafe. It would be so much easier if you were to come to us. And not a loud party kind of come over either. There is a time and place for that, but most of the time we just want to know you care. Having a cup of coffee or tea for an hour or bringing lunch over would be welcomed and help brighten our day.
4. Simple things suddenly become difficult.
Laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing the car, vacuuming, making the bed, going to the store: they all sounds like simple things, right? But they’re not. All of a sudden we find ourselves struggling just to make the bed in the morning. What normally would take 10 minutes becomes 45 minutes. Our energy gets used up fast and our muscles weaken quick. All those things normal people do, we struggle with. We look around the house and want to cry because we have had to neglect things we normally would take care of. You know what would be the greatest thing of all? For you to volunteer to come and help us tackle the laundry or the scrubbing of the toilet.
5. We get tired of explaining the same thing over and over.
We understand that you don’t get it and that much of our pain you can’t see. We realize you can forget from time to time that we are hurting and suffering on the inside. But please, as a friend who wants to be a part of our lives, take the time to read up on MS so you can be informed. Be our biggest supporter: the person that stands up for us and fights for us when others point and stare or are saying stupid things and being rude. Hold our hand through the bad days and help us find our smile when we lose it.
6. Don’t judge us for our choice of treatment.
We are the ones living with MS and, surprisingly enough, we have researched more in depth about MS than most people because again, we are the ones living with it. We would like nothing more than to one day wake up and hear that MS is cured. Until then, we have decisions to make about a treatment plan. Those decisions are ours to make, not yours. Please don’t judge our decisions. Treatments are a trial and error kind of thing. They won’t cure us. They just delay the progression. Let us try what we feel is right for us, and if it doesn’t work, help us to make the next big decision for treatment. Leave the judgements and finger pointing elsewhere. We don’t need condemnation or criticism. We need support and care.
When it comes to friendships, we need them, we want them, we long for them, but we won’t be able to be the friend you have known in the past and we need you to be okay with that. MS has caused our lives to change. We would love it if you would help us through that change by changing with us. We know it’s not easy. Boy, do we know it’s not easy. But know that living with MS isn’t easy either.
True friends are a rare thing for the chronically ill. It takes guts to stand with us. Thanks for having the guts to stay.