Feb 1, 2003
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
My husband has MS. A computer analyst for several years, he was diagnosed while still employed at a mid-sized manufacturing company here in the Chicago area. He stayed at his job for about 10 years after his diagnosis, while his symptoms were mild. He'd be quite fatigued by the end of the day and had some bowel problems, but he could manage both of these.
He retired, not because of fatigue or other physical symptoms, but because he experienced depression. That's why his boss and coworkers asked him to consider retiring. My husband agreed with his colleagues and gratefully retired. At home now, he volunteers for a few nonprofit organizations and is rather happy.
My letter to you concerns depression and other mental health problems. Similar to fatigue and bladder or bowel problems, depression is an "invisible" MS symptom. Do people know that? Some friends stay away, but I know he'd feel better if they'd just call to say "hello" once in a while.
-Patsy in the Windy City
Thanks for sharing your husband's story. "Invisible" symptoms of MS are real parts of the disease. It's easy for people to recognize those of us with a gait disorder or even fatigue. But a mental illness, such as depression, often occurs in MS. We all need to be aware of that. The brain's marvelous, complex systems control everything from involuntary movement to feelings and cognition.
Mental illness can cause disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating. Sometimes, these hidden MS symptoms result in a diminished capacity to cope with the ordinary demands of life.
First, talk to your husband's health care professional. Take nothing for granted. If your husband forgets things, fails at doing routine tasks that were once easy and commonplace (like writing a check or using the microwave to reheat some leftovers), or shows any symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, tell his doctor. His doctor can help you decide on possible courses of action. A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can administer a battery of tests, pinpoint any specific problem areas, and set up a treatment plan.
A friend gave me the book, Pathways to Partnership: An Awareness and Resource Guide on Mental Illness, by Jennifer Shifrin. The author writes, "Our parishes are generally very good at responding with compassion to people facing serious illnesses like heart attacks and cancer. But, unfortunately, we shy away from bringing a casserole to the person who suffers from mental illness."
Shifrin calls any type of mental deficiency or illness a "no casserole disease" and explains that people don't realize that mental illness is just as real as heart disease. She suggests that others might help people with mental illness by visiting them at home or the hospital, sending them cards or letters, helping with household jobs or needs, encouraging their interests and activities, and encouraging networking with a community support group.
Support groups are available. Often, they can be found in area hospitals or medical centers, the local chapter of the NMSS, church groups, and public libraries.
So, Patsy, take hope and ask some questions about your husband's depressive symptoms. There are ways to manage them. A
Advisory Board note: Depression occurs in more than 50% of people with MS, but generally responds well to psychotherapy or drug treatment.
For more information on mental illness awareness, visit these Web sites:
The Nation's Voices on Mental Illness at http://www.nami.org
Pathways to Promise: Ministry and Mental Illness at http://www.pathways2promise.org
National Institute of Mental Health at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/home.cfm
© 2003, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis