All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for November 2002

Coping with Loss

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Nov 1, 2002
Theresa Campbell
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis

DURING OUR LIFETIME, we all experience a variety of losses, such as the death of a family member or pet, changes in our health status, or friends moving away. Individuals with MS often experience multiple losses-the person we were is gone, physical and/or mental functions have changed, and the ability to be independent has decreased. In reaction to such loss, we grieve.

Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and a psychiatrist at the University of San Francisco, California, wrote, "The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life. More than anything else, the way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves from life."

Creating distance

We may distance ourselves from others in many different ways. For example, we may refrain from making new friends after the death of a close friend because the potential loss is too painful. Thus, we isolate ourselves from contact with other individuals who could be a source of comfort.

We may also avoid contact with potential mates after the death of a spouse or significant other because we want to avoid future losses. This limits our social contacts at a time when we need others in our lives.

Pets are another source of comfort. If a pet dies, we may refuse to have another pet because the loss was so painful. The pet was not only a source of physical contact but, when we took the pet out for walks, we also met other people and increased our social contacts. We now have isolated ourselves from a source of physical and emotional contact.

But there are ways to cope with loss and remain in contact with others.

When I was no longer able to climb the stairs to my house, I grieved my loss of mobility. Then I bought a stair glide to carry me up the stairs because I wanted to be able to get out of my house whenever I wanted.

When my immobility increased, I bought an electric cart so I could cruise the streets, engage in "people watching," and visit my favorite park. I also wanted to attend social gatherings in accessible places.

When my roommate left to be married, I found a new one. I always have someone to talk with when I want conversation. Living with someone requires give-and-take, but I find the experience worthwhile, because I receive much in return for the little I give.

We burn out with living and are unable to give, not because we don't care but because we don't grieve. Grieving is a form of self-care. I'll never again be the person I was in 1966 when I was diagnosed with MS, and I'll never be able to do the things that person did. I liked the person I was and will always grieve that loss. Many experiences in life had shaped me; the person I am now is a continuation of those experiences. My life didn't end when I was diagnosed with MS-it just changed. I needed to grieve the loss of who I was before I could accept the person I'd become.

A need to recover

A desire to recover is a natural response to loss. Loss and grieving are painful, and we want to be happy again. To institute the recovery process, we can try some of the following techniques:

* Read about the disease and increase our knowledge about what happened. A feeling of self-knowledge gives us a sense of power over what's happening.

* Talk with friends, family, and/or join a support group. Studies have demonstrated that talking about our experiences can decrease blood pressure and increase the immune system's ability to fight disease.

* Pray. Prayer has been documented to heal and to help us cope with crisis in our lives.

* Take up quilting. Quilting allows participants to tap into the healing power of art. When creating a quilt square, the process of cutting, drawing, visualizing a design, or placing pieces of fabric together can create a peaceful, almost meditative experience. Projects like the AIDS quilt, cancer quilt, and MS quilt all allow participants to grieve their losses and heal. Some chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society have formed quilting groups.

* Plant a garden and create new life.

* Increase physical activity. Exercise releases endorphins, a group of peptide hormones that bind to opiate receptors that are found mainly in the brain. Endorphins reduce the sensation of pain and increase a sense of wellbeing.

Grieving and coping are difficult challenges that can be overcome and leave you feeling even stronger than before the MS diagnosis.
 

© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis