The first thing to do when your partner has MS is to learn about the disease. MS is an autoimmune disease where damage to the central nervous system leads to symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, balance and coordination issues, numbness/tingling, pain, problems with vision, cognition, or bladder/bowel function, paralysis, and difficulty walking. Continue on for more tips on coping with your partner’s MS.
Fear and anger are real
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, incurable disease. You and your partner will experience the full range of emotions, including fear, anger and denial. The challenge may be to share your thoughts and emotions with your partner, in a constructive way, so that you can begin to face them together. Know that it’s okay to cry, too.
Develop a common language
Become aware of the subtle nuances in the words your partner chooses to describe his/her symptoms or personal challenges. Much can be expressed in few words when a foundation of understanding and shared experiences support the conversation. Focus on developing your relationship in the face of chronic disease.
Energy preservation is golden
Be mindful of the many small and big tasks which are easy enough for you to do, but which may zap the energy of your partner, potentially reducing the amount of quality time you can enjoy together. And as with any relationship, doing something helpful without being asked is priceless.
External influences have impact
Begin to notice how certain environmental factors, situations, or other health issues affect your partner as well as yourself. For many people living with MS, heat and acute illness temporarily increase symptoms. Loud and excessively stimulating events may be exhausting. One day of strenuous activity may require at least two days of rest and recuperation.
Take care of yourself
Dealing with the effects of a serious chronic disease such as MS can be emotionally draining, physically exhausting, overwhelming, and monotonous…for both of you. Continue to nurture your personal interests as well as those you enjoy together. Watch for signs of depression and caregiver fatigue—and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Anticipate needs and avoid pitfalls
If your partner is heat sensitive, learn about cooling strategies and know that the power of ice is almost magical. If walking long distances increases risk of falls, circle the block one more time and drop your partner off at the door of your destination. Be extra cautious once fatigue sets in as the risk of hazards increases.
MS is not exclusive
Realize that MS will not be responsible for every single health problem your partner may experience. Just because someone has MS doesn’t exempt him/her from developing other health issues. Continue with routine health screenings and seek medical treatment for acute illness. But do be aware that a combination of illnesses may increase the challenges associated with MS.
Weather the ups and downs
Be patient with and supportive of each other. There will be good days and bad days, and all sorts of days in between. Remember that support comes in many forms: physical, emotional, financial, social, spiritual, and more. Patience, support, communication, and empathy will help you and your partner navigate the ups and downs of life with MS.