The Unspeakable Bits; From A Life With MS
Physicists have forever searched for a device which, once started, would run forever unless acted upon by an external force. I am here to tell you today that multiple sclerosis can drive depression, which falls back upon itself in a loop of perpetual motion that would have made Archimedes proud.
There are a number of resources on the Society’s websitethat describe depressionin very good clinical language. Depression is a “clinical” issue—but let’s face it—unless you’ve been inside that cloud, you have no idea what it’s like in there.
Manifestations of depression can range in depth from profound sadness and disinterest to soul-crushing terror and pain.
Part of the current understanding of depression is that it can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. The delicate equilibrium of compounds with names like serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and others have long been equated with keeping our emotions in a socially accepted “sweet spot.” MS does crazy things to our central nervous system and, therefore, our brain’s chemistry.
Because depression is both a symptom of MS and a reaction to the stresses of life with MS, it is significantly more common in MS than in the general population or other, equally disabling chronic illnesses.
Until relatively recent history, depression was socially stigmatized. One can’t help but wonder if the myriad of television adverts for antidepressants claiming happy romps in a field full of happy children aren’t now minimizing the condition with their promised ease of treatment.
“Take our pill,” the happy women of these commercials try to tell us.
“Everything will be just like it was before … Better even!”
Don’t get me wrong; medication can indeed be a valuable tool for reversing depression and balancing wonky brain chemistry. But things will never be how they were before. I’m not pitying myself or our lot—just stating the fact.
Personal bouts of depression have slashed through my post diagnosis life. Many times I did not see them for what they were. Oftentimes I was too proud to admit that the cloud (or “funk” or “sadness” or “apathy” or the stack of feelings that I could not label) were, in fact, symptoms of depression.
More than a few romantic endeavors flattened under the weight of my inability to recognize or cope. Not that my partners didn’t try…
I’ve often said that MS doesn’t steal away our futures; rather, it robs us of our intendedfutures. In my case it stripped me of a sense of purpose. My personal journey through that difficult period in my life after MS brought a new understanding of what purpose might be found within me, and not one imposed upon me from without.
Still, even today, a dark and seamy shadow can creep up from behind – most often in those moments just before sleep when I am totally alone with myself – and whisper (in the words of DebW, in a comment on my Life With MS blog) untruths into my ears.
MS can cause depression. Depression’s symptoms can make coping with symptoms of MS seem worse than they are. Our disease has enough on its team. We shouldn’t afford it another player if we can help it.
And we can help it.
For me that help came in the form of a most remarkable clinical rehabilitation psychologist. For others I know, therapy coupled with medications helped. Dietary and physical activity, and other lifestyle modifications have worked for others in my life. What will work for you is as individual as you, as individual as your MS.
The important thing to remember is that help can only be offered if it is asked for and we can only ask if we recognize depression ourselves, or accept the possibility if someone close brings it up.
Be sure to discuss any significant mood changes with your healthcare provider (getting help for mood changes is not a sign of weakness, it’s an act of strength); connect with an MS Navigator for help finding a mental health professional with experience in MS; check out the many resources on the Society's website,
Wishing you and your family the best of health.