Answering An FAQ: On Maintaining Personal Relationships With MS
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Hey! There you are!
So I wanted to go into detail on a question that I've had to briefly discuss way more times than I'd like, about "how MS affects my friendships and relationships," and I'm sure this question can apply to anyone experiencing a chronic illness, so let's chat!
Relationships are like onions, there are many layers to a person that you have to experience before you get to know who they really are on an intimate level. Sometimes this journey of life includes living with, or loving someone with, a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
From what I've discovered, the best way to start and maintain a healthy relationship while living with MS is being honest about your illness. Not everyone is going to understand what you go through, what you need or even what that big long word means. And honey, those are not your people. In the budding of a romance when you feel that this might be the one, or even a best friend, I feel it's important to establish a true intimate connection, respect, and trust, among other things. I knew my partner was mature and intelligent and trustworthy when I decided to tell her that I had MS, which opened the door to discussing how we could be proactive moving forward. And from that day on we've been able to discuss symptoms, treatments and appointments like we talk about new Netflix shows coming out.
The course of MS is unpredictable and it's not always possible to know when the next symptom will arrive, so in due time it's important to talk to your partner or close friend about the signs of exacerbation and when you are struggling with symptoms. Advising your partner or friend about your numbness and heat intolerance is one thing, but having to actually experience and endure them when the situation presents itself is another! If you know that being out in direct sunlight makes you experience negative symptoms or you feel your hands getting numb after a very hot shower, these could be key factors that let your partner know when your illness needs specific attention. Communicating with your partner/friend about your needs will allow them to identify ways they can help.
While helping those close to you understand your changing needs and symptoms could benefit the long-term relationship in the long run, things can be quite different for those making new friends or those establishing a new relationship. Most people are unfamiliar with the illness and are quick to associate it's course with wheelchair/walking assistance tools as the final result out of ignorance. Although schooling them on the ins and outs of your MS lifestyle can be helpful, overwhelming someone with loads of information when they are unwilling to understand (or just plain ignorant) can be unsettling and a waste of (your) time.
MS comes in a variety of severity, ranging from living a near-normal life with no help of a mobility aid, to being completely dependent on the use of an aid. In any given situation, there is always the chance of potential progression and unpredictability that will ultimately test the relationship or friendship, but it's important to remember that you both decided to start this alliance for other reasons, not because of your MS. Try to centralize on the things that brought you together, on the things that you love about them and the ways that they've made your life a little brighter.
For those who live in a more mobility-restricted condition, unfortunately there is a greater risk of a partner, or friend, running away or fading away into the background at their preconceived ideas about chronic illnesses and have no plans on educating themselves to be with you so they let the relationship dissolve to mere nothing. In no way, I repeat, in no way does MS ruin relationships, only people do. Believe that. And a tough topic like this can really bring light to the type of person or people you are dealing with. Chronic illnesses are not for the weak, girl. And honestly, go you. Because you don't wan't anyone in your life that can't expand their heart and mind enough to see that you are not your illness, but a person experiencing life from a different perspective. Living a new (or not so new) lifestyle that includes a wheelchair or mobile device that helps you get around is nothing to be ashamed of and doesn't define who you are, how attractive you are and definitely doesn't dictate your romantic fate. Be as open as you are comfortable with to people you are involved with, even if the fear of rejection arises, because there will always be people that simply love your knowledge, your love for life and your resilience that will embrace you as you are. Walking aid and all.
When we spread awareness about MS, whether it works out with that person or not, you are actively educating people on what you, and a matter of millions, go through on a daily, unpredictable, basis. People who *choose* to understand your illness and your personal experiences are the ones that embody true kindness and compassion, and those are the kinds of people you need in this life. It is those very qualities, among others, that mean more to us than anything and can help us achieve widespread awareness, empathy, and honesty with the people around us. I'd say if you have a good support system around you, whether it be close friends or a romantic partner, you are truly fortunate.
Ideally, your partner or close friends will realize that the relationship has not changed and that you are still the same person they met prior to your disclosure. It is also possible for your MS to bring you closer to one another. Maintaining open and honest communication, planning, trust and empathy throughout the coarse of your illness can sustain and reinforce your relationships with others while living with MS.