Dr. Jennifer Finkel, the primary psychiatric consultant
at the MS center at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, agrees.
“If patients have obvious disabilities that even small
children would notice, that warrants a discussion
immediately. You can’t pretend that something’s not
going on when it’s perceptible to anybody.”
“It is so important that there be a person in your life
that you can be completely honest with,” says Epstein.
“It is stressful enough dealing with symptoms.” Telling
a friend about your health concerns can present a
teachable moment—the opportunity to educate
someone about the nature of MS. It also allows friends
to ask questions, and find out how they can help.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
Outside of the family, friends are usually the next stop
in the process of disclosing. David Keer, a researcher
in the federal government, found great comfort when
he revealed his diagnosis to his friends: “I’ve lost a lot
of friends to AIDS, so health is a very open discussion
in my circle.”
Still, disclosure to friends doesn’t always go just as you
wish: You tell them the news and they burst into tears.
And guess what? You have to comfort them, just at the
moment you need comforting yourself.
Friends Let friends know you may want different things at different times.
Says Dr. Rintell, “It’s important to signal to people
that you really don’t want to hear negativity, or the
story about the neighbor down the street who was
diagnosed and days later was carried out of the house
on a stretcher.” To evoke a more positive reply, Dr.
Rintell suggests that people with MS model how
they would like their friends to respond. “I’ve been
diagnosed with MS, but I want you to know that I’m
doing well. All that I need now from my friends are
words of support.”
Know that what feels supportive may change as you
adapt to your new reality. “I think it’s human nature
to want different things at different times,” says
Epstein, “and to let your friends know that.”
The dating game
Dating, for anyone, means exposing oneself to a
certain degree of vulnerability: Is this person the right
one? Does this person really care about me? Add to
that a diagnosis of MS, and the discomfort level can
Molly (not her real name), a 21-year-old college
student in California, has learned this through
experience; since she was diagnosed at 19, she has had
several relationships fizzle after disclosing her MS.
“It’s made me a little more hesitant and anxious,”
she admits. “I’ve always thought it might be my age
group; it’s a little more of a ‘me age.’ So it’s hard to
figure out how to deal with something like this.”