Patient Blogs | Multiple Sclerosis
Everything I Know I Learned From MS
photo of

Multiple sclerosis is a strict teacher, and the lessons never stop. As I got to work on this post about what I’ve learned from 40 years of MS, writing it taught me I still have a lot to learn. The piece was due on November 8, so I started it 4 days ahead, thinking that was plenty of time. The next day, MS showed me how wrong I was.

That day, I developed a nasty urinary tract infection. I’ve had those before and treated them without major problems, but this time there was something new. My bowels stopped working and I needed to go to hospital to get control of them. I was there for 4 nights and came home still needing to rest.

So, I couldn’t finish the article until now, and I learned something very valuable: Don’t wait until the last minute, because with MS, there may not be any last minute. Don’t put off important things, such as showing people you love them. Do them now. We’re not going to live forever, and MS reminds us of our mortality every day.

MS teaches other valuable lessons, which inspired my book The Art of Getting Well.

The first of these is to slow down. Don’t rush by your life; go slow and appreciate it. When I’m out with other people, it sometimes bugs them the way I stop to look at flowers or watch the birds. I usually leave early to get places, so I don’t have to hurry. I try to focus on one thing at a time and not multitask, because my MS brain won’t do two things at once.

MS forces us to learn skills. The most critical skill I have learned from MS is how to find, ask for, and accept help. Whatever our disability score, we can accomplish most of what we need with the help of other people. Helpers can be family, friends, neighbors, health professionals, or government agencies. But a lot of people won’t ask. American culture has an almost insane focus on individual self-reliance. We’re not supposed to need help; it makes us weak or dependent.

For me, extreme independence is a myth, a bad idea designed to get us to buy more stuff. MS disabused me of the belief I could do everything for myself. Other people can’t either, and they make themselves crazy trying. 

People have other reasons for not seeking help. Helpers may not do things the way you would prefer. We might feel we’re in their debt and worry about how we will pay them back. We might feel guilty for not being able to do for ourselves or worry that a helper will take advantage of us.

Some people are good at being helped; others not so much. There are communication skills and attitudes we need to learn to be a good “helpee” and not get victimized by helpers. Fortunately, MS usually gives people time to build up those skills before our needs become too great.

Another crucial attitude for living with MS is valuing yourself and standing up for yourself. We have to be able to say “No” to other people’s demands if they interfere with our resting, exercising, or other needed practices that keep our bodies going. If people keep their heat on too high and it’s knocking me out, I need to be able to tell them to turn it down.

Like many of us, I’m still not very good at this. I’m much more likely to advocate for you than for myself, but MS keeps trying to teach me.

Learning Balance

People talk a lot about things like work/life balance, but with MS, balance is not optional. If we overdo things or push too hard, we risk collapsing, while if we sit around all day, we lose the functions we have. We have to keep moving, but we have to recognize and respect our limits.

Part of keeping balance is finding our rhythm. I can’t tell you how much easier things go when I have a regular routine. I also think rhythm helps our bodies function, which you might notice if you try walking to music.

The other part of balance is flexibility. MS is one long process of adjustment. You wake up in the morning, and you can’t just assume you will be able to jump out of bed. Every day can bring a new challenge, so we have to learn to keep adjusting, keep modifying, keep getting help, keep maintaining the functions we have.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is to focus on my body, to put my body first. If it’s hot out and I don’t tolerate heat, I’ll stay inside, maybe go down the basement where it’s cooler. I’ll stay up late once in a while for an important occasion, but I try to get enough sleep before and after. The other most important thing is gratitude for what I still have and can still do, instead of focusing on what I have lost.  I find that being grateful brings me happiness.

I wish I could graduate from the school of MS. I used to tell MS, “I’ve learned what you’re trying to teach me, now can you let me go,” but apparently I’m still a grad student. I’ve got degrees in coping with reality and accepting myself, and while I’d love to be able to play basketball and hike in the woods, like I used to, I appreciate the wisdom MS has taught me.


To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis, join our MS Facebook Support Group.



Photo Credit: Artur Debat / Moment via Getty Images

Tell us what you think of this post?
0 Like
0 Sad
0 Cheered up
0 Empowered
0 Care
WebMD Patient Blog © 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

David Spero, RN

David Spero, RN

Diagnosed since 1989

David Spero, RN, became a writer and health coach after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989. He writes books and blogs about living with chronic illness and the social causes of illness. A married father of two and grandfather of one, Spero is active in causes including health care, peace, and the environment. See his books; follow him on Medium or Twitter.

Latest Blog Posts From David Spero, RN

Grieving Over MS

Grieving Over MS

A few weeks back, I had a miserable night with bowel issues related to my multiple sclerosis (MS). The next day, I started noticing the useful and fun things people were ...

Read more
I Want to Feel Useful

I Want to Feel Useful

I want to feel useful. But is that a good approach to living with MS? I learned as a child that being useful should be a high priority if one wants to be a good person. “Make yourself ...

Read more