Anxiety: What does MS have to do with it?

I have always been a concrete person and tend to see things in black and white. I often use logic or reason to help me come to decisions and am rarely guided by my emotions only. So when I was diagnosed with MS, it made sense. I lost my vision in my right eye because I had a lesion on my optic nerve that inhibited my ability to see. That was a very clear cut association between the disease and the side effects associated with it.

There are, however, other side effects of MS, like anxiety, depression and fatigue, that I know are very real symptoms but to me, still feel pretty wishy-washy. Not that I don’t believe there to be a correlation but the literal person in me, has a harder time saying to myself, “your anxiety is because you have multiple sclerosis.” But in reality, people with MS are three times more susceptible to having an anxiety disorder than the average person, with almost 20% of those cases being chronic.

Anxiety is something I’ve struggled with for years. However, it never really made sense to me since my fears were never really justified. I’ve been known to be overly worried or more stressed that seemingly normal in many situations and I couldn’t understand why. But even with sporadic anxiety, I’ve learned over the years to push through it, to try to calm myself down and not let it keep me from doing the things I want to do.

Flying for example. I went from traveling with ease all over the world to one day starting to have panic attacks every time I would fly. No, really. I have been known to sit in my seat and tear up during take off because my anxiety towards flying has gotten so bad. My body starts to tingle, I get sick to my stomach and my body tightens in angst. It has felt irrational to me and the logical, totally level-headed woman in me knows that is beyond silly (which is still why I continue to travel) but my body physically responds in ways that my head just doesn’t get.

For the longest time, it’s felt like I’ve had an overreaction to the simplest of things and haven’t understood why. Still, I have a hard time saying to myself, “it’s because I have MS” because that almost feels like a cop out. But, at the same time, knowing that MS could be the “why” is almost relieving. Like, it all makes sense if that is the culprit to all of this.

Regardless of the underlying cause, anxiety is real and something a lot of people struggle with including me. So, how do you deal with it? I wish I could say I have the magic cure but I don’t. I’ve found that taking several deep breaths (yes, really), listening to music or getting my mind off of whatever is bothering me helps in certain situations like flying. And yes, I’ve even touched on meditation (which you all know by now is very hard for me to do since I don’t sit still). I also know I’m someone who needs time to let things settle in order for my anxiousness to go away. So, sometimes that just means a good night’s sleep or a few hours preoccupied with something else. There’s no quick fix but finding some coping mechanisms is critical so it doesn’t take over your life.

Do you have MS and experience severe anxiety? Curious to know if it affects other people.

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