7 Tips for Overcoming Isolation From Multiple Sclerosis
Mary-Lynne Blazzard had an eye toward a 60-hour workweek and career advancement when MS derailed her plan. Find out how she tackles common issues of depression and isolation with MS.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Mary-Lynne Blazzard was a go-getter in her twenties, starting on a graduate degree and undergoing fertility treatments, when multiple sclerosis first blurred her vision. Two decades later, she's a seasoned veteran of MS who consciously recruits a personal support team to ward off social isolation, physical isolation, stress, and depression.
Looking back, Blazzard, now 48, acknowledges that she chose not to heed the early warning signs of MS. “I woke up one day and there was a stripe through my eye," she says. "It looked like a magic marker had swiped a diagonal down my eye.” She went to the hospital for testing, where "they said, 'Optic neuritis, or it could be the onset of MS.' I just chose not to hear that [last] part. I went on with my life."
And for a few years, she did well. She had a baby, got her graduate degree and a job, and had a second baby. Then one day while eating out, she found herself trying to brush hair out of her eyes. But her bangs weren't the problem -- once again, her field of vision was being affected.
Within a few weeks, she was diagnosed with MS.
Isolated With MS
Blazzard says her community proved invaluable at that point in her life. Friends rallied around her by signing up for MS Walks and generally being there for her. But then she and her family had to relocate to a new community where instead of knowing her first and then learning about her MS, the people around her were strangers who just thought she was a bit off, Blazzard says.
She sank into depression and felt stronger feelings of loneliness than ever before.
“They didn’t understand the fatigue or the depression,” she says. In addition, MS started to affect her cognitive abilities.
Both physical and emotional issues can be very isolating, says May Han, MD, a neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif. “A young woman might tell me she has a hard time getting in a hot tub with her friends because they might see the needle-stick marks from her biologics injections," she says. "At other times, it's the emotional impact of little things that we take for granted -- such as a patient who would love to go to ballgames, but is afraid to become incontinent if the bathroom line is long. Others say they can’t walk even two blocks to the farmers market with their kids."
Effective MS treatment, Dr. Han says, includes noticing and treating the emotional side of living with MS.
RELATED: 5 Apps That Can Simplify Life With MS
Blazzard and her husband did seek help for her depression. She worked with a specialist to fine-tune her medications to treat both her MS and her depression more effectively, and she began to view her support system in a structured way, like the board of directors at a company. The people on her team understand MS, even if they don’t have MS themselves, and she adjusts the makeup of her board as her needs change. Right now, one of the board members is valued because she has children older than Blazzard’s teens, and her “been there/done that” parenting experiences help keep Blazzard on track as a mom.
Tips for Surviving MS Isolation
There's no single way to overcome feelings of isolation due to MS. Rather, there are as many ways as there are people learning to live sociably with MS. Consider:
- Getting a pet.Blazzard’s dog Mini has been through training to become a service dog and sits with her through her biologics infusions. Even without training, pets can be a comfort and an icebreaker.
- Consciously recruiting support.Proactively seek out people with skill sets you need for your support team.
- Being of service to others.Although Blazzard hasn’t been able to pursue the corporate path, she has found ways to volunteer, not just with MS causes, but also in all facets of family life, such as her children’s schools.
- Reaching out online.“You want to be able to talk to people who won’t judge you,” Blazzard says. Through the Internet, you can connect with others with MS and their caregivers spread out across the country.
- Connecting with an organization like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.Blazzard found her local chapter to be a source of support and an avenue for service and connection.
- Becoming more involved in a faith community.Blazzard found a network for support, food for her family during difficult times, and an overall source of comfort and purpose.
- Asking for help.Caring for the emotional and psychological aspects of people with MS should be a priority for physicians, but the reality is that if you don’t speak up, even your doctors might not know you’re sad or lonely, Han says. Once you open up, your doctor can recommend community resources or services to help you or your caregiver.
Video: 5 Clever Ways To "Overcome Loneliness Working From Home"
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