A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) is life-changing. For some people, the diagnosis might provide validation and a sense of relief as it puts a name to unexplained symptoms. But some people may feel confused, devastated, or ashamed. The uncertainty of life with a disease such as MS can strike a blow to one’s ego and self-confidence — never mind the stigma of living with an often invisible and misunderstood disease.
I frequently tell people who are newly diagnosed that the first year after diagnosis can be tough. Emotions can span the gamut and take you on an exhausting rollercoaster ride. There is so much to learn about the disease. Everyone’s journey is different, of course, but here are some ways I regained self-confidence after my diagnosis.
Focusing on small changes
As your body undergoes changes, large or small, and you begin to experience firsthand just how MS will affect your body and your life, you might also experience doubts and insecurities. I know I did; however, I also found that focusing on small changes and what I could do about them led to some of my greatest victories.
At the time of my diagnosis, I wasn’t able to fully use my left hand or arm. This was devastating for a professional French horn player and pianist. I was embarrassed to show any weakness during rehearsal. I felt like damaged goods and became trapped within my own thoughts and fears.
In the field of music, you are often judged by your most recent performance, even if only during rehearsals. It becomes easy to feel like a failure if you do not meet your own standard. My journey to rebuilding confidence and self-pride was slow going. It began by concentrating on small changes and what was in my control.
Tapping into my strengths
The first step I had to take (while also working hard during occupational therapy to rebuild strength in my hand) was to acknowledge what I was capable of doing — and doing well. Rather than looking at how I was broken at the moment and continuously judging myself for the gaps in my capabilities, I searched for strength and resiliency. Focusing on what I could do to make my circumstances better gave me a sense of purpose as I rehabilitated. Things weren’t perfect, but they were certainly getting better as long as I didn’t give up.
Turning to others
The next step involved how I interacted with others. I began to appreciate the good and beauty in others around me. As I did this, I started to feel better about myself. Simple things made a big difference, like smiling during casual interactions, and saying “please" and “thank you.” Especially empowering was using my knowledge or skills to help someone else. Each of these actions helped me to gradually release stress and insecurities. The more I connected with others, the more I took pride in how I presented myself from the inside out.
Finding my tribe
The final step to rediscovering pride after my diagnosis came years later when I became involved in the MS community. As I slowly withdrew from the music community during those early years, I felt severely alone and friendless. It was when I got more involved online and began to help MSers connect with each other that I felt a new type of fulfillment. Life expanded once again, becoming bigger than myself. By concentrating on the needs of others, I was no longer the focus of my own attention. I enjoyed helping others navigate those early MS days and regain their own sense of pride.
MS doesn’t have to make you or your world smaller. On the contrary, you can use your condition to rebuild yourself. I continue to feel pride in knowing that I’m making a difference for myself and for others.
See more helpful articles:
10 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Being Diagnosed with MS
5 Ways to Get Involved in the MS Community
Best Ways to Support Your Friend Living with MS