The Stages of Adjusting to a Diagnosis of MS

Health Writer

There is no right or wrong way to adjust to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS.) Learning you have a chronic disease can bring up a number of emotions - fear, anger, denial, grief or guilt. Just as each person experiences the symptoms of MS differently, each person will also react to the diagnosis in their own unique way.


A diagnosis of MS brings with it many questions: How will my life change? Can I still work? Will I become dependent on others? Will my cognitive abilities decline? What is going to happen to me? As with any chronic disease, a diagnosis of MS brings about a great deal of uncertainty. You don’t know how quickly symptoms will progress or when you will be struck with a feeling of absolute fatigue. Dealing with this uncertainty can be one of the most frustrating parts of learning to live with your diagnosis.


You might be angry and wonder “Why me?” You might find it unfair that you have to adapt your life to your disease. It is normal to feel angry about a disease that is going to change your life. Holding on to your anger can be counterproductive. You might resist changes that will make it easier for you to cope. Sometimes anger is directed outward, toward the people who are trying to help you.


Denial is a common reaction when faced with any life-changing event. You might ignore your diagnosis, forcing yourself to do all the activities you previously did. You might find yourself ignoring medical advice, resisting treatment or refusing to make any changes in your daily life.


Any loss, whether a death or the loss of your current lifestyle, includes a period of adjustment. This can include grieving for what you see as the loss of your dreams. It is important to remember that while you might require modifications and adjustments, people living with MS can live satisfying and fulfilling lives.


When first diagnosed, you might wonder if you did something to cause the disease. You might feel guilty about any unhealthy behaviors from your past. As you learn to live with MS, you might feel guilty about having to ask others for help or feel you are a burden.

Emotional instability

As you learn to cope with your diagnosis, you might find that you feel guilty one minute and panicked the next. You might feel you are coping well one day and depressed the next. Emotions can seem to come from nowhere. Remember that all of them are normal and human reactions to the news of a chronic illness. Talking about how you are feeling with others can help. Look for online or in-person support groups to help you work through and deal with your quickly changing emotions. If your emotions seem overwhelming, talk to your doctor about finding a counselor who has experience in working with people with chronic illness.

A loss of self

All of the changes that come with a diagnosis of MS can lead to a loss of your sense of self-confidence and can alter your self-image. There is a difference between “a person with MS” and an “MS person.” When you become an “MS person,” you allow your illness to define who you are. Work toward being a person with MS - someone who has interests, interacts with others, enjoys their life but has an underlying medical condition which can sometimes interfere with daily life. Focus on what you can do and accept help when needed. Accept your limitations but don’t let them define who you are. Although you were diagnosed with a chronic illness, it does not change who you are.

See more helpful articles:

What You Need to Know About MS

The Big Picture: Life with MS

What Does Intimacy Mean to You?

Best Exercises for MS

Parenting with MS


Dealing with Diagnosis: Rocky Mountain MS Center

Mellen Center Approaches: Initial adjustment to the diagnosis of MS: Cleveland Clinic