Let me start by saying that I’m not a psychiatrist nor a licensed counselor so what I mean is based on my own experiences in talking to others with disabilities, my own experience with family members, and my personal beliefs. Therefore, you may or may not agree with me, and that’s fine because this is a very delicate topic and one which creates a lot of emotion in people.
When a person has a chronic health condition that cannot be cured, depression is prevalent. When the disease also affects the neurological center of the brain, the likelihood of depression is even more significant since the natural chemical reactions that would typically help the person stay balanced may be impaired. Therefore, for people with secondary or progressive MS, depression is common and often a struggle.
Loss of Direction or Purpose:
Though MS can affect children and teenagers, it most often affects adults. Once we reach adulthood, we have created in our minds our vision of what our life will be. We’ve thought about getting married, having children, getting a job, or establishing a career. Maybe we have bought a home and have a car(s), so we have a debt. We may have gone through years of school or training and “paid our dues” ready to launch into the rewards of our efforts and then something like MS hits. Maybe it’s been there lurking just under the surface with some minor annoyances like in Lynn’s case, or perhaps it hits with a vengeance, and an immediate loss occurs that may or may not be permanent. When that happens, the breaks are put on, and both the person with MS and their caregiver slam into a wall.
In addition to coping with the loss of function, there is also the loss of the dream. Lynn was a musician, an excellent tenor, and an incredibly talented carpenter and builder. He could do so much, but most of it required physical labor and dexterity. Over 2-3 years, Lynn’s MS rapidly progressed. His doctor could never quite say if he had Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) or Relapsing Remitting (RRMS), but I think he felt it was Secondary, and we hoped for RRMS because let’s face it, there is nothing out there if you have SPMS or Primary Progressive (PPMS). Lynn was seeing the doctor every three months. Each time his abilities (other than his mind) were a little slower than before. Over 18-months, he lost his job and his ability to play musical instruments or to hold a musical note for an extended time.
He lost his identity, his purpose, and his planned direction for his life. He was the man of the house, the protector who could not protect but instead needed protection. He was the builder, the fixer who suddenly needed all things done for him. He would try to explain to others what to do and became frustrated because it would have been so easy for him to do it himself…before. Over and over again, he would say, “What good am I anymore?” “What am I supposed to do now?” He was angry, scared, and felt physically bad. He could see no purpose for his life and became depressed.
While he struggled with, “What am I supposed to do now?” I struggled with, “How can I do it all?” I was counting on him to build our new house, bring in a good income, help me keep up with three children, protect us, fix things, maintain the home and car and yard, and so much more that now was MY responsibility. And I didn’t want to do it. I was angry. I was scared. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I was depressed.
Learning to Live Differently
We set about learning to live with his disability. What worked before did not work now, so we had to get creative in how we accomplished the tasks of daily living. I had so much to learn that he used to do. He had to learn patience and how to tell me what he needed. Our lives changed completely. I found a new purpose in being his caregiver, but he struggled to find any meaning. Fortunately, his son suggested he try to write fiction since he used to love to write when he was younger. He tried it and now has published two books, Rising Tide and Eden’s Wake. He gets up each day and “goes to work” either writing or marketing his books. It provides him with a purpose and a sense of accomplishment, which is what I think is the most significant problem that needs to be fixed for most people suffering from depression. The person goes from having a purpose in life to not having one that they can identify. Their job is gone; they can’t support their family; they cannot perform the usual roles of marriage or parenthood as they did before, positions that held significance for them before are now limited. So they flounder in fear, sometimes self-pity, hopelessness, worthlessness, and all those other negative emotions. I think it’s that loss of purpose that makes so many think of suicide.
Pain and Suffering
In addition to the loss of purpose, there is often the pain and suffering of MS. The public doesn’t hear about the pain and suffering. They hear MS and think of difficulty walking. They don’t think about the constant fatigue that makes you want to stop breathing due to the effort, the pain of muscle spasms and spasticity, the overall malaise and heavy feeling and something severe pain from nerve irritation. Pain and suffering that does not respond to treatment. Pain and suffering that seems never-ending and which may very well be.
If this person was a prisoner of war and people heard of treatment happening to them in the same manner that someone suffers from MS, they would wonder how they go on with life. They would see suicide as a justifiable option. They might also see it as the only option.
Reason to Live
However, I hope if you have MS that you do not give up so quickly. This is the sensitive part. My faith keeps me from seeing suicide as a reasonable option. For me, committing suicide means giving up on God. It means that I don’t care about how my family would cope afterward.