The last few weeks have been a bit difficult, physically and mentally.
My walking’s not been all that great and I’ve been so, so tired. At the same time, we’ve been having some building work done on our house so the whole place is full of dust and clutter – and although I’m far from a clean-freak I find the dirt and mess makes me feel really depressed, especially when I don’t have the energy to clear up. My mood has been pretty low, probably the lowest it’s been since a couple of months after my diagnosis. That might be because MS is becoming a part of the reality of my life, and the post-diagnosis adrenaline rush has dissipated.
Mental lows aren’t new for me. Before I was diagnosed with MS, I had a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to deal with my health anxiety. Health anxiety that stemmed – oh, the irony – from my fear that I had MS. The CBT process looks like this:
Esther Emanuel, (2016), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [ONLINE]. Available at:http://www.estheremanuel.com/cognitive-behaviour-therapy/ [Accessed 24 April 2016]
It’s self-led, and involves you examining your thoughts and realising how they impact on your feelings and behaviour, challenging them and breaking out of negative cycles. CBT was really helpful for me, and in hindsight I think the techniques I absorbed – almost subconsciously – from the experience are what prevented me losing my mind altogether when I was going through my MS diagnosis last year.
However, maintaining your state of mind when you have a long-term, progressive illness is a continual process, like creosoting the fence or getting the boiler serviced (can you tell I’m trying to reconcile myself with middle age?). I feel that I’ve been encouraged to focus on the physical side of what I can do to look after myself – to be active, exercise and watch my diet – but those are things that I don’t want to do when I feel low, so keeping my mental state on track is the most important thing I need to do. Otherwise I just don’t care about my physical state and I’m into a downward spiral I can’t get out of, where I feel physically bad, which makes me feel mentally bad, which makes me feel physically bad, and on and on ad infinitum.
The link between my mental and my physical well-being is the reason I think the new Thought Sort tool that Shift.ms have added to their website is so great.
You can use the tool to go through a process of examining any negative thoughts you are having, enabling you to stand back and think about why you are having them and how realistic they are. I’ve found it really helpful to get me back on track recently.
I’d started having some negative thoughts about my diagnosis, worrying that I might develop an aggressive form of MS, which might not respond to my medication. I went into the Thought Sort tool and described my feelings, and the tool responded by asking me to elaborate on the thinking behind my low mood, and encouraging me to consider the reasons for that thinking. It then asked me to examine whether the thoughts I was having might not be true. Finally, it asked me to replace the negative thought with a new thought. It sounds simple, but was very effective, helping me to reorient my thinking in a realistic way which lifted my mood.
The thoughts you record are kept for you so you can go back and re-read them later, and start to learn more about your thought patterns and how they affect your mood. It’s a helpful addition to your mental armour and helps you to be on-guard for changes in your mental state.
There are also ‘Mood Boosters’ – simple ways to feel a bit happier when you’re struggling. Simple things that really work, like listening to your favourite music, reaching out to a friend, or getting outside. The things we all know we should make the time to do but which get forgotten or pushed aside. Being reminded to do them has given me the impetus and the excuse to stick on a favourite tune and send my best friend a text just to say ‘hello’ – both of which brought some random happiness to my day.
So the roller-coaster of MS continues, but right now the track I’m on is heading upwards. The sun is shining, and I’m feeling positive, and I have a tool to turn to when the track turns downwards again.