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How to cope with a devastating illness
Jack Osbourne's searingly honest account of being diagnosed with the neurological condition multiple sclerosis (MS) has made headlines around the world. It's shocking because we see someone like Jack as a survivor and achiever. Quite wrongly we assume someone with his success and fame is untouchable.
People are asking: Isn't aged 26 too young for such a diagnosis?
Despite having done so much already, at the age of 26, Jack is still seen as having his whole life ahead of him and yet here comes this difficult diagnosis. Most of us think of MS as a disease of middle age but, as the MS Society points out, diagnosis usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40.
So actually someone like Jack being diagnosed in the mid-20s is par for the course. Interestingly, nearly twice as many women as men are diagnosed in the hundred thousand people affected by MS in the UK.
What kind of symptoms can people expect?
MS is one of the most common diseases affecting the nervous system and brain. There are a range of different symptoms which is why you should never diagnose yourself on the internet.
Reportedly Jack noticed loss of vision in his right eye and visual losses are a common early symptom. The MS Society provides fantastic advice (please see link below) and lists a range of symptoms many notice at first.
Common symptoms include: visual difficulties, fatigue, and difficulties with walking. It's crucial you see your doctor if you're concerned about such changes.
How do people cope with a diagnosis of MS?
As with any diagnosis of a serious condition or disease, people often go through a number of emotional reactions. Jack recalls that initially he was "really angry, then really sad".
Emotions tend to move from shock and numbness to anger, then from extreme sadness to a form of grief - or in any mix of those and others. In fact many diagnosed with serious health problems say it feels like a bereavement for the life they expected to live.
A few coping suggestions:
- Whether you've received a diagnosis of MS or any other serious condition, get informed. Ask your doctor or specialist about any relevant self-help group.
- Find out what your rights are in terms of specialist care or benefits.
- Don't feel you're taking advantage of the system by getting what help is rightly available to you. Many have feelings of guilt that there are "others more in need" that stop them from getting available help.
- Don't let pride get in the way of accepting help from friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. When people offer help work out what they're able to give. It might be practical like taking you to appointments, cooking the odd meal, or emotional support - just chatting with you. Let them know you're genuinely thankful for their offer and take it!
- Accept that just as your symptoms may change as your condition changes so too may your feelings about it. Roll with the punches and don't be surprised if you have a bad day when you've been going through a good phase.
- Definitely let others know when you're having a bad day so you get the right emotional support. Equally when you're in a good phase get out and do what you're able to as you normally would.
How do you go about telling loved ones of your diagnosis?
A big question for many who've received a diagnosis of something serious like MS is what do they say? How do they begin to tell someone they're facing such a terrible and troubling situation?
Here are a few top tips:
- Give age appropriate information if you have to tell children bad news. Don't overburden them with detail and yet don't give so little you keep them guessing and even making up worse things! Where possible use examples from nature like the tree that loses its leaves due to disease, etc.
- Don't be shocked by varying reactions from friends and family. Some may sob and some may go into a type of shock where they seem pretty oblivious to what they've just been told. Let them take as much time as they need to absorb what you've told them.
- Just as you've armed yourself with information about your diagnosis, have it on hand to show friends and family. Understanding helps take away some of the fear and worry.
Finally, as Jack himself says, he's got a new motto: "adapt and overcome" - and that sounds like a fantastic attitude to face such a challenge with.
For more advice visit the Multiple Sclerosis Society at www.mssociety.org.uk. Their help line number is 0808-800-8000.
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God bless you Jack, I will pray for you, you are brave, stay positive and be strong x