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Gifts NOT to Give to People With Multiple Sclerosis

Avoid Gift-Giving Mistakes with These Tips


Updated December 15, 2009

Giving a gift seems to get tricky and a little risky after the recipient passes the age of five. People have different tastes and often think they “need” different things than they are getting as gifts. The surge in gift card sales provides concrete data that people much prefer leaving the choice up to the individual who is receiving the gift.

There are some die-hards that still love to give gifts from the heart, gifts they have chosen themselves, based on some insight into their friend or loved one. They think about the person when choosing the gift, they imagine the reaction upon opening the gift – surprise, followed by joy, followed by profound gratitude.

If you are one of these people that loves the act of giving special things to your special people, more power to you. However, if one of your special people happens to have multiple sclerosis (MS), I’d like to offer a few tips to optimize your chances of gift-giving success and avoid tight-lipped glares in place of hugs.

Here are some general rules about things to avoid giving people with MS:

Anything that Makes Noise

This one is a serious no-no for any person with MS who endures the daily challenges of cognitive dysfunction like I do. Gag gifts like singing snowmen or reindeer heads are annoying to most people, but for some people with MS, a song coming out of a singing or dancing whimsical object can derail any conversation or attempt to relax.

You should even think hard about classier gifts that make noise, like antique clocks or small fountains. It takes every ounce of my brain power to do what I need to do. Even a tiny fraction of brain cells being “hijacked” by the auditory signals of background noise can slow me down or lead to important things being forgotten.

Season Tickets to Anything

I know people mean well by trying to help people with MS “get out of the house more.” What better way to do that than getting them a gift that requires scheduling, preplanning and forces these people to “have fun” on a regular basis?

See, here is the deal, folks – many of us simply cannot know how we are going to feel in a couple of hours, much less on a specific day each month. When we say we are tired, that is usually a huge understatement of the immobilizing horror of MS fatigue. Most people living with MS do not know when an MS symptom will go from “annoying” to the point where it interferes with functioning, or at the very least, keeps someone from having a good time.

If you want to enjoy an activity with an MSer, ask them a couple of questions: What time of day is usually their “best?” Do they prefer a quiet brunch to a rowdy happy hour? To make the gift truly special, tell the person with MS that you will not get your feelings hurt if you have to ask a couple of times before actually getting to go out with them. My friends that are the most understanding and flexible are the ones who I cherish the most.

“Inspirational” Gifts

Please don’t give someone with MS a picture of a mountain with a quote about being able to do anything you put your mind to. Likewise, a picture of a kitten tangled up in yarn with a pithy “try and try again” saying is out of the question. Without going into the overall questionable taste problem with these gifts, to imply that people with MS just need words of encouragement to get past some very real hurdles is insulting (and many of these posters are rage-inducing to the healthy among us, anyway).

I would also shy away from any gifts with a religious message, unless you happen to be very intimate with this person and know not only what their faith means to them, but how and when they choose to incorporate it into their lives. Same goes for political messages. Do not imply that people with MS are physically better or worse off because a certain president or other politician is in office, and certainly don’t give gifts that reinforce that idea. An action like this can come across as using someone else’s situation to get your own point across and is just not classy. At all.

Stuff About MS

There is some really cool and really funny stuff out there about MS. There are some awesome t-shirts, mugs and arm bands that make me laugh really hard and make me proud to be part of such a group of funny people, who can express frustration and anger in such perfect ways (most of them too crude to print here).

Unless you have MS, you cannot give one of these gifts to someone with MS. These gifts are reserved for the “in” crowd, just like certain things and sayings exchanged by people of the same ethnic groups, sexual orientation or secret societies. What can be hilarious or meaningful to people in the same group is completely tasteless and upsetting when given by an outsider.

Gifts with a “Should” Message

I know that I “should” exercise more. I know that I “should” try to find the positive side of any situation. Most smokers know that they “should” stop smoking, and who among us would not benefit from eating healthier?

Don’t ever tell anyone (MS or not) what they “should” do, at least not in the form of a gift of an exercise video, a book about “Chicken Soup” of chronic illness and its blessings, some smoking-cessation patches and tapes or a cookbook entitled How to Eat Like Less of a Disgusting Pig. When people are ready to address their “shoulds,” they will. Other people bringing up flaws and shortcomings while offering potential solutions will usually result in feelings of outrage so intense as to distract from any thoughts of health-seeking behavior.

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