I think I represent many people with MS when I tell you that when I think about my health, I pretty much start with my MS symptoms, unless I am currently suffering from a cold or stomach virus. I certainly never think about my "social health." I adapted this section from my book, The Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto: Action to Take, Principles to Live By.
I know this is important, and I can describe someone who is socially healthy and someone who needs help in this area, but when I tried to pull together a definition that covered these ideas, I was stumped. After researching this, I found this definition of “social health” of a person: “that dimension of an individual's well-being that concerns how he gets along with other people, how other people react to him, and how he interacts with social institutions and societal mores.” Research has shown that people who are socially “involved” with their communities recover faster from illnesses and are less affected by symptoms or disabilities.
Look, I confess that there are days that I glare at my telephone whenever it rings. During these times, I resent anyone who sends me an e-mail to see how I am doing or if I would like to get together - if the message contains emoticons of little winking smiley faces or extra exclamation points, I might sink into a pit of distainful planning to become a complete recluse. These are the moments that I cling to my armor of “nobody understands what this feels like” in order to make the whole MS darn mess go away. Guess what? It hasn’t worked yet. I have found that the pissier and less social I am, the worse I feel.
I have also found that whenever I muster the energy to go to a party that I had wasted a week dreading or actually go through all of the steps it takes (really hard things like showering, brushing my teeth and finding a clean shirt) to go out with another person, that most of the time I end up enjoying myself. Not only that, I forget about my MS or my symptôme du jour for that time, as my energy is focused on someone or something else for a little while.
That said, it is also important that people with MS connect with others that are going through the same thing. Only someone else with MS-related fatigue can understand that horror in a few words. Getting cheered on by others with MS for some progress you made against MS symptom also has a very, very special quality - emoticons and a profusion exclamation points are extremely welcome in these circumstances, as in “A whole night without getting up to pee?!?!?! You go, girl!!! ;.)”
I bet your own list of things you could do to increase social health started forming as you were reading the description above, but here are some sample items to further stimulate your thinking:
- Reading a book to your child
- Calling a friend that you have not spoken to in awhile
- Writing a letter to your aunt
- Manning a shift at the annual neighborhood garage sale
- Going on an actual out-of-the-house date with your husband or wife
- Finding an online forum of people with MS to join
- Going to the talk at the local MS society on current treatment research
- Trying out a meeting of an MS self-help group
I do understand that sometimes you just don't feel like being social. It takes effort and can be challenging, especially with symptoms like fatigue making it feel like you are moving through molasses and cognitive dysfunction hampering your ability to participate in fast-moving conversations or find the words that you want to express yourself. However, I do know that by interacting with different people, I get different to see life from many different angles. This makes me a better mother, wife, friend and helps me gain essential perspective on my MS.
For people who would like to more formally work some social (and other types) health into their lives, take a look at A Program to Redefine Health for People with Multiple Sclerosis: A One-Week Exercise to Help You Understand and Improve Your Well-Being.