The Relapse Plan
Although relapses are an unwanted and uninvited guest, having a relapse plan will help you to prepare in advance for its potential arrival.
Talk to your doctor about her relapse protocol and make sure to ask her at what point you should call to let her know your symptoms have changed. Your plan should encompass a protocol for handling work and family responsibilities. Assume that you may need some time off, depending on how severe the relapse is. Decide now how you will handle talking to a boss, asking friends or family members for help, or changing your daily routine.
Have a relapse toolkit on hand full of things to relax and comfort you: good books, any over-the-counter medicines your doctor recommends, a gift certificate for a massage, takeout menus from your favorite restaurants, and a few DVDs you'd be happy to watch again.
If rest is in order, your plan can incorporate some projects you've been meaning to get to such as sorting through and organizing photographs, cleaning out a filing cabinet, catching up on correspondence, or learning to play bridge. Turn the negative into a positive by putting the time to good use.
Your MS team is an ally when you're having a relapse. Call or get a referral to a physical therapist if you're experiencing muscle weakness, walking difficulty, or lack of coordination. For many people with an attack, the combined use of steroids and physical therapy may provide the quickest path for recovery. Get a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional if you're experiencing depression or other psychological issues. Make a list of your symptoms — especially those that are most disruptive — and discuss them with your physician.
In 2006, Australian researchers studied the connection between MS relapses and stress, and found, not surprisingly, that people who were experiencing a relapse reported more stress. The study also showed that people who use social support (friends and family) to cope with stressors reduced their risk of relapse. However, there is no definitive proof that stress causes MS attacks.
Everyone deals with relapses in his own way. Because they're unpredictable, having a plan is a good idea. Because they're unwelcome, finding a coping strategy can help you over the hurdles. The use of disease-modifying therapies can cut relapse rates, but the reality is that you may face a setback from time to time. Until there is a cure, staying optimistic, adhering to a treatment plan, and planning for the unexpected is your best bet.
Listening to and understanding your own unique body is also imperative. It's important to have a sense of control over the things you can control — such as the amount of sleep you're getting, your exercise regimen, the foods you eat — in short, your overall health and well-being.