About three weeks short of my 40th birthday I was pulled up hard by an MS diagnosis. The final diagnostic test (a lumbar puncture in my case) left no doubt in medical terms.

I was living in Brisbane, Queensland, at the time and about a year earlier had resigned from full time work as a journalist and Media Coordinator.

All was not well with me but I didn’t understand why. I put it down to too much sustained stress over recent years. I did know I was exhausted in every sense of the word.

A life-changing verdict

Some 13 years on I can still clearly recall the life-changing verdict: “I’m afraid I have bad news. The tests confirm MS.” Everything changes but not as one would expect, for the worst.

And as I’ve heard others say post diagnosis, it was a relief to know what I was dealing with, however potentially unpleasant.

And strangely enough, in my case, it gave me a sound excuse to ‘cease all strivings’ for a season or few, as it turned out.

For over a decade now I’ve had a lot of time to digest all the implications, to grieve the physical and work/social limitations, and to adapt my lifestyle, and keep the right kind of positive and encouraging people in my life.

Good counsel

From about the same time I was seeing my GP regarding my oddly behaving right foot, I enrolled in a tertiary accredited Counselling Diploma course in Brisbane.

It was to open up a whole new world of insights and resources into how to deal with challenging situations and how to overcome negative personal behavior/s, which are often rooted in family of origin problems (‘family of origin’ being the first social group a person belongs to, which is often a person's biological family or an adoptive family), and how well or badly external stress is dealt with.

The teaching and practical approaches and work experience gave me invaluable insights into my own family of origin interpersonal dynamics, and myself, relationships with others, ways to understand and heal the psyche; and introduced me to so many inspiring and supportive people.

Even though my once athletic feet were being gradually slowed down, I had found a resting place and an expanding space within.

'Back when I was diagnosed with MS, there was no offer of counselling support unless depression had become a major problem. I believe counselling support should be offered from the time of diagnosis.'

Dealing with loss and grief in MS

Back when I was diagnosed with MS, there was no offer of counselling support unless depression had become a major problem. I believe counselling support should be offered from the time of diagnosis.

Why let those struggling to come to grips with a MS future get to the point of needing to go on an anti-depressant or even reaching the point where intensive psychiatric help is required?

The newly diagnosed need a professionally trained person to listen well to what they are dealing with. Grief/loss impacts everyone differently and depending on our personal make up, life skills and family/social support network, we go through the five stages of loss (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and then finally acceptance) differently. Anger is certainly no stranger to those living with chronic illness.

Anger over the loss of the life they may have led, the close relationship they may have made or kept, and so on. I consider myself very fortunate I was surrounded by mature, compassionate people (undertaking and teaching the counselling qualification) when I was 'first floundering in the stormy ocean' of a potentially serious medical condition.

Listening skills and empathy

A good counsellor listens well, reflects back what has been said, works on discerning what the underlying issues are, and is above all gentle.

When we are feeling fragile, bamboozled, stuck (not able to find a way through a situation); we need someone to journey with us who is respectful, gentle, and when the time is right, to offer suggestions on how the client can move forward.

Some things are too painful to face or deal with straight away. In some cases it can take many years to get to a point of being ready to identify, accept/own a problem, and do something about it.

Sadly, some folks remain in denial, never able to accept a situation for what it is, and to grow through it. Inner healing, peace and strength to live well despite challenging circumstances are worth doing the hard yards for. None of us have to go about it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when your own resources just aren’t enough.

Lee Duncan