In November 2013, my world changed in a way I wasn’t prepared for—at the age of 31, my husband Chris was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS).
MS is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the insulating membranes (myelin) that surround the nerves within the central nervous system. RRMS is the most common form of the disease. In Chris’s case, he was diagnosed with four lesions on his brain and spine.
As you can imagine, we’ve had to adjust our lives since his diagnosis. The following are tips I’ve learned on the journey of being married to a person who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. I hope they help others cope with the changes in their lives.
1. Realize you live in a new normal. As we hold onto our faith and pray for Chris’s healing, we’re also adjusting to our new life. When Chris and I first got together, if we were at a big-box retail store we would play hide-and-seek like we were big kids. We would hide behind displays of merchandise and run up and down the aisles looking for each other. Yep, we were that couple.
After MS came along, we started to notice that Chris couldn’t move as fast as he once could—but that didn’t mean we stopped playing hide-and-seek. It just meant our game had to undergo a bit of a change. Now, instead of running, we walk as fast as we can until we find each other. And on some days, instead of playing hide-and-seek at a store, we take turns playing tag at home, which probably works out better for the store managers, anyway!
2. Patience goes a long way. There are times when I have to be patient with my husband—and there are times when I have to be extra patient. And when I start to feel like my patience is running thin because it might be taking him a little bit longer to do something, I am reminded (well, actually he reminds me) that it takes me a long time to get dressed to go out, it takes me a long time to start dinner, and it always takes me a long time to get off the phone with a good girlfriend—and I’m not even the one with the chronic illness!
I’ve learned the art of giving us both some extra preparation time when we have to get ready to go somewhere, and I’ve also learned not to rush Chris. I’ve learned that just because he isn’t moving at breakneck speed, it doesn’t mean he’s not in a hurry; he just needs a little extra time. And I’m okay with that.
3. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. According to Healthline.com, approximately 2.5 million people around the world have been diagnosed with MS. About 200 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each week. And guess what: None of these people have the same story. In fact, MS is often referred to as the snowflake disease, because no two people with the diagnosis are the same.
I’ve realized that just because a new treatment plan, diet, exercise regimen, doctor, or sleep pattern might have worked for someone else, that doesn’t mean it will work for Chris. We’ve come across people whose MS symptoms are much less noticeable, and much more noticeable, than Chris’s. As for now, we’re trying to figure out how to best manage his symptoms from day to day.
4. Remember that your spouse is still your spouse—even if things look a little different. For Valentine’s Day this year, Chris went all out. He bought me several gifts, had flowers delivered to my job, and took me to dinner. While at the restaurant, which happened to be the same restaurant where he proposed to me seven years prior, he pulled out my chair and was a perfect gentleman. When it was time for us to go, he helped me put my coat on.
As we started to walk out of the restaurant, I noticed he was limping a bit, a result of MS that we’ve recently started to see. Instead of letting him walk by himself, I grabbed his arm, locked mine around his, and we walked out of the restaurant together, smiling. MS or not, he was still my man and I was still his girl. He might have been diagnosed with MS, but he’s still my husband, and part of me being a wife is reminding both of us of that fact.
Even though Chris and I wish he hadn’t been diagnosed with MS, I’ve learned how to be even more grateful for all of the special husband-and-wife moments we have. And, tips for spouses who are married to people with chronic illnesses aren’t much different than tips for spouses who are married to people without chronic illnesses.
At the end of the day, we all have to extend our spouses a little extra love and grace.
Author: Danielle Jones
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Nicole Cameron