MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis discusses how MS can affect your self-esteem and how you can make improvements in the first of three blogs
What is Self Esteem?
How we feel about and perceive ourselves is often termed as our ‘self-esteem’.
As the psychologist and once close friend of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung once said; ‘the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely’. This is often at the heart of why some of us can find it incredibly difficult to hold ourselves in the same high regard that we do others.
Far from being a stable idea of a sense of self, our self-esteem can be fragile and mercurial by nature, a reaction to our perceived successes and failures. How we view ourselves is an often intangible feeling that has its roots firmly planted in our past experiences and early life.
For some, when self-esteem is unconsciously associated with a particular role that we play or physical or mental attribute, finding ourselves with a chronic illness which can affect this part of our identity can have a huge impact on our sense of self-worth. By putting a value on the part of our being which we believe to have been compromised while ignoring the rest of our attributes, our sense of self or self-esteem can be hugely rocked.
Self-esteem can be knocked or damaged at any point in our lives, from our first beliefs about who we are and what we mean to others and our place in the world to the loss of a partner or an illness in old age.
What can we do about it?
Understanding and accepting that we as humans are never going to be ‘perfect’ is always the first step, but there are some tips that can help us to understand the process of regaining a feeling of self-worth and to build some new strong and healthy self-esteem building habits. These tips are all backed by scientific studies centered on neuroplasticity which is the fancy term for our amazing brain's ability to adapt and change. It is now widely accepted that the brain’s capacity for regeneration and growth never stops no matter our age, so there really is no excuse!
In the next instalment of this three-part blog series we will look into helpful tips to start you on your way to feeling better about yourself.
Far from being a substitute for therapy, mental health apps have gained a place in today’s culture of wanting help here and now. They are often seen as an adjunct to counselling and an introduction or a ‘step in the right direction’. People with multiple sclerosis (MS) can experience a range of issues and may not be ready to engage with counselling, but still require a level of help, here is where apps can come into their own. We asked MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis for some of the best tried and tested apps on the market.
Possibly one of the most popular apps for mindfulness. It offers 10 free sessions that you can use over and over. If you wish to continue and progress with your mindfulness practice there is a one-year membership for £70, giving you access to hundreds of themed, guided meditations and mindfulness exercises although they often have price reduction offers.
A great free app from Mind, the mental health charity. This app features a ‘news feed’ style interactive main page where you can comment, read, or share your own thoughts and feelings with other like-minded users. There is also a private message facility.
This free app is chock full of tools to enable you to manage anxiety and calm an anxious mind and body, as well as objective help and advice on subjects such as anger, depression, self-esteem and stress. There is also an area to keep track of moods and new habits as you make them.
‘Check in with yourself’ with this comprehensive app from Oz, which enables you to track your mood along with hundreds of targeted mindfulness practices for young and old alike. Oh yes, and it’s free!
If interacting with humans is not your thing, MyPossibleSelf might be for you. Bloopy the assistant bot guides you through a free, and rather in depth eight week cognitive behavioral therapy based course. MyPossibleSelf offers the potential to help you work through your issues in the format of a text conversation.
This AI driven app has the option to subscribe and unlock a wealth of personalised mindfulness exercises. From improving mood to lessening anxiety, Aura’s narrators have a dignified sense of calm and the app has an outstanding amount of choice in the paid version.
Another great mindfulness app which you can access both paid and unpaid. A vast amount of exercises and options to choose from for all levels of ability. There is also a handy sound setting option where you can adjust the background volume or turn it off if you prefer.
This app is aimed at Young adults, older teens or anyone new to managing their anxiety. Using a comprehensive mix of CBT tools and interventions to retrain the mind, there is also a space to log the new changes and to do behavioural and mind ‘experiments’.
Endorsed by the NHS, this free app promises to be a helpfully concise addition to the mental health app scene. It gives the user the opportunity to log their mood, check the mood and ultimately change their mood. There are options for depression, anxiety, anger, relaxation, confusion and happiness using CBT.
Action For Happiness
If you can’t commit to either the investment of time or cash, Action For Happiness may be for you. It offers a ‘newsfeed’ of positive affirmations, memes and scientifically proven small daily tasks to improve your mood and sense of well being. There is also a ‘comment’ section under each post to share your successes with other users!
A very gentle free app for everyone. The app focuses on a game in which you navigate a panda around a virtual world. The app uses your phone's camera to take your heart rate, and with both breathing and yoga stretching and gentle exercise, this simple app really does live up to its name.
This week, 13-19 May, is Mental Health Awareness week. People affected by MS can often experience associating effects on their mental health too. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what somebody means when they talk about mental health issues, and this is why Mental Health Awareness week exists. They aim to make discussions of mental health clearer and a foundation stronger support networks. By supporting Mental Health Awareness week, we can pave the way for greater openness when it comes to mental health, and strive to help those that are further affected by other conditions too.
We can all experience guilt, like any other emotion within our daily lives. Some people experience it occasionally, whilst others may experience it more frequently. Guilt can be a difficult emotion to identify and can often be disguised by feelings of anger or resentment. The feeling can often rear its head when we identify and perceive we have caused ourselves or somebody else a wrongdoing or harm. Guilt can leave us feeling pretty rubbish!
People living with a long-term health condition can experience the grieving process, which is not linked to the death of a loved one. Guilt can be a part of the grieving process where the person is seeking to try and find the answers to their questions of why something is happening to them and the impact that has on others.
People living with MS may experience this feeling for a number of reasons, some of which are discussed below
Most people will experience feelings of guilt at some point in their life. However, if you notice that you are constantly apologising to yourself or others this could be a telling sign that you may be experiencing feelings of guilt. Communication is key to challenging these feelings. Communicating with somebody you trust such as a family member, friend, colleague or health professional can help you to start alleviating these feelings.
If we do not recognise and process feelings of guilt this can potentially affect our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes people may want to talk with an experienced mental health professional about their feelings of guilt in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental setting. This could be through:
Counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This can provide space for the person to explore and examine their thoughts and feelings. Counselling can help the person identify new ways of thinking and behaving which can improve the way they feel.
Relationship or family therapy
The whole family may want to access counselling. This may help family members understand when it might be MS that they perceive to be the ‘problem’ or ‘worry’ and when it is something else.
Mindfulness and meditation
Can help the person to be aware of the present moment where they can calmly recognise and accept their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement. This can be a very powerful tool in helping to alleviate feelings of guilt.
You may have read this article and relate to some of what was shared. Others may be thinking that it isn’t relevant at all. As individuals we respond differently to feelings of guilt but what is important to remember is that one of the best ways to cope with feelings of guilt is to try and be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be to somebody else.
This extract was taken from issue 113 of New Pathways magazine, the MS magazine for people with MS, by people with MS.
I wanted to invite you to complete our survey which launched today about loneliness and isolation.
Last year we consulted with the MS community to inform the development of our new strategy. The most talked about gap for people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) across the UK was appropriate support to tackle loneliness and isolation. We were told that there was simply not enough support to overcome the barriers contributing toward their isolation and not enough available to help them feel a part of something, connected to the world and less lonely.
We are now beginning to look at this area and we would like to understand this issue a bit more. The voices of people affected by multiple sclerosis inform all our work and this insight is incredibly valuable as it brings us perspectives that no one else can give. I hope you will take five minutes to complete this short survey and help us stay on course to provide people affected by MS not only with what they want from us, but crucially, how they want it.
The topics of loneliness and isolation can be difficult to deal with at times, so if you would like any support at all please get in touch with our helpline. You can email the helpline, call us on 0800 783 0518 or connect with us online.
Thank you so much for your contribution,
Head of Services
Issue 114 of New Pathways magazine is out now. In this jam-packed edition, we take a look at the recent changes that could affect those of you who take CBD oil, on page 12. We also ask ourselves “Am I having a relapse?” Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with MS for years, there will come a time when you will ask yourself this question, to find out more turn to page 39.
Page 21 offers some helpful advice to those who have found themselves caring for a friend or loved one and don’t know where to start when it comes to finding support.
Louise Willis MS-UK Counsellor talks about managing fatigue and how spoon theory can help you manage and explain it to others on page 28.
MSer and feature writer Ian Cook investigates if magnets can help multiple sclerosis in Cook’s Report Revisited on page 19.
Mary Wilson, #5 Para-Badminton player in the world, reveals her hopes of representing Team GB in Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on page 24, and discover how music therapy could help your MS on page 23.
In addition, don’t forget to read all the latest news and real life stories from MSers living life to the full and why not give our tasty free recipe a try!
About New Pathways
New Pathways magazine is a truly community led publication written by people with MS for people with MS. Each issue offers a variety of information on drugs, complementary therapies and symptom management, plus all the latest news and research and your amazing real life stories.
To subscribe, visit www.ms-uk.org/NewPathways, or call 0800 783 0518. Audio, plain text and digital versions of the magazine are available on request, simply call 01206 226500 and let us know your requirements.
In January 2016 I had a very frightening experience when my eyesight in one eye deteriorated quite quickly to the extent that I wasn't able to continue my work as a dentist. Over the next year and numerous tests I was no further forward and my eye made some recovery. Following a second episode with my other eye in 2017 I had further scans and a lumbar puncture which finally led to the diagnosis of RRMS or relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.
I started to learn about treatments, being a medic I was sure I would follow the disease modifying therapies (DMTs) or daily injections of immunosuppressants, but I was encouraged to try another approach. My own GP put me in touch with a friend of hers who had been managing his own MS through diet and exercise, Alan Caldwell. Alan was a great inspiration to me and when I first met him he had just successfully completed the Virgin Money London Marathon running for MS-UK. This was exactly what I needed to hear at this time, I was in shock with an MS diagnosis and scared for the future. As we know no one can yet predict the outcome of your MS and indeed, it affects everyone differently, so to know that Alan was doing so well following the Best Bet Diet, an exercise regime and supplements meant I was going to look at all this first.
I embarked on the Best Bet Diet which I thought would be so difficult at first, particularly cutting out all dairy and gluten but I did it and haven’t looked back. My neurology team have also been supportive of my choices which again is encouraging.
During all the uncertainty with my health and before I had received an MS diagnosis I decided to start running. I joined local Five Star Active group based in Auchterarder and puffed and panted my way through 2 minute runs!! I was a complete beginner and whilst an outdoorsy type I had never run before. I remember the elation I felt when eventually running one dark Friday night we realised we had run for 12 minutes non-stop!!
From there I ran a 5k then a 10k. With news in December 2017 that I may be facing MS I decided to sign up for a Half Marathon as I was terrified if I didn't do it then it may never happen. So in May 2018 a month after my confirmed diagnosis I proudly completed Loch Leven Half in 2 hrs 17 minutes.
During the rest of 2018 I tried to keep my miles up and my fitness level as I started to come to terms with having this chronic disease. I was learning (and still am) when to push my body, and when to rest, how to fuel and which foods keep me healthy.
I had dark days and towards the end of 2018 my GP suggested I needed some counselling which I have received both privately and from MS-UK. The services MS-UK provide have been a source of great help for me so I am therefore delighted to be able to raise funds for MS-UK.
I was dubious about entering the Virgin Money London Marathon as I was concerned it may be too much for my MS but I have gone from strength to strength over the last year, I don't know what the future holds, none of us do, but I run and keep as healthy as possible and stay in the moment as much as possible.
In January several of my running club buddies were starting their training for the London Marathon, we have nine from our club heading south for the run, and I thought if I’m going to do it, it’s now or never. I sent a message to Jenny at MS-UK to find out if there was a chance my waiting list place would come up and after a very excitable phone call, she offered me a place.
If I had a doubt about the marathon it was dispelled that day with my overwhelming excitement about it and also how delighted my friends, family and running buddies were too.
The training is so far on track, we have a wonderful coach who has put a great programme together for me. She knows about my MS and together we monitor it, she insists on two days rest after my long run and I never run consecutive days. Having other running buddies makes it easier to motivate yourself and the MS-UK runners have also been great, we interact in a Facebook group and follow each other on Strava.
I have some fundraising events planned but most of my target has been met from my initial post on Facebook sharing my story and my JustGiving page. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received. Many people did not know what I was going through and the messages I received when I finally told the world gave me a huge boost.
I am excited for London and delighted to be part of Team Purple, see you at the finish!!
Find out all about fundraising and becoming part of #TeamPurple on our website today!
I am proud to let you know we have recently been accredited with the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, an award which recognises that we strive to make MS-UK a great place to work.
Completing the Workplace Wellbeing Charter is about more than just ticking boxes. It is making a real commitment to the health and wellbeing of our employees and the accreditation standard that is built on best practice, the latest research and business sense. As a national health charity, wellbeing is really important to us on so many levels and that includes the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers, so it means a lot to us to achieve this.
The Workplace Wellbeing Charter have made a short film about MS-UK, which you can now watch on our YouTube channel or below.
Thank you to all the MS-UK staff who make working here such a positive experience!
MS-UK Counsellor, Louise Willis reveals what you can expect from MS-UK Counselling...
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can present many physical challenges and some can be identified and treated by the medical profession, but what about the hidden emotional and mental challenges that can be faced?
MS affects around 110,000 people in the UK. Each person affected has a different life story, an individual set of beliefs and values, and ultimately a different way of dealing with diagnosis and the changes that MS can bring. There is no right or wrong way forward, but sometimes some extra support can be invaluable at any stage of MS. From diagnosis to new changes and developments, MS-UK counsellors are here for you every step of the way.
One of our trained counsellors will call you at a time that is suitable for you. We ask that you are alone at this time and in a quiet, confidential place and that you are comfortable as the call can take between 30 and 45 minutes. If you are unable to answer the call straight away, we will always ring back around 5 minutes later.
Yes, counselling is a safe and non-judgmental space for you to talk about any worries you might have about any aspect of your experience with MS. Any information we take down is kept on our encrypted servers here at MS-UK and is not passed on to any third parties unless you ask us to.
We will only break confidentiality in the event of a safeguarding issue which would mean any form of harm to either you or someone else.
We will ask you about what is bringing you to seek counselling and about any mental health issues you may have. We will also ask you what times and days are best for you for your counselling sessions. They will be at the same time and day each week for six weeks.
If you are unable to make one of your sessions, let us know as soon as you find out and we can reschedule. However, if this is within 24 hours of the session you may forfeit the session as all of our counsellors are booked in advance.
After your assessment we will pop a counselling contract in the post, or send it via email for you to sign ready to speak to one of our specially trained MS counsellors.
We look forward to meeting you!
A year, wow, how time flies. At the time of writing this it’s exactly a year since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Before that day I had no idea what MS was. Now all I think about is MS. Instead of thinking about what I want to do in 3 years time I’m now planning what I can do in 3 hours time. Every day is a different day. On a Saturday night I’m looking forward to my run in the morning and pumped up ready to go…then the morning comes. It’s Sunday. I’m struggling. Time to change my plans.
That is one of the things I’ve learnt most about MS. I’ve always made plans months in advance let alone weeks, but now I look at this in a new light. At first if I missed a plan I would sink to a new level, I felt like MS was controlling my life, I felt that it was the end of the world. Now I look at it and even though I’m still upset, I remember it’s only one day, they’ll be others I can attend. If you have amazing friends like I do then they’ll understand, as long as you let them. This brings me on nicely to what else I’ve learnt.
Talking. Talking about my MS, my depression, my everything is possibly the best thing I’ve learnt since being diagnosed. You shouldn’t have to bottle up what’s inside, it’s scary telling people but how else can someone help you? I’m not afraid to say that I had counselling. I’m not afraid to say I went home and cried after some sessions. I’m not afraid to say it is one of the things that’s helped me the most. It gave me the confidence to speak to my family, my friends, my girlfriend. It’s why I’m happy to be so public about everything I’ve been and am going through! Because of this they all understand what’s happening with me. MS doesn’t just affect the sufferer. I know that people have cried over my diagnosis and the affect it’s had on me, but I also know that being open and approachable about it has helped them. If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone suffering with something it would be to talk about it.
Do you have something you love to do? Love to see? For me fitness is the one thing I love to do. I may complain about running on a cold Tuesday night in Swindon, or a rainy Colchester morning, but once I’m out there I love it. Ok I lie (don’t judge me) but I love to read too. This year I’ve read over 30 books and they’re not just tiny books either! Escaping in to another world, furthering my knowledge in something, allowing myself to become fully immersed in a book has helped me through this year. Find something you love to do. Find something you want to love to do. Hobbies, interests, whatever it is, give it your all and you’ll appreciate it afterwards.
A year on and I still don’t really know what MS is. Does anyone?! I ask numerous silly questions multiple times and I will carry on doing this for as long as I live! One year down and hopefully many, many more to come. I’ll get there one day, maybe come back and ask again next year?!
MS-UK Counselling is a confidential service open to anyone living with MS. You can talk about your thoughts and feelings with a qualified professional that also has an understanding of MS.
Everyone experiences stress in one way or another. It can affect you both physically and mentally, making you feel anxious and impatient. But stress doesn't have to dominate your daily routine.
To mark Stress Awareness Day 2018, we are giving you the opportunity to learn how to focus your mind with a series of stress-busting podcasts hosted by mindfulness coach Zoe Flint. Each step-by-step guide is designed to give you the tools you need to de-clutter your thoughts, focus on the present, and ultimately reduce your stress levels.