Is it normal to feel like you’re going through the five stages of grief after a diagnosis of RRMS? I feel like I have been stuck in denial since I haven’t had any symptoms since my diagnosis last year.
With any life changing event, it takes time to process the "new normal". MS is no different. Most patients go through a period we call the adjustment reaction which can be experienced many different ways, including denial and grief. Some may have a return back to their normal baseline function after the early diagnosis and feel pretty good. They go about life and ignore or compartmentalize the diagnosis and even start to wonder if the diagnosis was a mistake. This can be dangerous because it leads some to stop seeing their physician or even stop their preventative therapy.
It's an "out of sight, out of mind" scenario. They effectively are led into a false sense of security. We have learned that MS is unpredictable in the short term, but natural history data paints a fairly clear picture of what occurs in the long run if no action is taken to alter the course of the disease. On the path of the adjustment reaction to the diagnosis of MS, it is important to be vigilant and not get stuck in this phase.
If the adjustment reaction leads to intense anxiety or depression, I would urge patients to discuss this with their physician. Many times, medicine for those symptoms are not necessary, but if protracted, some may need that help temporarily until they get to the other side and leave the adjustment reaction behind.
A. Scott Nielsen MD MMSc
Neurologist and MS Specialist at Kaiser Permanente