From Denial to Acceptance: A story about Catherine’s journey with MS

“For years, denial kept me from facing my MS head-on. Rather than learning how to live with it, I was ashamed of the disease and hid from it. Not fully accepting it in the early years of my diagnosis had a great effect on my mental health and depression. My MS is something I accept fully now, and I want to help people understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of.”

For some people, denial is the first stage of managing an overwhelming situation. When Catherine Lau first heard the words “multiple sclerosis,” she was no exception.

After experiencing numbness and tingling sensations on the left side of her face in 2010, Catherine sought the advice of a doctor who diagnosed her with MS. “I ignored the initial information from medical professionals and chose not to share my symptoms with the public out of fear and confusion,” she says. 

Catherine confided in her parents and husband but realized that most people didn’t know what to say. “I wasn’t asking for pity, so I kept what I was feeling inside,” she says. “The fact that my symptoms were invisible, and no one could see them made me feel more alone than ever. Even though I looked normal, I didn’t feel normal.”

Feeling as though she didn’t belong anywhere, Catherine ignored the community and resources that were available to her. The insurmountable loneliness became a burden on her well-being. “I would find myself going to Loblaws to wander the aisles and pick up things I didn’t need, just to escape my reality.” 

In 2014, she welcomed her first daughter, Arden. Shortly after, she experienced a relapse. The tingling sensation in her toes pushed her to question whether she should have another child. Was it time to take medication or forgo treatment and try to conceive another child? These questions brought her to a crossroads.

Catherine’s thoughts continued to teeter between having a child or focusing solely on her symptom management. She chose to make a personal sacrifice, putting her MS medication on hold to the benefit of gaining a larger family.

In 2017, Catherine and Lawrence welcomed their second daughter, Grayson. Catherine couldn’t have been more thankful. Soon after, she experienced another relapse.

“I made the hard decision to stop breastfeeding as I had to take my MS medication a lot sooner than I had intended,” Catherine says. “I found this hard and spent a lot of time crying alone and feeling tremendous guilt. If I could have talked to someone who had been in my shoes before, I think it would have helped.”

Catherine noticed that the pain of not having a support system outweighed the pain of being vulnerable in front of others. She knew she needed to heal. She finally decided to immerse herself within the MS community through her local Walk event and Burgers to Beat MS, where she met others who had similar stories. Shortly after, her family’s acceptance of MS began to grow, and they quickly joined her at local MS Society events.

Throughout her decade-long journey with MS, Catherine experienced a wide range of emotions, including anger and depression; however, these emotions inevitably paved a path to a community that now helps her overcome those struggles. By speaking up about her challenges with MS, she now casts as a guiding light within the community. 

“I want people to know they’re not alone and that everyone has a unique story to share. This journey has been so healing,” she says.

“I faced challenges with my mental health because MS is so unpredictable, and relapses can occur at any time. I struggled because I didn’t talk about what I was going through for a long time, but everything seems less frightening now that I am.”

The MS Society of Canada recognizes that depression can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis. On #BellLetsTalk Day, we want to remind you that we are here to support you. If you live with MS and are facing challenges with your mental health, our MS Navigators can help direct you to resources for support. Contact our Navigators today at 1-844-859-6789 or msnavigators@mssociety.ca

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