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So, your friend has just been diagnosed with MS, and you want to help. There are many ways you can be supportive, but the most important thing to remember is that your friend has an illness, but he or she is not the illness. Keep in mind “my friend,” not “the patient.”

Listen

Even on my worst days, I know I can pick up the phone and find a friend to listen to me. I mean really listen. Do you know what it feels like to be truly heard? It’s such a gift. Good listening is not a passive activity. It involves giving the speaker your full attention.

For example, if you’re out to lunch with your friend, truly listen, especially when he or she is describing how he/she is dealing with MS. One of the biggest mistakes we make in life is to assume we know what another person is facing, so even if you don’t see your friend displaying outright symptoms, don’t assume that everything is fine. Ask how they’re doing and pay attention when they tell you.

Learn

MS is an autoimmune disorder that results in degeneration of the nerves, which means that the disease is progressive. People get diagnosed at different stages, and rates of progression vary too. As a friend, you could take some time to learn about MS, just to have a context when talking about it.

Don’t try to be an expert. Your friend is learning about MS by living with it, and even the scientific community does not know all. We’re all searching for solutions.

Love

True love in a friendship has two equal parts. First, what psychologists call “unconditional positive regard” is another term for “love.” What does this mean? It means, “I love you just the way you are.” It doesn’t require control. In fact, it lets go of control. That’s the second part.

People with serious illnesses like MS learn very quickly that life is not all about control. In fact, the more we try to control others, the more distance we create. We don’t need our lives “fixed.” However, we do need love and full acceptance.

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