Disclosing Your Diagnosis: Is There a Right Way to Do It?

Jessie Ace avatar

by Jessie Ace |

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For many of us, odd symptoms and strange feelings may fill our lives for years before we are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Others may be diagnosed more quickly, which flips our world overnight.

I was diagnosed in three days. However it happens, a diagnosis usually comes as a colossal shock to the system. 

As if this new reality weren’t hard enough to accept, dealing with awkward questions from others can become too much to bear. When we’re newly diagnosed, we may not know how to feel about our illness, let alone how to explain it to someone else

Extended family or co-workers may ask how we are, or they may beat around the bush and say something like, “Your [family member/colleague] mentioned you’d been ill recently. Are you, you know, feeling any better now?” In truth, [family member/colleague] probably already told them the whole story, and they’re after the juicier details. You know those people who want more information than they’re entitled to? 

Whenever anyone asked me how I felt after my diagnosis, I always had a sinking feeling that I would have to relive my diagnosis all over again. Doctors never tell you about the emotional impact of diagnoses.

The amount of detail I relayed to each person depended on how much information I felt strong enough to give. Mostly, I tossed it aside with an “Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Really. Nothing to worry about.” Oftentimes, it seemed that people wanted to hear everything. They wanted me to relive every tiny detail of what happened, and I was not down for that. Why do people think it’s OK to ask probing questions about something as personal as your health? 

And what is the “right” way to handle this? 

I’m sorry to say that I don’t think there is a “right” way to tell someone about a diagnosis. There are just different ways, which may or may not result in a good outcome. The answer you choose to give people is up to you. It will probably depend on how much energy and patience you have at the time, and on your mental and physical state.

I hated it when people asked me questions like, “How are you coping with that MS thing now?” at a bus stop, in a clothing store, or in another public place where I could not freely burst into tears without being branded as the town lunatic. After my diagnosis, it took nearly four years for me to be able to speak about MS without crying.

A diagnosis is a significant experience. I’m not saying a person is doing something terrible by caring enough to inquire about your health. Sometimes it’s just the timing or depth of detail requested that’s a little off.

How and when you decide to tell people is up to you. To this day, when I meet someone new or run into someone I haven’t seen in a while, disclosing my diagnosis is always on my mind.

How do you approach the subject of your diagnosis? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Mark Milligan avatar

Mark Milligan

Hello, I thought that phrases like ‘Nitty-gritty’ were no longer used due to their racial undertones and vile origins as described:

It’s believed the phrase once had less palatable connotations, with many considering the term to have roots to be in the slave trade – its use is already banned in institutions like the police force.

Theories suggest the expression originally referred to the detritus found in the bottom of boats once a shipment of slaves had been removed from the hold.

A nit is the egg of a louse, a parasitic insect that would have been rife among the poor conditions those being transported for slavery would have been kept in.
I appreciate that language changes over time but as a white Scottish male I have always tried to be aware of the language I use and the impact it may have on others and I understand that this particular phrase can still cause offence.

I forward this comment for your consideration only as I require to be aware of these issues at my work when trying to avert criticism.

Kind Regards

Brad Dell avatar

Brad Dell

Hi, Mark. I'm the director of columns at BioNews. Thank you for pointing this out. Jessie, our editors, and I were unaware of the phrase's origins, and we appreciate your grace and feedback. The phrase has been removed from the column. I hope your day has been peaceful! -Brad

Jessie Ace avatar

Jessie Ace

Hi Mark, Jessie here who wrote the article, thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. As Brad stated in his comment we weren't aware of the origins of this phrase and we've now removed it from the article. Thank you again for your feedback. I hope you are well and have a wonderful day. #StayENabled

Charles Lumia avatar

Charles Lumia

I'm not buying the slave ship origin story for the term nitty gritty. It's a colloquial term used all over. Places that had slavery and places that didn't.

A quick Google search said that it wasn't even used in print until the 1930s. That's generations after slavery in the West.

Jessie Ace avatar

Jessie Ace

Hi Charles, I appreciated it being brought to my attention regardless, I was completely unaware and have removed it from the column :) Have a wonderful day #StayENabled

Yvonne avatar


Soon we'll be reduced to just stating 'I have MS.' without personal qualification, personality or colourful metaphors - may as well be robots. The destruction of the English language continues apace. God help new authors, writers and columnists for the PC brigade is well and truly degrading your art, your style, indeed, your freedom of inoffensive expression.

I applaud you, Brad, for your diplomacy, but to censor this article for a point of issue with the etymology of terminology used when inoffensive, is down right vandalism. 'Theories suggest' is not hard fact...So tired of the PC Brigade. Boo.

Must get me one of those Etymology Dictionaries lest I offend someone every time I open my mouth or write a shopping list.

Jessie Ace avatar

Jessie Ace

Hi Yvonne, thank you so much for your comment. We're committed to taking on board all feedback for our articles. We've since removed the phrase from the article. Have a wonderful day lovely, #StayENabled - Jessie

Yvonne Decelis avatar

Yvonne Decelis

Hello there. TBH, it really pisses me off that we ("MSers" have to worry about whether or not it will be OK to disclose our illnesses to employers. I worked for a place that laid me off because I was costing them too much because of my MS. They had no right to but it happened (too long ago for me to sue). Having MS is NOT our fault so why do these people have the right to blame us for it?!? When I THOUGHT I was healthy I still had enough empathy to feel for others who had illnesses. Other people need to stop being such DBags, IMNSHO.


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