MS and Emotions: Pessimism vs. Realism in Life With Chronic Illness

Beth Ullah avatar

by Beth Ullah |

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There is an ongoing difference of opinion between my husband and me regarding my general outlook on life. I consider myself to be a realist, whereas he thinks I tend to err on the side of pessimism.

I’m an overthinker. I’ve always felt things incredibly intensely. Interestingly, when I read a recent story about a small study that found that MS patients feel things more intensely but struggle to identify emotions in others, I felt seen. It made me consider whether the intensity of my feelings had increased since my diagnosis. Perhaps it has.

My perspective is slightly different, however. Those who know me would describe me as highly empathetic, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that my MS has intrinsically reduced my ability to sense emotions in others. I can sense energy, and it’s almost as though I take on other people’s feelings. If someone is upset or anxious, I feel it as if it were my own emotion.

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My MS may come into this, though, when I consider the impact of fatigue on how I perceive situations. I have many analogies for fatigue, depending on what aspect of it I’m trying to explain. In this situation, I liken it to being wrapped in Bubble Wrap, as though there were a buffer between the rest of the world and me. It’s like a series of moments standing still in time and I’m watching myself from the outside.

Because of this, I don’t feel that I can fully connect with those around me, which conceivably leads to a failure to recognize their emotions. In turn, the intensity of my feelings, especially when combined with fatigue, often doesn’t leave room for other people’s feelings.

I challenge someone to find a patient with chronic illness who hasn’t fallen into dark moments of pessimism when dealing with their condition. Therefore, it’s important to recognize this reality and adjust one’s perspective. When symptoms feel relentless, when the heavy blanket of fatigue leaves little room for anything besides lying on the sofa in a stupor, and when the pain is all-consuming, it can be incredibly difficult to pull oneself out of the depths of pessimism.

By no means can I claim that I’m adept at this, but instead of thinking self-deprecating thoughts on such days, such as “I’m useless,” I try to set myself a goal, no matter how small. Some days this could simply be getting dressed or getting out of bed and then allowing myself to think, “I’ve achieved that today.” That’s something.

I do find it difficult, though, to avoid holding myself to the same standards as I did before MS. That’s a work in progress.

Has your MS affected your ability to perceive emotions in others? Please share 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.


bianca avatar


I feel guilty and selfish when I have to say to an invitation, or when I've to decline it at the last minute. Most of the time I try to overcome, to fight what I'm feeling so the disease won't take control of me. Sometimes I forget I have MS because I'm feeling so good! The lack of visibility about what is happening tomorrow or even by the end of the day is something I'm still struggling to accept.

Wendy Back avatar

Wendy Back

My caregiver says I have without realizing I have. She says I could care less about what others feel and that's just not true. I just don't want others to feel sorry for me and so, without thinking, I just say or do something that says I'm fine when really I'm not. It's a messed up world we live in, us MS warriors. I wish I could be honest with her and tell her all that I'm feeling, but that would make me feel "less than" and I can't do that.

ELIZABETH M Johnson avatar


This is spot on. Its's not that we don't care about others but there are only so many available reserves at any one time and that is variable. Also I'm so glad you made a distinction between pessimism and realism. People just don't have any way to relate to this until it happens to them and they face their own mortality.

Sheryl Esposito avatar

Sheryl Esposito

I always say I am a realist but so many say I have a negative attitude. I grow tired of feeling like I don’t fit in.

Maggie O'Brien avatar

Maggie O'Brien

Beth - so many of your fatigue examples rang true with me. As well as the guilt. It originally took me time to admit that the tiredness I was feeling was indeed attributable to MS. You soon develop the sense to analyze the 'tiredness' you feel and realize that it soon is 100% of the time because of the weight, the ache, the slowing of your thinking, speech, movements. It must be a difficult symptom to study and develop more effective meds . Just another far-away MS dream we are all too tired for....

Susan avatar


Once again your articles are always the ones I am drawn to read! Your analysis of the reasons why we may not be on top of others emotions is thought provoking and rings true… I also feel that at times when I can’t process what’s going on I react somehow to peoples energies.. not always able to communicate what’s going on

Rachael Jensen avatar

Rachael Jensen

Nutshell, jam me in it. Thanks for expressing this as I feel similar, without words to explain.

Lanita Smith avatar

Lanita Smith

This. OMG! You have described me. I completely recognize everything you stated. Thanks!

Diane avatar


Beth....I’ve just stumbled across your words on your MS. I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2012, just prior to my 60th b/day......Shocked doesn’t cover it....!?!? .....newly divorced......self employed.....?! My thoughts....this isn’t going to get me....must keep walking.....mmm...I’ll get another dog....he is now 10yrold. He’s been my god send....Yes I am very lucky to have good neighbours, who help walk him when I can’t. Initially I could sort my life, resting here and there for 30mins was beneficial. Sadly my work had to be reorganised....a hairdresser, but being self employed , helped me just have to cut your cloth accordingly.....I try to work a couple of hours a couple days a wk.....but now I must admit it really takes it out of me, fatigue is just horrendous . I don’t socialise as in going out....and it’s harder to have friends in......I’m really unhappy I don’t feel I’m keeping my house clean enough..... it’s having to choose which job should I do......I can’t do both....!!...I am not lonely , in fact I find life easier being alone, I’ve not got the pressure of more than 1 to think about....Bonus.,!!! I selfish...?


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