Health & Wellness

Create an MS Free Zone

By MSF Staff
Remember that TV commercial, ‘Calgon, take me away!’ Have you ever wondered why it was such a successful ad campaign? It’s probably because everyone can relate to that desire to escape, to take a break from the realities and responsibilities of daily life. Having a chronic illness like MS doesn’t change that. In fact, it probably becomes even more important. But if you have MS, how do you get away from it? How do you find a part of yourself that the disease cannot touch? The answer is to create an MS-free zone.
“An MS-free zone is very individualized. Like the disease, it is different for everyone. It isn’t any particular place or feeling; it is anything that allows a person to find respite – however momentary – from the intrusion of MS in his or her life,” said Rosalind C. Kalb, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the National MS Society’s Professional Resource Center, who first developed the concept of an MS-free zone and shared it with other clinicians who care for people with MS.
“Many years ago, a severely disabled patient of mine actually planted the seed for the idea of an MS-free zone,” Dr. Kalb said. “Believe it or not, this patient found his distraction in watching the Vietnam War news on TV. When we went through a period with no wars going on, he complained that he didn't have anything to get sufficiently angry at to keep his mind off his own troubles! War news was his distraction and the thing that energized him. Given the degree to which MS impacted this man’s body and lifestyle, I concluded that if he could find an MS-free zone, anyone could.”
Tests have shown that stress levels are dramatically reduced when a person regularly schedules time off from the activities of life to calm down and let go for a few minutes each day. It doesn’t matter if you call it a retreat or an emotional respite, or an MS-free zone, just as long as you have this place to “visit” daily.
“It can be prayer, a love of music, or laughing with a friend over lunch,” Dr. Kalb explains. “It reminds me of when I was a young mother watching my children learn to walk. When toddlers are just starting to walk, they sometimes just take off. Invariably at some point, they realize how far away they have gotten from mommy. At that point, they come back to mommy for a reassuring pat or a hug. Then, they are off again. Well, that is called ‘emotional refueling.’ We all need to get our emotional energy from somewhere. Regardless of your disease course, if you are feeling that MS is beginning to take over, you need to create your own MS-free zone – your own place for emotional refueling.”
Whatever strategy you choose, keep in mind that MS is part of your life and who you are, but not the whole. If you have trouble finding your own MS-free zone, ask those closest to you for help, or consider talking it over with a counselor.
Rosalind Kalb, Ph.D., who first developed the concept of an MS-Free Zone, is Director of the Professional Resource Center at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York City. She is the author of the Knowledge is Power series for individuals newly diagnosed with MS and has edited Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have; The Answers You Need (5th ed.), published in 2011, and Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide for Families (3rd ed.), published in 2005. As a clinical psychologist in private practice, Dr. Kalb has provided individual and family therapy for people with MS and their families for more than 25 years.