Image by Gerd Altmann 

Uncertainty is one of life's inevitabilities. And we all cope with it and accept it – more or less. But a chronic disease like MS can raise that level of uncertainty to a new level - to scary, unfamiliar territory. MS is especially unpredictable with a wide range of symptoms and rates of progression. My diagnosis left me reeling. I didn't know how to get on with my life with the added uncertainty of MS.

Soon after my diagnosis, I had a dream that I suddenly couldn't move – at all.  When I tried to open my eyes, I couldn't see. When I tried to call for help, I couldn't speak. I woke up more terrified than relieved, realizing that the shadow of MS, a disease that could take away most of my ability to function, would never leave me. I could wake up paralyzed. The dream was far-fetched, but elements of it were true possibilities.

The Pessimistic Despair of MS Diagnosis

When first diagnosed, I felt great despair because I was pessimistic. Instead of uncertainty, I felt certain of a dismal future. I thought I had to abandon my dreams because I couldn't take on a new challenge. I couldn't switch jobs, or travel, or push myself to new limits.

Yet, over the years, I have proved myself wrong. I have had new MS symptoms and relapses, but I've recovered each time. I've traveled to five continents, run two marathons, and accepted leadership positions with new responsibilities.  And I've formed a tense alliance with uncertainty.

Some MS-related decline is likely, but it's not certain. If it happens, I'll still probably be OK. Because when there is uncertainty, there is hope.  

innerself subscribe graphic

Strategies to Deal with Uncertainty

In addition to a shift in attitude from despair to hope, here are some strategies for anyone who is dealing with uncertainty:

1. Cultivate healthy habits

Healthy habits that you can do every day will give you structure and some sense of control. For me, exercise and meditation are key ingredients for a good day.

2. Read fun "escape" books

"Escape" reading can help when you need a short break from reality. Make a list of all the books you would love to read and then begin reading them. Ask friends for their recommendations too.

3. A sense of humor is essential.  

Humor helps with stress reduction, improved mood, enhanced coping mechanism for dealing with adversity, emotional release, and enhanced problem-solving.  

4. Keep a journal.

I write in my journal every day. Sometimes I look back at past entries, and it's encouraging to see some of the challenges I have overcome.

5. Talk about it.

Uncertainty is stressful and frustrating. Share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member or a counselor. It's OK to feel rage and sadness and grief. Sometimes you just need to vent.

6. Plant a garden.

I joined a community garden a few years ago. Planting my spring or fall garden is always an optimistic gesture, equal parts uncertainty and anticipation. I don't know what the conditions will be like to support the garden. In my first winter garden, the Brussel sprouts were a flop, but the kale was wonderfully out-of-control. I don't even know for sure that I'll be physically capable of harvesting my vegetables when they are ready each season, but I counterbalance that uncertainty with hope.

A Tapestry of Uncertainty and Hope

Cultivating daily habits, indulging in escape through books, and embracing a sense of humor have been my allies. Keeping a journal, seeking support from loved ones or professionals, and tending to a garden have also provided solace in uncertain times.

Remember, life is a tapestry woven with threads of uncertainty and hope. It's in the midst of these uncertainties that we often discover our true strength. So, as you face your own uncertainties, I encourage you to nurture hope, for where there is uncertainty, there is also the potential for resilience, growth, and a brighter tomorrow. 

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Printed with permission of the author/publisher.

Book by this Author:

BOOK: Up the Down Escalator

Up the Down Escalator: Medicine, Motherhood, and Multiple Sclerosis
by Lisa Doggett.

book cover of Up the Down Escalator by Lisa Doggett.This hopeful and uplifting book will encourage those living with chronic disease, and those supporting them, to power forward with courage and grace. It will spark conversations to redefine perfect parenting and trigger uncomfortable discussions and outrage about the vicious inequalities of health care in the U.S.

Most of all, it will inspire readers to embrace the gifts of an imperfect life and look for silver linings, despite life’s detours that sabotage plans and take them off their expected paths.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as an audiobook and a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of LISA DOGGETT, MDLISA DOGGETT, a family physician, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009. She is passionate about improving care for vulnerable populations and helping people with MS and other chronic conditions live their best lives. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, Motherwell, the Austin American-Statesman, and more.

Her new book is Up the Down Escalator: Medicine, Motherhood, and Multiple Sclerosis.  For more info visit Lisa's website at