Being a teenager is tough under any circumstances. But being a teen who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness can be overwhelming. While rare, some people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as teens — and it can be life-altering.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which a person’s immune system eats away at the protective covering of their nerves. It can cause symptoms that are often disabling such as fatigue, numbness or tingling, weakness, walking difficulties, spasticity, pain and cognitive changes, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although MS can happen in people younger and older than that, the society says.
Wesley Choy was just 13 years old when he was diagnosed after he started feeling sluggish and weak. “I didn’t even know what [MS] was,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. But, once Choy learned more about the illness, he says he wanted to “lock myself in my room.”
Chloe Cooke is another teen with MS — she was diagnosed at 15. “My right side started to go numb,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My face was starting to droop. My mom almost thought I had a stroke.”
Now, Cooke says, “I think my number one symptom is just loneliness.”
Both teens go to a support group led by Dawnia Baynes, who also has MS and has been leading MS support groups for two years. “I wanted them to know that life isn’t over,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Baynes’ father also had the disease, and she was shocked when she developed MS, too. “I never thought that I would be diagnosed with MS after taking care of my dad,” she says. Baynes was just 26 at the time and didn’t realize that younger people could develop the disease.
Both Choy and Cooke say that going to Baynes’ support group has been helpful for them in living with their disease. “With MS, you just feel so alone in it and having a support group…you don’t feel so alone in it anymore,” Cooke says.
Choy agrees. “You get to see so many other people around you that have the same symptoms as you, and you get to see the same story,” he says.
The members of the support group vary in terms of the symptoms that they experience and how long they’ve lived with MS. That can be helpful for the teens to witness, Baynes says. “They’re able to see that there’s still hope for me — I can still do this,” she says. “They’re also able to see that it’s a snowflake disease — that we’re all different.”
Cooke says she’s gotten a lot out of attending the support group. “I would not have met these friends if I didn’t have MS,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to relate to them on such a deep level.”
Bayne says she hopes the support groups she hosts make people living with MS see that they’re not alone. “I hope they’re inspired to do things and to reach out so that they can live a better life or more fulfilling life with multiple sclerosis,” she says.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.