An MS diagnosis at 27 motivated this doctor to save his mental health: 'You can always bounce your way back'

·3 min read

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Read more personal stories about people living with autoimmune diseases such as MS and lupus on Yahoo Lifestyle.

Reporting by Jacquie Cosgrove

Andrew Silverman, MD, was just 27 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and his life forever changed.

“I was doing an overnight shift in the ER. My vision was extremely blurry in my right eye,” the pediatric oncologist recalls. Silverman spent the next week on vacation in Disney World. “While I was there, I started getting extremely dizzy, nauseous all the time, my legs started tingling, and I couldn’t eat,” he says.

The day after he got home from his vacation, Silverman was working and had trouble walking. “I felt like I was going to fall,” he says. Silverman went to the ER, and after seeing multiple doctors who administered different tests, he was eventually diagnosed with MS.

Multiple sclerosis is an often debilitating disease that causes a person’s immune system to attack the protective covering of their nerves. People with MS often struggle with symptoms like having difficulty walking, along with pain, numbness and fatigue, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“I was dumbfounded,” says Silverman. “I was just very numb.”

Coping with the MS diagnosis

“The hardest part about my diagnosis was not being unable to walk properly for a period of time or the inability to see or drive. The hardest part was absolutely the depression. It was absolutely the worst thing about any of this,” Silverman says.

Silverman was worried that he would have to quit his job and that he’d never be able to walk again. He also thought he wouldn’t be able to start a family. “I informed my wife that if she wanted to get divorced and marry someone else so she could have children, that would be acceptable,” he explains.

“The mental health aspect of multiple sclerosis is actually a much bigger part of the illness than I understood and appreciated,” he says. “The depression was as debilitating as the multiple sclerosis in many ways.”

Silverman tells Yahoo Lifestyle that antidepressants have “made all the difference in the world” when treating his depression, and they remain a pivotal part of his treatment.

Pushing forward

Silverman started treatment by having five days of IV corticosteroids. “After a few months, my symptoms really did go away,” he says. “I was ultimately able to go back to my usual life.”

The doctor had previously trained for a half marathon, and he decided to do it again. “My mind space and being in a happy place was really important for me,” says Silverman. “I ran it, I walked part of it. I finished in two hours and 17 minutes and it was wonderful.”

Based on his experience, Silverman decided to do a full marathon and raise money for pediatric cancer research. “I see all the suffering they go through which, in hindsight, my diagnosis is nothing by comparison to what these kids go through,” he says. “It’s not even close.”

The comeback is greater than the setback

Silverman takes extra precautions by washing his hands and stethoscope on his way in and out of patient rooms, and wears a mask during the workday.

While life has been a little different for Silverman after his MS diagnosis, he says he’s doing OK. He’s still able to work and run, and he’s started a family with his wife.

“Before my diagnosis, I was a 27-year-old healthy guy... all of a sudden everything came crashing down all at once,” he says. “What I want my son to understand is, even if things seem terrible, you have the support of your family. Even when you get knocked down, you can always bounce your way back up.”