Stories to Inspire: A Psychologist’s Perspective of His Own MS

Photo of Mack Stephenson, PhD

People in any career field may develop multiple sclerosis – it does not discriminate – and this includes doctors too. Mack Stephenson, PhD is a psychologist who began exhibiting the symptoms of MS while in the service, although he was not diagnosed until after leaving the Navy. As both a doctor and a teacher, he decided to learn about the disease and its treatments, and then write about his experiences and observations. To follow are some key passages from Dr. Stephenson’s book. We’re also proud to feature someone who served our country.

The Ability to Find Meaning in Our Lives: “It can at times be a struggle to find meaning in our experiences and in our lives. And yet our own personal search for meaning is incredibly important both for ourselves and for those close to us (especially our children, of whatever age, and our spouse). There are various places to get this kind of wisdom…

“Maybe your source of wisdom is your friends. Maybe it is your family. Maybe it is your church. Maybe it is your books… But whatever the source, you need to tap into it, to access it. You need help and support from outside of yourself. But I would certainly say (and think it is crucially important) that it would be much better for you to make sure that you are not socially isolated. That is just a recipe for sadness and misery, not to mention bitterness.”

Know Your Limitations: “My wife has become a very good ‘handyman.’ You know that ‘honey-do’ list? Well, I’m doing hardly any of it anymore… She was always pretty handy, but lately she’s been pressed into service quite a bit.

“I have a large cast-iron clock on my wall. It is probably three feet in diameter. One day, the battery needed to be replaced. When my wife came home, I was standing on a ladder trying to get the wall clock down from the wall. I think her exact words when she walked in were, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ She didn’t say, ‘You fool,’ but I could hear it in her voice. And she meant it… I’m not stupid or anything. Disabled and walk funny, yes. Stupid, no… My neurologist called this, ‘impulsiveness’…

“I’ve just got to say that a man’s got to know his limitations…. A good example of this is that a little while ago I bought a new bike for my son. It was really nice. As I looked at it, I thought, ‘I can ride that stupid thing. DUH!’ I was wrong. Then I figured it was just a fluke that I fell the first time. Wrong again. I should have been wearing a helmet. As we walked in the door, I told him to make sure that he didn’t tell his mother. She would certainly not like what I had done. That little bugger immediately went in and ratted me out. I think it was the first thing he did. You just can’t trust kids these days… And to be honest, that is a hard thing (the limitations, not the trust). You may not even realize that something is a problem until you are well into it…”

Opening the World through Technology: “I used to be a university professor. I would lecture in front of a class… I loved it. But actually, I can do the same thing over a tablet computer and an Internet connection. I don’t need to actually drive to the university and traipse across campus to get to a classroom. Heck, I can teach students from my living room!

“And speaking of technology, how about an electric wheelchair? …I never thought that I would value it so greatly… I can now go to the mall with my wife or children. I have independence, and don’t need someone else to push me around. I think it is easy to miss the fact that independence is very important and meaningful… Another issue is my phone. I text my daughters a lot. I use texts a lot for my business. But I hardly ever type the text. I just dictate it. Can I tell you how much nicer that is for me?

“Much of my personal wisdom and insight would simply not be available to other people were it not for technology. It would be lost along with my walking ability. So there is a human capital issue here. There is a lot I can give, but much of that is made possible only through technology… For me, technology is about opening my world.”

Life Changes: “MS is a difficult disease. Actually, I don’t think there is an easy one, and it is important for you to recognize that everyone has significant life challenges. But there are still things you can do to make life better. Do those things… Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your eating, sleeping, and exercise… Make sure you have good relationships with the important people in your life. You don’t want to get caught up in the bickering or the pain of holding a grudge.

“Be easy on others. They are doing the best they know how… We need to understand that it can be very frustrating to be so dependent on others. Heaven knows that I get that. But that might be one of the challenges that you face. It may address one particular weakness you have. So learn from it. I believe that such learning is a major reason that we are even here on the earth… In receiving help, we may help others to actually do what is good. So we need to understand that asking for help may actually be of benefit to others. Don’t exclude them from the opportunity to serve.”

Dr. Stephenson has a PhD and one year of post-doctoral study at Harvard Medical (Children’s Hospital). He spent seven years in the United States Navy, running the special education diagnoses for 12 Department of Defense schools on a remote island overseas. He has been a teacher, has worked for the family courts, was President of his state’s Psychological Association, and ran a very successful private practice. He has a wonderful wife and four great children. You’re Going To Rio: A Psychologist’s Journey In Multiple Sclerosis, by M.B. Stephenson, PhD, is available on Kindle and may be purchased by going to