A ChristMS Carol

Following my last relapse in the summer of 2012, I had a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’d never had any kind of therapy before and I’ve always had quite a short-fuse (about stuff which really doesn’t matter). But the further I got from my diagnosis, the angrier I seemed to be getting.

I seemed to be stuck on Stage 2 of the Kübler-Ross model of grief1, never getting beyond Anger – not healthy or nice to be around.

I found CBT to be a good therapy as it's nice and practical – some therapy can be a little bit too far removed from the reality of a person's actual experience, whereas CBT is all about being aware of where your thoughts come from and which particular situation has prompted them, and then coming up with coping strategies for the future.

That’s a bit CBT 101 but a trial funded by the MS Society2 in the UK showed that CBT is better than supportive listening for helping people to adjust to the early stages of MS diagnosis.

So ever since then I’ve been trying to be more mindful and use the little CBT I’ve had to take stock and try to focus on the positives.

Now I’m not saying this is something which I’ve got sorted – far from it. And it can be a struggle but I’m trying. But it really has brought me positive benefits.

Even taking this into account, I seem to have at least one night a week when sleep is impossible to achieve – mostly my head is swarming with thoughts of things I need to do, maybe the spasms in my limbs (what I like to call my ‘Disco Legs’) are a little too active. When this happened last week I found myself thinking about Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – it’s the time of year plus I had recently watched the EXCELLENT Muppets version (don’t mock, I love The Muppets and it is a great version).

So it was on my mind. Mostly I was thinking about the structure and how it odd it is that the Christmas Present section is the part which really drags.

Even on the most cursory reading, the bits you remember are Christmas Past - with Scrooge’s harsh schooldays, his lost love and the Fozziwigg *ahem* I mean Fezziwig parties - and the scares of Christmas Yet to Come.

In comparison, the Christmas Present section is all about… well, not that much really. Yes it’s got Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s nephew Fred but that’s pretty much it. Not very sexy.

But the thing is, the Present is what Scrooge needs to change – and it’s the only one he has any control over. The past is the past because it’s passed. And the future? Well, that’s anyone’s guess.

So as we head into the year end, however you choose to mark it, please be mindful and PRESENT in the moment. It’s so easy to get bogged down with perceived failings in our past and worries about the future, even without having a chronic illness.

There’s a great line from an INCREDIBLY obscure song (“June in December” by The Frightened Prisoners of the Kraken – don’t look for it on iTunes or Spotify!) which steals the tune to Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”:

This year, let your presents be your presence.
The time will come you wish that’s what you’d done.

We should all enjoy it while we can - and take it from an official grumpy old man, we can all be as happy as we possibly can be in our present circumstances if we would only let ourselves.

I realized last year that having a GOOD OLD MOAN is not the ‘Magic Bullet’ which researchers around the world have been searching for in the fight to end MS.

(I know! I was surprised too!)

The future is an unmarked road which you build one step at a time in the present. So deal with that (which is hard enough at times) and be thankful for it, and the future will be… whatever it will be.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

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