Coming To Terms With Our MS To Help Us Live Our Best Life

 "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."~Buddha

I wake up.  I open my eyes and lie in bed for a while, hoping to feel refreshed.  My thoughts run fast, trying to remember everything I need to get done that day.  How’s the weather?  A quick look outside tells me it’s still gray and chilly.

I sit up and toss my feet over the side of the bed, lifting myself off the bed one vertebra at a time as I slowly come to a stand.  That’s when it dawns on me again.  I wasn’t having a nightmare; I still have it.  I still have Multiple Sclerosis, and a small part of me mourns one more time.

Get over it, I tell myself.  You’ve had this thing for 26 years.  There’s more right with you than wrong.  I love that line. I say it quietly to myself a few times.  There. I feel better now.  I’m ready to face another day.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned to compartmentalize my emotions.  Sadness, depression, anger and joy are all a part of me, coming and going in waves depending on the day.  Through the years, I’ve taught myself how to deal with each emotion as they try to take ownership of me.  I’ve learned to acknowledge them, own them and toss them aside, because I choose to live a life of quality.

Right about now you’re probably saying to yourself, “How in the world can I do that?”  I’ll tell you a little secret: It isn’t an easy task.  But it is a necessary one.

I think a big obstacle for some people is admitting they are experiencing a feeling that is troublesome. In other words, instead of acknowledging a feeling and giving into it, they fight against it and push it aside (think of Scarlett O’Hara telling herself she’ll think about it tomorrow.) That simply doesn’t work.  I’m not a trained therapist, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you openly acknowledge a feeling and allow yourself to truly feel it, eventually it will either diminish or disappear.

Having MS is, in my mind, something akin to being in mourning.  You mourn the loss of a part of your body.  You can’t do what you used to, and you grieve for what’s lost.

"You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor." ~Aristotle

There are 5 stages of loss and grief.  Generally these apply to people who are mourning the death of a loved one. I think they also apply to people diagnosed with any kind of illness.  The stages are as follows, and outlined for people with MS:

  1. Denial and Isolation: We learn of our diagnosis and can’t believe the news.  It has a strange name, and we don’t know much about it. We block out the details, and isolate ourselves from others.  We hide from the facts. 
  2. Anger: Once denial and isolation have worn off, we begin to feel anger at the doctor, our family and friends, the illness, our bodies and the world.  This anger carries us through the first waves of pain when we feel our loss.
  3. Bargaining: If we had recognized our symptoms earlier and gone to see the doctor, could we have avoided this diagnosis?   If I had been a better person would things be different
  4. Depression:  We’ve lost a part of our healthy bodies that will never return again.  We mourn the loss of our legs or arms or the ability to go a day without a nap.  We feel sad and we grieve.   
  5. Acceptance:  Learning to cope with our abilities, and not to focus on our disability, is a precious gift we give to ourselves.  We must teach ourselves to accept who we are. Maybe we can’t walk, but we still can write.  Perhaps we can no longer write, but we can still speak

We must come to terms with the way MS has changed our lives so we can accept who we are after our diagnosis.  Then, and only then, can we move on to living the best life we can possibly live.  After all, don’t we all deserve that?  You bet we do!

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