The Mind Games We Play
Living successfully with multiple sclerosis requires some effort on the part of the diagnosed. In order to thrive with this disease, you have to try to live as healthily as possible, search for the right treatment, get tests done, and generally try to adapt to the changes that life with a chronic illness thrusts upon you. Over my years living with the disease, I’ve found that one of the areas that requires the most effort is maintaining a decent state of mind. No, I’m not talking about trying to blindly and naively push a positive narrative onto myself. I’m talking about the little mind games I have to play in my head to keep myself going.
Let’s face it, MS can be an extremely depressing and lonely disease. It can not only take your ability to walk, talk, or even think properly, it can also rob you of your career, friends, hopes, and dreams. It’s not hard to see how easy it can be to get down about your situation. It takes some considerable effort to mentally be capable of handling day to day life with this disease. So many people who suffer from a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis are constantly mourning their previous lives. That phrasing is important, because we are mourning. It really is like losing a loved one. It’s losing yourself, the person you were, at least it feels that way. If you’ve ever lost someone important to you, you know that it’s not easy to not think about them, it’s not easy to control that. It’s not as simple as trying to think positively either. If you had a parent or child die and you kept thinking about them, how would you react to someone telling you to “look on the bright side”? How effective would trying to be positive be?
While trying to force cheerfulness and positivity may not be very effective at helping us cope with the losses we endure because of our illness, we can still take action from a mental perspective. I find that I am constantly playing mind games with myself. Attempting to remind myself that things will get better. My mind experiences a tremendous amount of bargaining and white lies, but it also tries to deal with acceptance. I find I have to constantly remind myself that it’s OK if I feel like crap today, that tomorrow might be better. That’s a conversation I have with myself on an almost daily basis. I’ve long given up trying to ignore my problems and disease; that worked early on, when I wasn’t this advanced, but not anymore. There are symptoms I have not, that ignoring won’t allow me to overcome (I have literally fallen through a window that way). I still do a fair share of mental hurdling though.
Just because I’m not denying my issues and forcing a “positive attitude” doesn’t mean I’m not still trying to convince myself that everything is fine. I am constantly reminding myself that this disease has made me strong. That I’ve been through rough days and gotten through them before. I still get sad and miss my old life (my career in particular). Reminding myself of the good things about my life (and there are many) still doesn’t make me miss my old life any less. Just like you never stop missing that loved one that is gone. It’s OK to miss those things though, as long as it doesn’t stop you in your tracks. You know what, even if it does stop you and you have a really bad day, that’s OK too, as long as you pick yourself up tomorrow. Thinking about “tomorrow” is always a big part of the mental gamesmanship I have with myself. I’m constantly reminding myself that tomorrow might and probably will be better, and if it’s not, then maybe the next day will be. When hoping for tomorrow feels like a washed up dream, I remember that plenty of people have had issues like mine and accomplished a lot. I mourn my past, but I accept that today can still be amazing. It took me a long time to find that acceptance too.
While I’ve rambled on about me talking to myself in my head and no doubt making some readers think I’m a bit crazy, I do want to remind everyone about the importance of mental health when it comes to MS. Depression is a massive issue for those with multiple sclerosis, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I can’t stress how important it is to talk to someone, preferably a professional. Seeing a therapist for your mental health is no different than seeing a physical, occupational, or speech therapist for your other symptoms. So while you may find venting to others or playing mind games with yourself helpful, you shouldn’t neglect talking to a professional. Living successfully with MS involves a lot more than just a good neurologist, it takes a full team of professionals helping you to be your best.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We want to check in. How are you feeling?