Dear Me: A Letter to Myself on a Bad Day
Last month I was reminded what a roller coaster ride MS can really be. I was spending the weekend hiking a trail called Difficult Run in Great Falls, Virginia with some good friends. The trail runs along the water, ending in a series of rapids and falls over which you can spend hours rock scrambling to your hearts content. I got the chance to break in my new hiking boots, and was loving getting outside on a beautiful spring day after a long cold winter. Only days later I developed foot drop and couldn’t even walk down the hall unassisted. Instead of rock scrambling I was now using my new hiking boots as a makeshift foot brace so that I didn’t trip over perfectly flat floors. The endless cycles of good days and bad days are enough to break even the most positive person. It’s easy to get discouraged when you suddenly stop being able to walk straight, or when you have to pick out your first cane. But I also have been through the routine before, and after ever other relapse I have built myself back up. And really, that’s life right? Good day, bad day, good day, repeat.
Once I started feeling better I decided to write a letter that I could read back to myself during those especially tough days. Part of having MS is overcoming the bad days, which will inevitably spring up unannounced from time to time. Everyone has tough days, MS or not, and everyone could benefit from some choice words of encouragement on a bad day. Maybe you are a caregiver, or struggle with other health issues. Maybe you have a dream that you are chasing, but you know that it will take a lot of hard work and long hours to achieve it. Think about it, what could be better then a little pep talk from yourself when you are in need of some extra courage? So the next time you have one of those great days I encourage you to take a moment and write a letter to yourself. I am going to share my letter here with you guys, and I hope it inspires you to do something similar.
A Letter to myself on a bad day:
Today was a great day. You probably don’t remember it, because hopefully you are reading this letter in the very distant future, but allow me to paint you a picture. You woke up early, well rested, and didn’t even have to hit the snooze button. Outside the window the morning sun was burning red and lighting up the New York City skyline in that awe inspiring way it does on clear mornings. You took in the view through the steam of a hot cup of coffee, without having any reason to rush out the door. Afterwards you ran errands effortlessly and even had energy to spare for the gym. And obviously, as with every great day, there were plenty of reasons smile and laugh. You laughed with friends and family. You laughed at things on TV and on the radio as you drove around town with the windows down. Then you came home and cooked a big, delicious dinner and ate it with the love of your life. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem like much in the eyes of others, but I assure you it was an extraordinarily ordinary day.
It has only been a few months since your last relapse, and you bounced back as you always have. This didn’t come easy, you had to work very hard and have a lot of patience with yourself and with your body. All that hard work is showing now. You’ve been away from the gym for a couple of months and your body feels a little soft and squishy. I know you hate that because it makes you feel weak and sickly, but the good news is that you are back at it now and feeling stronger by the day.
Today you aren’t having any trouble walking around, and your brain is fog-free. You are even back to being able to hike, bike, and swim if you want to! Now here’s the bad news, I need you to pull yourself up and do it all again. I know that the whole process of recovering from a relapse can seem like you are staring up at the vertical face of a mountain and being told to climb without a harness. You’re right it is difficult, and it is a lot to ask, but trust me you can do it. I know you are having a tough day, and it is hard to see the payoff. This is a frustrating disease that gives you highs one day only to send you crashing on the rocks the next. For me right now it’s a good day, but for you it’s a crashing on the rocks kind of day. Trust me, the days that I’m having right now make all the hard work that you are about to do worth while.
I know the everyday things like exercising, socializing with friends, and aimlessly browsing the aisles of Target are what you fear losing the most. You won’t. You are not defeated and if you stick with it you will have a good day again soon. Here’s the best kept MS secret: the bad days, like the one you are having right now, take the kind of day that I’m having from good to extraordinary. You were so happy today. Trust me when I say that you will be happy like that again soon, but you have to fight for it.
I know you are worried that this is the relapse you won’t be able to recover from, and that is totally valid. The only words of advice I can possibly offer would be to relax and wait and see what happens. Trust in your medical team and your medicine. Rest, even if you don’t want to! Catch up on some TV shows and movies, read a book, call and chat with a friend. Then, when you feel like you are ready to, start rebuilding. Brick by brick. You know the routine. The cold hard truth is that this is not the first time, or the last time, that you will be required to go to battle with your MS. For now there is nothing you can do to change that. But you can control how you handle the tough times- and you have done an excellent job so far! You and I both know that it is going to take a whole lot more to knock you down completely.
You are not in this alone, you have an army at your back. Your family, friends, fellow MSers, and medical team are all in the fight with you. Take this as a learning experience and use it to connect with others, to teach, and to raise awareness. Great empowerment can come from times of weakness. The most successful people in life usually have overcome great adversity and you too must withstand your own trials. Once you overcome today then you will officially be a success in my eyes- so congratulations in advance! Also never forget that I love you. You will be ok again. It may take a day, or a week, or even a few months, but you will find your way back. And if the day comes where you don’t fully bounce back then I know you will never stop finding a reason to laugh. Like that time you hosted an ice cream social from your hospital bed, or the time you insisted on wearing a top hat when you had to use a cane for the first time. Even though those were bad situations, they are still among your favorite memories because they brought out the best in the people you love the most and in yourself. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference on days like the one you are having right now. Find a little thing to be grateful for.
As my final words of encouragement I’m going to paraphrase a quote by the great E.B. White:
“Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer…things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
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