Sometimes the Destination is More Important than the Journey
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” --Arthur Ashe, tennis pro (1943-1993)
Pain forces us to live in the moment
This thought is true in so many ways. If we apply it to living with multiple sclerosis, we could say the journey is synonymous with mindfulness, living in the moment. Chronic illness requires us to exist intensely in many moments, with several symptoms experienced all at once and throughout each waking hour. Being held in the grip of MS symptoms hogties us to the moment. Time slows to nanoseconds, an Einsteinian increment that no smartwatch on earth can measure. But we can. Not with a timepiece but in the pit of the stomach. It is this that determines the exception to the quote, the reverse of the premise. For example, pain is an MS symptom that guts the value of the journey. Pain relief is the destination we seek. The journey is rife with misery and merely prolongs it.
"Relief is a destination, not a journey." – Me
We could gut another quote, too, whose meaning falls along the same edge:
"No pain, no gain." –Jane Fonda. (Also attributed to a 2nd-century rabbi, a 17th-century poet, and 18th-century statesman Benjamin Franklin.)
No gain without pain
To be fair, I’ll provide the context for Fonda’s quote. She put it out there during the 1980s while taking on the role of exercise maven, selling exercise videos with the soundbites: There is no gain without pain and Feel the burn. Her inspiration came from professional athletes pushing themselves through physical pain to achieve the highest levels of performance. Think of a ballet dancer practicing through a painful pulled muscle in preparation for a performance of “Swan Lake.” Traditionally, suffering through one’s training was the expectation. As a kid, I had a dancer friend whose toe shoes had blood stains. She showed me her bruised, scabby, bent toes, explaining that dancing en pointe was a painful ordeal.
Our kind of suffering
But multiple sclerosis patients are not in training. Not only is our kind of suffering needless, it commences without our having done anything to bring it on and sometimes ends without any intervention, an example being a bout of neuropathic stabbing pain. In this case we grit our teeth and wait until it’s over, much like we would during an assault or slamming into a ten-car pileup during an ice storm. It is being done to us and all we can do is hang on to our garters and hope we don’t die. Time slows to a crawl. If we are lucky, we get through it with our sanity and senses intact.
Our burden to pursue
Life with multiple sclerosis is a unique journey for each of us. Part of our coping involves encouraging each other to embrace it when we are strong, enjoy it when we can, and derive life lessons from the endless symptom management that it is our burden to pursue. We often don’t feel like it. On top of that, we still hear the echoes of yore, a finger-wagging lecture that suffering is something to be done in private, kneeling before a makeshift grotto in the bedroom, candles aglow. We move our lips silently, confiding our pain to the One, the source of life, and otherwise keeping our own counsel.
Going public with suffering
Going public with our suffering is a relatively contemporary trend full of contradictions. It will provide two brick walls for us to run into headfirst. One wall is called Self-pity and other’s name is Wanting Sympathy. Our social conditioning has trained us to recoil from self-pity and wanting sympathy, having been deemed moral failings. To my sensibilities, this is a sad situation that keeps the sufferer in her own little corner where shame coexists with pain and loneliness. I for one shamelessly proclaim my need and desire for sympathy, support, and understanding. Nor do I find shame in self-pity. I attach it to grieving, a more acceptable emotional state in our strange culture — but not very much more acceptable. I give sympathy, compassion, support, and understanding every day, it’s natural for me. I only want from others what I already put out in the world.
Finding safe harbors
Going to a public forum with our suffering can bring compassion, sympathy, empathy, supportive words and understanding. It is a destination that counts when the journey has become unbearable. Multiplesclerosis.net can be a safe harbor from the harsh voyage that one has sailed—and a warm, dry place to stay before we embark on the mysterious voyage that lies ahead.
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