A man looking in the mirror sees himself as Superman, yet feels the opposite.

MS and the Evolution of My Self-Image

Everyone has a self-image - an idea of what they look like, and the abilities they are capable of. The self-image you have of yourself is often hard to change though, which means your self-image might not totally reflect reality. Chances are, for example, how you thought of yourself before you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) is probably not how you think of yourself now. The self-image you once had is probably not an up-to-date depiction of how you currently look (we all age), of what you are actually capable of doing (walking unassisted, playing music, pulling an all-nighter at work, etc.), or even your personality.

Before MS, I had an abundance of confidence

Before MS became such a huge part of my life, I was an overly confident kid who, like most people my age, felt indestructible. I had zero issues with self-esteem, and I wasn’t at all shy. In fact, I would probably have to say that I was the kind of guy who liked the sound of his own voice. I felt like I was on top of the world! I didn’t see myself as being incapable of anything! So at first, MS was just a bit of a reality check for me, but even so, I was still me. The “me” I had always been, and that remained the case for a long time.

Learning to accept my limitations

OK, let’s skip forward about nine years. MS has definitely brought me my fair share of ups and downs, and my self-image has unquestionably changed since I was first diagnosed because, well, how could it not? Today, I am well-aware of my many limitations brought about by MS, limitations that I could never have imagined I would ever have before MS. Making peace with how I’ve had to change because of them was not easy. But, over time, I did slowly manage to come to terms with my latest reality, and so, it no longer bothers me as much as it once did in terms of self-confidence. Basically? I grew comfortable with my new self-image.

I still subconsciously see myself at age 20

Before I go on, let me share with you what I think is probably the best way to illustrate my change in self-image, which you might even experience yourself. When I dream at night, I often see myself as I did when I was 20 years old. In my dreams, I typically feel the way I used to; I’m not even aware of that thing called MS. It’s just me, driving cars, running, climbing, riding bikes, and everything that I was capable of doing in the past. Things that I can’t do today and may never be able to again. I feel like that is the truest self-image I have. It’s how my subconscious views me, but it’s definitely not how I view me, not anymore. The self-image my waking self has may be very different than the one my subconscious has, but I’ve become comfortable with it over time. Until recently…

Reality slapped me in the face

Because wow, the other day, reality decided to slap me in the face with an open palm of truth. I was expecting a package, and the security camera over our front door started beeping which means that something crossed in front of it. I assumed it was the mailman, but when I opened the door? Nothing was there. No package, no mailman. I was a little confused, so I stepped out onto the porch and walked down the steps to see if there was anyone around the corner. Nope. So, I went back inside and pulled up the security camera footage from five minutes ago to see what triggered the alarm. It looked like the wind just blew something in front of the camera because there was nothing in the footage except for… me.

How I walk has changed due to MS

There I was, stepping out onto the porch and looking around. Here is where my reality got pulled out from under me like a rug. I watched myself step out onto the porch, head down the front steps, walk to the end of the walkway, turn around, and walk back up the steps. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong. I know that how I walk has changed thanks to MS. My balance isn’t so great, and my spasticity usually makes my legs feel pretty stiff, and both cause me to walk with a wide gait (or, if you ask me, waddle like a penguin). After much exercise and practice, I can objectively say that I’m doing substantially better today than I was doing two years ago (in terms of mobility). But what I was now seeing on this security camera footage did not match the self-image I had developed over the last couple of years. I didn’t realize just how bad my walking still was.

Self-image is important

Now, as I read what I just wrote, I feel like this is kind of silly. I mean, what’s the big deal? No one has a perfectly accurate self-image! But I think that for someone like me, someone living with a chronic illness, self-image is extra important as it’s probably the most substantial source of self-confidence we have. “I may not feel good, but at least I look good.” That’s something I’m sure everyone reading this can relate to in some way, but when I saw myself walking around so much worse than I thought I walked? Waddling down the walk-way and up the steps? I realized that my current self-image was not an accurate reflection of my current reality. It was like in the movies when a character who thinks they are the best at something finds out that, in actuality, most people are better than them and that they are not actually very good at all. What a self-esteem crusher.

Taking control of my self-image

After seeing myself on camera, I felt kind of dumb for walking around so confidently because of the way I thought I looked. Again, I know MS has affected me in so many different ways, and I’ve long come to terms with that, but I guess this tiny moment was so crushing because I could actually see how wrong I had been. I could see that how I walked was not how I thought I walked. It was like taking a test in school that you were so sure you aced but, come to find out, you actually got a D. That’s… pretty disappointing. But, as much as finding out that I don’t walk as well as I thought did get me down, it has really motivated me to push myself harder when it comes to fitness, diet, and simply taking care of myself. I want to be the one to determine my self-image, not my MS.

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