Independent, Dependent or... Helpless?
Last updated: February 2023
Recently, someone used the word ‘helpless’ when referring to me. I was taken aback. I actually had a ‘funny’ feeling about being termed or viewed as such. I often note that MS has heavily impacted my independence, but I have never associated my situation with helplessness. It prompted me to do a bit of research and self-reflection on the state of my situation, and the message I’m sending relative to it. Is being helpless the ‘vibe’ I'm giving subconsciously?
The word brought me pause
'Independence' is taking care of oneself. On the other hand, 'dependent' means to be reliant on someone or something, and then there is 'helpless,' which is described as being unable to help oneself, weak or dependent, deprived of strength or power, incapacitated, and the Cambridge Dictionary even goes on to say “unable to do anything to help yourself or anyone else…” I suppose I’ve always known what these words mean, but didn't understand until I actually read the dictionary why being coined as helpless brought me pause...
That is not my ideal self
'Helplessness,' by definition, seems almost pitiful, sad even. There's also a term, 'learned helplessness,' which refers to the feeling one adopts when incapable of accomplishing tasks and has little or no control of the environment. For example, if I perform poorly on tests, I’d begin to feel that nothing I do will have any effect on my performance. I am not any of that. That is not my ideal self or who I want to be. That is not my self-image and definitely not the image I want to project, the vibe I wish to give.
I don't feel helpless
Unfortunately, I live with the reality that MS has hijacked the fine and gross motor skills necessary to do even the smallest of tasks without a great amount of effort and without partial to total assistance. However, I don't see myself as or feel helpless. I don’t see myself as or feel as though I am powerless or without strength. I don't see myself as or feel incapacitated, and I certainly don't see myself as or feel that I cannot do anything to help myself or anyone else. Nor, even through the challenges of life with or without a chronic disease, that I have learned to be helpless due to not doing some things well and resigned myself to thinking that that's it for me.
I concentrate on all that I can do
I am no longer independent in many ways. It is necessary for me to depend on a wheelchair or walker to ambulate. It is necessary to depend on someone to help me in and out of my vehicle. It is necessary for me to depend on someone to get me a meal or sometimes cut my food. I could go on, but to focus on all of that is for one that has a pessimistic attributional style. I am the opposite. I am an optimist. I choose to view my life with hope - despite MS and it's unpredictability. I concentrate on all that I can do, what ability I still have, do what I can do when I can do it, etc. Amongst other things, I have a voice - written and verbally - to bring awareness to living with MS and other timely topics. I can be an inspiration to others going through trials. And for physical assistance, I can solicit my network of friends, family and medical insurance.
My choice, my ideal self, my vibe is and will remain to not wither away helplessly, despite the need to be dependent on others and assistive devices for my daily routine. All is not lost and I am not… and refuse to view myself as... helpless.
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: