Why I Push Myself to Do Difficult Things

Last updated: April 2018

I won’t toss off a dusty old saw like “use it or lose it” to justify the push to be more active. Not because it’s stale, but because it isn’t true. We can use a lot of things and still lose them. In fact, we all start out using everything. Then the body breaks down slowly, like an aging, rusting car. You sink more and more money into it for a broken oil pan, a burned out air conditioner compressor, a broken suspension spring. Then the undercarriage rusts through and the muffler brackets snap, letting the pipe drag along the road. The engine gradually loses power. Pretty soon you drive it to the junkyard and buy a new one.

On the other hand, people are not at all like cars. We can’t get a trade-in for a newer model year with heated seats and built-in GPS. We have to zip-tie the tail pipe to the undercarriage and limp along in the right lane so the vibrations won’t loosen it. When the disintegration gets really advanced, it would be so easy just to ugg along at 20 MPH until we run out of gas, coast to a stop, fall out of the car and onto the berm, and get scraped up by the Highway Patrol like so much road kill. But no. That only works if you know your expiration date, which most of us with multiple sclerosis do not.

We all use it and we all lose it. Slowly, over time. We do two things: 1) reminisce about our salad days when our chrome gleamed in the August sun and our horsepower was running on all fours, and 2) fret over the future about our demise and our fear of suffering. It’s like getting stuck riding a golden escalator in the public space of the Trump Tower: it’s safe, attractive and easy, but anything gets boring if that’s all you do every minute of your life. You know it’s time to hop off the golden stairs to nowhere when you start thinking seriously about running for President.

The popular solution that stops us from glancing forward and backward and setting our heads a-swivel like Linda Blair’s in THE EXORCIST is now known as mindfulness. It’s a kind of meditative exercise that keeps us in the moment. Exorcism used to perform the same service, but priests don’t get trained to cast out demons anymore. Non-revenue-generating services in the RC church have been passed down to the laity. We’ll just have to teach ourselves the Latin verses that burn Satan’s ears and send him screaming back to Hell. I know it sounds hard. But hey, practice makes perfect. I can’t think of a stronger motivation to push myself to do that difficult thing than Satan setting my orifices afire and flinging my body across the room.

So I pushed myself to do a difficult thing just last week. Nothing on the level of demon-casting, mind you. Two days before Thanksgiving, having reached 72 degrees F, it was the last warm day in November and the last we’ll probably see until spring.  My car was filthy inside and out. I hadn’t taken it through a car wash since the day President Obama won his second term in office. Debris and dead flowers from my hanging plants bought last May littered the floors and seats. The trunk was so full of loam and dried leaves it looked like the start of a compost pile.

I wrestled with myself for a while, tempted to wait until my guy, Mike, came to visit so I could ask him to clean it for me. I knew he would, but something stopped me. I wanted to do it myself. I’d been on a roll recently, making myself do household cleaning which has always been difficult and painful—but has now turned out to be easier than in the past. I’ve long missed the feeling of satisfaction I got whenever I did a project myself. Doing these little things pumped up my confidence, which solidified my feeling of independence, which improved my mood and made me more optimistic about remaining self-sufficient for longer than I thought possible.

Vacuuming the trunk just killed me. I had to bend forward, extend both arms, and maintain that stance while pushing the vacuum nozzle up and down the trunk floor. But then a terrible pain appeared in my left side, a familiar, sickening, inexplicable pain in the buttock, hip, and flank. It often happens when I’ve been standing for a while or bending forward. But I pushed myself through it and finished the vacuuming as fast as I could. The pain disappeared as soon as I changed my position and sat down.

During Mike’s next visit, I proudly told him what I’d done. “I was going to wait for you, but I did it myself.” He nodded and rubbed my leg, signaling his pride in me.

I figure that if I can do a thing, no matter how hard it is, then I should do that thing. Not because I won’t be able to do it someday in the future, but because doing it now makes me feel independent and capable and totally in the moment. Movement is my mantra.

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