Why I Push Myself to Do Difficult Things

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (9)
  • Sue
    10 months ago

    When I was diagnosed 15 years ago, the neurologist said, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day.” He said don’t ever wait to feel better tomorrow. He told me to give up vacuuming in exchange for traveling, taking a walk, baking a pie.. that was unless I liked vacuuming.
    I’m in bad shape now. The firemen just picked me up off the bathroom floor. My legs don’t support me or move at night.
    I’ll still go swimming if it’s 72 degrees or warmer in the morning. I don’t miss cleaning,but I would miss the pool.
    I know I’m in a privileged position because I have long term health insurance which pays for an aide and I live near a community pool with a lift and lifeguards, but it was good advice.
    You’re right. Do what you can do today.

  • SweetSunshine
    10 months ago

    I couldn’t agree more with you, and I Myself make it a Habit of keeping my body as busy as I can. Diagnosed in 2010 and being told that I had probably been ignoring symptoms for several years is disheartening. Knowing I was in full swing Menapause was pretty much my conclusion for every miserable day I was having. Swollen legs Aching Legs occasionally weak legs would cause a limp or a fall, Cognitive Issues inability to get good solid rest. Along with so much widespread pain began to just overwhelm me, working in the Medical Field I needed to move swiftly and accurately throughout my day. Patient after Patient and keep my self on track and Remember everything I was doing or intended to do with that patient. When 2 years passed after my Diagnosis and I had fallen at work with no warning, I knew my working days were numbered. By no warning I mean literally No Warning normally I would have weakness or severe pain and I knew that mylegs were about worn out, but to just drop with no warning was New. Once I finally gave into the fact that I couldn’t keep up and I was just making things worse. I had so many difficult decisions to make. After My Work Life stopped, like so many I went through a horrible Depression and became a Sad Unmotivated Full Of Pity Angry Menapausal Women for about a year. A Year I can “Never Get Back”
    And from that point on I made the decision to Fight what was Fighting me, “To The Win” I challenge myself Mentally and Physically each and everyday. It’s not always easy however when I’m able to beat the odds on a self motivated challenge It’s such an Emotional reward. And I know that it’s truly a Profound Statement. “NO PAIN NO GAIN” I’m not saying push yourself until you drop or injure yourself, but Push until you know you have pushed as hard as you safely can. Your body will thank you and yes it will probably hurt, and or keep you off of your feet for a bit, but gaining or keeping some muscle strength and tone sure beats the way I was losing it and getting weaker and weaker. Now I set Daily and Weekly goals and when I complete them Phtsically I’m better and Emotionally I’m Even Better. On the goals I fall short on, I revisit that goal first and than move on. Trust me I still have days where other than going to the bathroom Im just in bed watching TV. But those days are so few that I Emotionally treat it like a reward day. And so far my Brain hasn’t figured it out yet. Lol so it’s a Win Win.
    Be Happy
    Be Safe
    Be You
    MS are Letters and like most of us our Names have Bigger Letters, so Refuse to be MS and Demand to be you

  • Cathy
    2 years ago

    I do the same thing Kim. I push myself every day. The only thing that my husband doesn’t like is when I don’t admit that there are some things that should be left until he gets home from work, and I try to do them and sometimes I end up hurting myself. It was windy, I looked out my window and saw my garbage can rolling in the middle of the street. I got my cane (my walker was in the car). I stepped down the big step onto the driveway, took two steps, my cane slipped on a wet leaf, and down I went. I crawled on all fours to my car and thank God for my upper body strength because I was able to put my hand under my knee and get my right foot flat on the ground and use my upper body to get myself into a standing position. I leaned on the bumper of my car for a while until I had the strength to get to the side door where my walker was. My right hip was hurting so bad and I took a look and saw I had a lump and a big red spot. You would think I would go back in the house, but not me, I pushed my walker down the driveway, retrieved the can, put it on the seat of my walker and pushed it back up the driveway. I left my walker by the front door and was able to get myself back into the house, where I had to sit in my recliner with a bag of frozen peas on my hip for an hour. At that point I realized there are some things I should leave for my husband!

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Cathy, I’m glad your injury wasn’t worse! Take extra good care of yourself. I hope your holidays are fun and safe 🙂

    Kim

  • alchemie
    2 years ago

    As always, excellent work Kim! Thank you. I love reading your stuff. I have my husband saying that I do too much as well. I don’t know, I like to stay busy I guess lol.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hello alchemie!

    Thanks so much for reading and enjoying the words 🙂 It feels way better for hubbie to say you do too much than the alternative, lol. Hope you enjoy the holiday, and please do try to pace yourself 🙂

    Kim

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    This reminds me of my mom. I’m not a kid anymore so mom has a hard time telling me anything, she says I’m stubborn, I tell her I inherited it from her. So the last time she was here, she sees me going up and down the stairs. She tells me she wants to pay for one of those seats that they can install on your stairway and give you a lift up and down.

    I turn down her generous offer, wondering what I must look like using the stairs. Why? Because like I tell her. I’m walking. I’m still upright and walking and as long as I can be, I will do so.

    Am I being unreasonable? I don’t think so. I think when we get MS, we also get something else that makes us want to be independent for as long as we can be. Now, I don’t like stairs and I avoid them whenever possible but when faced with them, I will tackle them.

    MS has taught me many things these last 15 years. One of them is to look inside myself and find strength. If it’s not there, I will ask for help (sometimes, but that’s because I’m stubborn LOL). I have surprised myself many times that I am a strong person and capable of independence. That is a happy discovery.

  • Cathy
    2 years ago

    Hi Julie, I also am having problems going up and down the stairs. My laundry is in the basement. I throw the hamper down the stairs and then I sit and go down on my butt one step at a time. Coming up the stairs is a little harder. Sometimes my leg cannot lift high enough to make it to the next step and I have to put my hand under my knee and physically lift my leg up. It’s only once a day so I make myself do it, but I do realize that one day I could fall and hurt myself really bad. My husband says I should wait until he gets home, but I hate depending on him. I try to do as much as I can without asking for assistance. If someone offered to get the stairlift for me I would accept, because I know that one day I will not be able to do what I am doing now and at least it would be there if needed. It is so hard to give in, isn’t it?

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Julie,

    A happy discovery indeed 🙂 Good on ya!

    I’m like you; if I can’t muster the strength and determination to do a thing then I’ll ask for help. Otherwise it should be my problem to figure out, just like it is for everyone, just like it was before I got the diagnosis.

    If I’m struggling then I’m not dead and I’d like to keep it that way–or something like that. Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read and comment. Enjoy your holiday 🙂

    Kim

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