I have always been a driven person, and my MS diagnosis has only made this determination stronger. After my diagnosis, I considered dropping out of my graduate school nursing program and quitting entirely. I became immediately certain that I could not allow this to be the “end of the story.” But I didn’t quit and I completed my Masters in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner degrees in 2012, three years after my diagnosis.
Many people ask, “How did you do it? How did you stay motivated?” The key is to keep a positive, grateful outlook, and to always reach out for help rather than struggling alone. MS can have profound physical effects, but the emotional impact of the disease is the most difficult for me.
Sometimes, with relapsing-remitting MS, we have periods of relative normalcy. Sometimes we even start to believe that we are 100% healthy again
during a long period of remission. But then, we are attacked when we least expect it. Human beings need an element of predictability in life. Without the ability to predict aspects of our lives, we go a little nuts, don’t we? We even tend to become powerless, which is known as learned helplessness.
The idea is that if we learn that we cannot control our lives, we develop an attitude of helplessness. We give up even trying to live or control any aspect of our lives. This is the source of the anxiety and depression that so often accompanies this disease. Fighting that constant, daily knowledge of our utter lack of control over our own bodies is a difficult predicament.
The challenge is to practice a daily mantra of “It could always be worse.” But that is also the solution.
I try to challenge myself to look outward when I am overly focused inward on my own troubles. Looking outward, even reading the newspaper or watching network news for five minutes is often enough to snap me out of my dark place. The suffering in this world is extreme, and is my suffering any worse than anyone else? No.
Wars, starvation, disease, poverty, oppression. The list goes on and on. If I practice gratitude I can always pull myself up and out of the pity party I’ve thrown myself. People need me! I have six children depending on me and mother’s don’t and can’t take sick days.
Remember, you are strong and capable. Repeat this mantra every day: IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE!
If you have found yourself out of work because of your illness, disabled, unable to spend your days at a job, you may have the opportunity to experience true awareness of time. This is a gift and most people will never have the opportunity to enjoy it.
This awareness takes practice but it’s worth the effort. Even sitting in your own home, you may begin to notice your surroundings and you may find that you’ve previously taken them for granted.
If you are still working and parenting, busily raising children and trying to make ends meet, the awareness and appreciation of time is more difficult. Not impossible, however. Your time is even more limited, rare, and scarce. You must work even harder to find that precious moment of awareness.
The stress of daily life interferes with our ability to notice the simple things in life, and this is the unfortunate reality for most people. The battle to maintain both a household and family, and enjoy our lives is ongoing and difficult. If we don’t work at it, it will not happen. Make enjoyment and awareness a priority in your life, no matter what the circumstances might be.
In the spirit of looking outward, here are six six tips for managing the unpredictable nature of MS. They have worked for me, and I hope they work for you.
1. Get to know your body.
Learn to be sensitive to the subtle, early signs of a relapse and slow down.
2. Avoid stress as much as possible.
Go get a massage, do yoga, have acupuncture, meditate, breathe, or practice guided relaxation.
3. Educate yourself.
Learn as much as you can about this disease, and you will feel more in control.
4. Find an excellent provider you can call/email at the drop of a hat.
Find someone you feel is responsive and ready to help you when the next relapse strikes. If you have confidence in your provider, you will feel more in control.
5. Have a support system.
Have a network of friends, family, caregivers, and MS resources. Make connections online, by phone, or in person. Attend a support group or an online chat. Keep yourself connected so that you will never feel alone.
Remember, try to spend a little time each day being truly aware.
MS definitely does not mean that life is over, and the challenge is to overcome the internal emotional struggle. Find a great support group, whether in-person or online, and soon you will realize that you are anything but alone in your fight.
This is a guest post by wife, mother of 6 and blogger, Meagan Freeman, MSN FNP. You can keep up with Meagan and her MS story on her blog, “Multiple Sclerosis, Motherhood and Other Traumatic Experiences.”