MAKING MEANING WITH MS
Featured in Healing MS, Spring 2017
I was diagnosed with MS eight years ago, and my strength to battle, cope, and come to terms with my life now, has changed over time. What I’ve learned through it all, is that it doesn’t matter if you get your ability to cope from external influences like doctors, medication, support groups and therapy including, occupational, physical, or speech (I’ve had to take part in all three) and of course friends and family.
Perhaps you get your strength from within, both mind and body. The important thing is that you do something to help yourself and not focus on, “why me?” Feeling sorry for yourself, and the depression that often follows, are totally natural reactions and absolutely have their place in your journey. Here are a few of the tools that I’ve used that have helped me limit, to steal from the Star Wars universe, that, “dark side.”
Eight years ago, I thought what I’m about to say was complete, “bull.” Then I started meeting with Shelly White in the Social Work Department of IMSMP, and TALKING. Talking about your feelings, about your MS and starting a journey of self -discovery and learning to get to the bottom of why you’re feeling the way you do, becomes a major source of strength. That knowledge is power and is able to give you back some desperately needed control. Let’s face it, at least for myself, the thought of not having control of my life anymore is what’s led to most, if not all of my emotional and mental struggles. Talking through this with someone helps, and even though I don’t meet with Shelly anymore, I have been in therapy ever since and am a big proponent of it.
Another tool that has helped me was being introduced to the practice of mindfulness and mindful meditation. This was also an idea, that years ago, I would have laughed at. It’s basically the practice of being able to stay in the moment. It’s helped me focus on what’s, “real” and not the crazy or bad thoughts that can creep into our heads when we’re not paying attention. Especially with MS, if you can’t anchor yourself to real life, in the moment, you can really drive yourself mad with depressing thoughts about what your life may become and what the future holds. I recommend it for anyone that can get too much in their own heads. I know I can, and to be honest, I’d much rather remain positive. Mindfulness helps me do that.
The last thing I did is leave my career in finance to pursue something more rewarding. Now, I work at a school for the developmentally disabled. This has done two things that I feel have helped me. First of all, working helps me to feel that I am still a functioning member of society and does a lot for my feeling of self-worth. Too many people with MS feel they can’t work. This can lead to feeling ostracized and isolated from the rest of the world. I’m not saying everyone with MS can and should work. I’m saying if you can’t work, find something you feel passionate about and do it. Maybe it’s selling things over the internet, maybe it’s joining your local Italian American Club, or maybe it’s writing a blog about your experience with MS, like I am now. Secondly, reality is just the lens you choose to see your life through, and when you look at it through the lens of others less fortunate, you just might gain a new perspective. Working with the developmentally disabled, gave me a new perspective and allowed me to give something back after all of the help I’ve received over the years.
These are some of the tools I’ve used that have become my strength over these last seven years to help me cope with MS. I hope it helps you do the same.