MS was never part of the my life plan. Like most, my initial MS diagnosis was a long and bumpy road. When my MS became progressive, the road changed to a detour in uncharted territory with no end.
How can I face such a bleak future?
It seems to me that I have a choice between two basic options:
- I can live with Progressive MS and be sad, grieving for the life that is not to be. I can be angry because it's just not fair. With every new symptom, every hint of a potential new symptom, and each function that is harder or slower or just not there any more, I can become more grumpy and cranky. Or,
- I can live with Progressive MS and come to peace with it. I can learn to accept each new symptom and delight in things I am still able to do. I can find new ways to enjoy things I have always enjoyed and even find new things to appreciate. I can choose to make an effort to maintain a positive attitude and be as happy as I can be.
Notice that both of these choices still include Progressive MS. I do not like it, but I cannot eliminate it, and I can still choose to be happy.
"The really happy man is the one who can enjoy the scenery
even when he is taking a detour." ~ Joan Olsen from Fayetteville, Arkansas*
Some people accuse me of being a Pollyanna. Maybe. About a year ago I wrote an article addressing that thought. Explaining my Pollyanna attitude I wrote, "Pollyanna is often understood to be a naive optimist who just doesn't understand reality." I don't see her that way. She simply makes an effort to find the best part of every situation. I have a very clear picture of reality with Progressive MS. I wrote and researched the Progressive MS articles that paint such a dreary picture of my future. Realizing that my reality may find me totally dependent, immobile and in pain, I can take time to develop and appreciate my understanding friends and family. I concluded that article by saying: "It may be naive, but I prefer to think of it as facing reality with a smile."
I am a person with disabilities, but I am also a person with abilities. I am grateful for those abilities. I strive to have a positive attitude and make a positive contribution to those around me.
I am not alone facing an austere future with a positive attitude. My online friend Michael B. Gerber, also an MSer with Secondary Progressive says, "I am a happy man. I wake up feeling happy every day of my life. I lead an amazing and very active life, filled with family and friends."
How can a person who is living with pain and physical dysfunction be happy? It is important to know that happiness is not a state of constant glee; rather, it is marked by pleasure and cheerfulness.
".. .beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it,
you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance."
~ Anne Frank
Sometimes it is difficult to find the beauty in misfortune or the happiness in a desolate situation, but it can be done. Here are two sources that may help with the search.
The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin has a blog, The Happiness Project, meant to help all of us. Look at the left sidebar for her twelve commandments and scroll down for lists of tips. One of her recent projects was writing a book on happiness.
Every Wednesday is tip day for Gretchen when she posts a list of tips that lead to a better day, with a different focus each Wednesday. One day she wrote 13 tips for a lousy day. I know, I know. A chronic illness hardly compares to a lousy day, but when I read these I was touched by the relevance. Most of them fit right into my life, and I bet some will work for you, too. Tip number 11 on the list is "Write it down." What a good idea -- write about your thoughts, problems, and accomplishments in a sharepost here on Health Central.
This list also reminds us to look at our other identities. Here our common identity is as an MSer, but we have to remember we are also mothers, friends and sweethearts. Some of us are writers, crafters, artists, programmers, advocates and any of a number of other things. MS should not make us forget who we were, still are and can be.
Gretchen's list reminds us to stay in contact. There is a tendency to isolate ourselves during and after the diagnosis, just when human contact becomes more important than ever. This tip is important for the happiness of anyone with a chronic condition. Be grateful.
If this isn't enough, Gretchen has created a happiness project toolbox. Her toolbox is a fun way to track your resolutions, keep lists, collect favorite inspiring quotations and more. Try it out!
The Pursuit of Happiness
Here's something else to think about. Dr. George Vaillant, director of a 72-year Harvard study on aging, ran across some interesting insights on happiness over the course of the study. He saw people strive for fame, and in the process, learn that it is not perfection but dirty laundry that symbolizes a perfect life.
In his The Pursuit of Happiness video, Vaillant highlights important things about happiness learned along life's journey. First, "Happiness isn't about 'me.'" The person whose goal is to be happy, misses the point.
"Happiness depends on what you can give, not what you can get". ~ Gandhi
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion." ~ Dalai Lama
Dr. Vaillant also said "Enjoy where you are now." He ended the video with "Happiness is playing and working and loving, and loving is most important. Happiness is love...full stop."
My Progresses MS does not stop me from playing and working and loving. I can still choose to be happy. What about you? I would like to hear your thoughts.
Notes and Links:
*quote from end of Password Plus with Alan Ludden on GSN
Gretchen' Rubin's The Happiness Project
Read the entire text of Michael B. Gerber's "My Story. My Symptoms. My Sorrows. My Successes. My MS."
Dr. George Vaillant's Pursuit of Happiness video
Published On: June 30, 2009