MS and the Mind-Body Connection: Balancing Optimism and Realism

Cathy Health Guide
  • Does stress take a holiday?  This is a question I’ve often pondered, particularly while experiencing MS symptoms.  When you aren’t feeling well you think more about this than when you are feeling well.  I have relapsing-remitting MS and I have blocks of time when I experience various symptoms that plague me during an exacerbation. 


    At my worst (after a summer of kidney stones and gallstones at the same time – ouch!) I experienced the deepest depression I ever had.  I rarely got out of my living room chair to get dressed. I imagined I’d never be able to care for my young son, and feared my life would be a whirlwind of illness and darkness.  Luckily the depression disappeared (and my hormones went back to normal), never to rear its ugly head again.  But the stress from the depression jump-started my MS symptoms – numbness, tingling and weakness with a side order of fatigue.  It took a long time to get back to my “normal.”

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    When we feel well, we don’t dwell on illness and are optimistic about the future.  We try to take advantage of our good health by living a full life – traveling, exercising, socializing, exploring – and I believe this is as it should be:


                             “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it youcan.”~ Danny Kaye


    However, I also believe that being only optimistic about your life without being realistic is not a practical way to live.  Optimism believes in the best of possible outcomes of an action or event.  Realism is factual in nature and rejects the impractical.  Having pure optimism is good for us physically, mentally and spiritually; a positive attitude goes a long way when you have a chronic illness.  The mind-body connection has been proven time and time again to be an effective way of helping us heal ourselves.  From the website of Dr. Andrew Weil, here is an excerpt from an interview of Dr. Steven Gurgevich, a licensed psychologist specializing in Mind-Body Medicine: 


    “Modern research on stress has shown that anything which influences our minds also influences our bodies. Expose someone to enough stress and sooner or later you will see their body showing signs of strain as a result of that stress. The strain of stress does not have to be as dramatic as a heart attack. The body can express strain by more subtle or chronic symptoms, such as irritable bowel, headache, rash, hypertension, or simply making other conditions worsen. One of the principles behind mind-body healing is that the same mechanism that can make you sick can also be used to make you well. That is, your thoughts, emotions, responses to the environment, lifestyle, and inner conflicts can be experienced as stressful, or they may be used in a positive manner to create healing responses.”


    I believe in the mind-body connection.  I believe in being positive and spiritual – it has helped me in innumerable ways, both physically and mentally.  Yet I also know that I have lived my life in a bubble of sorts and have not allowed a lot of life’s reality to creep into my every day thinking. 


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    I have seen illness up close and personal in those I love and admire.  When I was in my deep depression, my brother lovingly recommended I re-read Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Rabbi Kushner faced his own challenges while living with the untimely death of his young child.  In writing this book, he crosses all religious boundaries about the challenges we face while questioning our belief in G-d and why illness, accidents or death happen to certain people.  Trying to better understand the universe and ourselves could help us grasp a tighter grip when dealing with stress and life’s realities.  But like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, Few people have the imagination for reality.”  How true.


    I know I am a work in progress in trying to find a happy medium between having a positive attitude on life while knowing and preparing for life’s harsh realities.  I will keep working on it because I know it will prepare me for the inevitabilities of things to come.  I will hang onto my dreams, continue utilizing the power of the mind-body connection and work on facing life head-on.  In the end I believe it will be kinder to my MS and make me a better person.

Published On: April 25, 2012