About Redefining My Fight Against MS.
Twenty years ago, when I was 22, I was diagnosed with MS; it turned out to be the primary-progressive type. Today, after a slow, steady transformation, I can no longer move from the shoulders down. Needless to say, it's been quite a journey.
Having always been the natural sort, I tried everything healthy or holistic that I could think of to cure my MS. I exercised, experimented with my diet, meditated, tried acupuncture, participated in many forms of bodywork, went in and out of psychotherapy, and even got stung by honeybees (God rest their little souls).
One day, while lying on a massage table, I expressed my frustration to the therapist at not being able to "get the better of" the MS. The therapist turned to me and said, "This isn't the shoot-out at the OK Corral, y'know."
Ding. It suddenly struck me that maybe fighting wasn't the way to go if I wanted to be well. That was all I knew how to do; that's all our culture tells us we can do.
When you listen to our language regarding illness or disease, it is usually in militaristic or adversarial terms. We are waging a "war" on cancer. The "victim" who has the disease fights a courageous "battle" against the "invading" microbes. The disease is invariably "the enemy". We either "win" or "lose" the battle. The metaphor and its imagery absolutely pervade our descriptions of illness.
This is not to say that fighting is never appropriate; to everything there is a season. Sometimes, when our very existence is being threatened, we may need to put up our dukes and give it all we've got.
But maybe there was another way of looking at what was happening in my body. Maybe the MS and I could work together instead of working against each other. Rather than perceiving the disease as out to destroy me, and thinking that it was my job to destroy it first, I might find ways we could cooperate with each other. As in any other cooperative relationship, I would need to listen, and there might actually be something there for me to learn.
There was one more hurdle to clear. So often we hear people with physical health challenges say that they're angry at their bodies, or that they feel betrayed by their bodies. Waking up to the possibility that my situation did not have to be grounded in antagonism made me realize that my body was doing the very best it could with the bum hand it had been dealt. In fact, my body and I were allies, working toward a common goal: optimizing my health--body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
There is simply no end to what I have learned these past 20 years. I've learned patience, and humility, and compassion. I've learned that who I am transcends my physical body. I've learned about letting go and about finding connection. I'm proud of who I am today because of the MS, and I'm always a work in progress.
Psychotherapists would call what I have done "reframing"; that is, the facts haven't changed, but my perspective on them has. Where I once fought for a cure, I have now committed myself to healing. What was once an angry, loss-based life has turned into a positive quest for personal growth.
Don't misunderstand. If given the option, I'd give up the MS in a microsecond. But for now, since I don't have that option, I figure I might as well derive as much benefit out of the hand I've been dealt as I can. And I do.
I hope you can, too.
Diane Shrank has a Master's Degree in holistic counseling. She works as a counselor part-time, and writes as much as she can.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1999|
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