A couple of decades ago I had an experience that has become something I reference to keep myself moving forward when times get tough. It was a defining experience for me because I handled a difficult set of circumstances mostly on my own for the first time in my life. I had moved many miles away from home to a new place with my husband of a couple years and we had no income.
Over 30 years ago I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). When it happened, I was clueless about the disease. I had been physically active my whole life and was suddenly knocked down by something mysterious. I started to notice it on my first day of orientation in graduate school. A headache accompanied by small blinking lights marred my vision as I watched the business school deans outline the challenges we were to face in the 2-year program.
Shortly afterward I went to the student health center to see if they could help me with my symptoms. They ended up referring me to a private physician who ultimately diagnosed me with Multiple Sclerosis. It was in the time between my initial symptoms and recovering from the actual disease and the diagnostic tests that I experienced my most impactful thinking.
One of the tests they used to isolate the problem was a spinal tap. The test itself wasn’t so bad, but the after effects were unbearable. I ended up with a spinal headache because the hole where they took the spinal fluid for the tests didn’t seal as expected. The pain was excruciating if my head was elevated even a quarter inch. No pillow, no support, but lots of pain while I waited for the hole to heal. I laid on my back for a week to minimize the pain. Anything that required elevating my head for any period was difficult to do. Eating, bathing, studying, anything.
I remember the dirty, scratchy green shag rug on the living room floor where I rested on my back for a week. It was my only alternative to laying in bed, 24/7. I had the ceiling memorized in both the bedroom and living room. While I experienced many different emotions as I lay on my back, there was an overwhelming sense of peace that seemed to pervade the many feelings I sorted through. My feelings ranged from anger and frustration to sadness and despair. I was just starting out my adult life, yet I found myself debilitated in ways I’d never experienced before.
It was during that week I made a promise to myself to somehow move past whatever was incapacitating me. I wouldn’t call it a prayer or pleading, but more of a statement. Defiance maybe. I didn’t want the illness, whatever it turned out to be, to define me.
I dreamed of getting back out on my bicycle. I spent many days riding in the mountains of Colorado where I grew up. I even raced for a period. Energetic and healthy again, I imagined myself racing up the mountain and gliding down the other side, the air chilling my face the faster I rode. It became my vision for myself. The confinement and inability to do much of anything forced me to get outside via my thoughts.
Thirty years later I can see a theme of defiance or quiet non-compliance winding through many of my life experiences. It is in stepping up, stepping forward and stepping through that’s kept me from wilting in the most difficult times. Today I can now see how my thoughts have had a significant impact on the life I’ve led and the life I choose to have today. The diagnosis of MS and living with the disease has become an important part of who I am today, but it does not define me. I define me.
It seems simple to think about what you’re thinking, but I’ve learned and continue to learn – my thoughts matter. I’ve spent many hours thinking about why I ended up with MS and now realize the more relevant question is, ‘What does it mean to me to have MS?’ In answering that question for myself, I can see how the disease has helped me grow up, value what I can do to help myself and most importantly, know I can succeed at whatever I choose to do.
What do you think about? Are they thoughts that empower and enable you or are they thoughts that limit you? Take some time to listen to yourself.
YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER AND YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR THOUGHTS