Last week I was taking part in the European MS Platform Spring Conference in Dublin, Ireland. This is the highlight of my year- a gathering of old friends, an opportunity to make new ones and this year there was the chance to try Zumba, have a giggle while strengthening your core at ‘Sadistic PE’ and get all comfortable about ‘Minding your Mental Health with Shana Pezaro, George Pepper (@shiftms) Shift.ms and Scott Ahern (@seechangescott) from See Change. It is this that has me writing today, the state of my mental health.
Making the most of the life we have can be the furthest thing from our minds when we’re struggling or writhing in the pit of despair. In the past it been crap with the odd wobbles every now and then. But today I am feeling good. Today is my 7th anniversary, seven years to the day I tumbled head-over-heels into the pit and started my ‘marriage’. I went to Mullingar hospital to follow-up on the scans and tests I’d had in the weeks before. I was made comfortable in the Day Clinic, attended by nurses who were funny and compassionately powerful with their care. After a few hours, the consultant arrived.
*ACTION* The curtains were pulled around the bed and Mary Kate, Wahil and my Consultant stepped inside. Like a scene from Grey’s Anatomy (when you see everyone step in and close the curtains around the patient’s bed) you just know something BIG is coming. On the 14th May 2007 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, started on a course of intra-venous steroids to dampen down my immune system and went into some sort of post-traumatic shock.
It wasn’t a gift, it hasn’t be a joy nor have the symptoms of MS been anything wonderful to share with others (even though I do!). Too exhausted to enjoy a night with my friends- check. Cognitive clouds that cause me to stammer- check. Loss of balance (fractured shoulder, lip surgery, skinned knees)- check. Or my absolute favourite, BURSTING into uncontrollable tears (Pseudobulbar affect (PBA)) whenever I had any happy emotional response- check. However, though the blinds were pulled down on that lovely bright morning and the bright future I imagined for myself seemed to be shut down, I now look back and say to anyone newly diagnosed or who is down in their own pit, things do get better. What is worth sharing is what has happened since then, the people I have met and the joy I have experienced by staying alive.
How do we do this? We need a strategy, to put things into our metaphorical ‘Toolkit’ that will aide us get out of that pit.
1) Anticipate Change- nothing is more difficult than changing when we are forced to. It is far better to anticipate change in our lives, to think about what life may bring and to make the necessary adjustments long in advance of the change in our circumstances. MS can’t necessarily be anticipated but it is what happens afterwards that counts.
2) Learn something new– no matter what our situation or how much we think we know, there is always something new to learn. Again, is it about not waiting for things to come along. Take advantage of the access you have through the internet and books and knowledge. You will benefit from it and have lots of fun on the way too!
3) Be flexible and adjust QUICKLY- back to Anticipating Change. I know how good I am at feeling sorry for myself but it is when I get back up, brush myself off and learn from my experiences that I can move forward. If we’re flexible and adapt to change, life does go so much better.
Whatever cross you bear, baggage you carry or pit you’re in, you can and will get out and get to put your heavy burden down. Just remember to put it down, to let go of the suffering that we can so easily get comfortable with. No one else can determine the meaning of your life. There have been times when we have to deal with problems we never imagined, when life seems too much to keep on living. Make the choices, make them for yourself today and make them for the YOU you will be tomorrow. Never, ever give up.
*Copper and wool are the traditional gifts for folk on their 7th wedding anniversary. Today I will wear the copper bracelet I made a few years ago at Electric Picnic as the weather in Ireland has actually been too warm for wool. It is a day to reflect and to savour all the good that has come my way.
© Emma Rogan 2014
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