I am sure by now regardless of how long you have been dealing with multiple sclerosis you have grown tired of people telling you to “just stay positive”… Easy for them to say right? Well, don’t take it personally, I mean think about it, what else can they really say? Well the reality is, they are right, I believe staying positive is crucial especially during an exacerbation, and here is why.
A few months ago I took a psychology class, it focused on the concept of personality. I wrote an essay regarding the relationship between determinism versus free choice and optimism versus pessimism. You don’t really have to know what that means, just know that I put a lot of time into thinking about the role of attitude and how it affects our personality and overall destination in life. Here is a small excerpt from my essay to help you better understand what I’m talking about and why attitude is so important:
“Almost everyone will hit a rough spot on the road in life wether it is just once or many times. Everyone has a different way of dealing with their issues but how they handle their situations can be more simply defined as optimistic or pessimistic methods. Does their attitude effect where their life path will take them or is the end result predestined rendering attitude irrelevant? Some would argue, including myself, that attitude is everything. There is more in a glass half full then a glass half empty because of the depth or value an individual applies to it’s contents. Wether this effects your overall destination in life or not, I would say it’s safe to say that it will greatly effect your psychological health.
Consider an individual who has lost his job as a result of this poor economic situation. Everyday this individual looks for a new job online, in the papers, in person, etc, but time after time is denied leaving the individual hopelessly stressed and depressed. The individual is now faced with two paths to pursue, an optimistic path and a pessimistic path. The individual can choose to dwell on the fact that they can not find a job and fester in their own depression and self pity or they can take advantage of their situation and look for the silver lining. How can this individual’s psychological health be effected differently depending on what direction they choose to take?
If this individual chooses to focus on the negative aspects of not finding a new job they will only grow more depressed. Chances are they will grow unproductive and waste time away loosing valuable time in working towards their future gaining nothing as the days pass by. If the individual chooses to be optimistic they will see that now they have the time to pursue new opportunities while still looking for a job. Sure the situation is still a grim one, but now they can work on hobbies such as art or music or like many others pursue starting their own business. The difference is that after a year passes by, a pessimist will more then likely have moved nowhere while an optimistic person will have acquired something new even if they are still unemployed. Because they have been productive and possibly gained new skills or enhanced old ones they are likely to be much more happy then a pessimist would be.
So though attitude might effect one’s phycological health, does it effect their overall destination in life or is it really just predestined? Well lets say that the pessimistic character in this example by chance ended up with a job while the optimistic character remains unemployed. This only proves that attitude might not effect someones immediate desires or short term goals but it does not disprove the possibility that a better attitude in life can create new opportunities further down the line. Lets say that the optimistic character studied business and successfully started their own business which is currently booming and pushing for expansion. Would this character have been in this situation if they were pessimistic about their current life situation? Would the opportunity have presented itself regardless of attitude or did their attitude create that opportunity?
The reason pessimism vs optimism ties in with determinism vs free choice is that attitude effects the choices you make in life. Going back to the man born without functional legs, we can assume that he can live a pessimistic life focused on his disability or he can live an optimistic life focussed on the positive aspects of his life. Looking at this situation as a pessimist might cause this man to focus on unattainable goals leading him nowhere in life. Looking at this situation as an optimist might cause this man to set new goals that are possible for him to achieve. So in a sense he can now choose to be what he wants to be because he knows his limitations but chooses not to dwell on them.. Though certain factors in his life are determined, his attitude is what guides his free choice and in my opinion opens up new opportunities or paths he can take in life.”
So basically, the main point I’m trying to get across is that having a positive attitude can open new opportunities. It will more than likely affect the choices you make altering your overall life path.
But how can you stay positive when life seems so grim?
There is no easy answer to this question, it’s a matter of altering your own perception of life, you almost have to make a conscious decision to try to always look at things positively. I understand that not everyone can do this and that is okay. So here’s my advice on living more positively.
Journal! People tell me I am naturally a pessimist and for the most part I can see why they would think that. When I finally started making progress during my first exacerbation I was unknowingly belittling my achievements. Throughout my exacerbation I had been journaling on a tape recorder and when it came time to translate my recordings to a text form on my computer I realized that my look upon my progress and overall attitude was horrible.
Looking back at my journals I realized just how much progress I had really made and so after I finished listening to my journals for the last week or so I had a much more positive attitude because I realized that I’m way better off now than I was just a few weeks ago. Now whenever I’m feeling down, depressed, frustrated, or angry I can look at my journals and realize that it’s been worse in the past and that everything will be okay. This is literally a way to create your own means of changing your own attitude and how you perceive certain events in your life.
Setting realistic goals:
Though I would typically encourage people to maintain the attitude that MS shouldn’t get in the way of you doing the things you have always wanted to do in life, I still have to say that it’s very important to know your limits. If you set your goals and expectations too high you’re putting yourself at a greater risk of disappointing yourself, you want more success in life than failures regardless of how big or small they are. Don’t try to participate in activities that you know might frustrate you more than it will bring you joy. If you have a weak leg then maybe you should think twice about that professional hopscotch competition unless hopscotch is your life passion, then I would say, don’t let MS take your life away! Don’t let MS rob you of your passion!
Right now I really enjoy writing, but MS has taken a lot of my eyesight and also a good amount of coordination from my left hand. At first, I was frustrated as hell! I couldn’t read what I was writing and I couldn’t type anymore, but rather than letting MS take my passion from me I did what humans do best: I adapted. Since I already knew that reading regular text was beyond my limits at the moment I decided that I’ll just make everything I need to read really big rather than being stubborn and trying to force myself to read smaller text which would lead to frustration and feelings of failure. My next task was to figure out how to write.
I first started looking into modified keyboards for the computer that require only one hand to type. I found one that looked really cool but I was not too enthusiastic about learning a new typing layout. I then turned to the future, voice recognition software! This was perfect for me! Now I don’t even need to use my hands to type, I just speak into a microphone and my computer does all the work! Like any tool you have to know how to use it in order to get the job done right, my software makes mistakes here and there but they are far less frustrating than me physically trying to type so in the end I feel much more accomplishment then I do failure. This is one of the many ways I maintain my positive attitude: set your life up for success, not failure and frustration.
So with that in mind make a list of things you want to do in life and ask yourself, “will any of my limitations get in the way of what I want to do?”. Identify any issues your limitations may present and try to think about how you can work around them, how can you eliminate frustration from the picture? I find that frustration directly leads to a negative attitude so your main goal is to eliminate frustration especially since frustration goes hand-in-hand with stress which greatly affects the body, a big no no when it comes to MS.
It’s a known fact that stress can have physical effects on the body. So it’s safe to say that you have a better chance of maintaining your physical health with a positive attitude than a pessimistic attitude with a stressed out mind. For people with MS, I believe the healing process goes much deeper than taking medicine and eating healthy, you must maintain your mental health as well! And whether you have MS or not maintaining a positive attitude is healthy for everyone! Good luck!
NOTE: if you have any questions regarding this topic or would like advice feel free to e-mail me at Mattalleng@yahoo.com (with a blog related topi) or post a comment below! Thanks!