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bowl of vegetable saladsSueBE wrote about having lost weight on a diet, and she did it the right way: sensibly and over time. I did it the wrong way recently, cutting out everything with any fat, sugar, salt — heck, even taste. Ate only fruit and veggies. Sauteed squash with a bit of olive oil and Mrs. Dash turned out great, but other dishes weren’t as tasty, so it was discouraging. I was convinced it would be worth foregoing all foods with flavor when I got on that scale at the doctor’s office. Cut to: I’d gained five pounds! 

So what went wrong? It was a diet of deprivation, and I was focusing only on the numbers, not on how I felt. 

I’ve realized since that draconian approach failed that I really do love fruit and vegetables, just not as the only items on the menu. I’m keeping “heart healthy” and have shifted my focus to sticking with the basics: eating the things that are good for me, along with an occasional thing that just plum tastes good. (Plums are among the things I love, by the way.)

I’ve also gotten into the habit of moving more and sitting less. At a seminar for people with MS, a nutritionist told us this:

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

This means that the adverse effects of a sedentary life-style are on par with the negative impact of smoking on a body. Yikes. Okay, I’m on-board. Now I get up every hour, and if I’m reading a book on the computer, I’ll put it on “read aloud” so I can do some stretches while listening. 

Small steps over time. That’s how to make lasting changes, and stay positive along the way.

I was reading a book online and decided to put it on the “Read Aloud” option. A robotic voice named “Microsoft Mike” narrated the text without inflection and, often, incorrectly. When it got to the word “Malignity,” it pronounced it as, “Molly Good-Nighty,” which made me laugh. That sweet name sounds like the antonym of the word’s true definition, which is “malice or malevolence.” 

I was still cackling about “Molly” when I came up to a page break, which looks like this:

*****

And the robot-reader announced in its flat affect: 

“Asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk.” 

It was a book with a heavy theme, so these unintentional comic breaks were actually welcome.

A robot narrator has its limitations, and one of them is that it has no soul. It’s just reading a script as programmed. In real life, it’s hard to stick to a script. Days rarely go as planned. There are detours on the road. Unexpected delays on a project. 

When things get heavy, taking a laugh break might be just the answer. Laughing involves breathing (which we often forget to do fully when stressed), movement and social interaction.

Moments of levity can be the difference between going through the day on auto-pilot and feeling like yourself again.

alex-jones-Tq4YjCa2BSc-unsplashGot a problem? “Give it to God,” they say. Only sometimes it’s not that simple. I, for one, tend to be an ambivalent giver. I claim to hand over my trouble, only to take it back obsessively, ruminate on it, rummage through the possibilities, ponder all the “what-ifs.” As if Providence rests in my nervous little hands.

The great and wise Richard Rohr once said, “The opposite of Faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” It’s a lesson we, like poor Hamlet, learn the hard way. That in the end, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—….”

And, as we know, “the rest is silence.”

Of what substance
is hardship made
that, in shaping it
with sturdy hands,
it liquefies, slumps,
refuses to hold its shape?
Persists with devilish intensity
to be captured or controlled?
If only we understood:
That in lifting our hands,
in setting free that which
we cannot sculpt to our ends,
the obdurate thing will fly from us,
ascend to one who will form it.
The shape it takes, no wringing of limbs
will change. It is what it will be.
Swallow it, in pieces, as you can.

You know what I realized today? That I wished all my doctors had multiple sclerosis.

Wait. What?!?

Hold up. That’s not what I meant at all!

Let me re-phrase that. What I meant was, a doctor with MS would have unique insights that might be helpful to me as a fellow patient.

This is what it’s like to write a blog post with MS-mind. My posts begin with disjointed ideas that eventually make sense. Still, I’ll never publish a post until Lori or SueBE has had a chance to proofread it. 

Often, I find that I’m trying to explain symptoms to doctors who see through a lens that’s calibrated by conventional wisdom. Once, I told a physician that food, liquids and pills can get stuck in my throat due to trouble swallowing. She suggested liquid medications instead of pills, but that wouldn’t be helpful, as it would take several swallows to get down, as opposed to a pill, which is only a gulp or two of water. 

That’s why I’m encouraged to read a blog like The Cricket Pages, because it’s written by a young lady who’s licensed as a social worker, but also struggles with anxiety. Her description of getting lost in a parking deck after taking her licensing exam was nerve-wracking just to read, and so relatable.

So while I don’t wish illness on any doctors out there, as this article about a doctor who became a patient shows, it can change their perspective. That can be the case in terms of faith as well. If you’ve been through hardships in your life, you know how it feels to soldier through it alone. You can be a healer yourself. All it takes is a word of encouragement and a heart of compassion.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder just whom I’m looking at. The face, the body…none of it seems familiar to me. I don’t just mean the wrinkles that cross the bridge of my nose or drag down the corners of my mouth. It’s more than that. I find myself looking for recognizable signposts: the purple mark above my right knee, the scars from a childhood double-whammy of chicken pox and rubella. Getting older is scary. Good thing we don’t have to do it alone.

The hands I know, but they are my mother’s;
the square face an artifact from Germany, I think.
My hair — impossible curls after a lifetime
of lying listlessly but reliably straight.
I cannot find myself in my own face,
though I search for traces like a dog
sniffing clues. Who is this strange woman
haunting my mirror like a cautionary tale?
I have not chanted “Bloody Mary,” yet here
she is, her visage a map of days, of years.
Where was I during this time? Asleep?
But Sleeping Beauty never aged like this.
Or perhaps I was inside, cleaning house.
I hope I was. One day, my soul will rise
to meet me, as familiar as the ache
in my ankle when weather turns cold.
She will lead the stranger home.
And I will know myself at last.

When I was driving my son and his friends everywhere during his school years, I couldn’t wait for him to reach driving age so I wouldn’t have to be their chauffeur anymore. As it happened, soon after he got his license, I had to take myself off the road due to my visual impairment. It turned out to be a tough decision, though, since not being able to drive anymore really limits your — wait for it — autonomy.

As I thought about all of the things taken from me by my MS, I’ve come up with a theory. Instead of calling them deficits, I’m wondering if it isn’t really just the unorthodox method by which my psyche has tried valiantly to protect me.

Trauma from the past we’d just as soon forget getting us down? Inner me waves a wand. Poof! Don’t remember things anymore! Have some memory issues!

Don’t want to feel this bad ever again? Poof! Don’t feel things. Have some neuropathy!

So what if I have to Google “how to hard boil an egg” every time I want to make an egg salad sandwich. I’ve let go of the guilt of not being able. Everyone else can do X. I can’t. Okay, I’ll focus on doing Y. What I can do is tell you my stories and offer encouragement to get through your own hardships. When I’m not sure if my thoughts make sense on the page, I can always rely on Lori and SueBE to proofread for me. Find your team and you’ll find your way. I focus on what I can do, and do it.

We’ve all got our share of dark clouds in life, but the silver lining is this: you’re still you. You’re still here. You’ve got the chance every day to carry on.

After doing a bit of introspection, I’ve decided that I’m an old soul, but I’m young at heart. I feel like I was born old. I’m 53 now, but I’ve always been a homebody. Don’t like to travel. Really don’t like change (in my pockets or in life). Love cats, knitting, classic movies. Love my son with all my heart, and am always coming at him with positive platitudes. “Always do the right thing, son,” I’ll tell him. I know what you’re thinking: That’s so Mayberry!

At 21, I got sciatica. At 36, I got a macular hole. Around that time, I was diagnosed with MS as well. I got the medical issues that normally occur later in life, earlier than expected.

There’s always something hurting, somewhere in my body. There’s always a bill on the counter I can’t yet afford to pay.

If that’s just how it is, I decided, I’ll work around it. I’ll be in a good mood. Not as good a mood as circumstances allow. You can’t make the situation your supervisor. It doesn’t get to decide how you feel right now, in this moment. You do.

When you set down roots in the place where peace resides, you’re safeguarding your own soul. Until you improve a situation, at least don’t make it worse by focusing on that problem alone. Take your mind off it when you can. Give yourself permission to be okay. And in that positive frame of mind, you might just change things for the better.

Started out the day with cereal, a cup of coffee and a knot in my stomach.

My feet hurt. The fence needs fixing. How will I….? What do I do if….?

Paused.

Had to take a moment just to be in the blessings I already have.

You can’t come at troubles with a troubled mind and make them better.

Not to be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing in different ways, 🙂 but, looking at a problem through a problematic mindset won’t solve the problem.

If your mind is churning, unsettled, anxious, that’s problem number one to address. Calm your mind. Leave the room where you sat, wringing your hands. Go into a room you designate as your peace room. For me it’s my sunroom, but it can be any room you choose. Breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Be where you are right now. Not in the fearful future yet to happen. Get to the place inside where you know all is well. That’s not to minimize the issues you need to address. But you can only do that when you’re in the state of knowing the world hasn’t ended. Gravity still works. So does grace. Your feet are still on the ground. The sun is still shining.

In that peaceful place, an idea may come to you. If not a solution, a stopgap measure. Be still in your blessings and listen for an answer. Some way will find its way to you.

Let me just affirm what you already know: Things are lousy right now. There is no equality, no justice. No hope? Sometimes it feels like it. Then I hear a little voice (it sounds suspiciously like Auntie Ruth) saying, “Focus on the bright side; focus on hope.” Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. But hope, like faith, never claimed to be rational. It just is.

Advice for those who are sinking: First
find a reed, however slender, to grasp.
If muck sucks you downward, lie on your back,
float: improbably, hope will buoy you.

I read the handbook, yet trust forsakes me.
I hover, the slough still plucks and pulls.
Hope, foolish and fleeting, throws me a rope —
faith fills my chest; my heart is a red balloon.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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