I’ll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed

An important discovery: I’m only really terrified of premature death when 1) I’m going through an MS relapse or 2) I’m not on the right path with my life. Right now, it happens to be both.

Instead of giving into the fear, I’m better off sitting patiently with myself and trying to determine what exactly I need to change.

Because ultimately, fear is always a symptom for me that I’m doing something wrong–and it’s usually something within my control, if I have the nerve to face it and actually make a change. But change is hard. I know what I need to be doing, but I get stuck in old patterns that reinforce a predictable cascade of other problems.

In the case of my MS relapses, they are almost always triggered by times of great stress. For me, the stress that triggers MS is more often physical than psychological in nature. An example was when I broke my wrist, the recovery from which preceded my initial relapse that led to my first diagnosis.

Or when I was working in downtown Dallas, commuting three hours a day–but even that in itself wasn’t the source of stress; it was when I got a new boss who was very intense and I couldn’t keep up. (So I guess that one may have been part psychological, on top of conditions that were also physically stressful.) During that time I was drinking regularly and I had temporarily taken up smoking again. Perfect recipe for a relapse.

Then last year it was changing to a high-fat, low-carb “keto” diet. I believe that particular diet can work for many people, but I do not believe it is good for MS. I actually think low-carb is good for MS, but not high-fat. I hate low-carb and low-fat diets, but they’re what make me feel healthiest.

And this year’s relapse that I’m in right now is also a combination of physical and psychological stress, due to the aftermath of getting rear-ended (which didn’t cause me much physical injury, but the intense runaround of trying to get the other driver’s insurance company to repair my car was a near-daily nightmare). And I wasn’t eating well or exercising. And then I went to a concert that required me to stand on my feet for a couple hours, which my body can’t normally easily handle anyway. Any one of those factors alone probably would’ve weakened my HP (to borrow a term from my kids’ video games) but adding them all together was like a knockout punch.

But I did not have relapses during times of great emotional stress, like when I moved down here or when my middle son was hit by a car or when our previous rental had termites and we had to wait months to move. At those times, the rest of my life was more in balance. Even Cammy’s death didn’t cause a relapse, though it did cause a period in which I rapidly lost major amounts of hair.

The recipe for relapse is a sign that I have failed to manage my stress, to adequately practice self-care (is it bad that I’m still not totally sure what “self-care” even means?) and protect myself.

Just like if I’m stressed out about money, that’s usually a sign that I need to spend less and save more, I suspect I could minimize a lot of my relapse triggers by paying very careful attention to my health.

And then there’s the fear of premature death, which I’ve realized only strikes me when I feel like my life is completely on the wrong path. Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had that fear of premature death when I was working outside the home.

The way I came to realize that is because I was almost paralyzed with fear about an early death yesterday when I heard about the death of my young former church friend. But today I found out that I have an upcoming job interview and I have a really good feeling about this one, and suddenly that fear went away almost entirely.

Another time when I felt that fear of premature death was after my initial MS diagnosis and I realized I might not ever get out of my small hometown in Michigan that I hated so much. The diagnosis gave my life a sense of urgency that was quite frankly terrifying. It was a wake-up call that if I didn’t make some major changes, I was going to be very unhappy with what I had done with my life.

The same is true now. I slipped back into working at home because I had gotten some better-paying freelance clients and had written some articles I was really proud of. (As a side note, I do find it really fascinating that I wanted so desperately to move back here and most of my work is specifically oriented to this area now.) And besides, the FT job search had gotten discouraging. Maybe those were signs to give up on my dream.

But just as my dream to move back here from Michigan never died–and I’ve never regretted the decision to do so–my dream to work outside the home again hasn’t died, either. Just a few days ago, I was thinking my life just wasn’t going to go the way I wanted and there wasn’t much I could do about it. My doctor wrote me a prescription for an SSRI for my depression and anxiety, which I filled but have been holding off on actually taking.

And today when I got the notice of the scheduled interview (along with some other potentially positive signs about this particular job), suddenly I didn’t feel like I needed the SSRI anymore.

I know what I need and it’s the same thing I’ve known I’ve needed for years: to work outside the home. Working at home is awesome for some people, and there are some people for whom it’s terrible and a recipe for depression. I’m in the latter camp and nothing is ever going to change that. I need an external structure. I thrive on seeing people, even if they’re not my best friends. I am at my worst when I can structure my own days and rarely see anyone.

So I don’t know if I will die prematurely or not. I still have the same risk factors that I did yesterday. But I feel more hope again that I can control them and that seems to make a world of difference.

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