Mind over body

As I’ve realized how much better I’m getting, I’m also realizing just how much of a role my own attitude played in my health.

I can’t comment on anyone else’s illness, only my own. But I would say multiple sclerosis is pretty bad as far as diseases go. There’s never a day when I forget that I have it. Pain and muscle spasms are such a constant that I almost never notice them anymore. My fingers and feet frequently go numb and that hurts.

And in that, I can see how much my mental state plays a role in my health. It’s not even a matter of “being positive” because that honestly doesn’t come naturally to me.

No, instead of trying to cultivate a forced, unnatural state of positivity, it’s all about what you focus on. If you’re constantly thinking about how bad you feel, you’re probably also constantly talking about it. I know from my own experience that talking a lot about how sick I am gets me attention, but it makes me feel sicker and more helpless, too.

But I have discovered that the opposite is also true. Instead of faking positivity, I simply focus on something else. Kind of like when a little kid is upset, after you validate their feelings, the best thing to do is often to give them a distraction.

I have also made a very conscious decision that I’m not going to focus on being sick. I actually try to live my life as normally as possible without my illness as a factor. If my health makes some things difficult, I try not to let myself wallow in how bad I feel. Because I know that if I do that, I’m going to stay down and have a hard time getting back up.

None of this means that my illness is mild or not serious. Some days are really hard. But I make an intentional effort to just say it’s a hard day and try to move on from there.

The older I get, the more I realize that everyone has something, some kind of health issue. Even a friend I know who’s a very serious athlete still had knee replacement surgery. I know people with cancer, rare autoimmune diseases, fairly severe cases of irritable bowel syndrome, frequent migraines. I know more people than I can count with anxiety and depression (including me.) I don’t actually know anybody who doesn’t have some kind of issue.

But the difference is how much people focus on it. There was a time when I thought focusing on it was the only choice I had. Then I realized that wasn’t actually true. I had the option to focus on wellness instead, on what I could still do.

Suddenly, I started to feel better. That’s not saying my illness was all in my head. But I was actually making it worse.

Thoughts are powerful. What we tell ourselves matters a great deal. And when you change the story you tell, you can change the outcome, too.

I don’t ever want to hold myself back because of my illness. I want to see how much I can do in spite of it.

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