Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fear, Gratitude & Hope Through Giving

I’ve learned a lot of lessons since Multiple Sclerosis became a part of my life. Among my attitude shifts that helped the most was losing the fear and focusing on gratitude and my ability to give.

When I was first diagnosed, my immediate fear was becoming disabled, losing my job, and losing my health insurance. We’re all different, and this was my biggest fear at the time. I attended the local MS self help group meeting where I met people with MS with varying levels of disability. I worried that they would think I didn’t belong at the meeting since I had no disability. I needn’t have worried.  They welcomed me with open arms and incredible empathy.

I introduced myself, told them a little about my story, and then expressed my biggest fear at the time. They immediately assured me it was all manageable, and they described their own experiences transitioning from working professional jobs to being unable to work. Truly it was a gift they gave me.  My biggest fear was something that they had experienced and gotten through, and they still lived full lives and had optimistic attitudes.  It was a huge relief to know that what worried me most was something that they had already dealt with and had advice for how to get through if that time ever comes for me.

I even met a quadriplegic woman in a fully assisted wheel chair whom I would have expected to judge me as not deserving of my anxiety, and she apologized for being at the meeting. She wanted me to know that her extreme MS progression was not the norm, and she wanted me to know there is hope. In what I judged to be my worst fear at the time was her reality. And she was worried about my fear. Her compassion as well as that of the rest of the group attendees touched me deeply then and still does now. It relieved my fear and made me believe that whatever might come would be manageable.

Along with the assurance that potential physical loss doesn’t need to be so scary, the people I met in the self help group helped me to see an appreciation for a life worth living even with full disability.

It was after reading the book, “29 Gifts” by Cami Walker, that my perspective shifted even more about my value in the world. Through practicing daily giving, I learned the wide range of gifts I’m able to provide that don’t depend on money, my job, or my mobility. It convinced me that even if MS takes all it can from me; I’ll still have value and an ability to contribute to society.

The opportunities to connect with people exist everywhere, and I think of connection as a gift I can give. An easy way to connect I've incorporated into my life is to slow down when I'm in a check out line at the store. As a society we tend to go on automatic pilot with a script where we each ask how the other is and respond we're good. I try to avoid being on autopilot, and I'll stop and talk to the person. I make eye contact, and I ask or comment on something other than the typical "how are you" script. I've noticed that people are visibly surprised and touched when they're treated as individuals.  Whether that person thinks of my attention to them is a gift or not doesn't matter. I intend it as a gift and a contribution to a better society, and that's my gift. 

Believing these small efforts and interactions are a contribution to a better world helps relieve my fear of becoming a burden. It gives me not only hope but an expectation that I can live a life worth living even if my body deteriorates.  No matter my level of ability, I’ll still have something to offer this world and not only the capacity but a justifiable right to enjoy living. That shift in belief helps me feel genuine gratitude for not only the abilities I continue to have but my capacity for giving to society in any physical condition. This belief not only helps ease the fear of the future and unknown, it enriches my life experience and builds relationships. Not too shabby. 

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