Shortly following my diagnosis, I was introduced to a well-connected couple in the MS Community who provided unsolicited support, resources, and care. Years later, I continue to benefit from a run-in around town with this warmhearted couple that welcomed me into their MS network. Whenever we bump into one another, gracious hugs and pleasantries are exchanged, then - ultimately - the question of “and how are things going?” A query laced with the concerned subtext of comprehension, the knowledge of what challenges accompany life with an autoimmune disease. Often, time is scarce and a brief assurance of symptom management is shared. But every so often, we are gifted with time and space to delve deeper and vulnerably share.
I recently had the good fortune of one such impromptu encounter. We spoke in the shorthand of medicalese, understanding the history, studies, and context behind questions that address heat (in)tolerance, aging correlations, and the likes. We touched on the various methods of management - the schedules we keep, the sacrifices made, the practices employed. At one point, my friend stated, “I don’t know what the answers are.” My response: “Maybe there aren’t answers.”
And maybe that’s okay.
We live in a goal-oriented society, a world that celebrates results over process, winning over training, answers over uncertainty. I regularly contemplate this phenomenon. Why focus so heartily on the destination, rather than the drive itself? After all, we only have one final terminus in this life - and I’m in no rush to reach that ultimate resting place. So maybe it’s okay to hold more questions than answers and to prioritize practice over finality.
There are plenty of examples of venerable practices. Doctors practice medicine. Lawyers practice law. Athletes attend team practice. Artists are practitioners of their craft. Practice allows for improvement. It allows for failure. It allows for growth. The way I see it, practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes progress. Perfection is overrated, anyway. I’d rather highlight the flaws, the slips, and the opportunities to learn and try anew. Therefore, with full knowledge that I may not achieve any “perfectly,” I am prioritizing a handful of practices intended to bring light and levity into my life.
I am practicing:
Mindful Routines - Morning tea and breathwork, followed by breakfast, coffee, and crossword puzzles to serve as a gentle blossoming for my mind to take on the day. I mirror this practice at night with another cup of tea, a bedside journal entry, a chapter from my current read, and a sleepy meditation. An enjoyable bonus: accompanying the routines with the flicker of a candle, the birdsong of a sunny patio, or the comforting scents of essential oils.
Walking - Humans did not biologically evolve to be sedentary. And yet, I have slipped into rather lazy habits. While I no longer have the endurance for intense, heart-thumping cardio, I still harness the ability to place one foot in front of the other. I’ve set an intention to walk as regular transportation, a practice that is good for the brain, great for the soul, and carries the goodwill of a smaller carbon footprint.
Sobriety - I spent a handful of months in 2014 as a nondrinker, hoping the choice would result in improvements to my health amidst the spiraling downfall of compounding MS relapses. When the alcohol-free choices didn’t stop the relentless relapses, I re-introduced drinking into my lifestyle. But, the seeming lack of a direct link between alcohol consumption and MS relapses doesn’t negate the hard facts that, as a neurotoxin, alcohol is not doing my health any service. Unlike the last time I chose to eliminate alcohol, I hold no expectations that this practice will be the silver bullet that heals my migraines, chronic pain, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or any other daily MS symptom. But it certainly cannot hurt.
Boundaries - Always a challenge for a people pleaser… I have a lifelong history of bending myself backwards for the perceived desires of others, of overextending myself and going the extra mile. While the external results are applauded, I can no longer turn a blind eye to the internal implications of this exertion. Boundaries are a critical component of self-care, so I just keep reminding myself to listen to the proverbial airline attendants and put my own oxygen mask on before assisting others.
Empathy and Grace - About a year ago, I was prompted to develop a personal mission statement, the core of which is to nurture humanity with empathy and grace. However, while I am readily motivated to extend this practice towards others, it is much harder to proffer to myself. It takes awareness. It takes forgiveness. It takes time.
I don’t expect to achieve perfection in any of these practices. And I don’t know if any of them are the answer to my health challenges. Here’s the thing: the answers aren’t the point. Instead, I’m allowing the beauty and terror of the process to set the stage for a richer life, full of experiences big, small, and everything in-between.