By Chernise Joseph (Zivvy)
It’s Friday, August 14th on another sauna of an afternoon in Texas. I’m hot, yes, but there’s something else to it, too: I’m stressed.
After a moment, I push away from my work desk and decide to shift gears. It’s been an eventful few months, but I’d learned fairly quickly that corona wouldn’t matter if my atria weren’t functioning right. So, I take a break and call a good friend of mine.
A little backstory of my friend: he’s got primary-progressive multiple sclerosis, he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he’s got a wicked sense of humor. We idly chit chat for a while before this blog topic comes to mind and I change the subject.
“Hey, question for you: what are some of your relaxation techniques with MS?”
“Uhhh…” When he paused I knew what was coming next, “should I keep it PG-13?” See? Wicked sense of humor in more ways than one, clearly.
“Be serious! It’s important.” Maybe he can hear the frustrated pleading in my voice or maybe he’s just thought of an answer. Either way, his response makes me think.
“I think the problem with MS is that we spend so much time thinking about how to relax that we’ve kinda forgotten what that word means.”
I consider what he says, and it makes sense. It isn’t that you have more actual spare time with multiple sclerosis, but rather your MS is so prevalent on your mind or in your life that all you want to do is forget it and relax a while, creating an endless loop of wanting to relax but not quite being able to because of that want. Relaxing for a person with MS can be a hot bath, perhaps, but it’s more than that, too.
“Okay, but what do you do, though?” I ignored what he said, wanting to have something to grasp on to besides just straws. “Play video games? How do you distract yourself? I mean, okay, for example: I love cooking. It’s my insta-destressor and it’s legal. Oh, and gardening—gardening is cool, right? I’m literally growing the things I’m cooking. It’s like a return to the hunter-gatherer days or something.” I was fishing and he knew it, but he played along.
My friend just snorts and I can feel him rolling his eyes. “Technically, the whole point of hunter-gatherers was that they didn’t know how to grow their food yet. Also, I’m pretty sure most of them got eaten by tigers.” I groaned. Yep, nothing new or unexpected from that response.
“Yeah, I play games,” he went on, having too much fun with the conversation at my expense. “I’ve been big into Animal Crossing, like, y’know… half the rest of the world. Hey, I’ve gotten better at not making my villagers hate me, too.” He sounded exasperated, if not vaguely sarcastic. I got why he was, it seemed redundant in a way. There was a brief silence in between us until I sighed, resigned.
“Fine,” I relented, tossing my hands up even though he couldn’t see. I give up, I wanted to say, but I didn’t.
I thought about what he’d said. Of course there are the easily consumed techniques that are a part of a thousand Buzzfeed listicles guaranteed to help you feel better in the short term, but when it comes to multiple sclerosis, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, surefire way to relent and relax except knowing that it’s okay to feel stressed or overwhelmed with everything happening so long as you recognize what you’re feeling and acknowledge it for what it is. Relaxing with MS isn’t just having a glass of wine or cuddling your pet, it’s a lifestyle change as generic and as trite as that sounds. Relaxing with MS is forgiving yourself for what you can no longer do and cheering yourself on for what you can. Relaxing with MS is being grateful for every single day because we’ve got a unique perspective now: we know how precious life is because multiple sclerosis has shown that to us (sometimes kicking and screaming along the way). Relaxing with MS is knowing that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes; if doctors could prescribe it to us, I’m sure they would.
When I came back to the conversation, my friend was still speaking, going on about something or another until he realized I wasn’t responding.
“Look, before you work yourself up into something you’ll need the rest of the night to relax from, let me make this easy for you. All you’ve got to do is remember the three P’s, right? Patience, prosperity, and pu—”
I hung up.
*Born in the heat of Texas, Chernise Joseph is an avid writer with perpetual writer’s block. She was diagnosed with MS in 2016 and has been on the ride of a lifetime ever since. Read more from Chernise on her blog millennialwithms.com.