Being Grateful: Validate the Hardship and Strive for the Bronze

By Stacie Prada

I used to think being positive meant focusing only on the good things in life.  I was really good at it too. A friend would say she’d had something bad happen, and I wouldn’t miss a beat to respond with how great it is that a worse outcome didn’t result.

I did it with myself too.  It seemed like if I let myself think about the difficult things, that it was being negative. That it could lead falling into a dark place of feeling bad and never climbing out.  I once had a counselor tell me after 9/11 that thinking about what happened doesn’t make you sad. What happened makes you sad.

In that way, thinking about having multiple sclerosis doesn’t make me sad. My chronic illness and progressing MS symptoms make me sad.  Ignoring them doesn’t change the fact that I have both. We’re not limited to feeling one emotion at a time, and feeling sadness or frustration with one aspect of life doesn’t preclude feeling optimistic.  I’d argue that we need to feel one to appreciate the other.

To feel genuine gratitude, I need to know it’s not mandatory to stuff my feelings and be happy every moment. I can’t ignore the tough parts of my life and only acknowledge the things that make me grateful. I can’t just write a list of unrelated things to be thankful for and stay sane. If I’m feeling sad or resentful, I need validation that it’s understandable to have those feelings. If I skip this step, I’m minimizing my frustration or implying I don’t have a reason to feel bad. Once I sit with it, grieve for it, and assure myself I’m not weak or overreacting, I can then choose to focus on things that make me grateful. Sometimes it’s a quick shift, other times it’s a rough climb out of funk. Either way, it helps me come to a place of genuine appreciation in my life.

I think about it as winning a bronze medal. There’s an article in Scientific American, Why Bronze Medalists Are Happier Than Silver Winners, that I think we can use in our own lives to be happier.  People who compete and miss winning first place exhibit less happiness than people who don’t perform as well but still make it to the podium. Silver winners focus on the one person who did better.  Bronze winners compare their performance to all the people that tried and didn’t win anything.

When I’m grateful, I’m recognizing my efforts and satisfaction. I’m not seeking perfection.  I’m looking at how amazing things already are.  I may acknowledge what could be better, but I’m recognizing all the ways it could be worse. Some people seem to have a point of pride of noticing the error or the flaw in things. They can make you feel like you’re never good enough. Try not to judge yourself harshly and add to feeling miserable.

How we perceive our situation makes all the difference. When living with a progressively disabling chronic illness, things will stink and be sad and frustrating and feel too big to deal with at times. Sometimes the best I can do is know that how I feel right now won’t last forever.

The measure of success changes depending on my health.  If I can participate in a race and come in last, I’m grateful that given my circumstances I can do it at all. If I feel bad, I know that’s a part of the condition and grateful for the abilities I still have.  If I’m experiencing a permanent loss, I acknowledge that it’s sad to experience the loss and grateful for the time before the loss.

Strive to have a mindset of someone who’s coming in third.  Or someone who’s in last place and may or may not finish. You’re still doing it.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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Emotional Wellness

Taking care of your emotional health is as important as taking care of your physical health.  Really, they go hand in hand.  Eating and sleeping well and exercising regularly can help you feel better about yourself.  Conversely, if you are in a good mood, you are more likely to make good decisions related to your physical health.  For example, when you feel good, you’ll look forward to exercise and not view it as a chore.

When I think about emotional wellness, several words come to mind:

Happiness – Are you making choices and doing things that bring you joy?  Life is too short to waste it on things (and even people) that bring you down.

Acceptance – When things don’t go your way or you have a personal setback, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.  Take a step back, learn from your mistake and then make a plan to move forward.

Optimism – It’s emotionally draining if you always think the worst will happen.  It can cause serious mental and physical health problems.  So, try being more optimistic; focusing on the positives rather than the negatives in people and situations.

Resiliency – Life is full of setbacks.  What defines us is how we respond to them.  As the band Chumbawamba sang in their 1997 hit Tubthumping, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down”.  These are simple words to live by.

Positivity – Much like optimism and happiness, it’s important to have a positive outlook on life.  It is so much easier to attack challenges in life with vigor rather than dread.

According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking is linked to a wide range of health benefits including:

  • Longer life span
  • Less stress
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Increase resistance to the common cold
  • Better stress management and coping skills
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
  • Increase physical well-being
  • Better psychological health

This doesn’t mean that everything in your life will always be positive.  It’s normal to have a variety of emotions.  However, working to replace unhealthy thought patterns with positive ones will help prevent you from getting stuck in negativity.  Give it a try and see what happens.  I’m positive you’ll think it’s a better way to live!

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Finding Peace

Did you know that September 21st is known as the International Day of Peace, or World Peace Day? A day that encourages peace and the strength of positive ideas and movements, this internationally observed time is celebrated throughout countries across the world.

In a society that’s currently faced with some troubling and distressing times, it’s important to reflect on the idea of peace and what it means to you. It doesn’t have to look the same from person to person because everyone is unique in their own thoughts and feelings. It’s about carrying out behaviors and actions that can increase positivity and optimism and a sense of tranquility.

The things that can endorse and increase peace do not have to be grand gestures. It can be personal and private moments where you find strength from certain actions, or it can be doing good deeds for others and promoting positive thinking. The possibilities of peace can be endless because the gestures and concept behind it are endless.

You can find peace through meditation, songs, books, your relationships with others and yourself. You can choose to get involved in community activities or ask others to join events that help promote peaceful and positive thinking. No matter the task, the idea of peace can be translated in many different forms and its message remains everlasting.

What brings you peace?

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

lemonsWe’ve all heard this saying or one of the many similar to it. Since we are focusing on “positivity” this month I thought it was an apt saying to start with. To me, this saying focuses on how we react to certain situations, usually negative, that we face often in life. A lot of the time, these situations are out of our control. The one thing we can control is our reaction to an event or situation.

I guess you can say that an MS diagnosis would be considered a bushel basket full of lemons. Well, now you have this big basket full of fruit! So you have two choices: You could put the lemons on your counter, stare at them from time to time and watch them go bad. Or, you can turn those lemons into freshly squeezed lemonade. You then get the best out of the fruit and turn a perceived negative into a positive.

It all comes down to you and how you decide to approach life’s challenges. While it’s sometimes difficult, tackling things with a positive attitude is a much better option than facing things with dread. I’d much rather enjoy a nice cold glass of freshly squeezed lemonade any day!!

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Loving Yourself First

What is love? Webster’s dictionary defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”. After a day like Valentine’s Day, it is hard not to question the concept of love. Perhaps you are in a long term relationship, maybe you have yet to find love, or have just ended a relationship. By definition, love doesn’t solely rely on a relation with another person, it can define the feeling you have for yourself as well.

Truly loving yourself and having the respect for the person that you have become can be a challenge for some. Uncontrollable events occur in life that may change the way that one perceives themselves. Perhaps there are goals or outcomes that seem unmet, or feelings that are unresolved. Coming to a place of understanding and acceptance of the uncontrollable events and embracing the change they may have created is the first step in loving who you are as a person.

By accepting the changes that have occurred, you allow yourself to move forward without any self-doubts or negative thoughts. But this too is a process. One does not wake up one morning and choose to accept the many years of life’s up and downs. Daily affirmations or positive thoughts about your self can be an effective way to practice self-love and acceptance. You can create your own, or utilize one of the many that can be found in books or online.

The Law of Attraction states, “like attracts like”, meaning, what you put out into the world, is what you attract. If you feel positively about yourself and love yourself, you will attract that same level of positive energy in another. When you don’t like yourself, or don’t feel yourself worthy of love, it can be difficult for someone to find that in you as well.

The change to a place of self-acceptance and love cannot occur overnight. If you feel as though you need additional support or help in removing the self-doubts or negative thoughts, a counselor may be able to assist in getting to the root of those feelings. Everyone has a right to be accepted and loved, personally and by others. If possible, seek help from a support group or counselor. It is never too late to make a change.

“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt” –Max Lerner

References:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love

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Making the Best of a Bad Situation

By: Matt Cavallo

In terms of the heat, spring is quickly turning to summer in Arizona. Daily temperatures are already constantly in the nineties, creeping closer to triple digits every day. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, this is a problem. As the heat levels increase, so does my fatigue. Each day for me is becoming a battle of will and determination to accomplish simple, everyday tasks. My refuge from the heat is to hibernate in my cool, air-conditioned house.

Recently, I was at work and received a call from my wife that I wasn’t expecting. She told me that the central air-conditioner in the house went out. She went on to say that the AC repairman said the motor was dead and the entire unit needed to be replaced. The sticker shock of what a new AC unit costs was another blow, but with my MS, there was also no way I could afford not to replace the AC.

As I hung up the phone, I started to feel defeated and stressed. It always seems that just when I am starting to get ahead, I figure out a way to fall behind. As I reflected on the situation, I realized that it was out of my control. So what was I to do now? There are all kind of events in life that we don’t plan for, and this was a big one. I could let the worry, stress and financial considerations of the situation bring me down into a negative place, or I could look deep inside myself and somehow find the positive.

I decided that I was going to be positive. The AC was twenty years old, too small for the house and a real drain on our energy bill. We had talked about replacing it for years and this situation was forcing our hand. When I put it in my mind that getting a new AC was good for us, the negative circumstances started to change. We had a friend that could install the AC for a reasonable price. The vendor didn’t have the AC unit in stock that we purchased, so for the same price they gave us a bigger, more energy efficient unit. That unit then qualified for a $500 tax credit. The best moment, however, was the joy my four year old received as we watched the crane remove the old unit and then put the new unit on the roof. He was so excited to see the construction that it made me excited to share in that moment with him.

When life throws unexpected challenges at you, how do you handle them? You can choose to be negative or positive. I choose to make lemonade out of lemons and then pour myself a nice big glass.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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