By Stacie Prada
I’m realizing I have a pattern of planning ambitious goals or adventures when I’m feeling my lowest. My guess is that it helps me to look forward to something. It’s a way for me to get outside of my head where I’m thinking about how tough things can be.
It’s reasonable to limit activities when you have health issues. Addressing nutrition, rest, fitness and overall well-being is a full-time job. Just the idea of adding a new activity or event to my schedule can create anxiety for what it will take to make it happen.
Doing things outside of my routine usually involves budgeting my energy leading up to and following the event. The lure of staying home and resting is comforting, and conceding to that tendency isn’t a bad decision. It’s often easier and causes less conflict with people who care about us to stick to activities that clearly help our physical health. They may think, and we may agree, that we may be compromising our health and taxing our bodies by pushing ourselves.
I think the key to why this matters is that having a chronic illness can make a person feel weak, powerless and like a victim. Feeling like that is depressing. Setting goals or doing things outside of our comfort zone creates a feeling of adventure and accomplishment. It adds to a sense of strength and empowerment. This is one area of life where I think one can help offset the other. It’s hard to feel powerless when you’re kicking butt doing something you’ve never done before.
It was at a very low point in my health that I found a Groupon for doing trapeze (read about it here) and decided to give it a shot. I bought it and planned going with a friend. Assuming I would feel better at some point and planning the excursion was something that inspired me. It also distracted me from how I was feeling at the time. I went on to do the trapeze class, love it, and go back many times. I tried it, succeeded, and built up my physical confidence.
Conversely, I don’t even need to succeed by someone else’s standards to feel empowerment. There are times when we find ourselves in a situation where we can take the safe route or we can jump in to a new experience. I once endured an uncomfortable and socially horrifying event at a professional conference dinner, and I now think of it as an achievement for me. Picture this: I enter a hotel ballroom where only two tables have people sitting at them. One table with ten place-settings is full. The other has eight twenty-year-old Japanese students. With two seats open at that table, I embraced the moment and asked them if I could sit with them. One of the young men said I could. I sat down, and then the other tables filled up around us. I quickly realized I was now sitting at a table with eight Japanese men where only one of them spoke English. I don’t speak any Japanese. I conversed with the one young man about professional topics to find some commonality. While I did, it was clear the rest of the men were commenting about me and laughing at me. They weren’t subtle, and I’m positive I wasn’t being paranoid. I found myself in a situation where I felt I needed to stay gracious and endure. It was a sit-down dinner, and I felt stuck until dessert had been served and cleared. At an opportune moment, I thanked them for welcoming me and jumped to an empty chair at an adjacent table. My guess is the time at that table was only about 30 minutes, but it felt like hours.
Having dinner with men I didn’t know, where we didn’t speak the same language, and where I was being laughed at was a difficult and social disaster. But I hold it up as a benchmark experience. It’s a figurative badge of honor for me to believe that if I can experience that, then I can probably survive any social interaction. It helped me feel a lot more confident, and that’s a huge deal given how shy and insecure I used to be.
This experience helped me build my social and emotional confidence. Trying trapeze helped me with my physical confidence. Both of them reduce the chance that someday I’ll have regrets for what I didn’t try. Any chance we have to push ourselves outside our comfort zone for things that seem intriguing will have a reward. That reward may be for accomplishing it well, and it may be for just enduring and surviving. Either way, we win.
*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/