Trying New Things: The Rewards Usually Outweigh the Risk

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/ 

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Let Today Be the Start of Something New

By Penelope Conway

I woke up this morning yet again to the reality of multiple sclerosis. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. Do you remember that movie? Every morning the alarm clock would go off and the same day would begin…over and over and over.

I don’t know when it started for me, but day after day my life became a blend of naps, computer screens, brain fog moments and doctor appointments. Trying something new just didn’t seem to fit into the mix of things.

From the outside everything in my world looked fine. I had a roof over my head, food in my pantry, an internet connection to get online with and friends both near and far, but what couldn’t be seen were the limitations I began having because of MS and the stresses that came with those limitations.

I failed at everything I tried to do. I had a hard time clipping my own fingernails, couldn’t drive safely even to the corner store, ran into walls that weren’t even in my way, tripped on air, forgot appointments and dropped everything I got my hands on. Talk about depressing…ugh! No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the stop button for the out of control spinning chaos that surrounded me.

If someone approached me with even the thought of getting out and doing something new, at that time in my life I had become so defeated that I couldn’t hear what they were saying and would lash out at them for even suggesting such a thing. All I could see were the things I couldn’t do. Those were not some of my proudest moments, but great friends help you get through the rough patches in life, and thankfully I have great friends.

I call them my Push Coaches. They pushed me to see past my limitations and helped me to see that there is always more than one way to doing something. I discovered that the only real limitations I had were the ones I created for myself and realized that trying new things actually made me happier in life.

As weird as it may sound, stepping out from my daily routine brought excitement to my day and became a welcomed change of pace to the day-in and day-out rut I had gotten myself into.

Sure, my legs may not work well anymore, my hands may fumble with everything I get a hold of, and vertigo may keep me from seeing straight, but those things should never stop me from trying something new. I was determined to try something new at least once a day.

At first I did simple things like taking a different route to the grocery store or wearing crazy colored socks. Those simple changes to my day surprisingly made me smile more. After a short period of time I found myself seeking out other things to try like community art classes and volunteering at the local hospital. I began looking forward to the changes in my day.

It takes a lot of courage to get out there and do something new. If I could be your Push Coach today, I would encourage you to step out from your daily routine and try something new. Change your hair color, try a new tea flavor, join a book of the month club, enroll in cooking classes…just get out there and try something new.

Don’t let MS keep you from having new and exciting adventures in life. Besides, you just might surprise yourself and find a hidden talent you didn’t even know existed.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

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