Attitude is Everything

“Taking Control of Yourself”

January 23, 2013

I was in the process of writing an article about the ramifications of mental and emotional health when living with a chronic illness like MS, when I came across the following post today while perusing an MS connection online site. It is so incredibly good I am taking the liberty of sharing it to others I know with MS.

“Hi everyone, I have been away from this site for a long time. Just recently got back on. When I first found the site I was looking for help with my MS. Received really good advice then didn’t come back regularly as I should have.

I have learned a lot in the last 7 months. I believe in “pay forward” so I wish to share this with you. I hope it helps and doesn’t insult anyone. The bottom line is I am in control of what I choose to do and not to do, remember this throughout this message.

I have had a multitude of symptoms. Number one is DEPRESSION! I believe this is the cornerstone to a lot of my choosing not to do. I have done mental health therapy with a counselor, PT and OT. Through all of this I became educated. Now I am realizing that I chose to stay in my poor me syndrome. I was so sick of doctor appointments, running constantly which cause me to be exhausted and frustrated because no one could fix me.

I hate the cognitive fog, forgetfulness, physical limitations, sexual dysfunction, tremors, pain, confusion; I hated every part of MS and what it has done to me. I missed the old me and desperately wanted to be fixed without having to work so damn hard to try to get back to the old me. My neurologist told me “change your attitude and you will feel better”. I was pissed off to say the least. It has been 2 months since I have seen him, and I now know he is right. I am in control of my attitude.

My depression was preventing me from living, and I chose to stay this way in misery. We increased my depression meds and I slowly began to change my attitude, which is very challenging with the unpredictability of MS.

I am trying to laugh alot more and trying to adapt to my challenges. Helping myself get enough sleep, drinking fluids, getting educated, another words helping myself. There are days I eat the wrong foods, drink too much caffeine, smoke too much (still working on this need to quit) and those days I know I have myself to thank for how crappy I feel. Exercise is very helpful mentally and physically. I wouldn’t exercise because I couldn’t do what I used to do, so I chose not to do it. This only hurts me more.

So I guess what I want to tell you all, is look deep into yourselves and do a personal inventory. I had to realize I can’t be fixed. No cure for MS. Accept this. Then change your attitude from can’t do to I can do. Find the laughter! As hard as it is to do, acknowledge we are not who we were before MS. We are trapped in this auto immune, unpredictable disease. Say this totally sucks. Then move on. Start over building the new you. Challenge yourself to be the best you can be each moment, acknowledge your success and failure. If you fail, look at the reason why, did you bring this on yourself? Sometimes we cause the situation, other times it’s just the MS. If the latter is the cause, move on; adjust then if you can laugh through it. But you have to move past it.

I type these words and know some of you won’t get it and maybe it will help some of you. I chose not to do a lot; I needed to wallow through the misery of MS. I will have bad days, and if I chose to stay there, this is my choice. I can’t imagine anyone not being depressed with a diagnosis of MS. It’s so devastating. I remember when I was diagnosed I thought “oh thank God I’m not crazy”; there was a reason for what was happening to me. But then I allowed the MS to make me crazy by wanting to be fixed and have all this crap go away. Well it doesn’t and everyday is a new day and full of challenges and ups and downs.

Also, how many times have we heard stress will exacerbate our symptoms, “try to avoid stress”? OMG! Are you kidding me? Ladies and Gents life is not stress free nor is it avoidable. The key to success is how you handle the stress, not how do you avoid it. I mean really you have this incurable disease that has robbed you, this is stressful.

I have a new attitude (most of the time) about stress. It is what it is. I look at stress and think how does this really affect me? I can allow myself to get all wrapped up in the drama, or I can meet it head on, fix it or forget it. If you can end the drama, do it. Set the boundaries. Don’t allow others to suck you into things that really don’t affect you. Shelter yourselves from the unnecessary drama. This only zaps your energy and well being. You need to protect yourself. Stress is like infectious bacteria that want to invade you and make you sick.

Set boundaries, make them know and put up your shield. Some people may think you are being mean or uncaring. So be it. I know what I need to do to keep myself upright and moving forward. If they can’t accept this, then I guess they are not ready to accept me for who I have to be. I can help them but only if they don’t suck me into the stress and drama.

You need to see things in black and white at first, don’t allow a gray area. As I learn more about me and what I can tolerate, I may be able to not have such a strong force field around me. But for now this is what I need to do for me. This saves my energy for the moments I have to really deal with big stressors that take me by surprise. Then when I have those stressful times, I can take a realistic approach to how to not allow it to make me sick. I can think clearer and reset the boundaries for each “big” stressful situation. May the force be with you all!

I hope this rambling helps most who read it. Some of you may think I am nuts (sometimes I am but my counselor assures me I am not crazy). The bottom line is take care of yourself first, everyone else comes after you. You need to find your “new” self and set realistic goal and boundaries and make them known. Say them out loud for loved ones to hear and understand. Ask for help, but don’t ask everyone to do everything for you. Rise to the challenge and find the “new you”. I never thought I would say this, but MS has helped me to see how the old me really wasn’t all that healthy mentally or physically. The new me will be a new and improved, just slower but I have a better outlook today than yesterday and for that I am grateful.

Best wishes to you all! Your friend in MS, Michele”

No Michele—you are not rambling and you are not nuts. You are an incredible inspiration. There is a sign in my doctor’s office that reads “Attitude is everything—Pick a good one!” I love yours and the next time I get down in the dumps and have trouble getting out of it, I will read your post. I give it a AAA+ grade, for An Awesome Attitude.

There is no mystery that people with positive attitudes are happier, live longer, and are stronger.

Thank you.

Transition from Grief to Acceptance

“I Can’t Dance Anymore”

March 12, 2012

I started dancing when I was three years old, and always loved all types of dancing. My favorite dances though were those of my cultural heritage. My grandparents emigrated from Croatia and Slovenia and so the traditions were instilled in me as early as I can remember.

One of my greatest achievements was when I was accepted into a professional musical ensemble called the Duquesne University Tamburitzans. The longest running stage production in the United States, authentic music, song and dance portrays many Eastern European and neighboring cultures’ traditions. Affiliated with Duquesne University, as an accepted member I was awarded a scholarship while attending college.  See

My MS symptoms appeared noticeably when I was twenty-five, though in looking back, I can recall having some balance and coordination issues while I was dancing with the ensemble. My aggressive course of MS left me with the inability to do anything but walk slowly by the time I was twenty-eight; there was no more running, hopping, skipping, or dancing.

I was devastated. While I was teaching my one-year old son to walk, I was losing my ability to do so.

I attended a wedding on November 20, 1985. That night, I wrote in my personal journal: “Everyone danced tonight but me. Again. That hurts. I love to dance. I can feel the potential movements in my system that would direct me exactly how I should move, but I can’t do it. I’m so frustrated…”

It took a long time to get through first the anger, and then the sadness and depression. But the brain is a powerful organ, and I worked on my perspective. These were the thoughts I began to think about and focus on:

  •  I was happy that I had the opportunity to grow up with dancing and enjoyed all the years in doing so. So many people do not get that opportunity.
  •   I found other ways to enjoy dance: musicals, Broadway and Civic Light Opera shows, kids’ performances… Though the show “Dancing with the Stars” can be annoying, I find the actual dancing to be incredible.
  •  An acquaintance of mine was a ballerina with the Pittsburgh Ballet. Ballerinas can only perform for a limited amount of years. She opened up a dance studio and has been teaching young girls ballet for years. Athletes are in the same situation; their prime years are limited and then they have to transform their skills into something different.
  •  Most of all, dancing with the D.U.Tambutizans required immense discipline, dedication, concentration and strength. It was those particular attributes that tremendously helped me to survive my MS.

I will be attending the 75th Anniversary Reunion of the Duquesne University Tambutitzans in Pittsburgh, PA during the last weekend in March. I will be visiting my colleagues and long-time friends with this amazing organization, and watching this year’s production of their two-hour show by the current members.

I am itchy with excitement and pride. It will be tears of happiness that I will be shedding as I watch them all do my favorite dance, the polka, and remember the awesome memories and goodness that I got from all of it.

My feet don’t move anymore and I’m okay with that now. But my heart still moves with a good beat, and that’s worth more.