Not only is this a non-productive way to spend any amount of time, it inevitably ends up making me feel worse. It becomes impossible to fully enjoy the parts of my life that are actually quite wonderful and detracts from the non-symptomatic parts of my physical self. I imagine that I also become not a lot of fun to be around.
Just recently, I discovered a simple tip that helps me get out of my "funk" around a particular symptom.
Rate Your Symptoms
Here is all you need to do:
1. Choose your symptom. It helps me to decide on a particular symptom to focus on "diminishing" –if I am fatigued, with the MS hugand significant cognitive issues at a point in time, those feelings tend to blend together into a kind of "MS malaise."
Really pulling out one thing to consider takes away a little of its power over me, if that makes sense. I often choose fatigue, as that really seems to bum me out the most and make me feel incapable of doing many things.
2. Assign your symptom a "score." Imagine a simple scale of "1" to "10," where "1" is a nonexistent symptom and "10" is the worst that symptom has ever been for you (or as bad as you can ever imagine it being). Then place your symptom on the scale at that moment in time.
Taking my fatigue, right at the minute I am typing this, I would say it is pretty bad. However, if I put it on my scale, I guess it is ranking about a "5" or "6" – it is much, much less disabling than it has been in the past. For my "9" and "10," I can remember not being able to lift my head without huge effort, or kneeling in front of my ottoman with my face planted in it, as I was too tired to get up off the ground after putting on my shoes. Compared to that, I am really functioning well at the moment. A little bleary and headachy, and, sure, it would be great to have my feet up with nothing to do, but I am sitting up and typing. Not bad.
I can also put this in perspective by thinking about this morning, when my fatigue was a positively bouncy "3" – I got stuff done without too much suffering. I can hope for that tomorrow – no guarantees, but better than right now would be great.
3. Take it further. Now that your symptom has a score, think about what you could do to bring the score down. Maybe not all the way to gone, but to lose a point or two. What if I got up and had a big glass of cold water or did a little "mini-meditation?" Could that bring me down to a "4" on my scale? Thinking in shades of gray, rather than the black and white of "feeling bad, feeling good," can open the door to feeling "okay" or "just a little crappy." Doesn't sound so good to people who aren't in the MS club, but there are many times I'd be absolutely thrilled with feeling "just a little crappy."
The Bottom Line
Some of you are no doubt feeling like I am full of it, that I am now going to tell you that my MS has been a blessing and that I am thankful for every moment of my life, symptomatic or not. Nah. I still have plenty of times when I am angry and frustrated and can get downright bitter. However, if I can use the very brain that is demyelinating to gain some control over my world, at least my perspective on my world, I'll keep doing it, hokey or not.
Why does this work for me? Rating my symptoms definitely helps me to put things in perspective. It's easy to say to yourself at a particularly bad moment that you have never been more tired, never had such a hard time doing something, never been this forgetful.
However, when you have to think about it in a comparative way, you will probably recall the time that you were so fatigued that you couldn't get out of bed, the time that you just could not finish cooking dinner because there was too much chopping or you couldn't open a jar, or the time that you lost your way coming home from the grocery store.
If you give yourself anchor points like this, you may realize that the discomfort or even pain that you are feeling right now is not as bad. You will also realize that there was time in between then and now when you weren't feeling this symptom so acutely – this reminds you that you will not feel like this forever, despite the fact that time does seem to slow down when you feel bad.
Of course, there is the possibility that today will be your "10" in terms of intensity of a particular symptom. Acknowledge that, with the awareness that "10s" get better – again, remember feeling a different kind of "10" in the past.
I'm not saying this is a cure or that you will instantly feel better. However, give it a try and see if you don’t feel just a little more control over this disease.