My MS diagnosis was one of the best things to happen to me. I hate admitting this because it means I needed a chronic illness to shake me out of complacency. I am one of those people that needs to be smacked in the face, hard, to get an important message. I know this because I’ve reflected a lot on my life prior to my diagnosis.
Hopefully, I learned the lesson to listen more closely to life before it needs to hit me with another big smack.
I think it’s important to acknowledge and honor our life before the diagnosis. It’s so hard to look back at that time: seeing how capable we were, what we could do, what we took for granted…
I wanted to highlight some of the thoughts I’ve had while I’ve self-reflected on my life before my MS diagnosis. T
Unhealthy Before the Diagnosis
To say that I was unhealthy prior to my diagnosis is an understatement.
I was unhealthy in body, mind, and emotionally speaking. I will primarily focus on the negative aspects of my life in this section. As I mentioned last Wednesday, self-reflection takes us down paths we would instead not acknowledge. I have a lot of pain I carry around in my life, and I’ve found what I’ve done up to this point has not worked in effectively managing it. I noticed looking at the origins of the pain helps me begin the process of healing. I am able
I broke down each section of my life where I did significant self-reflection.
My intimate relationships were never problematic, in fact, I would say I was a toxic partner. Demanding, uncompromising, incredibly immature. I reason that my behavior had more to do with how insecure I was at this new type of relationship. When I calmed down a bit and grew a little more secure of myself, my intimate relationships became more settled and satisfying.
A lot of my friendships were toxic. Both people in the relationship were to blame: they were toxic, and I fed off of that behavior like a leech. It wasn’t until I realized my toxicity that I learned how I needed to change. I’ve realized recently that I was not the easiest person to be around. I had a specific image of myself in my mind and it turns out I was nothing like that idealized person.
I had an over-inflated sense of myself and fought if anyone challenged that.
I knew what I was talking about, my truths were absolute truths and any sort of perceived challenge to those truths was a personal attack. I allowed very little room for compromise and judged anyone who I felt was a threat to my ego.
Confronting strangers I thought were rude was normal and I got into it with people in my graduate program. While some of my colleagues were toxic themselves, I reveled in sinking to their level and engaged in all sorts of obnoxious behavior.
Before my diagnosis, I was going through a ten-plus year walkabout with my spirituality. Months after my first bout of optic neuritis and months before my diagnosis I got involved with could only be described as a cult. I never got entrenched, but I lost a lot of money chasing a dream.
It makes sense, I was lost because my body was doing weird stuff and I had a very negative religious experience growing up. I was confused, so this group seemed to offer answers to my problems (my optic neuritis cleared up on its own not long after I started attending). Fortunately, I saw the group for what it was and ran away a little wiser.
That didn’t address the anger and frustration I felt spiritually speaking. The religious experience I had up to that point was toxic, both in teachings and practice. I learned to embrace and live in my anger by following the behaviors of religious leaders and the higher power they followed.
To be angry at a spiritual level is so tiresome and so deep within your core that it is overwhelming. It was little wonder that I was lashing out in my relationships and at strangers, my foundation was anger.
I fluctuated between overweight and obese through much of my adult life. Before my diagnosis was no exception.
I had a brief period where I was “normal weight” but that was not being able to afford food and having to walk everywhere. It wasn’t healthy, it was surviving. Ash even mentioned that I never looked healthy when I was at that weight, just less fat.
While I was overweight, I was miserable but when I looked at pictures during this time I didn’t actually see how much I weighed. I thought I looked normal and rationalized my looks. I recently looked at some photos pre-Jai and shocked at how unhealthy I looked. I remember looking at the same photos and thinking it was a great picture of me.
I did try to get in shape in 2012, a year before my diagnosis. I completed my first half marathon, but I hated running and exercise, so I gave up the hobby rather quickly. I did not eat well, so I never saw any weight loss because I justified my eating habits with the exercise I did in the morning.
Going to the doctor was stressful because both the doctor and I knew my numbers were bad and I was not healthy.
All of these factors build into my emotional state of my before the diagnosis: my relationships, my spirituality, and my physical state. Emotionally, I was a wreck.
I thrived on stress and the negative feelings it produced. I burnt myself out on the anxiety and anger. I know that I hastened my diagnosis because I lived in constant stress for over ten years. I am one-and-a-half years into my wellness journey and I am still coping with the effects of living with near-constant stress for years.
I blamed everyone for my problems. I blamed myself for my problems. I was depressed and unmotivated to make the necessary changes to improve my life. Granted, a lot of these feelings might have been the MS messing with my brain, but I suspect the MS only exacerbated feelings that were already there.
Was I Satisfied?
The simple answer is no.
I was not satisfied with myself or anything. There was a theme in all aspects of my life: my anger.
I was angry about a lot of things because it’s what I knew and found my comfort. I was a miserable person to be around and I am grateful that Ash was willing to stay with me. I don’t think we’d have divorced if I never changed, but I think our relationship would fracture and we’d live separate lives.
I was dissatisfied with my life. I wanted to make a change, but I had no direction and I wasn’t searching hard enough. I was going through the motions of change by participating in the cult and running in the half marathon. It’s what I thought I was supposed to do, but I was going at it so half-heartedly that it was as if I wasn’t doing anything at all.
All I found in my attempts was frustration and discouragement.
I wandered around in my anger. I did not appreciate my life, I did not enjoy life itself. I believe I lost a lot of positive opportunities because I either soured a relationship, rejected before getting rejected, and just didn’t bother to take the chance out of fear of failure.
If anyone was ripe for a life shake up to snap me out of my unhealthy perspective, it was me.
Where were you at?
We all had a life prior to our diagnosis. Yours might have been vibrant and exciting before the diagnosis. Or you might see yourself in what I related above. If you are taking a few minutes to self-reflect, consider some of the questions I came up with myself.
This step is going to require an objective perspective. If you are too close to your diagnosis, you might find answering the following self-reflection questions challenging.
Remember, all of these questions relate to your life before your official diagnosis. This may include that in-between period when you did not know what was going on with
Try to answer the following questions (as they apply) to the fullest of your ability. Writing your responses down will be a great way to go back to them at a later date.
- Did you have a significant other/intimate relationship?
- Were they supportive or distant?
- Did you both have the same goals?
- What did your familial relationships look like?
- How close of a relationship did you have with your parents, siblings, or children?
- Was the dynamic healthy or dysfunctional?
- What did your friendships look like?
- Were you on equal standing in the friendship or was the balance leaning in one direction?
- How did you feel spiritually? If you were spiritual/religious:
- Were you close to your Higher Power or were you just going through the motions?
- What was your relationship? Close? Speaking terms? Quiet?
- Did you place responsibility on this Higher Power? i.e., if something happened/did not happen was it because of them?
- If you were not spiritual/religious, what was your life philosophy?
- Did you reflect on your actions impacting on the world long-term or not at all?
- Did you reflect on death and an afterlife?
- What was your physical activity?
- Were you active, moderately active, or sedentary?
- Did you want to improve on your physical activity or not worry about it at all?
Is the Grass Truly Greener?
I suppose the question we have to ask ourselves is this: was the grass greener prior to our diagnosis?
The reflexive answer is yes, it was. Because we had our health and we were blissfully unaware of our diagnosis. And for many people, life was better depending on the illness and the impact it has on our bodies and abilities. This exercise isn’t meant to make us feel wistful for the way things were, but to acknowledge how things were as a means of healing.
It gives us a chance to consider that our lives may be better after a diagnosis even if that seems impossible right now.
More information about the importance of this exercise will be found on Friday in the newsletter where I will synthesize this week’s posts. Sign up for the newsletter here so you don’t miss it.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton