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Adapting to MS Disability (Beware of Your “New Normal”)

Posted Dec 13 2012 9:52pm

Woman-Running-on-BeachHumans are adaptable creatures.

If it takes 45 seconds for the water in your shower to get hot, then you learn to wait 45 seconds before stepping in. If you find a revoltingly humungous water bug on your bathroom floor one day while in mid-pee, then you start scoping the bathroom floor for unseemly creatures before sitting down on the toilet. (Yes, I may have pulled that example from recent personal experience.)

Adaptability is an essential quality for humans to possess. Survival of the fittest and all that. The ability to adapt is biologically hardwired into us. We need to learn how to get by in our environment, whatever challenges it may present. However. When it comes to living with multiple sclerosis, adaptability is not necessarily your friend.

I’ve heard the phrase “my new normal” bandied about a lot in the MS community. It refers to the experience of adjusting to the various disabilities that MS can cause. But though I of course understand the benefits of accepting what is, and doing what’s necessary to make it through a day, I want to bring your attention to the ways in which our natural tendency toward adaptability can get in the way of our healing.

disability02MS is a tricky bastard. You have a flare-up that affects your left eye, for example. Then it passes, but you notice that you’re generally less competent with that eye – you can’t focus as well and it’s a little less comfortable to watch television at a typical couch-to-TV distance. So you compensate by relying more on your right eye to suss out the details of your surroundings.

Before you know it, a sorta-disabled left eye is your new normal. In fact, you become so accustomed to it that you likely have forgotten the experience of having fully functioning vision. Then, perhaps a few years later, you have another relapse and suffer more severe problems with your eye. At that point, all you are wishing for is that “new normal” you had previously, where your left eye was only kinda not working.

Do you get what’s happening here? MS has a way of stealing away a person’s optimal functioning in such small increments that we simply adjust. We adjust and adjust and adjust to these small changes, a bit at a time, and then suddenly we wake up one day and we’re disabled.

But what if, instead of adapting to our new normals, we fight like hell for our old normal – our fully healthy, vital body that we once knew – even if it’s been decades since we can remember inhabiting it? What if we stubbornly refuse to adjust to each new level of disability and instead create a clear and firm intention to keep fresh and alive our goal of a healthy, optimally functioning body?

What if every time we adjust to a new normal, we are – outside of our awareness – giving a form of consent to our body to continue down the road of disability? What if instead we said, NO! Not acceptable! I will remember the experience of my healthy body and I will work with fierce determination and commitment to get back there!

How would this change of attitude alter the actions you take tomorrow? The day after that?

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn to get by as well as possible given the limitations of your current physical condition. What I’m saying is that adjusting often becomes a synonym for forgetting. And what I want for you is to NOT forget.

What I want for you is to have a clear, powerful vision of your fully healthy self, a self that never adjusted to any “new normals”, a self that has been untouched by illness. Remember that pure version of you and use that as your goal to return to – not the mere “normal” of less-disability-than-you-have-now.

Do you think adapting to disability is the same as giving permission to your body to fail you? Weigh in here .

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