What were the stories that your parents and family told about you when you were young? What’s the very first story you can remember?
Nowhow did those stories make you feel about who you were in the world and what your life was about?
Everyone has a story about their life. It was informed when you were young by your familyand as you grewyou continued to create this story for yourself based on the experiences you had in the world. This story or stories (let’s call it your personal mythology) is the guiding set of beliefs about who you are and what is possible for you. Unfortunatelymany people are walking around with oldself-limiting stories about themselves that were formed in childhood and never updated. Nowas adultsthey’re living dissatisfying lives and don’t know how to make things better. They are living inside a self-created structure with old cemented walls and lowimposing ceilings. Everything that happens to them – everything they consider possible for them and for their futurecannot be any more expansive than the walls of this structure. They cannot think outside this box.
The first story I can remember being told was by my father. The story was that when I was bornthe very first thing I did was grab my father’s finger and hold it tightly. I loved this story and I still dobecause it meant to me that I was someone who knew how to connect with others. Throughout my lifemy family reinforced this story about meparticularly my momand as I grew upthe evidence in the world continued to suggest that this was true of me. This is a really useful part of my mythology and one that remains intact today.
Here was a less useful one: When I was about six my dad used to take me and my sister to Asbury Park on the Jersey shore. They had a mini amusement park thereand I loved to ride the bumper cars and get funnel cake. But they also had an enormous15-foot tall mechanical gorilla that stood at the back of the park and made roaring sounds and moved his arms furiously back and forth. I was terrified of this gorilla. I used to cry hysterically when I saw it. My dad was tickled by this and sometimes picked me up and brought me close to it and teased metelling me the gorilla might get me. I remember him telling my sister how afraid I wasand when we got home he would tell my mom about how I criedand every time before we went to Asbury Parkhe would joke about how I was so scared of the gorilla.
A couple years laterin summer campthere was a big water slide that all the kids went onbut I was terrified. Finallyon one of the last days of campI got up the nerve to go. I grabbed a mat and walked up the steep staircasea line of kids behind me eager for their turn. But when I arrived at the top of the slide and looked downI froze. I couldn’t do it. I could feel the heat in my face as I walked shamefully back down the long stairsall the other campers moving out of the way and snickering as I passed them. I was anxious and afraid of the gorillaI knew it because my dad told me soagain and again. And now I was anxious and afraid of the water slide too. I wasit seemedsimply someone who was…anxious and afraid.
And that’s how that particular story was built. It culminated at age 29whenafter years of chronic anxiety attacksI met Devon White. Devon told me my anxiety was a decisionand that I could choose something else. He taught me to update my storyand in so doingthe anxiety attacks disappeared. I was no longer anxious and afraid. Those walls – so seemingly sturdy and impenetrable – had crumbled.
If you want real changeyou need to update your story.
Your personal mythology informs everything you doeverything you think you’re capable of doingand how you interpret the events of your life. So how are you interpreting the event that is your MS? Do you believe it’s possible for you to get well? Are you happy or do you want some things to change? Is it possible that this illness is a massive opportunity to update your personal mythology? How would updating your story change the way you interact with your illness? What is your story? What about the ways your personal mythology is limiting you? Which walls are you going to tear down?
Tomorrow I’ll be writing about the mythology of the MS community. What does it mean to have MS and what’s possible if you do?