Written By: Anna Giannakouros
My MS Journey
From the day I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I tried whatever I could do to fight it. I refused to accept it and the belief that one day it would progress to the point that I would be disabled. I made healthy diet and exercise lifestyle changes, tried alternative medicines, participated in clinical trials, and took the latest medications. I reduced the stress in my life by making employment changes and filtering out negative people. I practiced yoga, meditated, prayed, affirmed and visualized. I believed that I would beat this. Most days I’m still hopeful that I will.
Fast forward 12 years though, and the reality is that the disease continues to steadily progress every year and I am now in fact disabled and unable to walk without assistance. I use a power wheelchair every day and I am dependent on it and other people to help me get around. I also suffer from chronic fatigue and pain. I’m actually living what, at one point, I thought of as my biggest fear.
There was a time when I blamed myself and had regrets and anger on what I could have done better or differently. Things like wishing I had chosen a better doctor or taken different medication. Also, medical mistakes were made that weren’t in my control and I resented that, often wondering how things could have been different for me if they hadn’t been made. But I don’t feel like that anymore. I truly believe that this was the path I was meant to follow and I am proud of myself and my lifestyle and for all the positive changes I’ve made in my life that serve me, independent of having the disease. I would not change a thing.
Acceptance Is Not Giving Up
“The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.”
– Eckhart Tolle
I only recently embraced the idea of acceptance of my chronic illness.
It takes courage and wisdom to know when it’s time to accept an undesired situation.
Accepting a reality that you fought against doesn’t make you a failure or mean that you’re giving up. It means that you have evolved to a point where you can objectively see the situation for what it is and you can rise above it and make peace with it free of judgment and negative emotion. By accepting and surrendering to a circumstance with grace and confidence, we transcend, irrespective of our bodies and current circumstance. That doesn’t mean that we are happy with or believe that we will never get better or be fully happy again–that is actually what giving up would be. It means knowing that we will be okay no matter what the outcome is.
Perhaps even, it’s being open to the idea that it was meant to happen for reasons we cannot fully understand right now.
Understand That Life Happens
“The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer’ and that makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.”
– Eckhart Tolle
We need to understand that bad things happen sometimes in this life and that it’s normal and part of the human experience. No one is alone in that or exempt from it.
People get sick and suffer every day. We all age and we all expire in different ways. We all eventually die; every single one of us. I don’t mean this to sound depressing, it’s simply reality and that’s all it is. As soon as you accept that, you can see things from a different, more neutral perspective.
No one’s life is perfect and there are millions of people in the world dealing with challenging and unfair situations every single day. It’s how we choose to react to these situations that make the difference between a good life and a bad life. It’s not the absence of negative situations; it’s the way that we react to those situations.
Oftentimes, even though judgment, anger, frustration, resentment and sadness are warranted, we must choose a path that better serves us, rather than staying stuck in those emotions. We need to let go of the expectation that our lives should have been different or that this bad thing shouldn’t have happened because for whatever the reason, it did happen, and this is our life right now. Every minute spent hoping that things could have been different puts us into a victim mentality and takes away from the happiness of the current moment, prohibiting us from living our best life possible.
We Can Still Live Our Best Life With a Disability or Chronic Illness
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
It’s our nature to want to not only survive, but to thrive and be happy, to gravitate towards fulfillment. Sometimes it’s our mind that gets in the way of that; we know we need to move on, but we are afraid of what that means or how to do it.
When certain doors close, we must not be afraid to find and open new doors. Don’t spend your time and effort trying to open closed doors or just sit by the closed doors that aren’t accessible to you anymore, because that will only leave you feeling weak, sad, and defeated. Spend your energy finding new doors that will make you feel happy and strong.
Your life isn’t over because you have a disability or chronic illness. Choose thoughts, people and circumstances in your life that better you and make you feel happy and strong.
It’s hard mourning and letting go of what you can no longer do or how you used to define yourself. But once you allow yourself to accept that and move past it, a new space and sense of peace emerges within you that encourages you to begin focusing on new activities and new passions in your life. Then the answers will come.
I know it’s not always that easy and of course there are moments that I still can’t believe that I have MS and that I can’t walk anymore. I do miss my old independent self and the basic activities I used to do that so many people take for granted. But, I have mourned those feelings already. I acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them too long. I have other doors to focus on.
Even though my life has changed, every day I wake up and choose to live my best life possible. For me, that means being the best version of myself, for myself, and for my family and the people that I love. I work on personal projects that inspire me. I set personal goals and reach them in areas of health and fitness. I practice self-care and self-love. I stay active and exercise because that makes me feel good and strong. I do simple things that make me happy like writing, cooking, reading and spending time with quality, supportive friends. I have a sense of purpose.
I’m enjoying my life and feel very happy even though I’m disabled and living with a chronic illness, because I have redefined my life adapting to the circumstance, letting go of what I can no longer do and fully embracing what I can do.
Happiness Is an Inside Job
I used to think that happiness was something brought about by circumstances, surroundings and/or my achievements. Like a certain formula of feel-good experiences, people and emotions that “made me” happy. But what I’ve realized is that peace, love and happiness is something that can be tapped into at any time; it’s a state of mind. In fact, it is our natural state and not something we need to search for. It is always readily available within us, independent of anything else like surroundings, people or circumstances. We just need to quiet our minds and recognize that. Breathe and surrender to it. Remember who we are.
We all have moments of despair and things that happen that hurt us. It’s the nature of the human experience to experience a wide array of emotions. But what’s important to realize is that we always have the ability to return back to our natural state of mind.
No one or situation can make you feel angry or sad unless you already have those beliefs in your head. Similarly, no one or situation can make you feel happy and loved unless you believe it yourself. It all begins and ends with us.
It’s our thoughts that cause our emotions, but just because you think it, that doesn’t make it true. You can decide what you choose to think and the corresponding emotion comes along with that. When you find yourself caught in emotions of despair, recognize it, pinpoint what thought(s) you had that caused the emotion, feel the emotion(s), and then let it go. Don’t get caught in over-thinking or self-defeating thought patterns. They do not serve us and they block contact with our natural state.
Choose happy and positive thoughts to dwell on.
“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”
– Sonia Ricotti
Release yourself from the stress and burden of carrying the weight of your disability or illness. You have done the best you can do with the cards that have been dealt to you and that is something to be proud of.
It’s hard to make sense of these things and why they had to happen, but try to embrace being comfortable with not having all the answers. Perhaps this was meant to be for reasons you can’t see right now.
Make a goal to focus on all the positive aspects of life. To surrender to what is right now, hope for the best and have faith in the future knowing that no matter what happens, you will be okay.
I hope that you, too, can use this situation as an opportunity to learn, grow, evolve and become a better person. Embrace the idea that the healing journey is a path to deeply discover yourself and that good things can come from challenging situations.
For more inspiration and tips on how to live your best life, follow @immakeepstandin on Instagram.