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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Becoming Like Water: Adapting and Changing with Multiple Sclerosis

I am a detail oriented "planner" type.

 I like to know precisely what is happening tomorrow, next week, and next year. Are you that way? My conclusion is that this way of thinking can lead to tremendous success, but also severe disappointments! Life doesn't care what your plans are.

We all have plans and goals for our lives....

I was diagnosed with MS in the middle of my Nurse Practitioner education. I had completed 10 years as an emergency room nurse, and decided to return to school to become an NP. I had about 3 years to go when I was diagnosed.

That is a moment of uncertainty. When you think you have your whole future planned, every detail....and then BOOM! Here comes MS to spoil the party. Fortunately, I did not quit. I struggled with this new identity. I had days I did not want to even get out of bed. With supporters helping me, I completed school, and became an NP in 2012. 

Being a healthcare provider is a selfless, often thankless job. There are a few moments, a few great success stories I can think of, which make me feel truly fulfilled by my career. I love helping others, that is what drives me. Often, the days of seeing family practice patients can be monotonous, completing sports physicals for kids, regular physicals for adults, etc. You get into a rhythm, you know how to treat certain conditions like the back of your hand. The management of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, become a daily practice.

I was supposed to be the dependable, reliable, always confident provider, yet MS doesn't always cooperate with that image does it? This dichotomy was a struggle for me, and continues to be. What different roles! Patient and provider. Being ill was not part of my plan, but as human beings we are incredibly good at adapting to our circumstances. I find myself almost developing a split personality, patient and provider. I am sure everyone with MS can relate to this. 

Most of us have roles we are playing in life before MS hits: parents, professionals, friends, spouses, sisters, brothers, students. The role identity changes that occur with an MS diagnosis can be devastating. Adaptation is key. 

A strikingly meaningful quote I came across:

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

― Bruce Lee
If we become "like water," we can change and adapt to any circumstance.

 This is a very difficult task for people like myself: The planners, the organizers, the managers, the controllers, the deciders. The challenge is to bend and flow with the new circumstances of our lives. This is definitely not something that comes quickly or easily. But with time, focus, and patience maybe we can bend a little more instead of breaking.

What do you think? Have you had times in your life since diagnosis that have challenged your life plans? What are your suggestions for coping with this change in direction? I would love to hear your thoughts! 
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