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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Invictus: Strength Despite Challenge

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

We all have different approaches when it comes to coping with difficult life situations. This poem, Invictus, was my grandfather's favorite, and truly sums up his approach to life. This is a poem that meant so much to him, that it was chosen to be read during his memorial service. This poem sat in his home, on display, serving as a daily reminder to him during the most difficult times.

This is a depiction of one form of coping during challenging times, and it inspires me to read it today, many years after his death. The attitude of many of my family members is that no matter how difficult life might become, we have ultimate control over our fear, anxiety, and worry. We cannot necessarily control what fate has in store for us, but we definitely do not need to spend every single day terrified of the possibilities, do we? 

In the face of struggle, tragedy, and challenge, we always have the option to be strong in spite of it. This manner of thinking allows us to feel that we have some element of control over our circumstances, especially when we feel that life has started to spin out of control. We always choose how we react to life's challenges. Our reaction is the only thing we can ultimately control, every single time.

Anxiety is a distressing affliction, one that I have suffered with through these past 5 years. If anything in life challenges my ability to cope with worry, MS does. As MS patients, we live with utter and complete uncertainty from the moment of diagnosis. This disease has such a vast array of possible courses, so how can we possibly know what our own course will be? The range runs the gamut from almost zero symptoms, to total disability. 

The answer is, we don't know. We look to our medical professionals to try to predict our outcomes, but they cannot at this point. Medical science has grown highly skilled at diagnosing this condition, but less skilled at letting us know what to expect. All forms of MS generally appear the same way at diagnosis, with lesions on MRI and physical symptoms, often with abnormalities of the cerebrospinal fluid. There is no known way to predict the course this illness will take after that point.

This leaves us, as patients, with no choice but to take life day by day. For the first couple of years after diagnosis, I was at my wit's end with anxiety. I am a natural "control freak," so this disease tested my ability to cope with the unknown. Over the course of time, we start to become more comfortable with our version of the disease, and more able to predict our own illness. This is our ultimate opportunity to listen to those numerous inspirational online quotes that advise us to "live in the moment." Before MS, I used to scroll past the inspirational quotes and pictures online, and think," yeah yeah, live in the moment. I get it." Now, I stop and really ponder what that means. 

"The Thinker" by Rodin
The fact of the matter is, no human being on the planet can predict what even the next hour will bring. Having MS makes our life no more uncertain than anyone else's. We have simply had the curtain pulled back, and we can see the truth behind it.  We have the opportunity to appreciate the uncertainty of life more than those who are healthy. We are acutely, sometimes painfully aware of the limitations of life. I believe that this is actually a blessing in disguise. This awareness allows us the chance to not just read the quotes, but to live them. To actually, truthfully, honestly be in the moment.

The line of the poem "under the bludgeonings of chance," refers to the completely unpredictable nature of our lives. This might be the case, but in the end, we are all the masters of our fate. Regardless of your disease course, don't ever feel like you can't steer your own life in the direction you want it to go. 

My grandparents on their wedding day, 1945

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