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Monday, November 3, 2014

Out of the Abyss of Outrage: Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Anger

Lately, I am getting very concerned about the afterlife.

I know that this is a pseudo-religious topic, and I don't want to offend anyone. I am simply going to vent about my own feelings today. I have been watching the news a great deal this week, which I usually avoid doing because it just depresses me. I have been consumed with sadness watching the story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year old woman who recently ended her life after a battle with glioblastoma.

I feel so badly for her. I cannot imagine going through something as awful as she did. I think she was quite brave for sharing her personal story. This really got me thinking, though; what are we in for after this life ends?

We suffer from a variety of human ailments, cancer, MS, heart disease, and diabetes. We struggle each day to provide food and shelter for our children, we are weak, fatigued, in pain, and trying desperately not to become anxious and depressed. Nothing makes me more angry than hearing stories of young people and children suffering from diseases, hunger, and abuse. Hearing stories of victims of violent crimes, wars, terrorism, and other unexplainable, unjust acts just makes me outraged. Sometimes, life starts to seem like a big old waste of time, doesn't it? I often find myself asking: What is the point of all this?????

I believe in science, evolution, and data. I am not a complete atheist, however. I do believe there is a higher power of some sort, and I do believe there is some kind of afterlife. I am getting quite concerned about how that afterlife will actually be. Will it be the beautiful, light place that we hear about from near death experience survivors? I recently found great comfort reading books about this topic, including a wonderful book titled Proof of Heaven, written by a physician named Eben Alexander (http://www.ebenalexander.com/) In this book, Alexander describes an absolutely stunning, perfect afterlife. He was guided by a "girl with butterfly wings" over a perfect, naturally beautiful world full of love and light. He was sad to leave, wanted to stay, and has no fear of death any longer. Will it be this way? Will it be full of the people we loved who passed before us? Will it be warm, soft, comforting, and perfect?

I certainly hope so. This is where faith comes in, I suppose. This is why faith and religion are so important to human beings. Isn't it difficult to exist with all of this worldly suffering if we don't believe in something greater? I am not a religious person, but this illness has driven me to try to find something to explain all of this. 

To whom do I issue my complaint if the afterlife isn't this perfect place?? Who is going to get an earful from me? Who is going to get their butt kicked if I don't have a foot to kick it with? What if I am just this ethereal, fluid being without any substance? I am going to be angry if this place isn't what we heard it was!

I guess my typical response to injustice is anger. I get outraged if I feel like things aren't fair.
Suffering is the ultimate injustice. I hope everyone who has suffered and passed away is in a beautiful, peaceful, pain-free place, finally free of the earthly body that caused so much discomfort. 

So, If I find myself sinking into this angry, outraged place....how do I pull myself out of it, you ask? Here is my answer:

It feels like pulling myself out of a pit of quicksand, slowly climbing up out of the dark place, one arm and one leg at a time, battling a force pulling me down toward the depths....I see the light above, the good things, the happy things, the hopes and dreams. I use every fiber of my being to reach toward that light and climb out of the abyss. Some days are more of a struggle than others. Here it goes....

The trick is to actually force yourself to practice the art (yes I believe it is an art) of gratitude. When your mobility is limited, you may have to scale down the things you can enjoy and be grateful for. However, there are still plenty of things left to experience and treasure. Some ideas:

1. Create love. Surround yourself with people you truly care about, and who support and love you. The more love you give, the more you get. Be the friend you want to have.
2. Enjoy the warmth and light of the sun that shines above you every day. I am always amazed at the mood improvement I experience while sitting in the sun for a while. 
3.Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of filling your lungs with fresh air.
4. Breathe and enjoy that first smell of rain as it begins to fall. Enjoy the sound of the rain, take in the view of the thousands of prism-like drops as they fall, catching the light in different ways.
5. Look up at the stars above you, and appreciate the vastness of the universe above us.
6. Spend some time with children. There is nothing like the joy and simple pleasures that children experience. A stick, a rock, a piece of paper and pen, a string can become the best thing ever in the eyes of a child.
7. Go out and eat at your favorite restaurant. Enjoy the tastes on your tongue, the sweetness, the salt, the spices. Have a conversation with someone over a meal. Enjoy laughing, remembering mutual experiences, share a dessert!
8. Watch the flames of a warm fire dance in front of you on a cold night. Feel the warmth, watch the oranges and reds and blues move through the flame. Be grateful for the ability to feel these things.
9. Get out of the house and enjoy nature. Crashing waves, singing birds, tall redwood trees, the bloom of desert flowers, the smell of the air when you are out and away from cities. 
10. Move your body in whatever way you can. If your legs are weak, move your arms. If your arms are weak, stretch your back. Just move a bit each day. Something is better than nothing.
11. Read and write. Find a book that you love and enjoy it. If you enjoy writing, go for it! Speech technology such as "Dragonspeak" allows you to type using only your voice if your hands won't cooperate. If you don't enjoy writing, maybe draw? Listen to beautiful music you enjoy? 

These are a few of the things I find helpful when I am being sucked into the void of a depressed mood. If nothing else, these things can distract me from the daily experience of MS discomfort. Try it! Maybe even keep a journal of daily gratitude practice. I suppose that none of us will truly know what is in store for us after this life ends. We won't know until that day. Until then, our only option is to have hope, dreams, love, and enjoyment. If we cannot control what happens in the end, at least we can control how we react to our experiences today. 

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