You never know how strong you are…

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have… How true is this?

You lose a parent, a brother or sister, or someone else you dearly loved, and yet time goes on. Time has to go on. For your family, for yourself. Years later you realize you went through that loss may be a bit better than you ever thought you would. Because being strong was the only option you had.

Being diagnosed with an illness that can’t be cured is a little bit similar. Or is it?

The day I received my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, is a day I can almost literally re-phrase. Just like the day you lose someone you love, or the day when absolutely horrifying accidents happen. We all know where we were and what we did on 9/11. Diagnosis, losing someone, global events… They have a way of being imprinted on your eyes and brain.

I remember which clothes I wore when I went to the hospital to meet my professor of neurology. What was said. What I should do. What I shouldn’t do. But… nothing about accepting your fate and moving on with it. If we were allowed to be happy, or if we should get a psychologist while we’re discussing which doctors I will need to attend from now on? Surely I’d need a psychologist to talk me through the first few years of letting a part of myself go, right?

Six years later, I’ve let my old self go and I quit my job, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Three different medical professionals told me to, so I did and thought that life couldn’t get any worse, at least for a couple of days anyway. The big emptiness was staring in my face and almost jokingly said “Well, how are you going to deal with this little Missy Workaholic and adrenaline-seeker?” Being strong was the only option I had. Being strong is still the only option I have.

Sure, you find a new way of living, you move on and try to do it as gracefully as you possibly can. OK, I might be wobbly on my legs, but I’m still trying to do it gracefully. Nobody would ever suspect me from having wobbly legs because sure, I don’t look sick, right? Or nobody would suspect me from having mad headaches, eye pains and nerve pains every day and night because surely, if you can write and if I am on the internet joking away, I’m alright, right? (According to some). Still doing it gracefully. And nobody would suspect me from being severely fatigued when I go to the cinema or go for a drive with a friend or go out for a meal. Little do those people know that there’s about 30 tablets a day helping me stay on my feet and awake, or that I have to rest beforehand and go straight to bed after doing such activities. Still… Gracefully. Because it’s the only option I have.

A lot of people automatically think that because you are sick, you are not allowed to be happy anymore. As if being sick is really the end of the world. It’s not. It’s an inconvenience. It’s about how you look at yourself. Life goes on, even for sick people. Outwardly we might not be walking around in a graceful manner, or eating properly, or slurring our words, making other people think you’re drunk when in fact you don’t use alcohol at all.

Being strong is the only option I have. And the only option you have. So enjoy life, it’s there for the taking. Carpe Diem, isn’t that what it’s all about?

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 thoughts on “You never know how strong you are…

  1. Wow, that was a really powerful post; very insightful. Having read lots of books on how to be happy like the Power of Now, I have often thought about how to stop having conditional happiness. I feel like so often I say if x, y, z happens then I’ll be happy (when I really wont). I guess the ideal state is to be happy totally independent of your circumstances. Which for me means not deriving self worth and happiness from my job, my relationships etc.

    I never even considered how your health could also be included in this list. I really applaud your effort to be happy despite your circumstances, it’s quite inspiring. It reminds me of a quote by Viktor Frankl who survived the holocaust:

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

    I feel like a lot of my life now revolves around controlling this response. I try to get more in tune with what my mind is telling me and then ignore the hurtful parts. But it isn’t easy!

    I look forward to more post :)


    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words! I write from my heart so I’m always glad when other people can take something away from reading my blog, so thank you again!

      I think true happiness comes from within you (because of being in tune with yourself) and not from materialistic things and like you say, independent from circumstances, people, work etc. Perhaps even health but through getting ill I found real happiness. Not that I find it enjoyable to be ill but because of being confronted with my own body in a less joyful way as it taught me to accept things, move on and see truth in life.

      Before my MS diagnosis I would be overly joyful because of what I owned like how many pairs of shoes I had or how wonderful my new handbag was or how well I did at work.

      After it, I don’t really care anymore about those shoes or handbags because I’ve reached a mental state that tells me it’s OK not to be perfect, when in the past I would have been unhappy when I wasn’t successful.

      Viktor Frankl was right in his quote, it’s between cause and effect where we choose which way we’ll be and it’s in our choice that we find freedom and growth. I absolutely agree with that. When I was first diagnosed I had a few days of feeling sorry for myself but I realized that with feeling negative, my symptoms got worse because I stressed over nothing and worried like mad. As soon as I chose to take the bull by the horns and be optimistic I found myself much better, physically and mentally.

      I do have to add though that this does not always work, it’s not always “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). I still had to retire from work 3 years ago because my symptoms (especially my severe fatigue) were difficult to control but it had nothing to do with being or feeling negative. It was what it was… MS being hard to control while I was still optimistic and being full of life mentally. Sometimes your body will win fights with the mind, sometimes it works the other way around. But either way, you really have to stay strong, and that’s why I wrote this blog post about it being the only option you have.


      1. Yeah I completely agree about it being hard to control the body, even without MS! I know myself well enough now where at times I can see myself reacting to my body, understand why I am doing it, and yet be totally unable to stop it. I also find that sometimes there is no way that I can cope with the situation, and that the best recourse is to remove myself from it. Unfortunately this isnt always possible like with MS or other things like military commitments. That’s when you just make the best of it you can. I am also fortunate enough to have a very strong support group of friends and family that can always help me and reason with me if I can’t do it myself.

        And you also hit the nail on the head with the material stuff. Advertising thrives on making you believe that you will be a complete person if only you buy their stuff. It’s just too bad that most of the population is still caught up in this dream.


  2. It is believed by many that we are dealt in life the cards we can play with. I think this is true. Get a buck hand and many would think toss it whilst others would use it to lay foundations for a deck house…strength is something we have within us, the lucky ones rarely need to draw on the resource others are glad to have access to it.<3


    1. That is a very, very nice comment Sharon! It is so true, we just have to get on building our future instead of tossing away any kind of strength we have. I was once again asked a few days ago how I could be happy knowing I have a lifelong illness that cannot be cured. A few times I just laughed away that comment but now I just really feel I want to write something because it’s been brewing in me to say/write something about it. Will do so after I took a nap :D)


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