During another stimulating chat with one of my ex-college friends, we found out that both our subject of non-admiration is Michael O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s Olympics boxing competitors who was sent home following a failed doping test during the first week of the Games. He knowingly travelled to Rio and although exempt from fighting for a title already, he kept silent for a week. Eventually, he admitted that he “unintentionally took a supplement that may have contained a prohibited substance given to him by someone unrelated to his team or association.”
Of course, by adding that he was “given the substance by someone else,” MOR is not taking full responsibility for the issue. It would be my understanding, though, that if you want to be an Olympic athlete, you don’t jeopardise your place by “unintentionally” taking things but also, that you need to be aware of everything that goes into your system. Passing on the blame in doping cases often smells like self-pity cloaked in a sense of entitlement and egotism.
And so we ended up talking about another shared interest: pet peeves, especially self-pity.
“I am miserable because of X, Y, Z and it is not my fault. It’s my parents’, my partner’s or it is the world’s fault. I have been mistreated and deserve pity.”
Self-pity is an emotional reaction to a perceived negative issue and can lead to excessive introspection, victimisation, manipulation and “poor me” behaviour. In all fairness, we’ve all used self-pity at least once in our lives, even though we’ve always been told to “stop feeling sorry for ourselves.”
We, the Irish and those closely related to them, love to nag, to moan; after all, Sigmund Freud said: “This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”
Freud would more than likely agree that when self-pity starts taking on a life of its own, it becomes a self-imposed train wreck for which you, in the end, are liable. In short, if you don’t take responsibility for your life, you are destined to fail.
When someone continually finds fault in everything and everyone but themselves, it shows a lack of:
- Understanding in what could make them a better person on a mental, physical and emotional level
- Ownership in wanting to see their issue resolved
- By victimising oneself, people rob their family, friends and colleagues of the best person they can be
Like my friend said rather eloquently, “It’s a very cheap way of getting attention. The wrong kind of attention, but attention nonetheless.”
You either get bitter, or you get better
I remember a vivid example of this. About six months after my own newly acquired medical tag, our national Irish MS Society organised a Newly Diagnosed Day (NDD). It was an eye-opening event because of the information that was shared among neurologists, dieticians, people with MS and family members.
During the break, I started talking with the husband of someone who received her diagnosis about five years before the NDD. He mentioned his wife was still unable to accept this and said that she was crying every day. She was mentally so frail that her husband had to attend conferences about MS, and then report to her what was said.
On that day, I vowed to myself that I would not let this happen to me, no matter how painful or bad my MS became.
After the initial shock of your diagnosis settles somewhat -no matter how much time you need, a week, a month, a year- there is only one thing you can do: stop holding a grudge against your illness. Instead of letting your illness tear you down, allow it to turn you into a better person. When you’re put in the middle of truth or dare games like MS, choose behaviours that lead you to success. Don’t throw your toys out of the pram and say that you don’t want to play anymore.
In short: man up.
The world out there? That world is yours, so you stare whatever is troubling you in the eyes. You say, ‘I am watching you, you s*cker!’ You emphasise that it needs to get out of your way because you have things to do. You refuse to get a blinding headache or pounding heartbeat after reading or hearing the acronym of your illness. You strip all emotions from your diagnosis, and you find out what you can work with. You know you are strong. You know you can get through the day.
You. Simply. Man. Up.
That means you too, ladies.
Is it always easy?
I’d be lying to you if I said it was.
MS rebalances all kinds of life expectations. Nonetheless, like Charles Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species, you adapt. It may take some time, but you change, sometimes even without you noticing. If that doesn’t do it for you, just think that Rome wasn’t built in a day either. In the end, you are confined only by the walls you build yourself. Refuse to be an embarrassing victim of your own mind, refuse self-infliction and self-sabotaging your progress and keep working at being that better person.
You can be a prime example of “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”
Are there things I could have done differently since my diagnosis? Of course!
For all the grey hair I gained in the end, I still need to keep reminding myself that I have a serious, chronic illness that requires constant care. No matter how strange it sounds, despite the agonising pain and extreme fatigue, quite often I forget MS is even there. Even as I am writing this right this minute, there is a disconnect between its existence in me and its influence on me.
As I slowly learned to live with MS, it turned into a less painful emotional event, an event that would distress others more than it upset me. Since then, it turned into wisdom on a medical, physical, mental and emotional level. As I am going through a philosophical shift right now (thank you, Spinoza), I redefined my place in the whole scheme of things – in my life with MS, even in this vast universe of ours. Things suddenly made sense. I suddenly made sense.
I am happy with who and what I’ve become.
Life is about turning non-negotiable neurodegenerative moments into negotiable philosophical notes-to-self:
“The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure… you are above everything distressing.” (Baruch Spinoza)
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are 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.