Saying I used to be a stress case doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I was the quintessential Type A personality – super assertive and rather impatient. A perfectionist who didn’t feel valued without validation from others. And I feared feeling any negative emotions, opting instead to push them into a tight little ball way down inside.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing – I got things done. I had drive, and ambition, and powered through multiple challenges in life.
Immediately after I was diagnosed with MS, I went on to ace that semester in graduate school. I then left my program (because I thought it was best for my MS) for a high paying job at a celebrity management company. Then I continued advancing in my career– all while doing things like hiking up a mountain to Machu Picchu and eventually starting my own business.
I thought I owed all of these accomplishments to my assertive take-no-prisoners personality.
I always expected to keep moving forward. I just put my head down and powered towards a somewhat ambiguous goal in my head. I didn’t really know what I wanted, only that it included money, an important job, and a life without being bothered by MS.
About 6 years into my diagnosis, I lifted up my head and started to look around. On the surface, everything looked on course. I was fit, making great money, living in a fabulous apartment in Uptown Dallas and working in a luxury office building. I would walk to the bars with friends and even practiced Jiu-Jitsu for a few years. I was living the work hard/play hard life.
But when I took an inventory of my life beneath the surface, I saw that everything was not lined up as I had hoped.
The fact that I was pushing myself to the limit wasn’t apparent to me at first. I was living life the only way I knew how – by going out and getting what I wanted. But I was still having lots of relapses. I was still losing my eyesight time and time again to optic neuritis. I was still in constant contact with my neurologist about symptoms creeping in. My drug therapy was getting altered again and again…and again.
My lifestyle was taking a toll on my health. I had almost everything an ambitious single girl in her 20’s would want- but I realized I was killing myself to do it. And that was no longer ok.
At first, I tried to remedy the problem the only way I knew how; head on.
I went into “fix it” mode and took whatever action I needed to change what I thought wasn’t working.
It was clear that my career in finance was not what I wanted, so I went back and finished my master’s degree in Human Development.
I chose to slow down at work (which often contained long, stressful days) and I went part-time- and then changed my job completely.
Going out all the time and dating wasn’t working, so I decided to get serious about a relationship. I subsequently fell in love and married a great guy. I moved out to the suburbs and stopped partying.
I made a lot of changes in a small amount of time and was sure this new lifestyle would make me slow down and take care of myself.
And I did have to slow down and take care of myself – because after all these changes I had my biggest MS relapse yet.
A New Approach
This relapse stunned me. Here I was, making all these changes in my life to slow down and I was still having problems. It was frustrating that I still didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I felt betrayed by my body. After taking severe measures to soothe my health, getting hit by a relapse was not the “thanks” from my MS I was looking for.
But this time when my MS stunned me, I was slightly different.
Not because I was married, or living the quiet life in the ‘burbs, but because I was learning a new way of thinking. For the first time, I was reading self-help books by Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, and Pema Chodron. I instantly zeroed in on one key lesson.
What we think about our situation is way more powerful than the actions we take to change our situation.
How much I let something bother me in my job was far more important than what profession I was in. Being happy in my relationship was far more important than if I was in one.
How sure I was of recovery was far more important than the actual relapse or injury I had.
I didn’t have to make huge changes in my life to chase health. I just had to focus on myself, and what I was really thinking. My constant state of frustration dissipated, my impatience started to ease up and I saw for the first time that perfection is a losing battle.
Changing how I looked at the circumstances in my life dramatically changed my stress level. And has changed my MS as well.
Don’t confuse this with a “think positive” quote at the bottom of an email.
Positive thinking is important, but I didn’t change my stress by looking on the bright side. I changed it by practicing a deep understanding of what’s in my control, what works to heal me, and building reverence for myself and for my MS.
Changing my stress started with changing how I felt about myself.
When you take away a search for perfection, you find loving acceptance.
When you stop being impatient, you see what you’ve previously rushed by.
When you start to fully feel your emotions, you automatically make a deeper connection with yourself.
When you look to yourself instead of to others for validation, so much more becomes possible.
I’m No Wallflower
You can change your stress without changing your drive and your ambition.
Understanding that I didn’t have to give up what I valued about myself was key for me to let go of what wasn’t helpful.
That assertive drive still serves me. It just not longer hurts me along the way.
I still catch myself sliding into that Type A mode but it doesn’t last for long. I definitely don’t define myself as Type A anymore. I’m no Oprah yet, but I’m a far cry from the Bobcat Goldthwait that I used to be.
As I move in the right direction, so does my MS.
I’ve found it amazing how much controlling my stress has controlled my MS. I feel like I’m a world apart from that stress case 10 years ago. And I know I will never go back.
Do you feel like you need to change your stress?
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You’ll get clarity and know what to do next to start changing your stress.