InsideMS, Winter 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 1
by Suzanne Rogers
I have lived half my life with multiple sclerosis, and my family has lived with it, too. Back in 1970, the neurologist warned me that I probably wouldn’t be around past my 45th birthday. Thankfully, he was wrong. I’m now Grandzanne to six grandchildren.
My mother observed that MS required a lot of spunk. A “mighty spirit” she called it. A mighty spirit may be timid—afraid, even—but it musters boldness and courage to persevere. MS is scary, and a mighty spirit is a great asset.
Aging touches everyone
My tough old (now deceased) rancher father carried a cartoon that said, “Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies.” Getting older is hard, especially when MS is added to the mix. But I’ve been fortunate to get older. Now I find I have friends who don’t have MS, but who are contending with poor memory, slower reflexes, impaired vision, and plain old exhaustion.
Being accompanied on my life’s journey by MS, I have learned that I’ve had many choices. I still have choices. They involve these areas:
· Exercise. It does more than make us feel good. It can fight osteoporosis, depression, and forgetfulness. Being fit leads to feeling stronger and less afraid. With aging, strength declines, but we can add muscle mass and improve flexibility with stretching at any age. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist.
· Good health. This isn’t determined by fate or our genes as much as it is by our choices—things like drinking alcohol only in moderation, avoiding tobacco, and eating a sensible, low-fat diet. It’s still important to get medical treatment for all the non-MS stuff, and to keep your teeth healthy, have your hearing tested, and get those checkups to detect cancer early. MS doesn’t make you immune. It’s also important to get outside! Regular exposure to sunlight (in moderation, of course) helps maintain a normal sleep—wake cycle, and may help fight depression, too.
· An active mind. I’ve learned to operate a computer. My processing may be slower, but I can take my time. I might even go back to school. Adult education is a good aid to healthy aging. So is volunteering, which I do in our local grammar school.
· Goals. An attainable goal is great. I find it works to use a journal to record goals and progress. For example, if I’m dieting, I write down everything I consume each day, and what I weigh each week.
· Outlook. I’m blessed with an optimistic nature. People who age well don’t dwell on the “used to,” they find substitutes for what they previously did. They are honest about problems they can’t solve. If you’re not optimistic by nature or upbringing, are you up to making a change? Can a partner help? A mentor? Have you tried a support group? If you feel down most of the time, professionals can really help. Your nurse, doctor, or the Society chapter nearest you can refer you to someone who understands chronic disease.
I believe we continue to develop as we get older. It becomes easier to accept our limitations because we finally know what really matters to us. Which brings me to:
Joshua initiated me into life as a grandparent with MS. One day, when he was barely talking, he wanted to be outside with Granddad Gene, and he started pulling on my hand. Soon he was wailing. Before long we were both in tears as I attempted to explain in toddler terms why I couldn’t get up. When he was a little older, his mom was helping me off the floor after a fall. Little though he was, Joshua held out his hands and said, “I’ll help.” And when I got my new black and red wheelchair, Joshua was a perfect gentleman as he sat on my lap in stores.
Soon Joshua had a brother, Christopher. Christopher has a beautifully sensitive side. I feel like purring when he strokes my hair. He is taking guitar and keyboard from one of my former piano students.
Kelles Suzanne is a writer-artist like her parents. As my piano- and organ-teaching days tapered off, Gene and I hauled my piano to Kelles’ house. Now I am the proud grandmother of a young ribbon winner in piano competitions. Kelles says she has dreams of me walking.
Jordan Christine is a kindergartner. She has “No Boys Allowed” posted on her bedroom door. With two older brothers, she holds her own quite well, thank you. A year or so ago she announced to me, “You don’t walk!” instead of “Come upstairs.” It’s just the way her Grandzanne is.
Harley is Kelles’ brother. His gift is wanting to make people happy, and he has very grown-up thoughts. He and Kelles were surprised to see how tall I am in my new standing frame.
Hamlin is the youngest. He took me to his school when we visited his home. I was his “share” at circle time: “This is my Grandzanne. She flew here to visit with us.” Then Hamlin asked if anyone had any questions. A little boy asked why I had a wheelchair. Hamlin shrugged and said matter-of-factly, “She’s old!”
Your own mighty spirit
It’s hard to be strong as you age with MS. It’s up to me to grow more mighty spirit. This is a time to increase my bag of tricks, to use creativity, and make innovation my best friend. If you’re doing this, too, give yourself a good pat on the back. Don’t let your age limit your mighty spirit. If you can do it, I can too.
For additional information
Suzanne writes: “I still don’t feel my age. My daily activities are
centered around the kitchen, the yard (I like being outdoors), my laptop
computer, and dining at home or in town with Gene and friends.”
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society