1st Nov, 2002
Marcia Tarbis Tofteland
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
HOW GOOD ARE YOU at ignoring the opinions and thoughts of others? Do the anxious thoughts "What will they think?" or "How will it look?" take up too much of your time? Be honest with yourself. Some truths are difficult, even painful, to deal with, but ignoring them bears consequences that can be far more difficult and painful.
We're all occasionally subject to anxieties regarding other people's opinions. But when our thoughts become crowded with worry about other people's opinions, we begin to lose ourselves and make our lives more difficult. I've had to struggle with this particular gremlin throughout most of my life.
What role model are we for our children when we let other's opinions-positive or negative-dictate our conduct? Children reflect even our most subtle behaviors.
A loss of mobility
Sixteen years ago, I was walking without any help. My increasingly unsteady gait and questionable balance eventually dictated the need for walking assistance. The addition of a cane revealed itself to be my double-edged truth sword.
On one side of the sword, using a cane was positive. I was safer, no longer on the edge of danger to myself. But, on the other side, everyone could see I was dependent on an artificial aide for walking. What would "they" think?
Using a walking aide, even a cane, was an acknowledgment that my life had changed. I was beginning to accept my MS and the changes it was making in my life. I celebrated the need to finally have some external sign of my disability. I'd been using a disability parking sticker long before I started using a cane. I was given the sticker because of my extreme fatigue. I remember feeling guilty and conspicuous using a handicapped parking space, getting out of the car, and walking to my destination without any visible need for a handicapped parking spot. Until I used a cane, every time I parked, I worried about what others were thinking of me for using these parking spaces.
No one watching me get out of the car could possibly know that, once I reached my destination, even a close one, it would be necessary for me to find a place to sit and rest for a moment before I could finish my task. I remember resting on the edge of a low, COLD, refrigerated section of the grocery store before I could finish shopping. When I began using a cane, I was actually relieved to, at last, have some visible evidence of my need for a handicapped parking space.
What did this response mean? Was I truly beginning to accept my MS or was I just happier that the rest of the world could now see its evidence? The double-edge of the sword.
One day, it occurred to me that nobody was watching me. And, if anyone was, it was his or her choice to waste energy wondering why I had a disability parking sticker. At last, I experienced some growth.
A child's eyes are watching
As the years went by, I needed more help with mobility. I've written articles about my difficulty accepting the need for the next level of mobility assistance. Why? Because I'd look more "crippled" in the eyes of other people than when I was using a cane. I finally switched to an electric cart and then to a power wheelchair when I realized how much difficulty I was causing the people I loved most, including my son.
What lesson was I teaching him? Was I giving him the impression that it was better to inconvenience others than to accept reality? Was I inadvertently sending him a message that, even if he needed it, it was unacceptable to ask for help?
Intellectually, I knew I wanted our son to grow into an independent adult, with the ability to ask for help when he needed it. That knowledge lived in my rational center of being; however, my behavior was firmly lodged in my emotional center. Balance between these two centers of being is what I wanted for my child. I realized I had to try to come into better balance myself. Emotionally, however, it was and is a struggle to keep that knowledge at the forefront of my mind.
The acknowledgment of what we need and our willingness to ask for it
are important lessons to teach our children. We can't let our fear of other
people's opinions stand in our way.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis