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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Polishing the Time Bomb

Sometimes—not always, but certainly enough to note—I get scared that my efforts to continue to stay mobile and healthy are completely futile.  This is especially true for me now.  Now, I find that the fatigue often wins out over the desire to go for a run.  Now, I battle frequent headaches and migraines that the neurologist says are not related to my MS.  Now, I find it is as much of an effort to clean my house as it is to log even a few miles of activity.  I do not mean to be dramatic about this but the fear that I mentioned at the beginning here seems to be winning out.  I suppose I should congratulate myself that I have had great days that certainly outweigh the bad days.  Congratulations, Self.  Fear has cheapened that laudatory intent.

I recently told my daughter a story about fear.  I am trying to work it out so that it can also apply to me, here.  I’ll recall it for you now.

Several years ago I took a road trip with my sister and some friends.  We ended up driving through a spectacular stretch of King’s Canyon National Park in California, an area renowned for it world-class rock climbing.  We stopped at a vista near a particularly insane tower of rock to watch two figures scale the monolith.  The canyon was so quiet you could hear the tools of the climbers chinking away at the rock face as they installed bolts and anchors creating a new path for future climbers.  It wasn’t long before the climbers began an ascent and so we decided to wait around for them and introduce ourselves.  They were nice enough and we were all having a great time chatting it up on the vista turn-out so we decided we’d invite them back to our camp for some dinner and visiting.

Back at camp, one of the climbers started in with some tall stories about his friend next to me at the fire.  He said that he was a world-class climber, 3rd in the nation, though he would never brag about himself.  I was able to finally pry some experience out of the quieter of the two.  He did seem to know a lot about climbing.  And he was tolerant of my many questions.  Finally I asked, “Aren’t you ever afraid up there?”  His answer changed me forever.  Nearly half of my life later, I still think about what he said then.

He said, “fear keeps me on the rock.”

He went on to describe how fear is very thing that makes him take extra steps when preparing his climbing gear, coiling his ropes, and drilling his anchors.  He said that it is fear that gives him a keen sense on the rock face, determining whether or not he has a good hold before moving on.  He said that if ever there is a day when he wakes up and he does not have a healthy sense of fear then he does not climb that day.  He went on to explain why fear is healthy, why he thought it was more than just a vestigial reaction at a visceral level in us all for survival—that fear could actually save our lives, and does regularly.

So, here I am in fear.  I have enjoyed 14 months of relatively healthy mobility with few issues (maybe even none, really).  But now, I’m not so sure.  Multiple Sclerosis is so sneaky and individualized, it is hard to quantify an exacerbation or recognize a symptom.  In fact, the best I can do to describe what is going on for me lately is to say that I am afraid of my MS like I haven’t been in quite a long time…maybe even since my first diagnosis. 

So, how can fear keep me on my rock?  How can I use this as a motivator to push through?  See, I want to be motivated to push through this and I am so afraid that I cannot.  I am so afraid that this is beyond my control and that my sickness has started to take over in ways that I cannot see or prevent.  That's how MS is; I can battle it as much as I want and it just comes and takes over when it's time.  Meanwhile, I keep polishing the time bomb, making sure that it is nice and shiny until then.

But for today, I feel okay.  I am a little tired, but okay still.  I have an MRI this week.  I’ll use this fear to help me to lie very still in the tube so that my doctor can have the best pictures possible.  Still, I won’t dwell on the fear-- no.  I do not think this is what the climber intended.  I think I will use the time to reflect on my family and friends and those who love me.  They are the rock that I cling to.  In some ways, I am more anchored to them now than I had been, knowing that I should be careful to remain close and thorough.  I have come to rely on my husband’s strength when I am frightened, on my children’s hope when I despair, and on the encouragement from friends and family telling me it’s okay.  Yes, that’s how it fits for me right now. 

And it is okay…even if I am afraid.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have fear and to push through it.

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