Sunday, March 29, 2009

(Inner) Strength Training and Conditioning

One of the MS symptoms I sometimes experience is weakness in my arms or legs. But while my body may not be as strong as it used to be, I've pumped up my inner strength over the years to help me deal with the disease.

Inner strength - that drive and determination, that fighting spirit, that will to go on, that push that helps you to pick yourself up from the floor, dust yourself off and keep going - how I love it!

We all have to be strong, no matter what odds we may be faced with. We have to be strong for the people who depend on us. We have to be strong for ourselves. We may have times when we feel down, and we just want to crumble, but our inner strength serves to make sure that won't happen.

You won't see me in a gym lifting weights anytime soon, but when it comes to my inner strength, it gets a regular workout.

So, if we take a trip to the inner strength gym, we'll:

Gulp down the positive energy drink. I say it all the time, and I constantly remind myself, "think positive, think positive, think positive." A positive attitude and inner strength can feed off each other and work together to fend off negative thinking. If we let our negative thoughts run the show, where would that leave us? We'd never be able to do anything; we'd give up.

Be motivated. We all have those mornings when we don't even want to get out of bed. We may think, "What's the point? So I can drag myself to that dreary job that I hate?" Our inner strength gives us that push to get out of bed and get to that job or do whatever else we've gotta do. We need to, in spite of how much we don't want to, so we can meet our obligations and responsibilities. It may not be all fun and games, but sometimes you've just gotta tough things out. In the end, something good usually comes out of it.

Practice self-reliance. Because my family has the tendency to be about as reliable as burnt toast (it's okay, I can say it - they know), this is the exercise I do the most. Actually, I think it's always important to flex your self-reliance muscle, even if those around you are Johnny-on-the-spot reliable. There is a certain amount of pride, as well as a huge amount of strength, that comes from not having to depend too heavily on others and instead carrying your own weight and knowing that you've got your back when you need to. If you can do it yourself, then do it. Your friends and family really are just your backup support system.

Fight, fight, fight! Sometimes you just have to put on the emotional boxing gloves when you're dealing with MS, or any other adverse circumstances. While anger is a negative emotion, it's also a great motivator. You just get to a point where you decide you're not going to take it anymore. You can channel your anger into something positive like not bowing down to your MS fatigue, or finding a new, less dreary job. The anger gives you the strength to get in the ring and start swinging.

Inner strength enables you to get through the rough days, keep moving forward despite the odds, do what you have to do and give yourself the push you need to reach your goals. If you use it you'll get guaranteed results!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stone Soup for the Soul

Remember the story, "Stone Soup", where a stranger asks for food but is turned away by the townspeople? He puts a stone into a pot, makes a fire and says he will make himself some stone soup, and soon the curious townsfolk are coming to watch and offering up the ingredients he says he wants to add. When it is done, everyone shares his delicious soup.

There are variations on the story, but the message is the same: that sharing and working together benefits everyone. We can apply this story in our everyday lives simply by being there for the people we hold dear and showing kindness to others.

Sometimes we may feel a little empty inside - a little "hungry." Our emptiness could come from any number of things - loss, being hurt, depression. We may feel the need for something to fill us up, to make us feel better. A little sharing can help make us feel full.

I feel my own personal inner "stone soup" is the positive attitude and good nature that I share with others around me. I find that when I am feeling empty, simple kind gestures from others can serve as the ingredients that help replenish it - things like smiles, polite acts like holding a door open for me, encouraging words.

When my own pot of stone soup is full, I share it by extending kindnesses and positive words to others.

When we do something nice for someone, it is like we are contributing to a big pot of stone soup. It's good for the soul, and we all get to share in the positive energy that it creates.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taking a Life Inventory

Every once in a while it's good to take stock of where we are in life. Maybe we want more out of life, maybe we are perfectly content and don't feel the need to make any changes. Taking time to reflect on our lives and doing a life inventory can help us set a path for ourselves to take in life or determine that we are on the right one.

This kind of inventory of course doesn't include material possessions like your car, clothing or jewelry. It is about more important things like your relationships, work and other things that, even though you can't see them, you can take ownership of them. Things like goals, accomplishments, feelings, memories, dreams - these are all things that you can take ownership of that should be included in your life inventory.

We may spend a lot of time feeling good about things that have gone well for us or wishing we could change this or do that, but how often do we take a detailed, in-depth look at our lives?

When you have some quiet time and can be alone with your thoughts, pull out a piece of paper or open a word document on your PC. Think about different areas of your life, different times, where you are now, and where you want to go in life.

I've done this before, and I love making lists, so I used a list form. It's great to make lists for something like this, that you can get a lot out of. But you can do your inventory any way you want - make charts, write an essay, jot down some notes - whatever you like.

Some things to think about in taking your life inventory :

Make a list of all of your accomplishments, personal and professional. Go back as far as you like. It can be anything, no matter how small.

We all need to be acknowledged for the good things we've done and to celebrate our successes. Sometimes we fail to give ourselves the credit we deserve, so after you've finished your inventory, make sure you do something to reward yourself for your accomplishments.

Think about what is happening in your life right now. Are you doing the things you wanted to do when you were younger? Have you found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? Have you achieved your goals thus far? What other things would you like to accomplish? Are there any other activities you'd like to be participating in, or do you have too much on your plate?

Have there been major changes in your life, recently? Have they been good or bad? How are you handling them?

Think about how you are feeling. Are you happy? What gives you the most joy in your life? What, if anything, is making you unhappy?

Doing a life inventory can help you determine if there are things you want to change. Maybe you aren't enjoying your work, and you decide you want to go back to school and prepare for a career you'll find more fulfilling. Or maybe you just want to find another job that you like better.

Think about the basics of contentment, like being content with who you are and your relationships with your family and friends. Are your relationships with those around you strong, or are there problems? Do you want to reconnect with someone you have lost touch with?

Keep it positive. See this inventory not as a way of pointing out what's wrong in your life, but as opening a door to coming up with solutions to any problems you may be having and dealing in a positive way with the things that may be making you unhappy.

Your life inventory should include some ideas on how you might make things better and maybe even a list of resources that could possibly help. Focus on things you can control, things you can change.

In thinking of the past, don't dwell on regrets, failures, things you wish you had done differently. Keep that stuff at the back of that high shelf in your mental closet behind the embarrassing moments.

Think about what you want your future to be. Looking ahead, think about that popular job interview question, Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your goals for the future? Do you want to change careers? Get married and start a family? Buy a house?

What are your dreams? Do you want to travel the world? Write a novel and have it published? If a genie gave you a wish, what would you wish for?

Taking your life inventory can make you feel good about how much you've achieved, show how much you have to be grateful for, and give you a place to start in working on your goals and making your future what you want it to be.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

When It's Okay to Waste Time

Most of us are under a good deal of stress for one reason or another, and we all want to make good use of our time. We try to get the most out of it, and sometimes we try to squeeze too much in, adding to our stress. I've written about having to work around my MS fatigue and how valuable time is for me. Too valuable to be wasted. But sometimes we all need some diversion to keep us from pulling our hair out.

I am not talking about planned activities or taking a vacation from work. Yeah, the "vacation" that ends up being catching up on stuff around the house or a project from work that we brought along. I mean little everyday diversions. Maybe we spend half an hour doing a crossword or gabbing on the phone to a friend. Little diversions and time wasters, if used wisely, can be a good thing if it means we can get out from under what is bogging us down for a while.

The other day I spent about fifteen minutes watching some of my favorite commercials online, like the talking baby that buys stock online (he's just too cute) and the one where the guy is stuck in a hostel in Brussels with the 'techno twins' because he didn't get his friend's call on his cell.

Waste of time? Sure. Fun, though? You bet.

Okay, I know that's fifteen minutes I can't get back. I probably should have spent those minutes doing something more constructive. I am a grown-up, the time for such inane activities is over, right? Wrong.

Even as responsible adults we still need to goof off once in a while. We spend so much of our time with our nose to the grindstone at work and meeting all of our obligations at home and with the family. Just taking a few minutes a day and spending them on some mindless activity is not going to rob us of anything. The things on our to-do list will still get done; deadlines will still be met. (Spoken like a true procrastinator, I know.)

Still, taking some time to goof off can help keep our spirits up and keep us young. So crawl around on the floor with the kids or dangle a toy in front of the cat. You'll love spending the time together, they'll love the attention, and you'll get to take your mind off your troubles or whatever else is gnawing at you for a little while. That's not a bad deal.

Time wasted doing something that relieves our stress and makes our day a little brighter is time well spent.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Catching Up with the Past

"Place it in your memory, leave it in your past, but don't forget." - Depeche Mode, In Your Memory

I was looking at some old photographs the other day, deciding which ones to put in a family photo album I've been working on for a while now. It's a project I've been wanting to finish, yet sadly it keeps getting set aside.

It's partly the procrastinator in me that's been keeping the project from moving forward. That, and the fact that there are always other things that get in the way of my being able to spend as much time on it as I would like. I see the photo album in the bookcase every day, a container that I am slowly filling with pieces of my and my family's past.

I believe staying connected to the past is very important. Photos, treasured family keepsakes and heirlooms, having a record of events, commemorating the family, especially the loved ones who are no longer here, are all very important to me. While the photo album isn't finished, I have purchased some beautiful picture frames over the years, filled them with some of my favorite photos, and displayed them in my home.

Photographs can evoke fond memories. Of course, memories can come to us at any time, sometimes brought about by something like hearing an old song on the radio or seeing someone who looks like a person we used to know. Or maybe we just find ourselves waxing nostalgic.

One day, we'll look back on this...

There are some moments we want to hold onto forever. We want to remember them always - every detail and exactly how we felt at the time. We document our experiences in journals and diaries and capture them in pictures and on video recordings. All so we can hold onto those moments and relive them whenever we want.

We share our memories with family and friends, remembering those special times together, to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed on, or to have a laugh, or just to make sure we keep our memories alive.

Certain memories cheer us up when we're feeling down, and sometimes memories can even inspire us. Maybe we decide to write about our family, to revive a family tradition or start a new one.

Another great thing is, every day we are making new memories. With each new thing that happens in our lives, a new memory is created.

Past Imperfect

The past is not without its flaws. Everyone has bad memories. We've all had things happen in our lives that made us angry or sad. It's important to find a way to make peace with those events. I found talking to a counselor helped me deal with some past issues. And time really does help heal as well.

It's best to focus on remembering the good times and the people, places and things that made you happy and to work on leaving the bad memories where they belong - in the past.

We all have regrets. Maybe we passed up an opportunity we wish we hadn't. Rather than beat ourselves up about it, we should just make sure we seize the opportunities that come our way in the present and future.

Every one of us has made mistakes, said or done something we wish we could go back and change. Mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities. You make a mistake, you learn from it, you move on. The past is there to teach us, and to remind us that we have the chance to do things differently now. There is no point in holding on to regrets. And sometimes we can find redemption in the present for mistakes we made in the past.

Our past is undeniably important. Look at how history has such an impact on our lives today. Clearly we have learned from it and still have an appreciation for those who came before us who have given us so much.

Taking a trip down memory lane can be a fun diversion and can generate some positive feelings. Whether it's being grateful for the loving family we had or proud that we overcame a troubled past, it's always good to remember where we came from. Sometimes we may find the lane a little rocky here and there, but ultimately, the past has made us who we are today. And as we continue on into the future, the lane behind us will get longer and longer, the passage of time ever showing us how temporary things are.