I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012. I was 27, turning 28 a few weeks later at the time, and engaged to be married the following year. One minute I was an excited, expectant bride obsessing over mermaid vs. princess-cut gowns, and the next I was strapped to an IV with steroids pumping though my body to calm the inflammation in my optic nerve.
After that, the changes happened almost over night. My eye, a victim of optic neuritis, went dark and blind. My body, strong from the steroids but weak once they wore off, became a stranger to me. I suddenly noticed the tremors in my hand and the way my leg would suddenly become numb in the morning. It all meant one thing: I would have to take better care of myself if I wanted to survive.
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And I did. I started going to yoga to improve my balance. I started taking vitamins (hello, Vitamin D) and began eating healthier. I said goodbye to processed foods and embraced fruits and vegetables. I also dusted life's petty nuances off my shoulders — those minor irritants that used to cause me extreme panic were now put into perspective. Traffic? Who cares? I'm in no hurry. Annoying Facebook post by a frenemy who could afford to be more modest? Not my problem.
Fight with the husband? Well, that took more time to let go. But I did. And ultimately, I feel the changes I made have helped not only my physical health, but my marriage as well.
The first thing I did was learn how to stop reacting. Whenever I would feel angry or overly passionate, I'd have a physical reaction. Literally. My right eye would twitch and what looked like gray film would envelop my cornea. I could feel the energy drain from my body, and soon enough my legs would go numb. My hands would prickle with tension.
And so I worked hard to stop reacting — not because it was bad for my marriage but because it was bad for my body. I did not want to let my body succumb to weakness or pain because of something I perceived to be "right" or "wrong". It simply wasn't worth it — not for me or my marriage.
But my attitude adjustment didn't happen over night. It was a gradual process, but eventually I was able to regulate my reactions. First, I had to kill my darlings: Just because I had something clever to say didn't mean I should say it, especially if it was going to cause a fight or hurt his feelings. So when I would get upset, I would try to understand the real issue. Instead of involving my husband, I finally listened to my therapist and involved my pen and paper. And thus, my love of journaling to resolve issues was born.
When an issue woul arise, I would work through the process on paper. Was I being irrational? Was I being petty? Did this really matter in the long run? And if it did, was now the time to fix it? Before long, I was able to just be—without having to comment and pick on everything, even if I saw and noticed everything (and trust me, I did).
For instance, once my husband and I were hanging out in the living room when he said something that upset me. It was a reccurring issue, and one I wasn't even sure I was right about, but I did not respond to him. Instead, I left the room. Once away from the pressure and tension, I took to my journal and started transcribing my feelings. I was mean and clever in my writing, and by the time I was done scribbling my passionate points about what a poo-poo head I thought my husband was being, I felt better. When he came to see why I had left the room, I told him I was writing notes about him and that it was my way of dealing with my feelings. "Better than fighting, right?" He couldn't argue with that, and we moved on with our evening, fight-free.
Aside from my MS flare-ups helping me tune out life's ugly messes, just about every article about healthy relationships notes that the best course of action is to pick your battles. Those articles are spot on. What I've learned from having a physical reaction to stress is that most things don't really matter, and that it's better to live a peaceful life than a petty one. I picked that road and it has made all the difference.
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