Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a 1997 essay aimed at graduates. In it, she shared many practical nuggets of wisdom such as “Floss,” and thoughts like, “Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
But the quote I like best out of the entire piece is a simple one: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
It seems bonkers at first blush, but noodle on it for a moment if you will. What’s the value of trying something that scares you? Well, for one, you might find that your fear is silly and get over it. Two, you might discover something about yourself — a new passion, talent, or goal perhaps. Third (and this is the best reason), being a little scared makes you glad to be alive. If you’re not taking a little risk, you’re not growing or changing at all. And what fun is that!?
“Something that scares you” will look very different from one person to the next. After all, one person’s terror may be another one’s joy. Our phobias and dislikes range as widely as our taste in music or the foods we like. For instance, I’m terrified of frogs. (Don’t ask. It’s a really long story. One with multiple chapters, and I come out on the losing end in each.) In 2012, I faced my demons and went to see an exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium called “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors.” It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t fall in love with the creepy, slimy things, but I faced my fear and felt a little braver for it. And you know what? That felt pretty good. (If you want to read all the details, you can check out the blog post I wrote about it.)
Living with MS can make a person fearful of a lot of things. Of tingles or numbness in the legs. Of an eye that won’t quite focus. Of forgetting details or dates. Of phantom pains. Of trouble finding the right words. Of so many things that could just be normal human maladies. Most people have eye problems and chalk it up to too much time in front of the computer. A tingling leg is probably just a pinched nerve. But for us, these things can also be symptoms of an exacerbation. That’s exhausting to have to deal with, isn’t it? But do it we must, and that makes us tough.
It’s important to listen to your body, to talk to your doctor and make sure that everything’s jake. However, we cannot let MS call the shots all the time. That’s why I decided a long while ago that I wasn’t going to be afraid of my disease, that I wasn’t going to let it run my life and tell me what to do. Bump that. I’ve got places to go and things to do.
I’m an introvert, which means I hate crowds and making small talk with strangers. I faced off against both last week when I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference. And though it was exhausting, it was worth it. I met some great folks, heard a dozen wonderful speakers (including the incomparable George Saunders), and bought a ton of books and journals at the book fair.
This summer, I’m hoping to be able to travel to Panama on my own to give a commencement address at a school where my good friend is headmaster. I’m going to take lessons and learn how to sew. Yeah, it may not be as badass as gator wrestling, but it’s something I’m anxious about thanks to my high school home economics teacher who embarrassed me in front of my entire class. I couldn’t sew a dart seam then. I can’t now. It’s time to change that. Baby steps to victory, man.
So yeah, I have MS. But I’m not dead. My life isn’t over, and I would rather not sit around waiting for that to happen. Instead, I want to make the most of the time I have on this earth. I want to use every ounce of energy and scrap of attention God gives me and do something grand with them. I want to get to heaven one day and be able to say, “Whoa! What a ride!”
What are you afraid of? Make a list of the things that intimidate, nonplus, unnerve, and thoroughly bewilder you. Rank them from easiest to hardest if that helps. Or (if you’re feeling really daring) cut them into strips and throw them in a jar. Once in a while, choose one, screw your courage to the sticking place, and go out there and do something amazing. Call a friend to go with you and make a memory together.
Life is about living after all, so let’s do it.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.