Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to too much Jackson Browne lately, but I’m distressed by the state of the world these days. And it’s not the big-ticket stuff like politics or social dysfunction that’s got me worried, either (though both take turns keeping me up nights).
It’s the hashtags.
Every morning, I open a browser window and mosey on over to Twitter to see what’s trending. Usually, I’m greeted by another inane hashtag. It’s always something like #NationalHotDogDay or #NationalMacAndCheeseDay or #NationalTequilaDay, and thousands of people are chattering away about the object du jour. It’s usually food- or drink-related, and in addition to posting funny memes, gifs, or artistically arranged photos of said object, people prattle away about the thing like it matters.
Trust me, as an MS patient, I get it. Life is hard, and it’s tempting to check out from time to time. But too many of us are clinging to a dopamine-drenched, instant gratification kind of existence. People are searching for something to make them furiously happy at all times — something to distract them from pain or discomfort. I see it in the people around me. I see it in my own kids. Celebrating National Taco Day or National Coloring Book Day is innocent enough on its face, but needing something like that to get through a run-of-the-mill Tuesday? Yikes.
It bothers me because I’ve seen something like it in a work of fiction. (A genre that tells a lot more truth than one might expect.)
In Aldous Huxley’s masterpiece “Brave New World,” the population is constantly popping Soma, a narcotic provided by the government, to escape pain and avoid feeling real emotions. It “raise[s] a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds.” When they have “dreadful ideas,” Soma helps them forget and instead be “So jolly.” When stressed, everyone recites the mantra, “Do remember that a gramme is better than a damn,” and sends another little white pill (or three) down the hatch.
Literally, the entire world “can’t even” in Huxley’s novel. So, they subsist (rather than live) in a sort of fog, pushing away what’s unpleasant, until their tolerance for such things is nonexistent.
Living with multiple sclerosis for 15 years has taught me a great deal, but perhaps the most important lesson is the importance of remaining fully present in one’s life. That’s why wherever I am and whatever I’m doing — whether it’s fun and pleasurable or damned unpleasant — I’m “real in.” Reading a book at the beach, drink in hand? I’m there. Waiting for the MRI results? I’m there, too. And no, I’m no masochist enamored with suffering. Both moments matter, and I can’t fully experience one without the other.
Today is National Scotch Day and National Crème Brûlée Day and, weirdly enough, National Talk in an Elevator Day. I’m all for enjoying those things (especially the Scotch), but if a pursuit of them becomes my reason for living, it’s time to check the plumb line.
Thanks to MS, I’ve learned the secret to living well is not to run away from challenges. Rather, we must lean into distress, embrace it, and accept what it has to offer. That’s where courage comes from. It’s where kindness is developed and empathy forged. It’s through hurt and joy (and everything in between) that we become truly human.
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.