My Stubbornness Has Helped and Hindered Me in Life With MS
For Ben Hofmeister, a strong mental attitude has been key to overcoming obstacles
There’s a slight chance that I might be stubborn. I don’t really see it, but my wife, parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and former teammates all seem to think so. I personally think that they’re mistaking my drive and strong willpower for stubbornness, but I suppose I respect their opinions enough to give them their due.
All joking aside, I probably am a little stubborn, though I think it’s completely subjective. If, from my perspective, it benefits me, I refer to it as being strong-willed, but if it doesn’t help, I’ll say I’m being stubborn. No matter what we choose to call it, that part of my personality played a large part in the events and achievements in my life. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it hindered, and sometimes it did a bit of both.
For example, I have never liked heights. I like them even less now that multiple sclerosis (MS) has taken away most of my sense of balance, but I was always afraid of high places. Despite this, right after Army basic training, I went to Airborne School and parachuted for nearly 20 years. I never enjoyed it, but I managed to stubborn my way through anyway because it was the gateway to other things I wanted to do, including the Ranger Indoctrination Program, Ranger School (where I stubbornly recycled twice), Special Forces Assessment and Selection, and the Special Forces Qualification Course.
Actually, “stubborning my way through” sort of sums up my experience in the military. Most guys who spend two decades in special operations look like action figures. I do not. I am not now, nor have I ever been, athletic, lean, or tall. What I am is strong-willed and determined. I relied more on that strong mental attitude and less on physical strength to overcome any hurdles in my way.
But my stubbornness also took its toll. That same drive was responsible for my ignoring injuries and illnesses until I couldn’t anymore. It seemed to work, so when MS started to rear its head in 2009, I tried to ignore it, too.
Slowing down on runs? No problem, I’ll just run harder. Trouble lifting my foot (which I now know was the beginning of foot drop)? Probably an old ankle injury that I’ve been putting off addressing. I’ll try barefoot running since it doesn’t require me to raise my toes or land on my heel. Difficulty going down stairs and downhill? I’ll compensate by going sideways, or even backward.
I think that perhaps my stubborn unwillingness to face my unknown malady was really denial brought on by fear. Until multiple sclerosis, I had never encountered anything that I couldn’t overcome through sheer willpower and determination. The unknown and unbeatable was strange and terrifying to me, and when I tried to out-stubborn it at the beginning, it cost me time I can never get back.
Maybe there’s a fine line between being stubborn and strong-willed, and maybe a little stubbornness can be a good thing. But being stubborn to the point of denial, or my past technique of thinking, “I can beat this so I don’t need to do anything until I get better,” is not the answer. Not giving up while maintaining a realistic — yet optimistic — view of the disease just might be.
During my career in the military, the heroes held up for us to aspire to were those who didn’t give up in the face of adversity. They limped across the finish line, they kept going when going on seemed impossible. They might have actually been a little stubborn, but they didn’t give up or deny their adversity — they endured it.
I think those same kinds of people, the ones who endure the adversity of disease, are still my heroes.
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