Time Is (and Isn’t) on Your Side: How MS Helps Us Know What Matters

It's a finite life — but I've learned that's actually a liberating truth

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by Jamie Hughes |

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One of my favorite episodes of “I Love Lucy” is the one where Lucy and Ethel get up to some hijinks (and don’t they always?) in a candy factory. You know the one. At first, the bonbons come down the belt slowly, each one easy to wrap. But then they start to move more quickly until it becomes impossible to keep up, and the women have to shove them in their mouths, their hats, and even down the front of their shirts to hide how spectacularly bad things are going.

Sure, the scene is funny, but it always leaves me feeling desperately frantic, too, if I’m being honest. I imagine myself in the same fix, facing guaranteed failure. There’s no way a person could keep up with the pace of that belt. They never ask for help because, well, they can’t.

Life feels like that to me sometimes — an endless conveyer belt of to-dos and obligations. And the more quickly I work, the faster even more work seems to come down the line.

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Upon Reflection, I’m Determined to Seize the Day

In some ways, my multiple sclerosis (MS) has forced me to slow down and reevaluate some things in my life, but I still find myself feeling that I’m missing out on something, that I could be doing more, and that I’m squandering my precious days on this earth.

So when someone mentioned Oliver Burkeman’s new book, “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” I knew I had to check it out. It wasn’t what I expected. It’s not just another book about how to squeeze more into your day or extract more from life. It’s a kind of philosophical treatise, a more holistic view of time that refocuses the reader’s attention on quality rather than quantity.

If we live to be 80 years old, he argues, we’ll have gotten about 4,000 weeks of life. And there’s more than one way to think about that stubborn, irrefutable fact.

Burkeman writes early in the book that:

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. But that isn’t a reason for unremitting despair, or for living in an anxiety-fueled panic about making the most of your limited time. It’s a cause for relief. You get to give up on something that was always impossible — the quest to become the optimized, infinitely capable, emotionally invincible, fully independent person you’re officially supposed to be. Then you get to roll up your sleeves and start work on what’s gloriously possible instead.”

MS helped clarify this for me almost two decades ago. It made me understand that I wasn’t invincible (a hard pill to swallow for a 25-year-old woman) and that things like energy and time weren’t infinitely renewable resources. But I’d forgotten that fact in my struggle to do and be more, and very much needed the reminder.

It’s only when you face that you’ll never be able to do everything you want that you’ll be free to decide what truly matters to you and focus on it as you see fit. Rather than being like Lucy and Ethel wrapping every piece of candy poorly, you can choose which pieces interest you and get them prepared exactly the way they should be. That’s a much better and much healthier way to live.

The fact that our time is finite isn’t a punishment. It isn’t somehow unfair. In fact, the opposite is true. “It’s almost incomprehensibly miraculous,” Burkeman writes, “to have been granted any time at all.”

So rather than grouse about all the things I can’t do or bemoan the fact that I’ll never achieve all my goals and dreams, I’m going to be thankful for the time I do have. I’m going to “suck out all the marrow of life” like Henry David Thoreau and follow Alexander Pope’s advice to “drink deep … [from] the Pierian spring.”

My life — my 4,000 weeks —  is unique and beautiful. It’s mine, and I don’t want to waste a moment wanting something more.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


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