Hardships and the good life: Why our mental approach to MS matters

How being resilient can help us live our best life, despite the challenges of MS

Jamie Hughes avatar

by Jamie Hughes |

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I don’t really like problems. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

No one I know wakes up hoping a seemingly insurmountable obstacle or painful trial is flung smack in the middle of their path. If it were up to me, I’d rather wake up to perfect hair, hit every green light on the way to a long, mimosa-drenched brunch with friends, and find a $20 bill on the ground on the way to a street festival where I spend a wonderful afternoon talking books with Ann Patchett.

But as a person with multiple sclerosis (MS), I can tell you that life rarely works out that beautifully or problem-free. On the contrary, life with MS can feel downright impossible sometimes. It’s a strange disease. No two people seem to have the same symptoms or pattern of progression. Some of us don’t even look sick! That’s why most people we meet don’t quite know what to make of (or say to) us when they learn we have MS. Truth be told, I sometimes feel much the same way.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that the lives we’re given are the ones we must live, and how we approach them — challenges and all — really does make a difference.

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A good life

In fact, as MS News Today recently reported, researchers at the University of Jordan have found that, “Multiple sclerosis patients with greater psychological resilience — a better ability to cope with and recover quickly from problems and difficulties — tend to have higher levels of social and occupational functioning.” That translates to a “better quality of life, fewer mental health problems, and faster physical recovery from setbacks.”

In other words, if you want to “live your best life,” as the kids say these days, handling problems and recovering quickly after setbacks is key. It’s important to have what Mattie Ross says Rooster Cogburn possesses in spades, something intangible known as “true grit.” I personally think some people come hard-wired with a greater amount of internal strength, but it’s also something that can be learned. Adversity is like weight training in a way — the more you lift, the stronger you get.

But it’s not a purely functional, utilitarian gift. Being resilient has a way of making us softer and more attractive as well — and not in the physical sense. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, psychiatrist and author of “On Death and Dying,” once wrote:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

So, yeah, challenges stink, but they aren’t without their benefits. And while we all might like lives free from hassles, fears, and inconveniences, the simple truth is that we need them. They’re the way we sharpen what’s dull in ourselves or make smooth what was once abrasive. Hardships polish us like rocks in a tumbler and bring out the beauty that dwells just under the surface.

And how we react to them is even more vital. So if you or someone you love is struggling with MS, try to focus not on the problems themselves, but on your response to them. Rather than knuckle under, do your best to fight back. Look for the good in any situation. Laugh often. Love yourself and others deeply. See life for the gift it is, and somewhere along the way, you’ll find you’re actually living a pretty good one.

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.


Michael Grogan avatar

Michael Grogan

Thank you for that, Jamie.

Sometimes a stranger can provide just what one needs, and you have done that.

Write on!

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

Michael, I'm so glad to have been of help. It's an honor to hear from you!

Rob Mullins avatar

Rob Mullins

Good thoughts, thank you for sharing them. I would add that faith and reliance on Jesus is a source of great strength and will get you through those low points in your life. this statement applies to not only folks that have m,s. but anyone that draws breath.

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

That goes without saying for me too, Rob. That's woven into the matrix of my life.

James Francis Hayes avatar

James Francis Hayes

Thanks from another word-lover with MS who enjoys Ann Patchett!

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

She's truly amazing. I got to meet her at an AWP conference a few years ago in Tampa, and she's as delightful as you'd expect. Have you ever been to Parnassus Books, her store in Nashville? I'd love to go there some time.

Jane Montgomery avatar

Jane Montgomery

Very well put. I have given up the mental wrestling against having setbacks in life. Paying attention in daily life to what I am grateful for has given me a sense of wellbeing. I believe it builds resilience as well.

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

Indeed it does, Jane! I try to glory in the little daily things. They truly are amazing when you really think about them.


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