In life with multiple sclerosis, self-care is anything but selfish

Why tending to our health is actually a sign of selflessness

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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About three years before my multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis and subsequent retirement, I found myself in Iraq preparing for a mission. I was going out with a different team from another branch of the U.S. military, and the planning and briefing process wasn’t as detailed as I was accustomed to. At the conclusion, I raised my hand and, when called on, let the commander know that he’d left out a part. (Note: This type of informal exchange is common in the Special Operations community, but not in the military as a whole.)

“Oh, what part is that, Ben?”

“The part where I don’t get killed.”

“Don’t be selfish. Just do your job.”

“It’s not selfish. I’m the medic. Nobody really wants me to have to do my job, or in the worst case, have to do it for me. With a little addition to the plan, we can probably keep that from happening.”

In the case of a Special Forces medic, risk comes with the territory, but a certain amount of self-preservation isn’t selfish. In the same way, self-care isn’t selfish when you have a lifelong disease like MS. Selfishness is partially defined as having little regard for others, but only by taking care of yourself can you care for others.

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From day one, we’re taught not to be selfish, and rightly so. True selfishness isn’t something to aspire to. What we’re rarely taught is self-care. Maybe it’s because we don’t know the difference. I know I didn’t, and in the early days of multiple sclerosis, I often felt guilty for taking care of myself.

I sometimes still feel that way, but I’m learning that tending to my health is really a selfless act. It looks different with MS, but family and friends still (inexplicably) depend on me, and I want to be depended upon. It’s good for my psyche. To be as dependable as possible, I have to honestly assess and take care of myself.

This includes both physical and mental care. Getting enough sleep, eating right, connecting with others, exercising, rejuvenating, and recreating are just a few examples noted by Psychology Today and the National Institute of Mental Health. Neither article is about MS, but taking care of yourself is applicable, maybe even vital, to life with a chronic illness.

Remember, multiple sclerosis is a very individual disease. None of us experience the exact same course or symptoms. My restorative activities might not look anything like yours; they might not even look the same as mine did a week ago, or yesterday. Last weekend, my self-care involved attending a birthday party with my family and interacting with the other parents there. Today, it was watching cartoons with my kids and connecting with friends via text message. Inconsistent self-care for an inconsistent disease.

Until MS stops leaving out the part where I get better, I’m going to try to care for myself — even if it still occasionally feels selfish. As with so many other things I’ve learned since my MS journey began, I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting there.


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.

Comments

Robert Eckelman avatar

Robert Eckelman

Comment not specifically about this article, but about the author. Every article I read of his is good and includes a valuable life lesson. Thank You

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Robert! I'm still on cloud nine that the self theray of trying to organize my jumbled thoughts into a weekly column is valuable to anyone else. Comments like that make me want to keep trying.

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Kelly Slagle avatar

Kelly Slagle

I completely agree with Robert. I stumbled upon two of your articles and began a search so I could read them ALL. I was diagnosed with PPMS in 2020 after experiencing problems with legs.
And now here we are in 2023 and there is still SO LITTLE information on PPMS. Even my neurologists don't seemto know. I have never been a depressive person, but I am feeling it now. I also have Type I Diabetes and Addisons (adrenal insufficiency). I promise I am not bragging. har har And ya, no one else in my family has any of these issues.

So please keep writing about your experiences. For once I don't feel entirely alone. I wish you all the best!

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Kelly! No, you're not alone. I wish there was no reason for either of us to have ever heard of MS, but I'm happy to know people who 'get" it.

Ben

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