05/23/2014 04:48 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2014

Wheelchair Wisdom: Everything You Need is Already Inside You

There is no good in arguing with the inevitable.
The only argument available with an east wind
is to put on your overcoat.

--James Russell Lowell

With acceptance comes a new perspective. What matters is not what we were, what we lost, or what might happen in the future. What matters is the now. For example, when I first started using a cane to help me walk, it showed me a new perspective on the simple act of walking. To move forward, I now had to be aware of the movement of my legs and feet. I had to shift my weight to my heel, lean forward, roll toward my toes, then shift weight to my other heel, lean forward, and roll toward my toes. Heel, roll, toes . . . heel, roll, toes.

Walking became slow and methodical. I had to be aware of several things: What was the landscape like? Where was the crack in the sidewalk, the bump or incline in the pavement? Slowing down and focusing on the simplicity of the act forced me to view my surroundings with new eyes.

When I was first diagnosed, I refused to accept that I would become an unfortunate victim of a dreaded disease. I was still angry that MS had come into my life, but I had come to realize that my rage was a very powerful force, and that, in concert with it, my will to live was asserting itself.

I didn't know what my future would hold, but I was regaining my faith that I could affect it.

To many, I think, the word "acceptance" has negative connotations--implying compliance, resignation, submission, even victimization. To me, its meaning is completely the opposite. In acceptance there is freedom--release from the anger and frustration that we feel when a promised cure fails to work or a thread of hope suddenly snaps.

With acceptance comes renewal--the ability to live in the present and experience the possibilities of each moment. Acceptance doesn't mean that we stop feeling or put on a happy face. Quite the opposite. It means that we own our feelings--the petulance and frustration when we drop something or forget something; the deep sorrow when we lose some of our mobility or recall our former lives; the joy of being with loved ones, sharing a moment, or making new discoveries. We can't accept some without accepting all--because all those emotions, and others that are too many to name, are part of the human condition and the experience of who we are.

I knew what I was, and was not, going to do. I was not going to resign myself to being a pitiful cripple waiting for death. I was going to embrace my life and live my life as fully and as peacefully as possible for as long as I'm here on earth. And, I will give of my talent, skills and heart.

I was just beginning to see glimmers of the spiritual transformation that my MS diagnosis would bring, a powerful shift that would sweeten my views on aging, change, and the challenges each of us must ultimately face.

In the years that followed, multiple sclerosis would teach me how to love more deeply than I'd ever dreamed I could. It woke me up, dissolved any illusions that I had control over my life, forced me to slow down, and brought me back home to myself. I began to take more responsibility for the choices I made in my life. I learned that no matter what was happening to my body, I was in charge of how I responded.

I no longer wanted to just react, unthinking, to what was happening to me. I wanted to make a conscious decision to take action and stand up for what I believed in.

And what had become of my own grieving? It, in a sense, I'm sure it always will. Certainly, there was the denial. Every time I heard about a possible breakthrough that seemed to promise a remission or a cure, I sought it out.

I tried alternative medicine, herbal therapy. I took trips to Mexico to meet with practitioners who claimed they had found the secret to a cure; and I went to South Dakota and spent three weeks at a Lakota Sioux reservation participating in their ceremonies and sweat lodges. I kept trying new diets and went long months avoiding certain foods--trying anything, anything that promised new hope.

I would begin to see improvements, and then--once again--I would have a relapse, or my symptoms would worsen, each cycle producing new symptoms of grief with its components of depression, anger, and bargaining. But gradually, at first with great pain and later with increasing joy, I moved toward the stage that helped me move ahead, to see a future, to have a future--the stage of acceptance.

EXERCISE: Let Yourself Heal Fully

Imagine yourself fully healed, fully functioning, fully grown.

  • What Do You Want Your New Life to Include?
  • What Do You Want And Need?
  • You Deserve to Heal Fully. Desire It.

Remember, acceptance takes practice.

  • I coach myself in this practice by reminding myself that I only need to surrender to the present moment, accepting one moment at a time.
  • I only need to accept my own thoughts and emotions, even those that I feel are negative or judgmental. It's okay. You are human.
  • I accept everything around me, remembering that I don't have to like it or agree with it.
  • I only need to accept that these things are present, existing in the here and now.

To your peace and well-being,