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I’m not that person anymore!

By Cherie Binns

I don’t think I am alone in realizing that people who knew me five or 10 years ago or during a challenging time in my life may always see me as a bit “difficult” or “moody” or “demanding” or (fill in the blank). I can look back to tougher days when I did not feel as well or had less function than I do today and see a much more irritable me. My fuse was often short and I felt that those who knew me should understand and try to accommodate my needs without me having to ask. It used to anger and frustrate me when I was aware of things over which I had control and was consciously working on taking back that control and people did not see that I was trying.

I have dealt with some level of depression for much of my life (nearly seven decades now) so it stands to reason that some of my responses to other people or situations have not always been necessarily stellar over the years. People’s memories are long when impressions have been made and it is only natural for someone you have not seen in years to be self-protective if they feel they were hurt or attacked by you in the past. We know we are not the person anymore who made that relationship difficult but they do not. So, how do we fix those impressions from others and help them to see who we are now?

Recently, Trevor Wicken of the MS GYM posted a 25-minute video on Facebook talking about our “Threat Bucket.” Although the original video is 25 minutes in length, I understood where he was going and the points he was trying to get across within a couple of minutes. He reminds us of how stressors affect our mood and responses. Things such as work that is unfulfilling, becoming too difficult, or distasteful should make us ask what could be changed to make this job more of what we need and less stressful. Are we volunteering our time or talent indiscriminately and not selecting how we spend our energy? Are we trying to please everyone at the expense of our own peace of mind?

I have not always been as successful as I would like to be at managing stress and prioritizing my time and energy but I know ways to do that and sometimes need to remind myself of those ways. When I focus on them, I feel better physically and emotionally. I try to be kinder and I then receive kindness in return. I feel less judged when I cut others some slack and don’t hold onto perceived slights. One of the most toxic things I can do is to complain to anyone and everyone who will listen about what I can’t do, or don’t like to do, or find hard to do. I now try instead to focus on others and their gifts and talents and do my best to be affirming and interested. Over time this has shifted the way I feel about me and others and helps me to become more the person I want to be rather than the person I seem to be to others.

I tell you this because I have found, in hindsight, that when I become less of a burden or even irritant to others, I find more inner peace. As that peace takes hold, I relate differently and I become a different person than I may have seemed during those more “testy” times and encounters. People remember me when I am irritable or less than kind as “that person” and it may be difficult for them to see that I have changed. It is important to acknowledge that I recognize I have been difficult and challenging in my personal relationships. It is also important to realize that happens on occasion with our healthcare team as well. 

When I get an infection, it seems to trigger my MS to go into overdrive. I have a couple of lesions in an area of the brain that controls emotion and they go haywire. I cannot stop crying and tend to lash out verbally when people can’t see that I have no control over this and they do not listen to my words but only see the meltdown in front of them. I believe it helps our healthcare team to see this side of us (or whatever side is triggered by infection or relapse) as it gives them a more comprehensive picture of what we must navigate to get through our day or week or life.

So, what is in your threat bucket? How can you keep it from overflowing and jeopardizing your interactions? What can you do to care for you? Onward, by all means.