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Three things to remember when you want to give up

By Dan Digmann

I’m bewildered that after living with multiple sclerosis for more than two decades I have yet to simultaneously throw out both of my elbows and shoulders.

This all-but-destined dislocation of my major arm joints has nothing to do with uncontrolled flailing or positioning my arms to break MS-related trips and falls. No, this has everything to do with the number of times I literally or figuratively have wanted to shoot my hands into the air as if to silently shout, “I give up!”

I mean, c’mon MS! Wasn't it enough that you’ve already stolen my ability to run, or heck, walk fast for that matter. Or taken away at least half of the feeling in my hands and feet. Or alienated me from my once-closest of friends. Now you’re messing with this part of my life?   

What more could you possibly take from me or want from …

I quickly stop myself from saying anything more. Call me superstitious, but I don't want to tempt fate or open the door for MS to respond and show me what more it could take.

Still. How the heck am I going to move forward this time? I’m tired. Worn out. Overwhelmed. Inexplicably exhausted. Perhaps this is the time I give in to the disease. More specifically: Give up.

Regularly reading comments and stories on MS-related social media posts, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way from time to time. And nobody who is open to understanding MS realities could find fault with me or anyone else who’s dealing with MS if we’ve had this defeatist dialogue with ourselves and each other.

MS challenges are real. The struggles are brutal. But somehow, we find ways to cope with or rise above these moments to keep moving forward. To provide some perspective, here are three things I’ve found are helpful to remember the next time you want to give up because of your MS. 

Remember that:

1. You have a solid record of overcoming challenges 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to give up on myself and moving forward because I was close to conceding to MS. Did you catch that? Close to conceding. How about you? The reality is we’re still here and still moving forward. Sure, maybe we aren’t moving as fast as we once were, but we each have found a way to overcome what we previously perceived as unsurmountable circumstances. More points for you, less points for MS. 

2. Somebody is counting on you

Okay, so this in no way is intended to pile more pressure on you during an already stressful situation. Think of it more as remembering that you have friends and family who want you to succeed and who are with you to help make it happen. 

For example, I remember when I recently struggled with an adverse reaction to the disease-modifying therapy I had used for years. This medication had kept my MS somewhat in check for more than 21 years and Boom! It no longer would work for me. Where the heck was I going to start with sifting through the more than 20 DMTs while continuing to work fulltime, serve as the primary caregiver for my wife, Jennifer, complete my second three-year term on church council and write for various MS websites (such as MS Focus)? The MS medication had to be my priority, but how could I make that happen? 

The key was knowing I didn't have to manage it alone and turning to Jennifer – the person who is counting on me most to succeed – for her help. Within two days she had pulled info on the top four DMTs that made the most sense to me to ask my neurologist about. I wasn't going to give up because I knew she was counting on me. And the reality is, I need to remember I’m counting on myself to succeed, and I deserved to give myself my best effort. 

3. Success isn’t guaranteed every time

Sports have helped me to cope with MS, and here are two analogies (even if you don’t like sports) to help us all stay in the game. The reality is that MS is unpredictable and even the best strategies such as an aggressive DMT, regular physical therapy sessions and healthy diet sometimes fail to thwart the onslaught of this chronic disease. But your overall success isn’t determined by your wins and losses. It’s that you show up each day and give it your best. 

Think about this: Mariano Rivera is arguably the best relief pitcher in Major League Baseball history. He played for the New York Yankees from 1995 to 2013. In his first year of eligibility, Rivera was the first player ever to be elected unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, he tallied 652 saves, but did you know what his career record was? 80 wins, 60 losses. See? You don’t have to win every bout with MS to be your best.  

And the next time you feel like getting frustrated with yourself because you feel like you aren’t doing enough to fight your MS or it’s getting the best of you, just remember this quote from the acclaimed Apple TV series “Ted Lasso” starring Jason Sudeikis. When trying to keep one of his soccer players from being down on himself, Sudeikis’ character simply said, “Time to get you some of these (scissors) … to cut yourself some slack.”

Stay focused and celebrate all of your wins, no matter how small. Even moral victories build momentum to keep you in the game for even bigger wins tomorrow.

Yes, MS can be overwhelming and sometimes feel all-consuming. It’s very real. But when it feels like you just want to give up and give in to MS, be selfish and give yourself the grace you wholeheartedly deserve. Remember you consistently have proven yourself in overcoming the challenges you’ve faced so far, there are people who believe in you and want you to succeed, and even all-around champions don’t win every time.

Every victory starts with just showing up and giving the best you have for that day.