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Practicing Gratitude with MS

By Matt Cavallo

At 28 years old, I had a bright future. I had been married to my college sweetheart for three years and had a promising career in real estate development. We had a cute starter home, fun social life, and dreams of being parents. 

Everything in our life was perfect, until the day I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom on my own. I had never been so sick in a day of my life, but I found myself admitted to the hospital, pumped full of IV steroids and working with a physical therapist to try to learn how to walk again. 

A month later, I was diagnosed with MS. I’d like to say I handled it better, but I didn’t. I started to feel really sorry for myself. I thought my hopes and dreams were over. I didn’t think my diagnosis was fair and I was becoming bitter. The people in my life tried to rally and offer support, but my whole paradigm was negative gloom and doom.

It wasn’t until I started being thankful and practicing gratitude that my life and relationships changed. I learned that while I did have a chronic, incurable illness, I could still live my best life. I would just have to work a little harder at it than I did before. When I accepted the terms of my disease, I realized that life was precious and that nothing was guaranteed. That realization allowed me to appreciate everyday and accomplish dreams I didn’t know I had before my diagnosis.

The effects of gratitude have been scientifically studied. While each study concludes that further research must be conducted, there are some common elements of each study that can help all of us with MS. (list adopted from: www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

1. Gratitude can reduce negative emotions and make you happier. Resentment, regret, jealousy and envy are toxic emotions that may bubble to the surface once being diagnosed with MS. Practicing gratitude can help manage those negative feelings which can help you feel better about you.

2. Gratitude can make you feel better physically. Studies suggest that if you practice gratitude, you are more likely to take care of your health. This means physical exercise, making good healthy decisions, and following the plan of care of your neurologist

3. Gratitude can make you more resilient. MS presents many mental and physical challenges that can be incredibly stressful. Practicing gratitude help give you the mental strength and fortitude needed to overcome these challenges.

4. Gratitude can help foster relationships. Life has become very busy and the common courtesies we used to express have all but fallen by the wayside. You’d be surprised by how showing gratitude – saying please and thank you, or holding the door – can make a difference in existing relationships or lead to new ones. 

5. Gratitude can improve self-esteem. After being diagnosed with MS, you might find yourself scrolling through social media comparing yourself to others. Practicing gratitude can help improve your self-esteem and reduce the need to compare yourself to lives of others. You are perfect just the way you are.