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“But he made me do it!”
As the mom of identical twin boys this is a phrase I hear often. It’s also one of my most-hated.
“You choose your attitude.”
My boys are probably as sick of me responding with the later phrase as I am of hearing the former.
One of the major pieces of “mom wisdom” that I hope and pray I’m instilling in my boys is that they choose their actions and reactions. They will run into many situations they can’t control in life. The one thing they can control is how they choose to react to whatever life throws at them.
As one of my patented pieces of mommy advice, I most certainly believe it’s true, but I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative brain disease to test my commitment to the sentiment.
An optimist, and also somewhat of a control freak, it came naturally to jump into positive action when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
I set up appointments with physical and occupational therapists and followed their advice to the letter. I read all the literature about the treatments my doctor suggested and jumped over the insurance and scheduling hurdles with a smile on my face.
I chose my attitude, dang it. And it was a positive one.
But even when you’ve informed your brain of that aforementioned attitude, it’s difficult to get your heart on board with feeling loving thoughts toward something that is a truly negative situation. A life-changing situation.
Despite all my efforts to choose my attitude and make positive decisions from a negative place my heart was betraying me. The panic attacks were my first clue.
One interesting aspect of MS as a diagnosis is that you become acutely aware that nothing is a given. Depending on the progression of the disease or the location of the attack on the brain or spinal cord, someone with MS could wake up one day and be completely blind or unable to walk. I’ve heard it described as looking both ways before crossing the street only to be hit by a plane falling out of the sky.
I discovered both of my MS exacerbations upon waking up from sleeping to find something was not as it had been when I went to bed. Apparently, I subconsciously took this to heart.
Every morning when I woke up, there was an elephant on my chest, making it hard to breathe: a panic attack. Could I see? Could I feel my extremities? Could I sit up?
This, among other things, let me to seek help from a neuropsychologist who helped me work through the feeling that I had completely lost control of my health and, consequently, my life in general.
She helped bring me back to the idea of choosing my attitude, and on a deeper level, living according to my values.
This piece from Psychology Today helps explain the concept of discovering your values, and defines values based on psychologists Barb Markway and Celia Ampel in “The Self-Confidence Workbook” as “the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.”
It walks you through steps similar to what I worked through with my neuropsychologist, with the goal of defining what values were most important to me and discovering how close my actions and activities align with those values.
Once the activity was complete, I was surprised to see how closely I was already aligning my life choices to my values. I also learned how, as this piece from Psych Central explains, living according to your values is truly an act of self-care.
While for me, living according to my values meant I was able to realize I was still in control of what really mattered to me, for someone without a serious illness just trying to balance work life and home life, this exercise can help you to reduce the weight of unhealthy values.
Living according to your values allows you to place greater weight on the activities, experiences and people you find truly important.
This won’t be the same experience for any two people. We each find value in different areas of our lives depending on our beliefs.
My psychologist also pointed out that it’s very difficult to live your values exactly on point in each area of your life simultaneously. It’s OK for activities that keep you living according to your fitness-related values to slip slightly if you’re in a season in which your family values need to be more of a focus.
The bottom line is, when the tasks, activities and behaviors you’re putting energy into align with what you feel is important in life, you’ll feel more of a sense of balance, as well as bit of relief about the parts of life that aren’t in your control.
In other words: “You choose your attitude.”