Welcome to “The Mighty Mind.”
When I was diagnosed with ALS at age 28 in 2015, I felt like I had lost everything. My body, without warning or reason, had turned on me, and that meant the end of so much. My teaching career, and dreams of motherhood and growing old with my husband were swept away like sand when I believed they were stone.
These major losses hit me fast. Other, less obvious ones, crept in slowly, adding weight to my chest, one suffocating ounce at a time. If I heard a song I liked on the radio, I would move to dance before remembering that my feet had grown dangerously heavy and clumsy. I used to enjoy any activity that involved rhythm — particularly hip-hop and Zumba. I also loved going on adventures with my husband. We canoed, hiked, and hunted for fossils. Before losing my voice, I spoke French and a decent amount of Russian. I was passionate about languages, and now the work I started in sixth grade and continued through undergrad would be for nothing.
My perspective changed a year after my diagnosis, when ALS Awareness Month rolled around. My family was working hard, fundraising and sharing facts about ALS on social media. But I did nothing. My guilt over leaving the fight to my loved ones spurred me to action. My mom had been encouraging me to write about ALS since my diagnosis, knowing instinctively, the way mothers do, that this lifelong passion would allow me to process and cope with my struggle.
I wasn’t so sure; I hated even thinking about ALS. How could spending time committing my thoughts and feelings to paper make me feel better? Still, I must have known on some level that she was right, because I decided to contribute to ALS Awareness Month by writing a short post on Facebook each day describing an experience in my new normal.
I imagined a few quick sentences would be adequate. Much to my surprise, the first post I wrote was several paragraphs long. Once I started telling the story of how I was too uncomfortable to sleep, I couldn’t stop. I wrote for an hour about feelings of helplessness that weighed on me when I first realized that I was too weak to roll over or adjust my blankets, and about the gut-wrenching guilt of having to wake my husband every few hours to reposition me. By the time I clicked “share,” my mind was already buzzing with ideas for what I would write tomorrow. That night, I went to bed happy.
My daily posts quickly turned into a blog with a shockingly large number of readers. For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt exhilarated and full of purpose. I came to see that in my mind, I was free. It is the one part of me that ALS can’t tame. My mind is a mighty force, its own universe apart from my disease. Lightning storms between firing neurons create constellations of thought and galaxies of feeling. Ideas dart like comets across the vast, wild frontier.
In this column, I will share ways to protect and strengthen your own magnificent universe. In other words, this column will focus on mental health. Topics will include everything from maintaining relationships to navigating sadness, from rediscovering joy to finding purpose. I will also explore mindfulness as a coping mechanism. Each column will include concrete practices to improve your mental health and quality of life. Welcome to “The Mighty Mind.”
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