Last week was an exciting one for me: The website I created went live. Working on this special project was an entirely new experience; it turned out to be a challenging one, but from beginning to end it gave me a sense of purpose and value.
Why did I do it? Because the World Acrobatics Society, a nonprofit I belong to, needed a new website and since no one else was stepping up to the plate, I volunteered. Plus, I did it because I have ALS.
Let me explain
Living with ALS and its ever-changing, progression of symptoms challenge our ability to move, communicate, and eat. ALS forces us to become experts in the art of ALS adaptability; we invent workarounds and surround ourselves with adaptive equipment. But unless we can find meaning or purpose in our lives: giving us things to do, people to see, and places to go — our adaptive tools are of little benefit to us.
When I received my diagnosis, I felt as if an invisible expiration date had been stamped onto my forehead. I think many ALS patients share that feeling. What I used to do and how I defined myself had suddenly changed. I put myself into what I call the “ALS waiting room.”
When I reframed my ALS the tenor of my thoughts and feelings improved. Rather than being overwhelmed with what I couldn’t do anymore, I considered what I could do. I thought about the groups and clubs I belong to, what they needed help with, and considering my limitations, how I could be of value.
My thoughts evolved into projects that I could do from home using my computer and tapped into my knowledge of wellness and love of creative design. I write a monthly newsletter for my local fiber arts guild and a weekly column for ALS News Today — and now, I’ve built a website!
Having a purpose is healthy
Research points to the many ways that having a sense of purpose can benefit our physical health. We make better lifestyle choices such as getting daily exercise and eating healthy foods. We choose more effective coping strategies and when we feel that our lives matter, we take better care of ourselves.
People with a strong sense of purpose in life have higher scores in mental health, well-being, cognitive function — we even sleep better.
Of course, each of us has our definition of what is meaning or purpose. It should be something that makes us look forward to each day and gives us a sense of satisfaction and gratitude when we reach a milestones or complete a project.
Use these suggestions to discover your new life purpose:
- Pay attention to what grabs your attention.
- Don’t push or force an idea; let it come to you.
- Discuss your interests with family and friends; be open to their suggestions.
- Look for something that taps into your knowledge and helps you to learn something new.
And when the project ends, you don’t have to — move on and look for another. Remember, when we help others we also improve ourselves. We can live well while living with ALS.
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.