My husband and I recently took a short trip out of town. On the morning we left, it dawned on me that I was going to have one of those days. You know the kind. A day when one thing after another gets in the way.
The culminating moment happened during my third attempt to put my foot into a sock — a maneuver I’ve managed a million times in my life. But on this morning, my foot and the sock just couldn’t match up. The sock kept twisting and getting stuck and my hands were weakening with each failed attempt. Grrrr!
I was angry and frustrated, and my body began to sweat. It would have been easy to give up, curse my ALS, and dissolve into a puddle of tears.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I stopped what I was doing and took a few deep breaths. Then, I thought, “Aha! I’m in a driver’s ed training film!”
Driver’s ed? What training film?
When I was in high school, we had to pass a driver’s education class to get a license.
Before we got inside a real car, we spent weeks in a classroom. We would sit in small dummy cars and watch short films that took us through various driving situations. While the film played on a big screen, we had to demonstrate correct reactions to a bicyclist veering across the road, a fire engine whizzing by, or a long line of slow-moving vehicles.
It always struck me as funny that these generic films were shot in sunny, flat Florida. Never mind that we were viewing them in Iowa, with its rolling hills and roads covered in ice and snow.
But the lesson from those films stayed with me: the unpredictability of life and how our reactions matter. Whenever I find myself having one of those days, I use the memory to help me adjust my attitude and find humor in the situation.
If my description of a driver’s education class in the 1960s is a little outdated for you, think of one of those hidden-camera TV shows like “Candid Camera” or “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes” that feature practical jokes played on unsuspecting people.
What’s important to me is to not go through an entire day feeling stressed out, especially now that I live with ALS.
Mental stress causes the brain to release cortisol, and having too much over a long period of time wears down our immune system and resilience. Negative thinking also adversely affects our emotional well-being, which has been linked to ALS symptom progression.
How did the rest of the trip go?
The training-film effect stayed with us throughout the day. In a large metropolitan city, our van’s GPS added an hour to our journey by ignoring a shorter loop around the city and directing us through heavy stop-and-go traffic.
But we survived and laughed about it later. My memories of the trip are that we saw beautiful landscapes, attended a wonderful event, and spent time with cherished friends.
Although we each have a different journey with ALS, we share the potential to succumb to negative thinking. The next time you find yourself in the middle of one of those days, try my imaginary game. It’s one more strategy you can add to your ALS stress toolkit.
I believe we can live well while living with ALS.
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