My new ALS management strategy is to give myself a mission
How I'm conquering my daily challenges by setting specifically targeted goals
As much as I’d love to be perceived as an I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out sort of ALS patient, I’m not. I have to invent mental strategies all the time to help me navigate through my day. Lately, I’ve been easily distracted and not paying attention to what I’m doing. Only then will an episode of nearly tripping or almost choking pull me from my fuzzy thinking and back into the present moment.
Maybe it’s just the changing weather, my feeling that the world is moving faster, or the daily bombardment of ads and grim news that sets my thoughts swirling like a shaken snow globe. I needed a quick mental prompt. Something more than “just breathe,” more than “notice my surroundings,” and I found it by imagining that I have a mission.
Here’s how it works.
Traversing the moat
When I arrived at the salon the other day for my monthly haircut, I found a challenge waiting for me. The day was busy, with cars filling the parking lot. Customers were darting in and out of the single-door entrance and sidestepping rivets of water collecting on the brick patio out front, all because one staff member was watering the pots there with a long, serpentine hose.
My husband parked our van near the entrance, but I still had to cross an area of gravel to reach the patio area, plus navigate the various obstacles awaiting me. That’s when a stern voice in my head said, “Dagmar, your mission is to make it from here to inside the building.”
If you’re old enough to remember the original “Mission: Impossible” TV series, feel free to insert the familiar theme music here. I then imagined I were a Navy SEAL with a laserlike focus on getting in, getting out, and accomplishing my mission.
So, wearing my ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs), I pushed my rollator over the uneven, bumpy gravel and made it to the patio. Avoiding the missing and broken bricks along my route, I rolled through the water and let the scurrying customers dodge me.
No scattered thoughts, no anxiety. I told myself, “You can do this” — and when I did it, it felt good. My mental and physical energy had shifted to a sense of confidence.
My other missions
This strategy of identifying an imaginary mission has many times helped me deal with various frustrations, such as wrestling with the Velcro on my AFOs or using the handicapped stall in a public restroom and discovering the grab bars are wobbly and unreliable.
Whenever I need a quick way to focus my attention for a short time, I change the task to a mission, one that’s strategic and achievable.
That’s the thing about living with ALS: There’s always a challenge. And boy, do I try to meet each challenge head-on. From imagining I’m in a driver’s ed training film or an astronaut lost on Mars, to shifting into manual mode, these strategies help me, and I hope they can help you, too.
It’s all part of learning to live well while living with ALS.
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