Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How to Apply Optimism while Living with ALS (ALS Stress Management Tips)

My neurologist has me scheduled for a blood test at three month intervals. Over the past four years, that computes to a total of sixteen visits that I've made to our local lab collection site - - with the last three visits being rather pleasant experiences. How so?

Because, the last three were on my terms. Let me explain.

Originally, I followed the traditional routine of getting up super early in the morning, followed by a shower, getting dressed and strapping on my ankle braces. Skipping my usual coffee and breakfast, I would then trundle across town only to push my walker into an already full waiting room; lined with equally tired, caffeine-deprived, cranky individuals. Occasionally a lab tech appeared and over the low growl of our stomachs called (or woke up!) the next patient. For me, the rest of the day was shot and I never seemed to get my rhythm going.

One day, a light bulb went off in my head. “Wait a minute!” I thought, “The whole point of this is to show up fasting. Who says it has to be in the morning?” I checked out the lab’s hours and discovered they indeed were open all afternoon!

My NEW routine still requires me to get up super early, but now I can indulge myself with hot coffee and breakfast. Then, I spend the rest of the day in low-key activities, sip water and skip lunch. By late afternoon I've met the official requirements of a “fast” and can report in to the lab where the waiting room is almost always empty and I’m checked right in. My neurologist even confirmed that in my case, the shift in time didn't affect the results at all.

It’s simply a matter of seeing a problem in a new light.

According to Martin Segliman, PhD, author of the best-selling book, Learned Optimism, I’m exhibiting resilience; that is, a belief that set-backs or problems are temporary and that I have the capacity to exert some control over the situation. He identifies the opposite attitude as being the pessimist; a person who relinquishes control to other people or to fate. The core of pessimistic thinking is a feeling of helplessness.

Dr. Segliman has studied optimists and pessimists for over 25 years and writes that these two attitudes are not necessarily ingrained within us; they are simply thinking habits that we've learned throughout our lives. If, as children we weren't brought up by or were exposed to optimistic thinkers, Dr. Segliman’s research proves that these skills can be learned.

He uses the model of ABC (Adversity –Beliefs-Consequences) to describe how we all process a problem. Meaning, when faced with adversity we form a set of beliefs which have consequences.  The optimistic thinker challenges their set beliefs to ultimately change the consequences or outcome. My own example of going to the lab challenged the belief that all fasting blood tests needed to be done in the morning.
Even though I do possess a good dose of optimism, I found it helpful to understand Dr. Segliman’s theory on exactly how and why it works along with how to apply it to more situations - - especially now that I’ve reached my fifth year living with ALS.

The natural progression of ALS (and fibromyalgia, MS or any other chronic condition) results in ongoing changes and setbacks that soon become the “new normal.” But as we know, not all setbacks are due to the disease itself!

Take for example, Richard McBride, a 59 year old resident of Calgary, Canada, who blogs about his daily challenges living with ALS. Last month he shared this:  

“My name is Richard McBride and I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease or Motor Neuron Disease. It has destroyed my legs and I am now confined to a wheelchair. As life would have it, my condominium board has decided that now is a good time to replace the elevator in our building. It will be out of service for up to three months, and I live on the third floor!”

“I have two choices; stay home, essentially a prisoner in my own home, or get out. I want to be free of this prison, this prison of ALS and this prison that will soon be my home. I want to do a road trip, an amazing road trip that could last the whole 8 to 10 weeks of the elevator replacement.”

What happened?

Richard decided to explore the scenic United States. He created a GoFundMe page on the Internet and through the generous donations of friends and Facebook acquaintances he raised $3,750 (almost half his goal number) within 18 days. Richard left the page up and took off. He’s currently in Texas; blogging and posting daily photos of his adventures. Soon he’ll reach his furthest destination of Key West, Florida, with plans to return to Calgary, just around the time the elevator renovations are to be completed.

Now that’s what I call, “taking Life’s lemons and making lemonade!”

Optimism is good for you; it’s been shown to improve physical health, improve how we handle stress and even increases our ability to get things done - - it’s fun to use and easy to learn.

So, go ahead. Find out how YOU can make your own lemonade.


If you want to follow Richard McBride’s blogs:

If you want to learn more about the book, “Learned Optimism.” LINK HERE:

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger 


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They will be posted soon.