After single mom Brenda was diagnosed with MS in 2010, she made lifestyle changes and lost 100 lbs. Now she is turning the same drive toward meeting someone new, although, as she puts it, “the idea of actually dating scares me to death!”
Relationships toolkit (the tools used by Brenda and more)
Making a life for myself - May 2012
I once could outshop even the most diligent Black Friday shopper. But in November 2009, I noticed that I was unusually clumsy and that shopping trips were draining every ounce of my energy. I attributed the change to growing older (I had just turned 50), a foot injury and being overweight. But by Thanksgiving, I started having mild numbness and tingling in my right hand that quickly progressed to the whole right side of my body. I was so fatigued I could barely stand. I knew something was really wrong.
It took six months for a final diagnosis, which was mainly my fault. As part of my denial, I figured if I wasn’t labeled as having MS, it wouldn’t be true. So it took a while, but once the reality of it sank in, I simply had to learn to deal with it. So, at the end of September 2010, I made a decision I had never made before. I cut out sugars (me, the “it’s not a meal without dessert” girl), and ate lean meats, fruits and vegetables. I discovered I really liked salads and actually craved them if I skipped a day. I also started walking. Some days I could make it only around the block before my left leg gave out on me. But I kept at it. Slowly, I started feeling better about myself. It took over a year, but I lost 100 lbs.
My oldest daughter is getting married in October and my youngest will graduate from high school in two more years. It’s time I started to make a life for myself. I’d like to date, but I’ve only been on one date in 14 years. It’s more terrifying than ever since I have MS. On top of being totally out of practice in the dating world, I wouldn’t know how to bring up the subject of my MS. Right now I am healthy, but is it fair to hope to meet someone when my future is uncertain? But it’s time to venture outside the safety of my family and meet others.
Starting the journey – July 2012
When I first submitted my story for the Everyday Matters program, I was simply sharing a couple of paragraphs of what my life has been like since I was diagnosed with MS. I read the email at work and then on a break typed out a few words describing my personal challenges, my hopes and fears for the future never realizing until I got the call that my story had been selected for something much bigger than I ever expected.
What a journey I have embarked on! I, along with my oldest daughter Stephanie as my support partner, flew to Denver to participate in a workshop designed to share the principles of positive psychology. Since MS can have effects on both the physical and cognitive functions, it is thought and science is now proving that having a positive attitude and a strong support system can provide a greater sense of well-being to those of us who deal with MS daily.
At the workshop we were able to meet Shawn Achor, author of the book “The Happiness Advantage”. He shared with us the principles behind positive psychology and what makes them work. He explained and gave examples of each principle and then challenged us to put them in action. For someone so incredibly intelligent and world-traveled, he is so down-to-earth and personable. He seems like the next-door-neighbor you have known for years.
We met with Michelle Clos, our Life Coach who is there to help us figure out where we want to be with our goal and more importantly, how we are to achieve that goal. She too has MS so she personally knows what it is like to deal with this disease.
The part of the journey I was most uncomfortable with was the on-camera interviews. I am a backstage kind of girl. Being in the spotlight is not me. I was really stepping outside my comfort zone with this. Kristen Adams made it as painless as possible. I had a connection with her from the very first time we talked. I told her after the interview was over that she was as good as Barbara Walters. She has the gift of putting people at ease, at the same time asking the right questions to get people to open up!
Little steps – August 2012
Sometimes I get embarrassed that I need to hold someone’s arm when we are walking at a theme park. OR when I am holding up traffic going down stairs since I have to go slow and carefully hold onto the handrail. OR when I forget things that others have no difficulty in recalling. I don’t want to appear frail. I don’t want to be perceived as lesser of a person.
I never really thought I had courage until I started this journey with Everyday Matters. Yet all three of my daughters have recently told me what a strong woman I am. (Sometimes what we perceive about ourselves is different than what other people are able to see in us.) They don’t see me as frail. They see a mom who continues to be an active part of life, despite a disease that forces changes. I still ride roller coasters with them, I just need help getting in and out of them now.
I’m seeing this journey is part of a process of believing in myself. And too, being happy with the self that I am. Believing that I might have the courage to put myself out there socially.
Little steps, little step
Thank you – August 2012
I read the comments so many people have posted and find how genuine and uplifting they are. To all of you who shared of yourselves, your lives, your struggles along with your encouragement, I say THANK YOU!
Many have asked how I lost the weight so I will share what worked for me. It hinged completely in my motivation to get healthier, not diet. When I finally stared down my diagnosis, I came to the realization that I didn't do anything to cause my disease, nor could I do anything to cure it. But what I could control was my overall health. I didn't even start with the plan to diet. I just wanted to eat healthier foods and get more exercise. I started limiting my portion size, skipped junk foods and gave up my favorite...sweets! It wasn't as bad as it sounds. I was truly motivated to be healthy, not skinny. The benefit was that I did start to loose weight which in turn motivated me even further to keep it up. I remember the first time going shopping for clothes and how fun it was to fit into a style that was cuter than what I had options for before. Now making healthy choices is just natural. I have been able to keep the weight off and think that I am healthier now, even with the MS!
Expectations – August 2012
For my first at-home session with Michelle, my Life Coach, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was afraid I would clam up and not talk but the hour went by so quickly it seemed we had just started when it was time to end. I shared with her that maybe I had jumped the gun a little with regards to the goal of dating. Sometimes I think that’s what I want but then when I do actually stop to really think about it, I’m not sure. I have been single for a long time and being a single parent for so many years, I am used to going it alone. I have the remote control to myself, full use of the closet, no one’s toothpaste smear in the bathroom sink and no one but me to answer to. I don’t know if I want to change that. And everyone has baggage. I’m not sure I want to deal with that. But most important to me is my sense of protection for my daughters. I haven’t wanted to introduce anyone into their lives – it’s just too complicated. So, on one hand, I leave it as status quo – what I know and have a comfort level in. But then my girls are all growing up. They are encouraging me to socialize more.
Michelle gave me homework for this week to help me determine if I even truly wanted to date. I was to look at the pros and cons, but instead of simply making a paper list, I was to create a collage. Since I am a crafty type person, it sounded fun. And it was.
I actually found it more difficult to think of good reasons against than for. A few of the cons, I could actually turn into pros with a change of attitude. I enjoy reading positive and uplifting quotes. I found a section just for quotes people have posted on a social network. When I feed my mind and soul things that are positive, I really am finding it is changing my frame of mind. The whole dating issue looked different when I viewed it from a different perspective.
My quote of the week (author unknown):
You’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you’d rather be.
Journaling – September 2012
I tried to start a gratitude journal at the beginning of this year as a New Year’s resolution. I bought the journal, cut out cute clip art quotes to make it more creative, and had every intention of keeping it up. But, like a lot of resolutions it was short-lived, lasting only a big whopping four days. I tried picking it up again in February but it lasted an even shorter amount of time. After a few months of it sitting at my bedside ready, I hid it away in the drawer to reduce the nightstand clutter and to relieve me of the guilt of failure.
At the workshop in Denver we learned the principles of the “Happiness Advantage.” We were encouraged to try any/all of the five techniques designed to assist in focusing on positive psychology. It was the perfect opportunity for me to dig out my journal again and start writing 3 daily gratitudes. I think the reason I failed to keep up the writing back in the beginning of the year was because:
1. I was trying to write too much;
2. I was trying to write something profound at each entry;
3. I didn’t do it long enough for it to become a habit.
Shawn Achor, author of the book The Happiness Advantage states that is you do something for 21 days, it then becomes a habit. Four days just wasn’t long enough. The other thing Shawn taught us was that you don’t need to write an essay to express what you are grateful for. Simply list 3 things for that day. The only rule is that they be specific. For example, instead of writing “I am grateful for my daughters”, I focus on something specific and say “I am grateful my daughter got all A’s and B’s on her report card.” Making it short and to the point makes it doable, even easy. Just list whatever is on your heart and mind for that day.
Here are a few of my recent gratitudes:
7/15/12 The plane from Denver landed safely
7/22/12 Dollar stores – for cheap party decorations
7/26/12 The lady at the florist shop who helped Stephanie choose the perfect flowers for her wedding
7/27/12 Crab cakes
7/29/12 $6 movies before noon
7/30/12 My friend Cammie who helped my daughter at 11pm when her car broke down and I was out of town 8/1/12 Greek salads
8/2/12 A bowling score > 100
8/4/12 Finding the perfect used chair to repurpose into a special bridal shower chair for only $5
8/9/12 Help with bringing in the groceries
As you can see, there is nothing profound on my list. They are occurrences and just ordinary things that are part of everyday life. What I have come to realize is that there are so many small, seemingly insignificant things that might get overlooked if I didn’t take the time to acknowledge them. Writing them down allows me to the opportunity to review them later when I have days that are a struggle. I have found that this simple exercise uplifts my spirits and is reframing my outlook and direction.
Amazing journey – November 2012
What an amazing journey I have been privileged to take. When I originally submitted my MS story, I had no idea where this program would take me. I certainly didn’t know what to expect when I got off the plane in Denver back in July. There, I was introduced to the other four participants who probably felt the same way I did but because of our MS commonality there was an immediate bond. We were all introduced to Shawn Achor, author of the book “The Happiness Advantage.” He shared scientific research that supports what we intuitively know, that “happiness fuels success” and that “when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.” Shawn taught 7 principles that lead to happiness and challenged us all to use those principles in our journey toward our individual goals.
Michelle, my life coach, supported my journey by helping me to navigate toward my goal of dating. She was able to help me identify my personal strengths of self-awareness, adaptability, and acceptance that I could utilize as I worked toward my goal. It helped me to have someone point these attributes out to me. It wasn’t all easy. About 1/3 of the way into the program, I wasn’t sure dating was even what I wanted. I don’t know if it was fear or if I truly just didn’t want to be bothered with dating. But I was having second thoughts. So when Michelle gave me the Pros and Cons homework, I already had a preconceived idea of how it was going to turn out. My immediate reaction was to think the list of Cons would be much greater than those on the positive side. For me, that project was my A-HA moment. Because in my new journey I had been training to think positively, I was able to see there were many more Pros to dating than I had allowed myself to envision.
All throughout the program, changes were occurring in me that I wasn’t even fully aware of. I started opening up to people. (Having a camera on me so many times actually helped me get over that fear.) It was easier to “put myself out there.” A casual friendship through a mutual interest started to evolve when I started to take down the protective wall I had built up. I had used him as a sounding board throughout the program as I struggled with the idea of dating. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and open. We talked about everything: kids, single life, and even my MS. I asked him to be in the program’s hometown video to show that I was being more social. By that time, I was at least open to the idea of dating if someone were interested in dating me.
Somewhere along the way, the friendship deepened and in October, he asked me out on a real date! And here’s the sweet part that won me over: I found out that he called my daughters to ask their permission to date me since he knew they were the biggest hesitancy in my dating.
So, if you ask me if this program was successful and if the principles of positive psychology work, I will shout a resounding YES!!!!