Sunday 31 December 2023

Positive mental attitude and all that

Don't look up

A couple of years ago, I did that thing most of us MS folk are guilty of at times – I ignored the fact I have MS and went steaming into a task that was quickly going to finish me off.  I had a large rabbit pen to build in the garden at our new house. Yes, it was a hot day, but it couldn’t be put off any longer.

Of course, it quickly became clear this was not going to be a one-day job. Fetching tools and dragging the box the pen came in down the considerable slope of our garden rapidly did me in. I sat on the garden wall for ten minutes, staring at the parts in the open box. Ten minutes used to be enough for me to feel ready to go again, but not any more. Recovery times are now measured in hours.

Well, it was a start. I began to climb the slope again, but was overcome with fatigue. I collapsed to the ground. And that was when my wife found me, crawling up the slope of the garden on my hands and knees because it was now the only way I could move.

Now this may have been a time to think about everything I had lost. I was a man in only his early 50s and here I was, crawling in my garden like a lame tortoise because I didn’t have the strength in my legs to walk. But then my wife did something that made me feel much better. She laughed. I started laughing too. The absurdity of MS laid bare.

I was looking up physically, due to the slope of the garden. But not metaphorically. A good way, I’ve found, to cope with MS is not to think about what you’ve lost. Much better to think about what you still have. It may sound trite saying “count your blessings”, but I’ve found it’s what I need to do whenever I feel the pressure of MS bearing down on me.

I was frustrated by the thought that I couldn’t just get on with this task I’d set myself and that I was likely to be out of action for a good while. But at least I had a nice garden to crawl in and a nice house in which to recover. And a wife to laugh with and support me.

My condition could be so much worse too. I may not be able to play sport any more, which is a big loss, but I’m still able to get around by my own steam mostly, which is a real plus. Having to use a stick is annoying, but it’s better than the alternative. I’m lucky enough not to experience any pain either. Spasms mean I don’t sleep well, but being kept awake by pain would be awful. Rather than feel sorry for myself, I try to empathize with those that are hurting.

There’s nothing wrong with my vision either, or my hearing (other than normal age deterioration). Easy to take these things for granted, but MS has taught me not to take anything for granted when it comes to your health. So I can still read, watch TV, go to football games, listen to music – all activities I love. MS hasn’t managed to rob me of these yet.


I feel obligated to say here that rabbits should not ideally be kept on their own. I’ve always kept them in pairs, but one of this pair had died the year before and after twenty years of keeping rabbits, this part of my life was going to have to end. Increasing disability meant looking after them was becoming too much. Another part of my life shut off by MS, but it was fun while it lasted.

And whilst I'm on it, please don’t keep them in a hutch all day.


I had another go at the rabbit pen later that day. I got the parts out of the box and fitted a couple of poles together, then started to struggle again. My wife took over, while I mused on that famous quote about work, which goes something like, “Work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”


Soon a frame had appeared. I was full of gratitude I had someone who could help me out and that this wasn’t going to turn into a three-week epic. I’d recovered enough by this time to help fit the chicken wire all around it and a rabbit was hopping about in the pen later that evening. I have a feeling it was blissfully unaware of the effort it had required to build its new home. But I remained aware that, despite MS, life wasn’t that bad.

Postscript: the rabbit died only five months later. I was very fond of that bunny. I was sad for a while, but then thought about how she’d had a good life. We’d just come out of a pandemic; other people had lost so much more. I didn’t look up.

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