Myasthenia gravis can be easier with a positive outlook

We can create our hope and optimism, and they actually prompt health

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by Mark Harrington |

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I’ve learned that I have my best days when I maintain an optimistic, positive outlook. Some days the challenges of life with myasthenia gravis (MG) make such an outlook almost impossible. Emphasis on almost. I’ve developed a coping mechanism that I use when I struggle through such days, a tool with roots in an unusual source. I offer it to all who find it difficult to remain hopeful and optimistic.

These attitudes are more than warm and fuzzy feelings often expressed in popular songs and Hallmark cards. Research shows that hope and optimism affect one’s health.

A 2021 article in Harvard Health Publishing reports that “science continues to find that people with an optimistic outlook enjoy healthier and longer lives.” A 2008 article in the same publication notes “that optimism is good for blood pressure. … Other possible benefits include reduced levels of adrenaline, improved immune function, and less active clotting systems.”

These findings demonstrate how outlook plays a vital role in health. That’s especially true for those of us with chronic illnesses like MG. How can we remain hopeful and optimistic while living with the challenges of our disease?

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Hope called a ‘remedy for fear’ and powerful tool for managing MG

When I’m sustaining this outlook, the challenges of life with MG are manageable. Battles with insurance companies remain in proper perspective. I can find humor in some of my medications’ side effects. I have fewer issues with swallowing, fatigue, and speaking. My energy level remains normal, and my vision is near perfect. Inevitably, though, these days don’t last forever.

In 2021, a near-fatal myasthenic crisis landed me in the hospital for 12 days, including Christmas. The reality of MG, which I’d ignored, caught up with me. I lay in my hospital bed, unable to speak, swallow, or breathe. The medical professionals in the emergency room told me I’d arrived with little time to spare.

Later I learned that my family didn’t think I’d leave the hospital alive. That thought never occurred to me. As far as I was concerned, I would undergo plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), recover, and go home. Having read “The Body Keeps the Score,” I knew optimism could play a key role in my recovery.

I remembered Maria von Trapp, a central figure in “The Sound of Music.” A governess to the von Trapp children, Maria tells them how she overcomes fear and replaces it with optimism. She sings “My Favorite Things” filled with advice the Stoics would appreciate. Redirect your thoughts.

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings,/ When I’m feeling sad,/ I simply remember my favorite things/ And then I don’t feel so bad.”

Changing the narrative

I decided it was time to plan a trip. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. Since I was a kid, I’ve heard stories about the “old country.” I began to plan it: When would we leave? Who would go? It was a great exercise. I began to think about people I’ve known who were connected with Ireland. I considered the different airline possibilities.

With such thoughts, my mind was redirected into positive channels. Maria von Trapp was right. Sometimes when you change the narrative in your head, you change your reality. Because at all times the body is keeping score, your health can improve.

It’s been more than three years since my hospital sojourn, and I’m still developing plans for the trip. What’s important is not the trip; it’s the exercise of my mind with concerns other than how I’m feeling. It’s as if I’m tricking myself into better health.

If you try it, the beauty of the exercise is that you need not take the trip. You can travel everywhere, and it doesn’t cost you a dime. You don’t even have to pack a single bag.

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” That’s Marcus Aurelius’ advice, given over 2,000 years ago, and it remains solid. With all the negatives that chronic illness can bring, life remains precious. Go take a trip.

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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