Five Lessons I Learned Early This Morning From a Friend With MS

So I am at my fitness center “insanely early” (for me). I started my workout at 5:30. I had been up since 2:30 reading, writing, praying… I had a day full of appointments, so I knew it was early morning exercise or none at all today.

I am on the elliptical machine doing High Intensity Interval Training and I see an older gentlemen moving through the machines. He had a brace on one leg and used a crutch to walk. It was obviously difficult.

A little later when I take a break, I am moving in his direction to use another machine and I stop and say hi, introduce myself and ask how his leg is doing. He tells me it wasn’t an injury, but rather, he has MS. He was diagnosed 10 years ago, but he said the symptoms were there a few years earlier. We move into a conversation which was very moving or me. Here are five thoughts I came away with from that ten minute conversation.

1.  Vital Optimism makes a difference.
It was striking how positive and warm Bill (not his real name) was. No complaining, no negativity. Rather - realistic and positive. Things are a little worse each year, but not too much worse. He smiled a lot while we talked.

2.  Engage, Don't Withdraw.
When hard things happen, don’t withdraw from life - that is the time to Engage even more fully. Bill did not allow the MS to define or dictate how he would live. It takes more time, more energy and is harder - but he is choosing to live fully engaged every day.

3.  Health matters.
When you are dealing with chronic problems, then work hard to be as healthy as you can. He was in his late 60’s and he was healthy, fit and as in shape as he could be. He works out 3-4 times a week. He has learned what he can do and what he can’t do. His attention to diet, rest and fitness are giving him the extra help he needs to deal with the MS.

4.  Consistent and persistent.
It has been a ten year journey and it will be the journey for the rest of his life. He is going to sustain his positive engagement with life as long as is possible. He has to stay the course. Letting up, cutting back, being inconsistent and haphazard are not options.

5.  Educate yourself.
Learn as much as you can about what you have to deal with. He has learned a great deal about his MS and continues to pay attention to the medical research. Knowledge provides perspective and reduces uncertainty and anxiety.

That conversation was a gift to me this morning. He inspired me and encouraged me. I reflected on a number of other friends who deal with chronic health issues, and I realized that for each of them, they exhibit the same qualities. There are inspirations all around.

I may even try an occasional insanely early workout just so I can talk with Bill again. 

Brian K, Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International