But I can’t do that anymore

Life changed a lot after Multiple Sclerosis came to live with me. Many emotions surfaced that I didn’t even know existed. Fears, doubts, worries…MS forced them all out into the open. It was a time in my life when chaos and confusion became the norm and I didn’t like it one bit.

I guess some people would think that that’s a terrible thing for MS to do to me. I was sinking fast and feeling as though, at any minute, I wound drown. How could I let go of all the confusion swirling around me when I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself? How was I to live my life when everything around me was in turmoil? How was I supposed to keep going?

I decided to take out two pieces of paper and make two different lists. At the top of one page I wrote “Things I can no longer do” and began writing down everything I could think of. It was an easy list to make and grew quick…really quick. I filled up one side entirely and was doing my best to hold back the tears as I saw my dream and perceived future written down in front of me, lost and gone forever.

I then switched my focus to the other piece of paper. At the top I wrote “Things I can do.” At first I just sat and stared at the blankness of it all. I had a hard time even coming up with one thing to fill the space. I decided to shut out everything around me and simply write down the first thing that popped into my head. And that first thing just so happened to be “I can laugh.” That was the first thing I wrote down on my can-do list.

Before long, the list grew and eventually it outnumbered the can-no-longer-do list. I discovered during my list making that not only can I laugh, but I can nap more than once in a day, pimp out my wheelchair giving it a coolness factor, watch reruns of “I Love Lucy” at midnight, and have an excuse for getting out of helping someone move. I realize I could also make up amazing new words, fall up the steps of my stairs, and still remember the theme song to the Animaniacs.

My limitations suddenly became smaller and smaller. I found I could do so much more than I gave myself credit for. I though of many regular things too, like make a sandwich, change the sheets on my bed, cut my toenails, and vacuum the floor. Granted I may be slower doing them and compete them in very unconventional ways, but I can do them and that’s what matters.

I had been so focused on the things I couldn’t do that I was missing all the things I was still capable of doing. That day my life changed. I started to look at life differently. I started to look at MS differently. It’s almost as if I went to the eye doctor and got a new pair of glasses. I was seeing everything brighter and with more clarity.

Which list are you focusing on? Are you more apt to put all your focus on the things you can’t do or on things you can do? Try it. Get out some paper and make two lists. Embrace the life that you have right now. Focus on what you CAN do…so focused that your can-do list far outweighs any other list you could possibly make. I think you will be amazed at just how much you are capable of.

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About the Author
About the Author
Penelope Conway

Penelope Conway
Penelope started Positive Living with MS as a way to help others with MS stay positive in the midst of a terrible disease. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day. Multiple Sclerosis may never go away, but neither will her determination and her drive to help others through the journey.

24 replies
  1. Elizabeth Karroll says:

    Every morning, I make a three item to be done list. If I can get one done, I’m happy. There was a time when I could do the job of three people. Not any more. This was the worst part of it. Now, I’m grateful for the one I got done. I no longer get upset with my lack of accomplishment s.

  2. Rodger Ashton-Smith
    Rodger Ashton-Smith says:

    It sounds like a good idea and seems to have worked for you. I have been thinking about all I ‘can’t. do any more then it struck me. I had a change of life and not everything has been lost.I’ve painted over 150 paintings of many types you can think of, I went back to school for an art class for one year. I have been involved with a retired group that called itself U3A and did the overhead projection work for 6 years. i’ve been driving and doing the roster for our local Community Patrol.
    Now this has been some of the things I have had to stop but I have not yet exhausted the lists I can do so I keep looking forward to be useful. I don’t know where this could lead but I,m ready for anything.

  3. Daniela Robertson says:

    Not done this, but should. I tell myself not be silly and say can do this and if too much it can wait for another day. Can refer to the “can do” list as a nudge reminder.

    • Paula
      Paula says:

      I feel the same, I need to start concentrating on the things I can still do, my husband tells me that I’m a very negative regarding my ms

  4. Danielle Vanis says:

    I’m a little different, I have had symptoms since I was 16 but didn’t get diagnosed till 30….I didn’t know why I was flaking on friends and losing motivation, the diagnosis was the point where I stopped drowning and was able to get control back.

      • Sharon
        Sharon says:

        That’s how I feel – semi-retired. But I can’t afford to. I’m the main breadwinner and still have a mortgage to pay off. Anxiety can be bad when the work isn’t coming in but at least I have equity in my flat. The big question of downsizing is looming. Neither my partner nor I want to leave London but that may be the future :@(

  5. Carla Broadbent Rogers
    Carla Broadbent Rogers says:

    I am reminded of the “Little Train that could” I think I can…I think I can….I can,not like I used to, but I can. Be well.

  6. Sheryl Esposito
    Sheryl Esposito says:

    so easy to fall into that sandpit of “what I can’t do” ….. thanks for the reminder…. I had one of those days yesterday but I am back now 🙂

  7. Lavonna Nix says:

    Every night I write what I’m grateful for that day. There are days when this is the hardest part of my whole day because it’s been a long MS day, but after doing this for almost two years, I find it has changed the way I see things. When a crisis comes along, instead of my first thought being that everything is falling apart, I find myself thinking what about it I’m grateful for. This has made me a much happier person, even if the only thing I write is “I’m grateful for surviving the day” or “I’m grateful that this day has come to an end.”

  8. Judy Epstein
    Judy Epstein says:

    Penelope, thank you for sharing your optimistic viewpoint, reminding me of the optimism I’ve usually had!! And still have! You’re a darling.

  9. Carol Clarke says:

    I don’t have MS but have a few friends who do. Your writing helps me better understand what they are going thru each day.But your advice is great for everyday living
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Thank you for your idea of doing a list. I have basically given up on life because of all the things I can no longer do. I will try this idea and I am sure it will help me see there are things I can still do.

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