a man and tree both bend in the wind, showing flexibility after a myasthenia gravis diagnosis

Accepting My Limitations Gave Me Freedom

If there’s one thing myasthenia gravis (MG) brings, it’s limitations: limitations on the capacity for activity, work, and the potential for productivity.

When I was first diagnosed with MG, the stubborn genes I inherited from my father lept into action: "I’m not gonna let this thing beat me. I won’t give in. No matter what it takes, I will continue living my life the way it was."

This line of thought definitely got me through the low times ... for a while at least.

Fighting my situation

I would approach my old exercise and work schedule like nothing had happened, even pushing myself harder just to show this villain inside me exactly who’s boss.

But, eventually, I had to face reality. As much as I personified MG as a villain separate from myself, the fact was, MG was a result of my immune system failing to differentiate self from other.

And so too I, with my pigheaded stubbornness, failed to differentiate self from other. My body was causing MG, my body was me, therefore, MG and I were one and the same. Thus, fighting it meant fighting myself.

It was this realization that led me to give up fighting my situation and accepting it for what it was. But that didn’t mean I gave up on myself.

Acceptance isn’t losing

When I say I gave up fighting my situation, I didn’t mean I gave up completely.

I still take my medication, I stick to my diet and exercise to help me feel better and combat some of the negative side effects of my medications. I still see my neurologist regularly and receive IVIG infusions.

What I gave up on was trying to push myself just to prove a point at my own expense. Accepting MG allowed me to be ok with not getting everything I wanted to get done in a day.

I was not comfortable

I was one of those people who was heavily invested in being productive. People knew me as the guy who got stuff done, and lots of it.

However, before diagnosis, I found that no matter how much I got done in a day, I wasn’t comfortable, because more things would just end up on my plate. For example, the more emails I replied to in a day, in an attempt to clear my inbox, the more replies I received that needed answering.

The more work I got done in a fast turnaround, the more it was expected of me, by others and myself, to live up to that turnaround. The kilograms I lifted or the kilometers I ran in a day, had to be beaten the next.

It took roughly 3 years of living with MG to show me my pre-diseased life wasn’t healthy: the irony!

Learning to adapt

Accepting the limitations MG brought, allowed me to be ok with what I could do. If I planned to get 3 things done in a day and only got 1 or 2 done, it wasn’t a big deal. I knew I could get it done another day.

To quote Lao Tzu, "An unbending tree breaks in the wind." I didn’t let the "fight" in me make me feel guilty. There was no war that I was losing.

Because pushing myself was hurting me physically, and beating myself up about it mentally was hurting me worse. It’s better to accept and adapt to avoid breaking.

Discovering what’s really important

As I mentioned earlier, acceptance doesn’t mean "giving up". I still get things done. I’m still productive; I’ve just changed what productive means to me.

Productive used to mean getting as many things done as possible. Now, it means getting done what matters most. I know I have limited energy and limited hours that can change from 1 day to the next.

So, if I wanted to get things done, I needed to clarify what was important. I made a list of 20 things in my life and listed them in order of priority. After identifying the top 5 things, I discarded the other 15.

These 5 things are the only things that get my attention. I don’t bother with the sixth or seventh items on my list, even though I may find them tempting. Because I know, I won’t be able to give them the attention they need. And that if I did, the top 5 on my list wouldn’t get the attention they deserve.

MG opened my eyes

MG allowed me to see that I wouldn’t be able to achieve everything I ever dreamed of. The truth is, people without MG won’t be able to achieve everything either. And most will sadly never come to that realization.

MG may be difficult to live with, but it did open my eyes. It allowed me to make hard decisions when it came to my time.

This acceptance has truly brought comfort and relieved the stress I had imposed on myself over all these years. And I’ll be forever in debt.

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