Reload! Adjusting Your Attitude for MS

One of the most critical areas you must manage with multiple sclerosis is that fuzzy thing called “attitude.” That sense that you can press forward and cope with whatever this disease throws at you. Some years will be easy. Some, impossibly hard. But with the right approach and mindset, you will be able to extract joys that you didn’t think were possible. Here’s how I do it, with a little help from a virtual buffalo rifle.

Our Kenyan guide

While I was tramping through the Kenyan bush some years ago with my new wife, our safari guide gave our small group specific instructions as to what to do if we encountered certain dangerous animals. “If an elephant charges our crew, everyone has to scatter—they won’t bother to chase a lone person.” In my head I mapped out what direction I would run and what I would do if my wife tried to team up with me. (Scold Laura nicely, and then run the other way.)


Our guide continued. “If a rhinoceros charges you, run in a zigzag pattern to confuse them—their

eyesight is not so good.” I mentally prepared for the situation, virtually dashing right then left. “And finally, if a Cape buffalo turns on you, get down on your knees. And pray… that your last will and testament is up to date.”


This was not so comforting.


The wild African buffalo, cheerily nicknamed “black death” or “widowmaker,” kills more people

annually—some 200—than most any other animal on the continent. That meant no, a pride of lions was not going to clamor onto my back and drag me down for a mid-morning snack ala Planet Earth. I would instead meet my doom, and our honeymoon would come to an abrupt halt, at the end of the damp snout of an enraged bovine. At least, I reasoned, it would make for an unforgettable story. But then I noticed that our guide’s partner had a huge bolt-action rifle slung across his chest.


“So, wouldn’t a charging buffalo be a good reason to use that?” I asked, pointing to what assuredly was some version of a buffalo rifle. “Yes, that’s for just such emergencies,” said the guide.

No, attitude will not cure diseases nor fix the unfixable. But without it—without finding that right mental space to move forward—every encounter with life’s buffaloes will be infinitely more difficult.


The Importance of Mindset in MS



Ever since, I thought wouldn’t it be nice to have our own personal buffalo rifle for emergencies? I mean not an actual gun that fires actual bullets—I’m a pansy when it comes to shooting things—but something powerful enough to meet life’s most difficult challenges. It was only when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a dozen years later that I realized we all already have just such a weapon.


It’s called attitude.


Since my multiple sclerosis diagnosis I’ve had to personally reload a number of times. When I lost most feeling below my neck. When I started wearing diapers. When I couldn’t cross my living room without a walker. When I signed the consent form to enter a risky clinical trial in a desperate attempt to halt my aggressive disease. When I started to use a wheelchair full time.


But I was never without hope. I had my buffalo rifle.

Our romantic evening in France

No, attitude will not cure diseases nor fix the unfixable. But without it—without finding that right mental space to move forward—every encounter with life’s buffaloes will be infinitely more difficult.


Some years ago on a romantic trip to France, as the last ounces of sunlight spilled over a magical evening in Provence, I reloaded my rifle once again. And I turned to my wife.


"Hold this," I said, offering up one of my forearm crutches. She was bemused; I was not going to get very far using just one. After all, at the time I could barely walk and MS was doing a number on my legs. But then I took Laura's free hand, interlaced our fingers, and squeezed them tight. Tighter. And then began leading her through the dreamy vineyard of our French inn.


It was a moment I’ll never forget. For the first time in years we were walking together, hand-in-hand…while over one shoulder my trusty buffalo rifle rested, forever at the ready.



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