Fretting About the Future

A friend told me yesterday he had seen my wife in a local store and “she looked good.”

I agreed, “Yes, she does look good!”

I embarrassed him a little so he clarified it a bit, “I mean she looks like she’s getting along well.”

Of course few see her when she’s not getting along well.

For many MS patients, each day is a new experience with Multiple Sclerosis. Last week I read one lady’s comment, “I don’t know when I wake up whether I’ll walk or ride (my wheelchair).”

One thing the literature seems to be fairly certain about is that MS is a progressive neurological disease. As an MS caregiver, the word “progressive” is the one that usually troubles me most. My wife has had MS long enough for me to see the trend. I don’t like it. The concept of “progressive” holds too much power over our future and it doesn’t share what it knows. Some days I fret about the future.

I read accounts of MS patients who have had the disease much longer than my wife. I fret when I do. And when I fret, I try to make it worthwhile. Like anticipatory grief, I want some good to come from the fretting. When I read about the possibilities “progressive” might hold for my wife’s disease process, I consider how we’ll handle them if they arise.

What if she wakes up blind one morning? We’ll deal with it. (From what I’ve read, I gather MS-induced blindness usually occurs in only one eye and is transitory.) What if she loses the ability to control her arm? We’ll deal with it. What if muscle spasticity makes it impossible for her to bend a leg? What if she loses the ability to … you get the idea. What ever happens, I believe I may have already fretted about its possibility and so (I hope) I won’t be caught off-guard.

If you can turn your fretting into something productive that helps you prepare for the future, the fretting can serve a useful purpose. If you fret to no avail, though, stop it.

Phillip Yancey, in his book, “Prayer”, writes about a phrase John of the Cross used to describe a feeling that interfered with his prayers. He called it Spiritus vertiginis. Yancey writes it’s “like vertigo that leaves the head spinning and the stomach churning.”

I think the best modern term for the ancient “spirit of dizziness” is anxiety. If you’re an MS caregiver who considers the future, you probably know anxiety. I feel it when I fret about the future without making plans. Anxiety usually arrives late at night when I’m tired and my defenses are down. I feel it, too, when something about my wife’s MS changes. A new symptom, the strengthening of a current symptom, a hassle over coverage for medications … these can all stir a little anxiety … until I make plans.

In short, if I fret about the future without using the fretting to prepare for the potential problem that troubles me, the fretting becomes unproductive anxiety. It can slip up on me and wear me down. It makes my spirit dizzy.

The best way I’ve found to counteract the anxiety is to think clearly about how I’ll handle the potential problem I’m feeling anxious about. Moving from feeling anxious to actually planning a proactive response, gives my concern about the future a useful purpose.

Caregiver Tip: It’s a rare MS caregiver who can avoid fretting about the future. MS is so unpredictable. When you feel anxious about the future, make a definite plan to handle the concern that troubles you and turn your fretting into something useful.

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