So often in my life I find myself making comparisons of my situation or behavior to others and inevitably regretting them. Lately those comparisons have been not to others, but to my pre-ALS self. At the gym I do 10 squats and remember that just a year ago I could do 30 without breathing hard. I walk slowly to the corner for a coffee and remember that in the Fall I could walk 5 or 6 miles at a fast clip without getting tired. I make myself a bowl of soup and while slowly eating it alone remember the fabulous meals I cooked and ate with friends and family. I manage to speak one almost clear sentence to a friend and remember the times I was so eloquent at a meeting.
I am a shadow of my former self – and that’s not just about the 40 pounds that have disappeared.
I understand that decline is inevitable, but this has been so sudden and sharp that it almost seems impossible. And it’s right there in my face – no failing memory to protect me from the harsh reality.
I know in my head that dwelling on these past capabilities is a sure road to disappointment and despair. I try to catch myself going “there” and stop, sometimes successfully, but often not before a vivid image of my former self has flitted across my mental screen.
My “more evolved self” tells me to just accept these changes and get on with life at hand. There is, after all, work to be done, books to read, pages to write, people to see. But some days hunkering down with the pain of the past is just too inviting a place to go to hide.
There are lessons to be learned in that warm place – lessons about learning to say goodbye to the past and hello to the present. There are important lessons about appreciating whatever is at hand today without comparing it to someone else or my own past. I can learn to be grateful for my 10 squats (perfectly done my trainer says), or my delicious soup, or jokes shared with friends through winks and pantomime. Mostly I learn that, again and again because I am a slow learner, as much as I would like to, I cannot go back except for quick visits, and those are not likely to leave me feeling happy or refreshed.
My disease is not a death sentence – it is a life sentence, and it is a sentence in the present tense that I must live one complete day at a time. Quick excursions to the past are permitted, but only infrequently and on round-trip tickets.