When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, I heard only bits and pieces of what my doctor was telling me. It was such an unexpected blow that my mind was preoccupied asking questions of myself: how much time did I have before I felt the full effects of this neurological disease? Eventually, I asked the only question that mattered: what can I do to fight this monster?
I had a lot of support from my husband, Mitt Romney, family, friends and the MS community. I was also fortunate enough to have great doctors to help me. But even with all that support, it was still my battle.
What I discovered was that there were several things I could do to take care of myself. And they are things that can help anyone dealing with a major life challenge.
Here’s my checklist:
1. Deal with your depression.
The first thing almost everyone has to deal with is the natural depression that comes with any significant and negative change in your life. I remember struggling with the feeling that my life was over. Depression is normal, but if it lasts too long you may want to seek professional help.
2. Strengthen connections with others.
I was lucky enough to have Mitt, our kids, our grandkids and several friends, but I also discovered new support groups. As much as you might want to, don’t lock yourself away — this is the time to reach out to those you love and make new friends.
3. Make achievable goals.
Setting realizable goals will provide a feeling of accomplishment. I did things like make dinner for my family and become a better horse rider. I set both short- and long-term goals. While I didn’t write them down, they were always there ahead of me reinforcing my belief that my health was in my hands.
4. Identify your strengths.
Look back at how you’ve dealt with problems in the past — how did you move past them? I was fortunate enough to have certain traits that proved important to me, including determination, a competitive spirit and a strong work ethic to help me tackle anything in my way.