Strength and Weakness Are Relative

Shortly after my thymectomy, while I was still in that, "Will I ever be able to breathe again?" stage, one of the nurses decided I could use some encouragement. The next day a woman who had the same procedure appeared at my bedside.

"Oh, I know exactly what you're going through," she said gently. "My MG is so bad that when I go water skiing I can only get up once."

Moral: Strength and weakness are relative.

You already know more about me through this column than many of my closest friends. Well, brace yourself, because today I'm going to subject you to even more.

2002 was an awful year for me. Absolutely awful. I had so much non-stop stress that it actually triggered the loss of the use of my thigh muscles. This is a temporary loss, to be sure, but meanwhile how the heck am I supposed to function? And for how long?

As spring and summer passed, panic set in. I became obsessed with my weakening legs. All I could think, was, "How can I overcome this weakness when I'm so weak to begin with?" The words, "weak" and "weakness," echoed and re-echoed in my mind, ricocheting crazily through my awareness like lightning. Part of me sensed I was getting locked into a mantra of defeat, but how to escape?

Anxiety and Anger

Interestingly, some twenty years ago I faced this same situation. Back then, just like today, anxiety and anger were what were going on and, like today, it was the leg muscles that were affected. These are our fight and flight muscles, the ones we either run away on or use for doing some serious kicking.

There are some things in life we'll go to a lot of trouble not to think about, and for twenty years I'd put a ton of energy into forgetting those weak leg years. This turned out to be really stupid. All that industrious denial did was postpone any breakthrough, which came at last on a blustery October day filled with pillow-bashing frustration. I totally blew my top.

"Enough!" I shouted inwardly, "I will not be defeated by anyone or anything, let along my own legs!" That was the day I changed the mantra. It was also the day I remembered what had worked so well twenty years earlier.

I was a lot smarter back then. Rather than obsessing about weakness, I focused solely on strength. The only question I asked was, "How does a person get strong?"

This starts with taking a hard look at your definition of time and what you demand from it. Try it. You'll probably find that time means something radically different to your body than it does to your head. My head, for instance, swears that if I will just exercise diligently for six weeks, there will inevitably follow a significant increase in muscular strength. Huh? Exercise diligently? When I can hardly get out of a chair?

A Ritual

This is where my twenty-years-ago ritual comes in. Nowadays, the very last thing I do at night is stretch out on the bed, and begin. First, I lie on one side and try to do leg lifts. I usually can't but that's OK. Then I do the same thing on the other side. Lastly, I lie on my back, knees bent, and try to stretch first one leg up into the air and then the other. So far things haven't worked too well but, again, that's OK. Just because I can't do it today doesn't mean I can't do it. It means I can't do it today.

MG gives hard lessons on the futility of generalizing from a single experience. If a muscle functions today, it may or may not function tomorrow. If that same muscle is floppy today, it may be perfectly good tomorrow. That's why when my legs let me down. now I nod silently and think, "OK, so they aren't working today. Big deal! "All this means is they aren't working today."

The last time I went through this leg weakness, it took three years of attempted leg lifts before the right leg went up. Yes, three years sounds like a dreadfully long time but we know that time is an event more relative than strength.

This business about the relativity of time is important. Once upon a time I told a friend I wanted to brush up on my French but why bother, I'd probably be fifty by the time I was any good, and he said, "How old will you be if you don't?" Well, how strong will we be if we decide we aren't? How strong can we get if we lock our minds into weakness? And how old will we be if we don't even try?

Personally, I'm fed up with getting myself sucked into unfounded, unprovable generalizations. I've decided it's better to stick to the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not only is this way more realistic, it really does make life a lot easier.

The Successful Myasthenic

For many years, Patricia Armstrong was well known to readers of MG News for her upbeat columns pertaining to coping with the idiosyncrasies of having myasthenia gravis. During the thirty-seven years since diagnosis, Patricia has worked hard to find her balance in life despite her generalized symptoms. It wasn’t easy; a former husband would never get the Nobel Prize for compassion since he was embarrassed and irritated by her condition.

Learning to make the necessary adjustments that MG requires, changing her dreams and setting new boundaries has made Patricia, in her own words, “one strong cookie.” Patricia has parlayed her unique MG experiences and those of other myasthenics into entertaining and interesting vignettes which strive to help others deal with life after a diagnosis of MG.


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