Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Surrender and Progress

Picture by Aaron Askanase

I was recently contacted by someone who was newly diagnosed with MS. Her main question to me was if her anger at the diagnosis would pass. I reassured her that it would, but let her know that we all have to find our own peace with the condition.

It got me thinking in two directions. The first is that I firmly believe that anger is best dealt with by dealing with fear. Fear causes the fight or flight reaction and the extra energy easily turns into anger. A new diagnosis is very scary. It puts the future into very uncertain terms, some of which can be very debilitating. My advice as a healer is always to look at what scares someone about the potential futures and spend time with the fear.

My second reaction was realizing that I'm not sure that I went through a long period of anger about the diagnosis. I was 26 when I got diagnosed and really had no understanding of MS at all. I didn't even know I should be scared of it, so I just rolled with it. I had no idea how it might effect my life, so wasn't sure how to react to it. There are times that I get angry about it, but they pass relatively quickly.

I was talking to my wife about this, and she was remembering her anger at blowing out her knees while training for a marathon years ago. She was so angry that she was not going to be able to run the marathon, and angry that she couldn't really walk for about three months.  My wife is a very goal oriented person with a high drive to succeed. I'm not. When the MS limits me, I just find something else to do. When she gets stymied, the energy just builds up until she finds another way to succeed or she gets really angry.

For me, having MS meant that because of the heat, I couldn't go to the rain forest in Peru on my honeymoon (something I'd always wanted to do). I thought it would have been amazing to go, but we just found other places to go, no big deal. For a very goal oriented person, I would think that would have been very frustrating.

It's hard for me to determine when I started to be this way, but my life is a careful balance of surrender and progress. I work very hard on myself to heal and to be a good healer, but when things change for me then I surrender to the change and adjust. I have an innate faith in God, but I don't know if that is a result of the MS or if it was just accentuated by it. I learned very early on that there were things in this world that were more powerful than I was, and that I just needed to surrender to those things. The difficulty is knowing which things should be struggled against, and which things should be accepted.

I think it's like a stream coming towards me. If I fight it, it builds up and overwhelms me (and even a small stream can do this if allowed to). If I completely surrender, then I get washed away. But if I accept the force coming towards me and change with it's influence, then I can stand in the stream and maintain myself.

I think the anger about MS is that resistance to the change. MS is so much bigger than we are, but we have so much influence over how it effects us and how we react to it. Dealing with the anger is a question of learning to live with those changes, and learning to be at peace with the uncertainty MS brings.

I'd like to hear from you about how you've dealt with your anger, and what you've found most effective.


  1. Aaron,
    I know for me, there was not a whole lot of anger with my MS diagnosis...but I am in my mid forties, so I am far more mellow than I was in my younger years, maybe it would have been different for me back then? Hard to know. For me anger certainly does arise, but usually about silly things like the house being messy, which I could link back to MS as I am not the ballabusta I used to be because I have less energy...but even this has been a gradual process of letting go, so it does not anger me as much now. I agree with you though, going with what "is" makes for a more peaceful and productive existence than fighting against the current of changes in my body, or life in general. When I am awake, I notice the shifts in my breath and tension in my muscles before it builds into activated anger...when I am preoccupied and not paying attention I am more likely to let the anger build and release in a torrent of yelling...For me, meditation is the best way to counter over the top anger...because I get to watch what is arising and follow it before is gets out of doesn't always work off the cushion, but it certainly helps.

    chag urim sameach,

  2. I wanted to take note of two points that you made. The first is that it's important to concentrate on what is and not what "should be" or "could have been". The second is awareness. I find that when I'm in touch with my emotions, then I'm less angry. When I'm not paying attention, difficult emotions sometimes take the form of anger because anger is easier. The problem is, the anger often doesn't actually release the emotion, it just covers it up more. So then I have to deal with the first emotion and then the effects of my anger, so it just seems to make things worse!

  3. it's practice, t'shuvah until we get it right, then wrong so we can keep on returning and learning.

  4. Just to translate: Teshuvah is the Jewish word for repentance. It literally means return. One way of understanding it is that when a person transgresses they are moving further away from God, and when they do repentance, they are returning. Another is to look at the word for sin in Hebrew, which is Het. Literally, that translates as missing the mark (as in archery). One tries to do it right, but doesn't get it right, and doing teshuvah means returning and trying it again with the hopes of getting it right.