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Finding the Funny Side of Life with MS

Reading time | 3 mins

So, here I am once again: Kitchen 4 – Willeke 0. And it’s not even 11AM yet.

Today I’m feeling particularly neurologically challenged. Slightly silly, even. It feels like my two cerebral hemispheres are out of sync and I am yet to finish one serious conversation that doesn’t end in a giggle.

Brexit: giggle.

Miserable weather: giggle.

Kitchen trying to floor me: giggle.

You get the picture, I should probably have stayed in bed this morning.

So what’s the reason for my dubious behaviour? Let’s just say the fact that two more dinner plates decided to seek refuge on the kitchen floor might have something to do with it.  

One of the MS symptoms is I experience regularly is intention tremors – a trembling, twitching, jerking, or shaking of my limbs. You’ll be astonished to hear how many dinnerware sets I’ve managed to decimate. Which is nothing in comparison to the bruised ego I suffer when I am not able to get back up off the floor after cleaning up the mess. And the countless times I have cut my feet on leftover bits of china on the floor despite previously mentioned best efforts to clear it up. 

There’s also the potential problem of using a hot kettle. Burns are the order of the day, even when I’m just fixing myself a cup of tea. Less funny is the hyperacusis triggered by the clattering of plates, cutlery, and the beeping of microwaves and ovens.

After fifteen years of living with the condition, things like this happen to me a lot. But life goes on. So when a new dinner set looks to be halved again, sometimes breaking some more components just becomes hilarious.

MS and I just cannot win against the power of the kitchen.

Shifting my mindset

Let’s be serious for a minute. Some people see MS as a permanently negative marker in their life. And that’s understandable – after all, living with a neurodegenerative illness is not the easiest of undertakings.

I did not always see the funny side. When I was first diagnosed, I went through a five-week period of denial. Denial, I found out, served to soften the complex emotions I was experiencing after hearing the words of a harsh diagnosis that would change my life forever. While this was useful, I couldn’t stay there forever. And while I don’t suggest rushing the process and stepping out of denial before you are ready, try to identify if or when you are sabotaging your own thinking.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it is paramount to put things into perspective. Life is a series of events, each one with its own meaning and impact, and nobody goes through it unscathed. I realised soon enough that being negative was far more energy-sapping than being positive. It might not sound easy, but with enough willpower you can change your mindset into being more accepting of your illness.

We all have our own way of getting through the hard bits. When my great-grandmother was angry, she used to dump all her cutlery on the ground in a spectacular show of noise and drama. The clatter of every knife, fork and spoon hitting the stone floor would snap her right out of her dark corner.

Finding my coping strategy

I live with daily, excruciating trigeminal neuralgia. It literally took away my ability to smile. When it feels as though lightning is striking your face every few seconds, there isn’t much you can do apart from accepting that it is happening. So I return to one memory in particular and I think and talk myself back into giggling. Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes it takes longer.

But I still giggle. Even if it’s in my own way.  

I giggle physically, and I giggle mentally and emotionally and with a very different kind of humour. There’s nothing better than not taking myself too seriously.

Just last year I asked my medical team if I could use my MRI images as a valid ID since I was about to fly abroad, and I had been known to arrive at the airport without my passport. When I fall over between the bathroom or the bedroom, or get entangled in my straps, I have to laugh. I find it almost endearing to see myself in these kind of slapstick situations.

And that’s the key – readjust how you feel about your chronic illness and you just might find a positive perspective.

And don’t forget to giggle when the opportunity presents itself.

UK/MED/19/0282 November 2019