As I write this, the New Year is just around the corner. And with every New Year comes talk of making resolutions.
Since my MS diagnosis in 2008 I haven’t really made any New Year resolutions. Why? Because following my diagnosis I re-evaluated many aspects of my life and decided to make a bucket list instead.
A bucket list is typically a list of things that you’d like to do, see, or achieve in your life. Pre-diagnosis, they were often things that I’d keep postponing because something else always got in the way.
“I don’t have the time”
“I don’t have the money”
“I don’t know how to do this”
“I’ll do it next year”
“I have nobody to do it with”
These were the type of excuses I’d come up with to justify putting off the things that I’d always wanted to do.
Then, my MS diagnosis jolted me into action
Now, and for many years since my diagnosis, people comment on how great it is that I live life to the full and how I’m always doing such interesting things. Truth is, being diagnosed with MS jolted me into action. I’m a realist. I knew there were things that could become more difficult to achieve if my MS worsened and if I was to develop permanent disabilities.
So I finally thought to myself, “why wait?”
My top tips for making a bucket list
Make it individual
Yes, be inspired by others, but don’t compare yourself to them or view it as a competition. Bucket lists are personal. Ticking things off shouldn’t feel like a chore. If you’re adding things because you feel “you should”, then you’re not necessarily going to enjoy doing them.
My bucket list covers all aspects of my life: work, relationships, health, social life, exercise, travel, and self-improvement. Making time to think about what’s important to you is a great way of evaluating what you want from life post-diagnosis.
Use it to bring out your personality
Linked to making it individual, my list is a good reflection of my personality and who I am. People have often said to me that now I’ve been diagnosed with MS I should climb a mountain, trek through a desert, or sail across an ocean. Although my MS diagnosis has impacted my character and, yes I do like a challenge, I haven’t had a complete personality transplant!
I didn’t particularly like boats before my diagnosis and that hasn’t changed. So why would I put myself on one in the middle of an ocean for several weeks?! Likewise, I’ve never had any desire to go somewhere that has limited access to a proper toilet, running water, or a proper bed. That hasn’t changed just because I’ve been diagnosed with MS, so climbing a mountain and desert trekking still aren’t my thing!
Allow your list to evolve
Time doesn’t stand still and neither does my bucket list. The items on my list have developed as I’ve grown older, as my MS has progressed, and as my life has naturally evolved. It’s not static and I’m constantly adding to it at the same time as ticking things off.
Sometimes, nothing will be ticked off for a while. Visiting the Alhambra Palace in Spain has been on my list for years. So has learning a new language and turning my garden into a flourishing vegetable plot. And that’s OK. The purpose isn’t to tick everything off in one go. It’s to have something to aspire to on an ongoing basis.
Size and reason don’t matter
My bucket list consists of big and little things, but the common thread is that they’re all significant to me. By ticking things off, I’ve felt a sense of achievement and enjoyment.
There are also various reasons as to why certain things are on my bucket list. Some were even borne out of my fear for the future.
Would I be able to try snowboarding if I lost the use of my legs?
How easy would it be to travel to certain places if I was to become more disabled?
Fears aside, there are things on the list for other reasons. I increased the scope of my voluntary work because I wanted to develop new skills and networks. I walked the red carpet at the Olivier Awards because it was lovely to feel like a celebrity for the day! I ate at a Michelin star restaurant because I wanted to see if I would come out hungry and need to order pizza afterwards! I’ve experimented with hair dye, been to a ballet, seen my first opera, and taken up dancing.
Make your list adaptable
Practically, there are some things I’ve always wanted to do that I know are now outside my reach. This, however, doesn’t mean I’ve excluded them from the list completely.
Instead, I’ve looked for adaptations to see if I can achieve something similar. All my life I’ve wanted to run the London Marathon, but after many years of playing hockey resulted in knee problems, long distance running is now a no-go activity. Together with my MS fatigue, I knew that the London Marathon would never be possible now.
I can walk OK, so as an alternative I signed up for a 20km charity walk in London. To challenge myself, I set a target time and trained for three months leading up to the event. In a sense, this was my own marathon.
Through making my bucket list and doing the things on there, I feel as though I have discovered myself. This includes things I enjoy and would like to do again, things that I haven’t enjoyed as much as I thought I would, things that have been challenging, and things that I thought would be challenging but were actually much easier.
I can honestly say that MS prompted me into living life to the full and it has turned me into someone who makes the most of every opportunity in order to achieve their goals. I now find ways of doing things rather than reasons why I can’t.
My bucket list has given me a focus and I’m so much happier as a result!
UK/MED/20/0003 January 2020