Novelist Jane Bow was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis at 56. The diagnosis could have put her in a downward spiral, but no. How did she make peace with this major life change? By accepting her condition. Surrendering herself to the moment. And by channeling energy—the energy of the sun—to play a sport she loves: tennis.
How can a 67-year old novelist who has untreatable primary progressive MS, who can hardly walk after hours at my desk and often uses walking poles, play tennis? I throw balls up to serve, I move, hit, volley. The key, for me, is acceptance.
What do I accept? Not medicine’s prognosis for me. Medicine knows very little about the mind-body connection to MS and next to nothing about me. Diagnosed in 2005, I have motor muscle problems on my right side. Physical activities remind my body how to work and keep my right arm, leg and ab muscles from atrophying, but there are no drugs for PPMS. So I have spent 11 years reading, learning and experimenting. And all I have to accept is what’s happening inside me physically, mentally, emotionally in this moment. Because this moment is all that exists.
Before my morning tennis I do some of yoga’s sun salutation stretches, eat peanut butter and lettuce on a rice cracker, then lie flat on the couch. Lying flat means your back muscles don’t have to work against gravity. Body relaxed, eyes closed, I accept that I am a 67-year old woman with MS, and whatever that means right now—floppy right foot, weak right hand, maybe some anxiety.
Acceptance brings relief: no more trying. Nerves and muscles relax. Fear, frustration, sadness, desire, excitement lose power when you name them, and seeing clearly gives you choices.
Next I surrender myself to this moment, paying attention to the couch holding me, the air on my skin, etc. I suspect this opens something important because soon I feel energy coursing into my right arm and leg. Where does this energy come from? The Earth, the sun. Energy is what we basically are at the sub-atomic level, and we do not exist apart from the world around us. I feel gratitude. And then visualize myself on the tennis court: watch, hit, move.
When I lose power while playing I stand still, accept, surrender, feel the Earth under my feet, and then expect the sun to give me energy. It does. And the joy that follows seals neural pathways I have been resetting through activity.
Channeling the Sun
“Channeling the sun” isn’t wishful thinking. My husband notes marked improvement in my gait when I do it. I discovered this power on a mountain walk with my poles in Crete. My right leg decided it had had enough. Picture a dog on a leash that sits down, refusing to go any further. But I was still a quarter of a mile from home. The sun was beating down. Uh-oh. Fear stalked me in those days. Remembering a book I had been reading, I stopped trying and relaxed, taking in the flowers, the sea far below, and then told the sun I expected it to give me what my leg and foot needed. Step by step I started walking normally. Until I saw a pretty flower and lost my focus. Resetting my brain, I walked the rest of the way home.
Now I channel the sun whenever I need it. Accepting whatever is in the moment, surrendering to the time and place, I focus on the Earth’s energy under me, picturing it as the love I feel for life. Then, turning my brain into an antenna, I expect to receive extra solar power for my faulty nerves and muscle connections. As long as I focus on this thought—not trying—my body knows what to do. Elation follows.
Back home after tennis I rest, as I do after eating, after writing, letting restorative energies work. I use poles often, limp a lot, but my life is made of moments. The more I relax, accepting each one, the more free-flowing mobility I have. Prognosis for me: so far so good.