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How old words help me manage new illness by Missy Milton

Missy M

Born in the 1860's and married at 16, my great grandmother had a challenging rural life mothering a dozen children. Yet by all accounts, despite many hardships and heartbreaks, she laughed a great deal and lived contentedly into her 90's. What was her secret to happiness? She had a motto that she kept written down and neatly folded inside a mahogany desk drawer. How do I know about her writing down that motto? Teenage me found it many years after her death as I searched for a pen.

old_letters.jpg.58f0af80b7d66bc360aa652619334e42.jpgThe folded note lay long forgotten inside the drawer of a desk she had left to one of her daughters.  Upon her daughter’s death, the desk was passed on to me. It was the only item inside an otherwise empty desk drawer.  The note having become stuck years earlier inside the drawer's metal track may have stayed hidden had I not noticed it years later.  Once found, I was determined to read it, so I tugged on it hard several times before I managed to pull it loose, tearing it a little. I unfolded it with great curiosity and found that my great grandmother had written:

"Things always work out for the best for those who make the best of how things work out."

That's all it said. But really, that's all it needed to say. Her signature appeared underneath. 

I’m no longer a teenager and have now lived enough decades to understand my great-grandmother 's wisdom. Her advice has stood me in very good stead, particularly with regard to my dysautonomia. Although my dysautonomia symptoms began eighteen years ago, it was only two years ago that they rather abruptly worsened and closed the door on my physical mobility.

Suddenly, I found myself unable to stand for more than five minutes at a time, which remains true to this day.  I also found myself with time limits regarding how long I could sit up. This change in my health forced me to lie supine for chunks of hours each day. Boredom quickly set in. I viewed all those hours of having to lie down as nothing more than unwanted, frustrating interruptions in my day.

Then I remembered that motto: “Things always work out for the best for those who make the best of how things work out.” I set my mind to exploring how I could make the best of this immobility situation I now found myself in. I decided that one way to make the best of things might be to find something productive to do with my hands while I was lying down.

One idea that came to me was to paint. I had dabbled with painting on and off since childhood.  Painting while lying down seemed like a logical idea for fending off the boredom inherent in being forced to lay down so much. It seemed like it might be worth a try. If it didn’t work out, I would come up with another idea.

So… my intention was to follow my great grandmother’s motto and try to make the best of how things had turned out. I was basically hoping that painting might serve as a solution to the problem of feeling frustrated, bored, and unproductive. 

However, it didn't take long for the painting activities to quickly assume a life of their own. They immediately transformed myWater_Freedom_by_Missy_Milton.jpg.55c89a6f352d5026bf57ef16f107d18f.jpg hours of frustration and boredom into hours of delightful fun.  I no longer feel frustrated or bored at all when the time comes for me to lie down. To my surprise, there have been other unforeseen, positive, ripple effects that have come from painting again. I’ve formed new friendships with some other local artists (who are very accepting of my physical limitations).  I have been pleasantly surprised at being approached by a few people interested in buying my art. None of this would have happened if not for my attempts to follow that motto.

I look back now and realize that before following my great grandmother's words, my energy was focused on the frustration of the situation instead of the betterment of it.  I viewed having to lie down as an interruption of all-those-things-I-wanted-to-be-doing-instead, and that was that. Being constantly frustrated with the situation had put my mind in a negative place.

In sharp contrast, I now view the daily lying down episodes as “Okay, now it’s time to shift gears and paint for a while.” The hours swiftly fly and I am having fun while waiting for my body to reboot and allow me to sit/stand up again.  I have my great grandmother’s motto to thank for this.

Remembering to “Make the best of how things turn out” is, for me, a very powerful perspective shifter. It has helped me tremendously in adapting to my new physical limitations. When it comes to adjusting to my dysautonomia symptoms, I now proactively challenge myself to seek out ways to respond to the question “How can I make the best of this?”

This shift in perspective has definitely helped me to maintain a happier life despite my physical limitations and life-altering circumstances. I feel lucky and grateful to have found her words when I did. Likewise, I hope you are able to find my great grandmother’s motto helpful as you work through your own unique dysautonomia challenges. Those of us with dysautonomia are each a little bit different but are also so much the same. You are not alone.

Editor's note:  Missy's art can be seen on her website

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