Just do one thing: mindset, mental health and multiple sclerosis.

18 years ago I lay flat on my back, numb down most of the left hand side of
my body, pain blossoming at the lightest touch, fatigue so powerful that I no longer had the energy to cry. I was scared, alone and undiagnosed. At that point, I had no idea what was happening to me and no answers were forthcoming.

My mental health was spinning quickly down the drain and I prayed night after night that I wouldn’t wake up the next day. I didn’t have the energy to end my life, but I longed for it to stop without me having to do anything.

As I lay and stared out of my window at the birds hopping through the trees, I jealously wept. I felt sure I would never again be able to hop, jump, run, walk or skip. My body lay in tatters around me and my life felt like it was over. I can’t walk. I can’t run. I can’t cook. I can’t get down the stairs. I can’t go to work. I can’t go out. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!

After a particularly bad night filled with yet more fear and pain, I woke up with a tear stained pillow and an acute sense of calm. A stillness in the storm.

And in that hush a small inner voice whispered:

Tell me, what can you do?

As I sat in bed that morning my eyes drifted to the room around me. In the corner sat my guitar. A guitar that I had been given for my 17th birthday but had never learned to play (I was 23 by this time). It had always seemed too hard, too painful and there wasn’t enough time.

What did I have now other than time?

I also had two working hands, even if the rest of my body was failing rapidly on a daily basis. Right now, though, I had hands that worked. A spasmodic shuffle launched me out of bed and I clung onto the wall as I navigated my way to that long-lost guitar. I think, perhaps, I used it as a walking aid to get back to the bed. It wailed and groaned as it took my uncertain weight.

Propping myself in bed with the guitar on my lap, the tuner in front of me and no idea what I was meant to do, I plucked a string. It sounded horrible. A low and choking noise that no guitar should make. I twiddled the tuning keys and plucked again.

Imagine a time—if you can—before the internet. A time when we couldn’t Google every question that we have and expect an immediate answer. I didn’t know how to play the guitar, but I had one song book, some chord cards and a tuner. I could no more Google how to play the guitar, than I could find out what was happening to my body.

As I stared at the guitar in front of me, I felt overwhelmed with fear and worry. It was too much! Who am I to learn a new thing when everything about my body right now is new and terrifying?

And then again, that little voice inside me:

Choose just one thing.

I plumbed for the chord ‘A’. I attempted to arrange my fingers in the correct positions and strum the strings. I didn’t sound like I thought it should, but I didn’t care. I had started and for a brief moment I wasn’t thinking about the fear, loneliness and uncertainty that I was in. For a moment I thought only of the music and the chord. I tried again. And again.

And so the days passed.

I sang and played with as much wild abandon as I could muster. I played between sleeping and eating. I wailed and screeched and played and moaned. All the fear poured out into the music I created. My brain freed up and the spiral that had been going down, stopped and started to creakingly move the other way.

For the first time in a long while I was doing something other than focusing on my pain and misery. My gaze, instead, looked towards something that brought me joy and comfort.

Let me make this clear. I didn’t have music in my soul that was trying to get out. I had no skill. Zero natural talent. Alas, a great musician was not discovered in those dark moments. I sounded like a cat being tortured in a room full of blackboards.

But that was more than ok.

This action of doing had given me the mental push that I needed to reawaken something in me that had been overshadowed by my physical decline. A sense of self. A deep impression of me. An innate knowledge that I could do whatever I put my mind to, I just needed to change my perspective. In that moment of MS relapse, I wasn’t going to be jumping or running. It wasn't possible. But I knew deep within me that something was possible.

All I had to do was find the action—no matter how small and tentative—that allowed me the possibility of becoming myself once more.

For me, that was music.

My journey into mastering my mindset didn’t begin and end in those dark months. It has been a life-long journey filled with many experiments and a bulging toolkit. I’ve found creativity, visualisation, exercise, meditation and mindfulness, medication and community support to be fundamental in giving me a fully rounded attitude to not only my MS, but life in general. No one thing makes a buoyant mindset, but each little thing together makes a powerful mental attitude.

My advice to you if you find yourself in the depth of despair as I did?

Just do one thing.

One thing that makes you feel like you have some power. 5 minutes of  seated yoga, learning a new language, playing music, reading a book, a  craft that makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you just start, and do.

The change starts with you and where you direct your gaze. Direct it to where you want to go, and not to where you want to avoid.

By Katie Silverthorne

Katie lives in the UK with her husband and nine year old daughter. She has been diagnosed with MS for 18 years. Katie shares her experiences with MS to inspire and empower others ✨

Follow Katie on Instagram: @ms_is_my_superpower