Don’t follow the seagull

When my children were small and beginning to learn about the world around them, they would drive me beyond distraction with the perpetual ‘but why’? But why is the sky blue, but why do rainbows appear sometimes, but why does the rabbit keep jumping on the guinea pig…..? I always tried to answer each question with a good explanation, but sometimes I either didn’t really want to explain or I just ran out of answers. Some things are just because!

I got a bit stuck on the ‘but why’ roundabout when first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Like my children, I do like to fully understand what’s going on around (and in) me so I can rationally process information and make informed choices. Having a background as an intensive care nurse, I know a lot about the body and how it works, how it breaks down and, to some end, how to mend it. So when I received my diagnosis, apart from a selection of choice swear words, my first question was ‘but why’?

One of the many problems with MS is the cause is unknown. Autoimmune diseases are an anomaly. Nobody knows (yet) what triggers the immune system to start attacking it’s own body. There’s lots of theories, some amazing research, but as yet no definitive answer. There’s possibly some genetic defect that makes someone prone to MS. Or environmental toxins may be to blame. Possibly food allergies, or a virus, or some other infectious disease that turns the immune system on itself. It could be any of these, or all. Or possibly none. Nobody knows.

I learnt that continually asking ‘but why’ really didn’t help me come to terms with being diagnosed with an incurable and potential debilitating condition. It actually made it worse. I couldn’t move on, I needed to know. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling guilty and to blame – what did I do wrong, why did this happen to me?

All these questions did was increase my anxiety. Stress and anxiety are not healthy companions for anyone. They use up a lot of energy, so are even worse for those of us with MS – we really don’t have any to spare! The ‘but why’ cycle needed to be broken. Fortunately, I talked to someone with some sage advice which really helped.

She told me to imagine I was walking on a cliff edge watching a seagull fly up in the sky. I’m so busy watching the bird, not looking where I’m going, and fall off the cliff (very dramatic!). Luckily, my fall is broken by a stubby tree growing out of the side of the cliff just down from the top.  If I carry on watching the seagull, the thing that made me fall in the first place, it’s not going to help me get back up. I need to find other solutions to get back up on the cliff path and carry on (although I think a stiff gin might be needed first!). Focusing on the bird is not going to help.

It’s all to easy too focus on the ‘but why’ rather than just acknowledge it’s ‘just because’. I had to decide to forget about that pesky seagull called why, pull myself back up and carry on the best I could. So that’s what I did. I know there’s many things that could have triggered my MS, but I’ll never really know why. It’s part of me now – just because.


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