Topic / Blog

Go for the smile!

When I was first diagnosed with MS two years ago, I received some aggressive treatments in the hospital. These treatments appeared to backfire.

When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis two years ago, I received some aggressive treatments in the hospital and subsequently as an outpatient.

Aftershocks of treatment

I was hopeful that the treatments would be beneficial. Instead, the treatments appeared to backfire, and over the next several months, I experienced almost every symptom of MS written in the textbooks.

It was as if MS was a wildfire that raged through every bit of my central nervous system, leaving its charred remains behind.

I experienced severe itching over my head and body. I had problems with my eyes. The pain in my face, particularly on the left side, was so strong that even a wisp of hair brushing across it was miserably uncomfortable.

When I would slightly bend my head forward, an electrical shock would course through my body from head to toe.

The princess and the pea

And, I experienced what is called the 'MS Hug,' a tight band of constrictive pain around my chest. My legs, arms, feet and hands were numb, tingly, and painful. I wasn’t even sure where my hands and feet were in time or space.

My feet were 'floppy,' which made it difficult for me to walk with normal balance. My hands would attempt to perform everyday tasks, but frequently miss the mark. My husband and I laughed that I had become the 'Princess' in the story of The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen.

f the temperature was under 70 degrees, I was too cold and my symptoms worsened. Above 75 degrees, I became too hot and my symptoms also worsened. I had intermittent incontinence, tongue biting, and muscle spasms. Sleep disturbances became my norm, and extreme fatigue often overpowered me.

I felt like a human petri dish, just waiting for the next assault. (For more details about my MS story and how I adapted the healing OMS lifestyle, you might want to listen to this podcast when I was interviewed by Paul Harvey.) Patty Bilhartz

Choosing to smile 

But in the midst of all of my physical suffering, I learned a lesson from 'Mike' Wazowski, the Monsters, Inc. Disney character. You see, 'Mike' is always smiling.

My eight-year-old grandson has a 'Mike' pillow, and carries him everywhere he goes, except to school. No matter whether 'Mikey' (the nickname given to him by my grandson) has been stepped on, sat on, temporarily misplaced, or lost, he still smiles.

It is a smile that fills his face with the corners of his lips turned up. I realized, just like 'Mikey,' that I could choose to smile or growl, be thankful or miserable, be gracious or grumbly. And though I couldn’t always make the higher choice, I could turn the corners of my mouth up for a start. An easy choice. It takes no extra time. That one little step changes our brain chemistry for the better, gives us more coping skills with our challenge at hand, and resets our perspective. We may not be able to change our outward circumstance, but we can change our inward response to that circumstance.

Try it for yourself!

The ultimate power that no one can take away. Our choice. Let’s make it a worthy one. The Experiment: turn the corners of your mouth up to smile and see what happens. For the better. In your life and in the lives of others. Silence Your Inner Critic: you may say, “I don’t feel happy enough to smile.” I hear you, but try it anyway. You won’t be sorry. Cultivating that tiny little habit may change your life. Rock Our World with Your Comments: how did your world change when you turned up the corners of your mouth? Share your thoughts below. Our community thrives and grows with your input!

Patty Bilhartz, MD, MPH