For as long as I can remember, I’ve been called cynical. Cynical, negative and pessimistic. For a time, I was called it so often that I almost believed it myself and began to build my sense of self around it.
To be honest, I’m not sure that this has ever really been the case. It certainly is true that, as a younger man, I would throw stones and would criticise without feeling the need to offer up anything constructive. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in going through that phase. It’s also true that, when feeling frustrated or powerless at work (annoyingly often), I would sometimes deliberately seek to tear people down in a way that was ultimately self-destructive…. But I was young and stupid and I don’t work there anymore (which is probably just as well: some people choose never to forget the person you were fifteen years ago, even if you’ve long since changed).
I think it probably boils down to this: I like to ask questions. These days, it’s usually to genuinely try to understand something because I’m curious. The problem is that lots of people don’t like to be asked questions; they don’t like to be challenged by someone because, if you don’t know the answers or you aren’t very secure in your opinion, it can feel as though you’re being criticised. No one likes to be criticised, right? I try not to be threatening about it, but nobody’s perfect and I’m probably not the finished article even now.
I think my MS has changed me, actually. Or maybe it’s just revealed another side to my personality. Nobody knows what causes MS, nobody knows if it will progress for me or what my outcome will be. There’s very little that I can do to change any of these things. I’m not really one for serenity prayers, but I do think that this has taught me acceptance. To paraphrase Kipling, to meet with Triumph and Disaster and to treat those two imposters just the same. I’m calmer, more relaxed and better able to approach life on an even-keel (whilst also remaining perfectly capable of frothing in indignation watching the news. Nobody is perfect. My wife is doubtless scoffing as she reads this).
What’s the point in being pessimistic? I’m well aware what MS might do to me and I know all too well what it’s already done. I simply don’t see how dwelling on either of those things does me any good at all. MS pages on Facebook seem full of people wrapped up in their own invisible pain and suffering. I don’t doubt that they suffer, but I simply don’t understand the attitude because I try never to allow myself to think like that. Perhaps that’s easy for me to say, but I hope it’s a philosophy that will stay with me, whatever happens. “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost is one of my favourite poems; my interpretation of it is that you should never waste time regretting the path you didn’t take.
They say that a pessimist is never disappointed. I think they’re always disappointed. Besides, I’m a runner, and as Kipling also said:If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Well, I can definitely do that. Maybe not as fast as I use to be able to do it… but I can still do it.