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MSWA Bulletin Magazine Autumn 18

THE DAY I CHANGED MY

THE DAY I CHANGED MY MIND ROS HARMAN, MSWA MEMBER “I would try being a pessimist, but I just know I would be no good at it.” I’m a happy person, generally. I’m not always cheerful, but I am reasonably content with my lot. Of course if I think for too long, there are a few things I could whinge about, but I usually try not to think for too long. I could whinge about using a wheelchair to get around, but the alternative is not to get around, so I don’t. I could whinge about the difficulty of finding ACROD parking when I go out, but I’m glad to be going out, so I don’t. I sometimes just park across two normal parking bays instead and no one’s complained yet, or at least not to my face. I’m actually looking forward with glee to the day when they do, as I have an eloquent and brilliant rant all ready to deliver. I could whinge about buildings that don’t have wheelchair access, but I don’t. Oh, hang on - yes I do, but that is perfectly reasonable to whinge about so it doesn’t count. I could whinge about having MS, and sometimes I do, but I’ve got a life to live so I haven’t got energy for whinging too long. Like most people, I want to be happy. Recently I read about the difference between happiness and pleasure. It has to do with the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. When we have a hit of pleasure like sugar, or alcohol, dopamine races around and excites a few neurons. If the neurons get overly excited too often they die, so to protect against that they down-regulate their dopamine receptors. This means that the next time around, you will need an even bigger hit of pleasure in order for the dopamine to work. This is how addiction starts, including alcoholism, or drug addiction and it doesn’t lead to lasting happiness. It usually leads to misery and regret. Serotonin, however, is the chemical that is activated during activities that make us feel contentment, like sleep or exercise, or in my case watching a Jane Austen film. It behaves differently from dopamine. Serotonin slows the neurons down instead of exciting them, and you end up feeling at peace with the world, or feeling what we call happiness. To me it sounds like serotonin is the Buddha of the brain, and takes us into a contemplative zen-like state. Mind you, chocolate does that for me too. Mmmm... chocolate ... Once upon a time when I was a child, I used to think that happiness was a five-cent bag of lollies and a teddy bear. Actually, sometimes I still think that, though the price of the lollies has gone up. As a teenager full of maudlin adolescent sentimentality, I developed the weird idea that if I imagined some situation that made me happy I had jinxed it, and it would never happen. When I found myself daydreaming about marrying Daryl Braithwaite from Sherbet as he sang about Summer love, like no other love, I would slap myself because I now knew that it was never going to happen. (Those of you who were teenagers in the ‘70s will know what I mean). Not allowing myself to imagine happy things meant that my teenage years were often quite miserable. As I got older, into young adulthood, I somehow developed a belief that happiness was something that happened to me like a lightning strike, or it didn’t, and that I had no control or choice in the matter. As a consequence, I sometimes made poor decisions and felt powerless. One day, when I finally grew up and turned 40, I came across the unique idea that I could have some choice about who I wanted to be in life, and how I could think about things. One day I worked out that the words I use to talk about myself or others affect how I feel. One day I discovered that telling someone you love them can make you fall in love with them. One day I worked out that feeling bad or sad or mad or glad was something I had a degree of control over. That was the day I changed my mind. Being happy is not always an automatic thing, and for me it’s not always easy. Sometimes I really have to work hard to take control of the way I am thinking, and consequently influence the way I feel. Like physical exercise, I have found that the more I practise, the better I get. Fortunately training the mind doesn’t hurt as much as doing push-ups, although it can be just as hard. There are lots of books around with advice on how to do it, and therapists and counsellors who can help too. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy are all about taking control of your mind. I also know that some people find it easier than others to decide to be happy, for all sorts of reasons. I want to be happy. I also like a hit of pleasure from time to time but I have to limit the quantity. So today I’ll just have one chocolate biscuit and one glass of wine. And to feed my serotonin I’ll watch Pride and Prejudice... again. 22 | MSWA BULLETIN AUTUMN 2018

THAT’S LIFE WITH NARELLE NARELLE TAYLOR, MSWA MEMBER MSWA had arranged for me to go on a wheelchair-friendly boat for a day, out of Fremantle Harbour, fishing, with a carer all to myself. I was really looking forward to it. I nervously hoped that even though I had never ever been seasick, I wouldn’t end up being the one, that day, who the entire boating party felt sorry for. I tried to think of any seafaring skills I had assimilated by having lived on board when I was younger, and MS-free, so that I might be able to be of assistance to the crew. I’d not only enjoy the day, but I’d also be a star. Oh, sure. In my dreams I would. It wasn’t the actual fishing that I really looked forward to. When I was diagnosed with MS, I had moved from our boat to live on-shore and I missed being on the water. I was therefore exhilarated by the prospect of being at sea again. Since my diagnosis I have been on a few sea cruises and have comfortably made my way around the liner on my scooter. It always felt just as if I were on land. Ocean cruise liners are so big that one can forget about actually being afloat and just become blasé about waking in a different port each morning. On a smaller vessel, one hears the motor and is conscious of the effort being made to travel any distance. I was resolved to the fact and accepted, sadly, that I would never again feel that oneness that you feel with the water, when floating close to the surface. I was living a life in a nursing home where I would never feel the salt spray on my face, a life where I would never again rock with the swell of the waves. So being on board that boat in Fremantle, with wind in my hair, felt fabulous. The ‘Fish Ability’ vessel, Top Gun, is 81m long which is large enough for passengers in wheelchairs to feel safe, but small enough to be comfortable leaning over the side when fishing. People were doing that avidly and there were prizes given for the first fish caught, the most fish caught, the largest fish caught and so on. The anglers took it so seriously. I was very happy just watching them fish. Baiting up, casting out, winding in their catch, and then unhooking the poor little fish. They wouldn’t have wanted to hear me chortling on about how smelly it was. I get fed plenty of fish at my place so I had no need to catch any myself. Really small ones were thrown back and a volunteer deck person filleted the keepers which were later offered – bagged and chilled – to all visitors as we disembarked. My selfish concern for my own freedom from seasickness was bought home to me when my carer, Kelly, told me that she was not feeling perfectly well. She stoically had lasted out the day and drove me home as if she were perfectly well. I made no provocative chatter about burly and our time on the boat was not spent discussing death wishes. I admired her. On board, there was a TV journalist and a cameraman who interviewed me. When I saw the film clip on TV the next day, I was mortified that my speech slurred so badly and thus I now need to enlist the assistance of the Speech Therapist at Wilson. At least I hadn’t been fishing or seasick, so I smelt alright. CARERS’ SUPPORT GROUP CHRISTMAS BBQ As a Christmas celebration and a well-earned break for our carers, MSWA held an end of year BBQ at Floreat Beach. With lovely summer weather, 13 carers from the Carer Support Groups enjoyed a tasty brunch provided by MSWA. Bonbons and Christmas outfits added to the festive atmosphere, whilst staff and carers enjoyed cooking together on the BBQ. Brunch was followed by a delicious pavlova and, adding to the Christmas spirit, one of the carers generously brought a home-made Christmas cake and a secret Santa lucky dip! If you are interested in joining our Carers’ Support Groups please contact our Counselling Team on 9365 4888. MSWA BULLETIN AUTUMN 2018 | 23