In my father’s high school yearbook, the motto next to his senior picture states, “look out for yourself first, then the other guy.” I remember as a teenager poking fun at him for his motto choice and commenting, “Really , Dad, I mean, how stuck up and into yourself could you get back then?!?” He would try to defend himself and explain to me what he meant by those words, but my teenage ears were not hearing any bit of it.
Through the years, however, his high school motto started to stick with me, and began to make more and more sense. You DO have to look out for yourself first in almost every aspect of life before you can be of any help or any use to anyone else. It is about making sure you’re ok and accepting personal responsibility as well. When you make yourself a priority, I think that you’re a much happier person with a clearer mind and in the end, capable of giving more.
The first time I can remember having this realization is through my experience with team sports. I remember having times when I was too worried about what my teammates were doing that I wasn’t concentrating on what I should have been doing. My performance faltered and I was no good to myself or my teammates. I realized that when I changed my focus to concentrate on what I was doing and what I could do, then I performed better and was more of an asset and aid to my team. By “looking out for myself first,” I became a better team player. It put the whole field and the whole game into a completely different perspective, and everything seemed to just come together.
I’ve had other moments where I’ve had to fall back to this motto. One very crucial time was during the years after my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
After I was diagnosed, I experienced several years when I felt completely lost. I was grasping at anything or anyone to give me some sort of solace and peace when my life seemed to be in complete turmoil. I was looking for something external, or someone else, to fix my life and to alter how I was feeling. When no one could, I got more and more frustrated.
I’m not sure how the motto came back to me. Perhaps it was just the time I needed to adjust to my new life with a chronic illness, but when the realization came to me that I’m the sole person responsible for my happiness and my health and well-being, it was truly remarkable and liberating. I needed to “take care of myself first,” figuratively and literally, so that I could truly move on.
There was a definite shift in my thinking about what it meant for me to live with MS. This is a time that I often have to revisit and be reminded of, and it’s the moment when I realized that everything comes down to one person and one person only: ME! I needed to make a decision on how I wanted to live my life with multiple sclerosis, and how I was going to handle it. I was taking back power over my life. It was no one else’s responsibility but my own.
Yes, it seems like something so natural and so obvious that we are the ones who are in control of our lives yet sometimes, we are so blinded that we forget. I never had understood the saying “unable to see the forest through the trees” until I found my way out of the dark forest myself on several occasions. It is so simple yet it is so complex when we’re deep in the thick of it.
I think once I looked within myself and decided that it was up to me on how I was going to handle life and what it may throw at me, it was truly a freeing moment. No one else has control over me but me, and I make the choices on how I’m going to live and how I’m going to feel. I’m not being selfish putting myself first. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be so that I can be there for my family, my friends, and perhaps other people living with multiple sclerosis.
So just like the safety instructions they give when flying on an airplane, never forget that you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping or assisting those around you, and always remember to “look out for yourself first, then the other guy.”