Approaching health setbacks with a mindset of ‘progress over perfection’

A columnist shares her new mantra, inspired by her 10-year-old daughter

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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There’s nothing more frustrating than working hard to reach a milestone, only to be knocked down and have to start all over again. That’s what it’s like having neuromyelitis optica (NMO).

My toughest days happen when I’m frustrated with my body. What worked yesterday suddenly might not work today. Legs that can carry me through a typical busy day suddenly go numb and slow me down. Hands that can prepare a meal suddenly burn as I grasp a kitchen knife. My favorite sleeping position suddenly causes severe back spasms, resulting in another sleepless night. My long list of prescribed medications (what I’ve dubbed my “drug cocktail”) suddenly needs to be tweaked due to a new symptom.

How does one start and stop repeatedly without feeling discouraged?

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Progress over perfection

My recent mantra is “progress over perfection.” I’ll admit, this mantra didn’t come easily. It’s inspired by my 10-year-old daughter, whose wisdom is beyond her years.

Day in and day out she’s at the dance studio perfecting small details, always trying to be a better ballerina than the day before. It’s grueling work, especially on the days when she’s already tired from school. Without fail, she races from school to put in her three to four hours at the studio. Afterward, she’s home to finish an hour of homework and eat a quick dinner. She doesn’t complain, even when her tiny face gives away her exhaustion.

As a parent, I sometimes wish she’d take it easy on herself. She’s just a child, after all. Yet, I don’t betray my true feelings. That’s not what she wants or needs from me. The stage is her happy place, and my role is to support her.

Celebrate the small wins

While the goal is perfection, it’s unrealistic. Instead, my 10-year-old has taught me to celebrate my progress. That’s the only way to eliminate any feelings of discouragement. I must put in the work, whatever that means for today, and applaud that accomplishment.

Over time, many small wins become one big win.

A case in point involves a time last month when I overexerted myself. My balance was off kilter and my legs felt like they were filled with lead. Standing and walking made my spine immediately send out shockwaves of pain, and, as is often the case with NMO, my body felt puffy and inflamed. As I sat on our sofa sulking and self-loathing, my daughter raced to my bedroom and retrieved my cane.

I imagine it must be difficult for her to see me struggle sometimes, especially when I can’t disguise the frustration on my face. Yet here was my 10-year-old giving me words of encouragement, with her act of kindness demonstrating her support.

The next day I continued to rely on my cane, which was when she suggested I bedazzle and jewel it to match my outfit. Her casual acceptance gave me the courage to use the device outside our home that week until I felt confident without it again.

How has someone inspired you on your journey with NMO? Please share in the comments below.

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


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