The ALS Game Board of Life

The ALS Game Board of Life

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I’ve always looked forward to December; it’s a month filled with decorations, holiday gifts, and happy social gatherings. But this month eight years ago, I was diagnosed with ALS, so December now marks a sad point in my life as well.

Like so many who live with this disease, I can remember the exact moment I heard I had ALS. I felt as if the rug had been suddenly pulled out from under me. My world changed with no possibility of turning it back.

A new rule
At that low point, a childhood memory bubbled up inside my mind; it was a special rule my father had added to the board games our family played together.

His rule was that, at any point mid-game, he had the power to call out, “Rotate the board!” We dutifully complied by carefully turning the board halfway around. My winnings or points sat with another player while I now had his or her previous scores in front of me.

No amount of pleading, arguing, pouting, or tears would change my father’s mind about the rule. The challenge, of course, was that — good or bad — we had to make the best of our new lot and play on.

The game board always changes
It was a valuable lesson that in life, the game board always changes. In other words, it’s something out of our control, we can’t stop it, and no amount of begging brings the old positions back again. We have to move on, making the best of our changed circumstances and new perspective.

As a kid, I often tried introducing the “rotate the game board” rule during play sessions with childhood friends and was amazed at the different reactions it drew from each player. Some friends took it in their stride, relishing the challenge to try to gain back their advantage. Others flat out objected or became angry, and a few stomped off, refusing to participate.

Over time, I could see how my father’s rule tested our sense of control over change and our reactions to losing control as well as our ability to recover.

This particular lesson helped me through numerous job changes, cross-country moves, and relationship ups and downs. But it was not until I faced the biggest challenge of my life, my diagnosis of ALS, that I truly appreciated the value of that old game board rule.

How about you?
When life gave your game board a mighty rotation – such as being told you had ALS — what kind of player were you?

Did you:

Stomp away in anger, isolate yourself, and refuse to interact with others?
Stay, but whine and complain, while blaming everyone else?
Remain stuck in shock and unable to focus or see the big picture?
For me, deep down I knew ALS meant a permanent change, but my emotions argued otherwise. I’ll admit that I spent some time in my own ALS waiting room and had to push back my mental walls. But over time, by giving attention to balancing my well-being and developing a positive attitude, I found a way to accept my illness and return to my seat at the game board of life.

I believe you can, too. Join me, as we continue together to learn how to live well while living with ALS.

Let’s play on!

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