As a means of coping with the insidious losses compelled by ALS, I, a former licensed, doctoral level psychologist and professor, turned to writing my family's history in a fictional novel set in South Texas where my family's roots date back to 1753. After my diagnosis in 2004, I began a self-motivated journey in search of meaning, guided through writing, self-reflection, and prayer. Among the positives of ALS is that today I find myself on a spiritual plane, surrounded by family and love, far from the stress filled rat race I once knew as life.
At the height of my career in psychology I was struck down. I was 58 years of age, a Full Professor in the field of psychology, first at University of Texas Pan American and then later at Michigan State University; I was tenured, and I directed a social science research institute at MSU that, among other research programs, conducted research on issues related to migration and immigration––both legal and illegal. My specialization was community psychology and mental health. I was published. And after 20 years of providing continuous licensed, doctoral level, psychological mental health services in South Texas, including services to individuals with neurological and developmental challenges, such as difficulties with walking, talking, dressing, toileting, bathing, and eating, I was struck down with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). I was shocked and soon stepped-down from my role as a researcher and health service provider, and entered the role of patient. After working with hundreds of patients with mobility challenges, I began the trek of living with challenges that others had to live with every day of their lives. I concluded I had been blessed with a full and wonderful life––not even ALS can subtract from that.
I examined my situation from a professional vantage as well as that of a patient. I knew the mental health part was going to be the most crucial for me. I began my attempt to fulfill the adage "Doctor, heal thyself!" I have since continued to apply as much of my mental health training as possible to my situation with the aim of facilitating my adaptation to the world of an ALS patient. Drawing from both experiential and professional knowledge, I've formulated a comfortable, religious and spiritual, positivistic, worldview for myself.
I look for the positive and not the negative. I focus on my strengths and what it is I can do––and how to do it––rather than on what I can't do, my ever-growing motor-neuronal losses, or my pending demise. I allow myself only limited, and as infrequent as possible, opportunities for wallowing in my own pity, but I have to admit, I still occasionally do.
I'm learning how to write better. As I'm still able to type, limitedly, I work daily on my computer desk and use the Internet as my library. I work daily at maintaining a positive, hopeful attitude. I still have many hopes and dreams and believe it's important for everyone to have dreams and faith in them. Since my diagnosis, I have written three short stories and a novel. I'm not published in fiction yet; but, I have hope that someday my voice will be heard, but even if my work never gets published, I've found that the act of writing is nourishing and adds meaning to my life––in other words, I find it therapeutic to be a writer. I started by first reading Steven King's only nonfiction book "On Writing." It gave me a jumpstart.
I believe others with and without ALS can benefit from writing as much as I have. I'm working also on my family's website.
I would like to recommend Anne Lamott's (2005) NY Times Bestseller "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith." I found it delightful and spiritually uplifting.
ALS has been a blessing in many ways as it has afforded me the opportunity to do things I never dreamed of doing, and it has strengthened me spiritually, transforming me into a better person.