Better Than It Was

by Maria Theresa Maggi on June 20, 2013

Better than it was

When my MS symptoms first became detrimental enough that I had to notice something was going on that would not go away on its own, I was a single working Mom about to be 40. I taught 3 writing classes at the university, which meant I lugged 75 papers home and graded them every two weeks. I took my 9 year old to cub scouts and martial arts classes.  When our cat Cindy who had traveled with us to Idaho all the way from California got hit by a car, I rushed her to the vet. I was chief cook and bottle washer. I went through a room bending and picking up toys and clothes as I went.  I carried those 75 papers up and down stairs at home and on campus. I was, in short, the things I did all day long.

Then, quite noticeably, I could not do these things. I could not open the heavy doors to the large halls where the classrooms I taught in were. My legs would buckle unexpectedly under me. I could not move off the couch once I got home. I was too tired to bend over, or remember what I was going to say. But I pressed on until I basically collapsed. I could not see any other way to do it. It felt like I was on a train that was going to wreck, and I had no way to stop it. I was just destined to experience the wreck.

The night I began to see this was inevitable, I was so tired after driving home from Spokane to pick my son up after a trip to California to visit his Dad that I left the car door open on the driveway far into the night. I only knew this was the case because a lone police officer patrolling the neighborhood gingerly knocked on the kitchen door, since he had seen the car door open with its light on. Was I alright? That was a complicated question indeed, but of course I answered yes.

Strangely, that “wreck,” when it came a couple of days after that incident, as with all wrecks, brought me some unexpected and resisted wisdom. For a few months, I could not hold the phone up to my ear for longer than a minute, or lift the frying pan, or write a check without my hand going strangely weak. Whenever things seemed to be improving, in my efforts to keep going, I would martial myself to try and scrub the floor or the tub. I had to learn to recognize the point at which my arms continued to move, because I forced them to, but no cleaning whatsoever took place. So I would have to stop. After a while, I referred to this as “the death of the functional self.” That woman who could walk through a room picking it up as she went was gone. But another woman was still there inside me, who, though less physically versatile, was stronger than I ever could have imagined from the perspective of the one who “functioned” throughout the day. She began to show me things my functional self simply missed.

One of those things was to be able to notice when I was completely out of energy to exert myself. This might be when something was halfway wiped, or not wiped at all, but I had somehow managed to put some things away. She would know to say that’s enough for now. And she was very clever about what would satisfy my functional self, who would never have been satisfied with that’s enough. It sobered that functional self to learn when the diagnosis of MS finally came that the “forcing” she had habituated herself to was the worst thing to do if she wanted to preserve her physical abilities.  But as the saying goes, it’s really true that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So my deeper wiser identity came up with something even more ingenious than this looming threat:

Better Than It Was.

Or, (depending on the context): Cleaner Than It Was.

These two statements became my mottos. And they still are. They allowed me to learn to pace myself while still satisfying that Functional Self that I was making what she considered progress through the daily requirements of life, even if many of them were slowed to a crawl or a downright standstill.  Better Than It Was.

Now, though, after 5 years of eating this way, I can also say better than I was. A lot better. All the posts in the category “Little Victories Over Multiple Sclerosis”  on this blog, the three whole pages of entries like “The Toaster Oven,” “The Spirit of Thanksgiving Past,” “I Want to Live, ” “Return to Elk Creek,” “Wonder Woman at the Window,” and many others are testament to how I have literally internalized this motto and made it real in my cells as a result of eating low fat, whole food and plant-based.

Though it’s nearly two decades since I was first inspired to say it, it always makes me smile to say better than it was, and helps me let go. I don’t know why it works so well with keeping me on task, but maybe it has something to do with the notions explored in this very interesting article by Doug Lisle on the Forks Over Knives site. It’s about some fascinating findings research has turned up when analyzing self-talk about improving bad habits:

“When we ‘use our willpower’ toward a goal, we can quickly feel guilty and embarrassed if we start to fall short. If, on the other hand, we keep an open mind about what we might accomplish, we feel like any positive moves we make are getting us ahead of expectations and thus are “wins.”

This makes the process of doing things better (diet, exercise, saving money) a source of pride. We are  ‘getting ahead…better than we thought.’ ”

Those are my italics and my bold print, but there it is. Apparently,  I’m not the only one who thinks better than it was is more effective self-talk than I better do it (or else). I think of this article often, especially when I am having trouble making a decision about what to do next. It gives me the wiggle room I need to be patient enough to honor my process and keep the improvements coming.

Last Summer when I was journaling on the McDougall discussion board, I shared that this was my motto. I was delighted one Fall evening when a dear friend on the board who is a magnificent middle school teacher posted a photo of my motto she had placed above the door to her classroom.  She wrote:” This is the last thing that the students see on their way out the door and I now ask them, “How is what you were working on or learning today?” They point to the sign and read it. If they cannot say that, I tell them to work on improvement next time.”

And I wrote back:

“Oh, THANK YOU, for this wonderful photo of “Better than it was”!! You made my day. (I just spent an hour trying to return a box of defective biodegradable dog waste bags to Amazon, so you see how this puts everything into the proper perspective.) Bless wonderful you and your wonderful students, many times over.”

And so today I share that wonderful photo with you, and invite you to celebrate whatever in your life is better than it was.  It really does put everything into such lovely perspective. Even defective biodegradable dog poop bags.

Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 carollynne kelly June 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I love this quote, and I really needed to hear it right now!! Reminds me of count your blessing, and keep going anyway!

As always thanks for sharing you are such a dear lady!


2 moonwatcher June 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Thanks, carollynne! You are a dear lady too!


3 Kyle June 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Hi Maria,
Just curious, have you read any of Dr. Terry Wahls’ information ( Her story is fascinating, and such an incredible journey to discovery and healing. Dr. Wahls degenerated, from her MS effects, to confinement in a recliner (motorized to help her stand from a sitting position), but then progressed to long, unassisted bike rides (after she started applying her ideas to her treatment). She is not plant-based, but does adhere to a strict diet and exercise regimen. Her protocol has been so successful that she is seeking to conduct research at the University of Iowa.

I have heard her speak twice and, as a nursing student in my last semester of nursing school, I am encouraged by her aggressive approach to managing her disease process (in a healthy way). Just thought I would pass on some information and methods you may benefit from.

My best to you in your journey!


4 moonwatcher June 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Welcome, Kyle, and thanks for your comment. Yes, I have read Dr. Terry Wahl’s information. A lot of what she says makes great sense to me and is similar to what I have experienced. I’m very glad you she gets good resulst. I have also gotten life changing results with being low fat whole food plant-based, so that’s what I’m sticking with. Thank you very much for your good wishes.


5 Donna McFarland June 22, 2013 at 9:50 am

I GOT IT!! …I totally- GOT this Maria! Thank you, once again, for the profound and deeply thought provoking writing! I wish I’d had your mindset to draw inspiration for at times when I so needed it, buuuut that wasnt to be, so it’s all the more precious to have ~NOW! This is a brilliant phrase to remember, to keep, to USE ourselves. It’s in most all of us, that nonstop DRIVE to do more, be more, make everything PERFECT. Alas, we neednt do that…at all. “Better than it was”…yes indeed, these words will resonate in my mind forever now. XOXOX D.


6 moonwatcher June 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

Thank you so much, Donna, for this comment! It means a lot to me to read how this resonates with you, that you GET it, since you are someone who’s lived successfully with MS longer than most of us. I am so glad it went right in at the cell level for you. You made my morning. xoxoxo


7 Kathleen June 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for sharing your insight (and the link to Dr. Lisle’s article). I’m amazed at how clearly you see to the bottom of so many situations. I’ve spent my life being the “Little Engine that Could”, always pushing, driving. Not having been forced to slow down, I didn’t take the time to do so. Consequently the decades of my life have slipped by as little more than a stack of to-do lists neatly checked off. You are such a blessing! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your journey with us. I think about you often because when I am cooking the various recipes you have shared with us, I seem to shift into a different gear. I’ve enjoyed that sensation and it always makes me think of you. Now I’ve got a whole new mantra to try.


8 moonwatcher June 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Dear Kathleen, Thank you so much. A beautiful and articulate comment I am sure to remember. You and Donna have made my day many times over. And so glad you will be joining me in putting this motto/mantra to good use!! xo


9 Silva June 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

Dear Maria,
rereading your post. This is something I find I am fighting. I keep comparing, thinking I should be fitter, stronger etc.
Better than it was. Exactly.
Not comparing to other people but really seeing the steps I am taking, the small changes.
Thanks so much!

And I have a question. Do you limit even linseed intake? I ask because you eat lowfat.
Whole taught me not to worry about the single nutrients but to eat the whole package as we cannot know how things work together. But this again is something I keep worrying about (in this case omega 3).


10 moonwatcher June 23, 2013 at 10:15 am

Hi Silvia, you’re welcome! Glad you found my experience with this helpful. I don’t use linseed oil, but I do have up to a tablespoon of ground flax a day. I like golden flax seeds. For me they are easier to digest. This is an amount (1 tbs) Dr. Essylstyn recommends in Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Overall, I try to keep all seeds and nuts to a total of one ounce or less per day. I am often below the once ounce. It seems to work for me, and I don’t worry about it a lot. Trust yourself and your body, and see what works best for you.


11 Michelle June 24, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I am pondering how it is that you write the exact lesson I need to learn each week in my life. How can this be – oh it just is because that is part of a slow motion miracle too – sharing it! As for me – I had more than a week of pushing, pushing, pushing through. Everyday with some commitment that was way more than I can accomplish now. I got through it, but I really have not come out well on the other side, especially mentally. It was a godsend for me to read this post on this very day; least I forget that I am depleting myself not just physically – but I will also drain my stores of patience, cheer and and optimism. Then I end up despondent on the day I can’t – just absolutely can not do anymore. BUT everything accomplished last week made things way better than before. Sure there is a stack of laundry on my bedroom chair, I really need to clean the bathroom and yep those dishes are piled high in the sink – but the garden is so much better than it was before. and the food drive made things better than before at the wee food pantry and today because of your post I invented “I shall just now take a break from everything and have a well deserved REVEL IN MY ACCOMPLISHMENTS DAY – because it all is better than before!” Thank you Maria 🙂 Yet again 🙂 🙂 I love the classroom sign – simple and memorable – teachers, yay!


12 moonwatcher June 25, 2013 at 8:39 am

Thanks for this wonderful heartfelt comment, Michelle–Bless you!!


13 Nicole O'Shea June 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Hi Maria,

I am so glad you wrote just what Michelle needed to hear!

I do think the phrase “Better Than it Was” and this whole post are a good reminder for all of us to reflect back on when things get too hectic.

I feel so much better after changing my diet, but I have the “forcer” too, and I honestly wonder how much of a part she played in my getting sick in the first place. Thank you for sharing this excellent and compassionate concept with us all 🙂

Two things you brought up are quite true – the sum is greater than the whole of it’s parts (mentioned in the other post of yours I read today!) and you catch more bees with honey. Sometimes to deal with one thing, you must do precisely *not* that thing and *not* worry about exactly that thing to get results. Like resting instead of forcing.




14 Sally June 29, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Maria – I have been mulling over this post for a week now and it is slowly sinking in.

I am the “labyrinth lady” at my church and this week I worked with some Vacation Bible School kids from another church one morning – ages 8-12 or so. They walked really fast – but not running – the first time. Then s-l-o-w the second time – with an adult pacing them even. And we talked about the difference between fast and slow. And the kids got it.

I have been very impatient with some things, including myself – and needed to listen to the lesson I was teaching the kids. Thanks.


15 moonwatcher June 29, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Hi Sally, thank you so much for telling me about your labyrinth session with the kids, and how my post resonated on your own “labyrinth walk” with patience. And especially for taking the time tmo let it sink in. You are very lucky to have a labyrinth at your church, and to be the “labyrinth lady.” I’ve walked one at a friend’s church in the next town, and it’s a rich–and different–experience each time.


16 Silvia June 30, 2013 at 2:37 am

Dear Maria,
something happened when I read Michelle’s comment this morning.
Do you understand what I mean by the difference between knowing and knowing by experience?
After reading this comment while cleaning in my bathroom I suddenly smiled and thought: Not perfect but cleaner than it was. And I felt happy with my accomplishment.
And while walking with my dog and trying to correct my posture – trying to feel in what posture my spine would be in an erect position – I smiled again and was quite happy. It might still be pitiful in comparison but it is definitely better than it was. And I felt and feel great and a smile steals into my face: Better than it was!
Thank you and thank you Michelle!


17 moonwatcher June 30, 2013 at 8:45 am

Dear Silvia, you are so very welcome. Reading something like this is all I could hope for in terms of reader reaction, and why I write these words and post them publicly. I am so happy for you to feel this for yourself, and also happy that my post–and Michelle’s insghtfulful comment about it–helped you to it. I couldn’t ask for more thoughtful, caring, intelligent readers!


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