'Grin and Bear It:' Weathering the Storms of Multiple Sclerosis


The other day I wondered, where does the phrase “grin and bear it” come from?

I had varied success in tracing its origin but it appears to be derived William Hickey’s “Memoirs,” published in 1775, as an expression used by sailors attempting to survive a long spell of bad weather.

Although I’m not 100 percent certain that is the true etymology, it sounds like a reasonable explanation.

Growing up, I remember many instances of having to “grin and bear it.” Sometimes, I was told this by a parent or teacher and at other times it just echoed in my head during difficult moments.

Whether it was trying to withstand the brutal August heat during football practice in high school or trying to stay focused during a full day of class lectures, there was a whole lot of bearing to accompany just a few sporadic grins.

Even in adulthood, the grinning and bearing continued as I worked long hours at the office, went to graduate school and learned the (sometimes chaotic) ropes of being a new dad.

In each situation, though, I saw…or at least, believed in, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

G&B-ing It

Even for the sailors, once they endured and survived the storm – grin and bear it, men! – the sun would rise and clear skies would be on the horizon.

Ironically, living with MS sometimes feels like I’m lost at sea, holding on for dear life as the waves come crashing in.

Grin. And. Bear. It.

At times, it’s been hard to see any payoff from the constant grinning and bearing.

I wake up, lose balance and fall to the ground? G&B it!

Electric shocks shoot through my head as I talk with my children? G&B it!

Nausea overtakes me as I’m on a walk with my family? G&B it!

I struggle through conversations with friends, trying to remember what I am even discussing? G&B it!

Reading time with my family is complicated by how sensitive my eyes are to light? G&B it!

I don’t even remember what it used to feel like to have energy or to feel rested? G&B it!

Standing, even for just a few brief moments – whether in line at the grocery store, at church or while out with my family – causes intense pain in my left leg? G&B it!

I’m struggling with a new symptom this week. Perhaps it will go away, or maybe another new one will appear tomorrow? G&B it!

I never know what might strike next. Perhaps I drop another glass, bump into another table, stumble on stairs, lose sensation in my hands or struggle with my vision? G&B it!

Peace Out

All this G&B-ing with MS is not easy, but I’ve been fortunate to discover an elixir of sorts – finding inner peace.

“Inner peace” probably means different things to different people; for me, it meant letting go of who I always thought I’d be and embracing who I am…and who I can still become.

For many, finding inner peace is nothing more than a silly notion, rarely considered or explored because our hectic lives are filled with meetings, conference calls, endless errands or paperwork that commands and saps so much of our daily energy.

Living with MS is very trying; grinning and bearing it is literally a way of life. But in the wake of all the destruction this disease has caused to my health and career, a silver lining emerged: an opportunity to view life anew and really find out who I am.

That’s my reward:

After each MS storm…the picturesque blue sky on the horizon. 

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Thinkstock photo via Donald34.


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