How to Be Strong: Advice from a GBS Survivor

“Be strong,” they say. “Don’t give up.”
However well-meaning the sentiment, those phrases sometimes ring empty. What does it even mean to be strong? To persevere? I think Jackie Barber’s story of overcoming Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) answers those questions pretty well.

What started as a sudden paralysis in Jackie’s feet would spread throughout her body in a matter of days. This is what Guillain-Barre does. It devastates, unexpectedly and quickly. How? The body’s immune system begins to attack the nervous system. Why? Well, that is not yet known, although scientists have found GBS often follows a viral infection.

Recovery from GBS is possible, though how quickly and to what degree depends on the individual.

For Jackie, a year has passed. A year filled with extensive physical therapy and intense determination. She says that, though her feet are still slightly paralyzed and her hands tingle, she’s now able to walk a mile a day and can even sew a button onto a shirt.

Jackie’s story illustrates the difference attitude can make. And she offers some valuable advice to others who might be walking a similar journey:
  • Stay positive and determined
  • Recognize that 10 steps might turn into 10,000
  • Slow progress is okay
  • Asking for help is also okay

In everything, she advises, work hard. It’s a choice. Positivity is a choice. Determination is a choice. Hard work is a choice.

To say the least, Jackie’s story is inspiring. But even more, I think her story and her attitude offer tangible examples of what it actually means to be strong, to persevere, and to not give up.

So, the next time someone tells you, “Be strong,” and you’re wondering what the heck that even means, I hope Jackie’s advice crosses your mind. At the very least, it’s a good place to start.

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