One year ago today I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. March 15, 2016, I was sitting in the emergency room at Rush University Medical Center with my fiancé (now wonderful husband) and my mom (always wonderful) waiting for the neurologist to return with my MRI results. As anxious as I was to finally figure out what was going on with my body I also had a gut feeling that my life was about to change dramatically.
It is truly amazing how life can change in the blink of an eye. One minute I was a busy young lawyer starting my business and planning the wedding of my dreams and then BAM my diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks.
The day I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis I wasn’t even 100% sure what exactly MS was. My primary care doctor had mentioned it and pretty much dismissed it all in the same breathe following an MRI I had in January. The neurologist at Rush had come and spoken to me before I went in for the MRI and he mentioned it (I’m sure he also explained what it was too) but I hadn’t really heard much of what he said. I had just spent the past eight hours in the ER waiting room and I was just anxious to figure out what was wrong and get the hell out of there. Never once did it cross my mind that I wouldn’t actually get to leave the hospital that day…or for the next five.
When I woke up that morning my vision was so bad that I couldn’t see any farther than my hand in front of my face. There were two of everything and a blind spot in the center of my left eye. My left leg was so weak that I could barely support my own body weight. I could stand in place for a few seconds but I couldn’t take a step without assistance. It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever been through. My body had taken over and I had no control to stop it. I spent five days in the hospital being pumped full of steroids and doing hours of physical therapy. At 29 years old, I was learning how to walk again. It was an incredibly humbling experience. For a while there I thought my life was over; that I would never again be the strong, independent woman I had only just recently become.
Fast forward to today, one year later, March 15, 2017. My life is not over; not by a long shot. Although there are times that I may be a little less independent than I would like to be, I am SO much stronger than I was one year ago. And I am confident of that.
In a lot of ways, my life began again the day I was diagnosed with MS. I essentially started a new life, my life with MS. I had to relearn several skills that I had learned as a young child; walking, writing. I had to learn to adjust to my ever changing circumstances and listen, very closely, to what my body was telling me. I had to learn that numbness, tingling, headaches, pain, brain fog, and tremors were now to be considered “normal”. And I had to become “ok” or at least, not afraid, of that.
I learned not to take the little things for granted. I stopped complaining about having to wake up early on Monday morning and go to work. Instead, now I wake up grateful that I am able to get dressed and commute to work all on my own. I learned to be more empathetic. Instead of being annoyed at the slow people ambling down the street, I pause to think “maybe that’s as fast as they are able to go…” as I walk patiently behind them. Instead of multitasking and going a mile a minute, I now take life slow enough to appreciate the scenery and enjoy the ride. MS has given me no choice in the matter really. MS requires me to make adjustments. But I refuse to let MS define who I am.
Strange as it may sound, being diagnosed with MS has not been a completely negative thing. Anyone reading this who is newly diagnosed is probably thinking I’m lying, but I promise you I’m not. While I would not wish MS on my worst enemy…I am very grateful that now, a year later, I can say that MS has changed my life in some very positive ways.
Being diagnosed with MS taught me to embrace the life that I’ve been given and to cherish my good days. I’ve gotten much better at rolling with the punches and taking life as it comes, because my life has suddenly become unpredictable in ways I never imagined. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up without the use of an arm, a leg, or an eye. Or maybe tomorrow doctors will find a cure. There is just no telling. So no matter what, I’m going to make today the best day it possibly can be. For me, the fear of the unknown is the worst part of living with MS. So I choose to focus on the positives as much as I can.
Ever since I can remember I have lived my life by the motto that “everything happens for a reason.” There may be fifty negatives for every one positive aspect of having MS but I’ve found that the harder you search for the positives, the more you find. It can be almost impossible to find the positives in the beginning, or especially on my bad days. But that’s when I ask for help.
Asking for help is a very difficult thing to do, especially when you are used to being independent. But the only thing that makes MS bearable is having a strong support system. I am truly blessed to have the most incredible group of people who love and support me every step of the way. My family (both immediate and extended), my friends, and my coworkers have been by me every step of the way, willing and able to lend a hand wherever they can. I truly owe my life to these people. They are the reason I get up and fight every day.
Today is day #365. I survived my first year with Multiple Sclerosis. I feel accomplished. I feel strong. I feel like I have conquered the first step and although I know I have a long and very difficult road ahead of me, I still believe that “everything happens for a reason.” I was diagnosed with MS for a reason. I’ve spent the past year coming to grips with that (and in a lot of ways I’m still processing it) but I’m ready to find the reason.
Why did multiple sclerosis pick my body? How can I use this to better my life? What can I do to make a difference for others living with MS?