Happy is the Woman
And do you feel scared? I do,
but I won’t stop and falter.
And if we threw it all away,
things can only get better
– Howard Jones, “Things Can Only Get Better”
Things I’m good at include (but are not limited to): writing, playing the French horn, remembering movie dialogue verbatim, organizing, making banana bread, finding perfect gifts for loved ones, taking tests, driving long distances, reading entire books in one sitting, and living with multiple sclerosis, a disease I didn’t know existed until 12 years ago.
I’ve gotten better dealing with MS than I ever thought possible. In fact, when I was given my diagnosis — in the hospital bed where I was writhing in pain, the aftereffect of a spinal tap — I asked my husband, “My life is over, isn’t it?”
In many ways, I was correct. Life as I knew it was over. It’s never been the same since that long, tear-streaked evening.
MS made its first appearance when I was 25. At that tender age, I’d been married for four years, was working on a master’s degree in English, and had designs to become a college professor. One day, I awoke with a little tingling in the bottom of my left foot. However, back problems and pinched nerves are as common in my family as brown eyes and big feet, so it didn’t seem like anything to fret about. But then the tingling slowly moved up my left leg, rising to my hip. Then my right foot and leg followed suit, and within two weeks, everything below my waist was pins and needles.
After an eight-hour wait in the emergency room, admittance to the hospital, and a week of the tests we all know and hate, my doctor (a brilliant neurologist and diagnostician who had the bedside manner of a damp rag) came to my room late one night and said, “You have multiple sclerosis. It’s a disease that affects the nervous system. It’s not the end of the world. There’s more on the internet than I could ever tell you about. Good night.”
Yeah. Just like that.
Happy is the Woman? Not yet!
And as we all know, the web is an unfailingly accurate source of health and wellness information, so I got a true picture of what I was up against. I wish …
After three days of intravenous steroid treatments, I was sent home — much sicker than when I went in, and sure beyond all doubt that I was doomed to a life of paralysis, incontinence, blindness, and pain.
A few weeks later, as I lay on a cold bathroom floor with tears running into my ears, I told God this disease wasn’t fair and that there was no way I could face another day of it on my own. And that was when I figured out I didn’t have to. I had a husband who had supported me every step of the way, a family who was caring for my every need, and a God who had promised to never leave or forsake me.
I had a choice: I could crawl into a hole and wait to die, or I could get up off that floor and get on with my life. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same one I had before the diagnosis, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be one worth living.
Here’s good news. More than a decade later, I’m still here. And my life? It’s actually gotten better.
Sure, there have been challenges. I’ve had to learn how to live with injectable meds, doctor’s visits, MRIs, fatigue, and headaches. But for every test and inconvenience, I’ve gained something so much greater. My faith has grown in exponential ways. My marriage grows stronger with each passing year. I’m more empathetic to strangers and familiar folks alike, and my default setting is kindness rather than anger or bitterness. I reach out to people more often these days to build real and lasting relationships. And while I never became a professor, I am now the managing editor of a Christian magazine, which is something I never saw myself doing before my diagnosis. I am, in a word, happy.
So yeah, I’ve gotten good at living with MS — better than I ever thought possible — and that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.