‘What’s the Worst That Can Happen?’: On Facing Fears With MS

A columnist discovers what she gains from stepping outside her comfort zone

Jamie Hughes avatar

by Jamie Hughes |

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Well, dear readers, I finally did it.

The recital I’ve been telling you about finally took place after several long delays and a good bit of scrambling, and all those singing lessons were finally put on display for a public audience.

I’d like to tell you I stepped out boldly, microphone in hand and ready to wow everyone with my highly polished pipes. But that would be a bald-faced lie. I was absolutely terrified the entire three minutes and 14 seconds of my number, which indeed did turn out to be “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical “Chicago.”

Holding the mic, trying to act as confident as Matron Mama Morton herself, I had a fleeting thought about fear and how it has (and hasn’t) held me back in various ways since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) almost 19 years ago.

I was afraid when I took a trip to Europe roughly five months after my diagnosis. However, I went and had a wonderful time in Paris and London, which I would’ve regretted missing very much. But there were things I missed, things my disease (or my perception of it, at least) has held me back from.

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My Fear of Failure Blocked Me From Both Risks and Rewards

Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” gave a TED Talk in 2008 in which he said, “Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not, it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?”

That’s what I asked myself in the hours leading up to my performance: What’s the worst that could happen? I could hurt people’s ears for a few minutes. I might look like a fool in front of people I’d likely never see again. Failure wouldn’t cost me my family or my job. I certainly wouldn’t die. So I went for it.

Other than two former students in their mid-20s, I was the only adult performing that evening, and many of the teenagers there were much more accomplished vocalists than I could ever hope to be. But I got a few cheers and a nice round of applause at the conclusion of my performance, and my sweet spouse said everything worked musically. My tone was good, and I was solid when it came to pitch as well. So hooray! I wasn’t out of tune, and I actually remembered all the words.

Now, I refuse to post the video my husband shot that night — holy hell, I can’t even watch that video myself for more than a few seconds — but I will give you a screenshot as evidence.

A woman sings while standing indoors in front of a fireplace and TV. She's holding a microphone in her right hand and has the cord wrapped around her left hand. She has short dark hair and is wearing a white blouse, gray cardigan, black pants, and a long necklace.

The author performing “When You’re Good to Mama” during a recital on Nov. 26. (Screenshot via video shot by Wayne Hughes III)

So I did it. I stepped very far outside my comfort zone and figured out that I could indeed do something that frightened me. I now know what I’m capable of, as well as what I can do to improve my performance skills.

Even if I never do it again (which is unlikely knowing my vocal teacher), I can move forward without regret because I pushed through and accomplished what seemed impossible months ago. Was my performance perfect? No way, José. But it’s a start.

In her book “You Learn by Living,” Eleanor Roosevelt writes:

“The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”

I do feel a little freer now, and that’s a feeling I want in all areas of my life. MS took it away from me in many ways, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it keep happening. I’m going to take this small victory and use it as evidence that I can achieve something even greater in the months to come.

So yes, I’m sure I’ll be nervous about it, but I’m also excited to see what comes next!

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Sonja Holland avatar

Sonja Holland

The Big and the Small in MS are worth every effort. Jamie, you went beyond comfort level to success. Sing on....

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

Indeed they are, Sonja. In-dang-deed they are! Thanks for reading and leaving such a kind, encouraging comment. I appreciate it more than you know.

Greg Dreiling avatar

Greg Dreiling

I have to say that this was not what I expected. As someone who has just recently diagnosed with MS, I was just looking for articles describing the worst thing that can happen as the condition progresses. I have to say that this article was a pleasant surprise to remind me to keep on trying to live my life instead of constantly looking back over my shoulder.

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

Hi, Greg. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and leave such a thoughtful comment on it. I've had MS for a long time, and I can tell you that you are exactly correct. You can't let the disease run your life. There's something to be said for being informed and aware of symptoms, treatment options, and the like. However, focusing on only that information is a kind of illness in itself. I did that at first, and I felt so hopeless! I was 25, and I thought for sure that my life was over. But it wasn't. It was just....different.

That's why I write this column...to remind people to keep living their lives with MS. Every day, doctors and researchers are coming up with some new treatment. They're inching ever closer to cracking this disease. I take courage from that, and I keep living my life as best I can knowing that one day, it'll be no more. I wish you the best on your own MS journey. Know that you are among friends here and that we will do whatever we can to help you along the way.


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