As a little girl, I loved Christmas. My parents went to great lengths to make the experience magical. Santa was as real as the stockings that hung from our mantle. On Christmas morning, the filled stockings lay right next to the half-eaten cookie. Santa had come! My jubilance grew as I ran to the tree to see the gifts that only he knew I had wanted.
I am now 50, and I still love Christmas. The magic that made me happy as a young girl still exists for me. Yet that which fills my heart is intangible. It cannot fill a stocking and does not lie beneath a tree. I smile with fondness at the sight of Santa and the children who surround him.
While the joy of the holiday season remains, it is joined by wistful nostalgia. Calm is no longer my default. It takes enormous effort to complete the tasks that lie waiting. I look to the pile of yet-to-be addressed Christmas cards and feel a flash of sad desperation. Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis has dramatically affected my ability to write. As someone who has always enjoyed sending the written word, the irony is not lost on me.
I long for the years when I could address dozens of cards in no time. One thank-you card now takes an equal amount of time and concentration as many did before. I am tempted to wallow but I choose to be grateful that I can still write. My choice then frees me to go about my day and helps me to process my grief.
I have always enjoyed conversing. The development of dysarthria and expressive dysphasia has made me somewhat self-conscious. Because of lesions on my brain stem, I stammer and mumble. My articulation is weak and often misunderstood. Though I know what I want to say, I sometimes have trouble forming a fluid sentence.
Speech therapy has helped, as have self-confidence and the decision to take risks. I love life too much to give up socializing. I often have to stay home because of pain and fatigue. I refuse to stay away from a gathering because of my speech problems. I have adopted coping mechanisms to help me feel better if I make an error. I laugh, and by doing so, put those I am speaking with at ease.
The holiday season is unique. After years of pure enjoyment, we might feel sidelined by loss of health, death of a loved one, divorce, or depression. Our sadness and loss are real. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Your emotions will run the gamut — that is normal. Surround yourself with supportive and loving people.
I have found balance in allowing myself to hold both joy and sadness. I derive much pleasure from the company of friends and family, decorating, giving back to my community, and festive gatherings. I experience delight alongside my grief at the loss of mobility, communicative ability, or physicality. Joy and loss are not mutually exclusive.
The simple meaning of why I celebrate Christmas is my greatest blessing. My faith has always brought me back to what truly matters. Though I experience grief and loss, I am reminded that my blessings are abundant.
I am holding onto both this Christmas.
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.