Reflections on the meaning of authenticity while living with MS

Being your most authentic self requires self-awareness and courage

Desiree Lama avatar

by Desiree Lama |

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Recognizing and valuing authenticity is an aspect of life I began to grasp only a few years ago. During the peak of quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19, I was forced to move back home to San Antonio from my on-campus dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin. Like many others, I had an abundance of spare time to ponder life’s meaning.

I spent a large amount of time contemplating the meaning of authenticity. According to Merriam-Webster, authenticity can be defined in numerous ways, including: “not false or imitation”; “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”; and “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” But how can these definitions be applied to real life?

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‘Authentically human’ coming to life

My journey with authenticity has been like a roller coaster because it can be difficult to remain true to yourself in a judgmental world. As cliché as it may sound, life is too short to constantly put on an act.

The essence of this column stems from my journey with authenticity and transparency. Upon deciding the name of my column, I brainstormed various ideas and revisited some of my past writings.

I stumbled upon a draft blog post titled “Being authentically human in a superficial world.” In this post, I shared my existential thoughts about human existence and how our choices, no matter how small and insignificant, ultimately shape the meaning we find in life. In addition, I discussed how my identities — disabled, Mexican, queer — have influenced the decisions I’ve made.

Being unapologetically yourself is a journey that takes time. Being your most authentic self requires self-awareness, courage, self-confidence, and the willingness to reject external expectations.

Authenticity and MS

I have been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for about a decade. Managing life with a chronic illness has taught me the importance of honesty. Over the years, I’ve grown tired of pretending to be fine and putting on a facade for the sake of those around me. Living with MS has transformed me in ways I still don’t fully grasp, but I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything because it has shaped my identity.

Being authentic while living with MS involves embracing your true self and being transparent about your challenges, experiences, and emotions. We must honor our truths, embrace vulnerability, and make decisions that align with our values. Living authentically with a chronic illness is a complex and personal experience that looks different for each of us.

As American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.”

How do you remain true to yourself while living with MS? Please share in the comments below.


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.

Comments

Bess Coleman avatar

Bess Coleman

Lots to think about Desiree. Thanks for your honesty, you have brought up many issues that l myself struggle with. i. e. the temptation to minimize my struggles vs. revealing the true feelings of frustration and anger at my situation. One is an effort to seem "normal", while the other is authenticity. And worrying about making others uncomfortable around my anger. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bess

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Desiree Lama avatar

Desiree Lama

Hi Bess, it is definitely a balance that we have to navigate on top of everything else we deal with! At the end of the day, we have to do what suits our needs the best! I wish you all the very best in your journey. 🧡

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Matt W. avatar

Matt W.

Desiree,
There are a few things that I have found quite important to being authentic in life, Rule one, what has two thumbs and does not ive a rat's ass, proceed to point those thumbs proudly at ones self!
Find out who your friends are not acquaintances, keep them close and never let them go. They are probably more supportive than your family and if they are not go fish for new ones.
MS has been a great teacher for me as well You only get one shot at this life thing live it accordingly!.
Thanks for sharing!
Peace and love to you!
Matt

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Desiree Lama avatar

Desiree Lama

LOVE THAT! We always have to do what is best for us!!

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Maria Muddell avatar

Maria Muddell

I must admit I struggle with being authentic even though I have lived with auto-immune chronic illnesses since the age of 7 type 1 diabetes and diagnosed with MS at age 21. Now at the age of 57 I still feel the need to say "I'm great" even though I may not be. The thing is I look great on the outside but only my family know what I really go through day to day. Experience has shown me in the past, that when I've expressed vulnerability, people look shocked and say "but you look fantastic" how can this be ?? So I've taken to "fake it until you make it. It's just too hard and exhausting to try and explain to everyone that even though I look great on the outside, life can be a real struggle ... here's a fact about human instict - people believe what they see more than what they hear !!! I guess authenticity is very personal and different from one person to the next .... perhaps pretending to be better than what I am because I "look" better than what I am, is MY authenticity - and for now it's what I'm most comfortabe being :):) Thanks for sharing Desiree xxoo

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Desiree Lama avatar

Desiree Lama

Thank you for sharing! It can be a hard thing to navigate especially when it becomes exhausting to constantly have to explain yourself. Authenticity is so individualized and can look/feel different for everyone. It is the meaning that you find in authenticity that matters at the end of the day! Sending you my best!

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Tom A avatar

Tom A

Looking good, saying the right thing, “conforming” is part of life. Assuming that is who you are (real self) may cause trouble later, for example- when you get MS. Conforming to fact is an important basis for authenticity that you mention. Being who you are, based on the facts of your true experiences, is how in part you remain authentic. Remembering the facts and your reactions, knowing them, feeling them, accepting them. You can’t remain true to yourself for someone else either. It only works for yourself. Then you share it or not depending on the situation. You recognize the fact (s), experience the horror (or whatever), remember it, “put it in a bag”. Then move on to other stuff and come back when you want to or have to (look in the bag). Put that new stuff in a bag too. Then move on again. Take the word “MS” and replace it with anything; it’s the same process. “How do you remain true to yourself while … ___?” MS can be a total disrupter of life and probably will be to one extent or another..

But should you plan for the disruption? That’s another discussion. Lots of people talk about their personal denial and time wasted when they should have been treating it. I for one, did shots every other day for 23 years, so it was hard to forget totally. But there was a period of time in there that I thought little about it. (I had already done my self-awareness training.) I’d have to say that period was priceless, when MS for 15 or 20 years wasn’t really worth thinking about and I had plenty else to do. Some may say it is not really worth thinking about now, but it is much harder to ignore or forget. So the self-awareness part comes in handy. No unexpected emotional disruptions, which also makes it easier for others, like my wife, who has been wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, the disease totally sucks.

I like the idea of your column. I'll be watching and hope not to get carried away. Let me know if there's a problem. :-)

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Desiree Lama avatar

Desiree Lama

Thank you for your perspective and thank you for reading!

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Dylan Chicken avatar

Dylan Chicken

Dear Desiree,

Thank you for this well written article, it resonated deeply with me. I was diagnosed with MS in 2013 as a husband, father of two children (13 and 10), business executive and leader in our community. Trying to be authentic in these different roles proved practically impossible as my authentic self was difficult to find amidst the busyness and pressure. Years later now, after being medically boarded, I am discovering my authentic self and am finally caring for and accepting myself. Keep fighting the fight and always remember to take care of yourself!

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Desiree Lama avatar

Desiree Lama

Hi Dylan, thank you for reading and sharing your experiences! It is never too late to discover your authentic-self, and I am glad that you are now able to care for/accept yourself. It is such an important part of our journeys! Sending you my very best :)

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