2015 handed me an unexpected gift, and it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not a pen. It’s not even a thing.
It’s MS. Multiple Sclerosis.
Last Christmas, MS was somebody else’s disease. This Christmas, it’s mine.
I won’t lie. My diagnosis brought with it a giant serving of negative emotions- numbing fear, confusion, dismay, deep sadness. I cried at work. I never cry at work.
But when the sharpness of those first few days and weeks softened, my perspective shifted, and I began to see my MS in terms of what it has given me, rather than what it may be taking away.
MS has given me kindness. So many people- family, old friends, new friends, even strangers- have given me the gift of kindness that has helped beyond measure. I’ve been buoyed up and overwhelmed by the goodness of people who’ve reached out with letters, emails, texts, conversations, and hugs. This kindness carries me through the swift current of jagged emotions that sometimes feels like it could sweep me away.
I hope, too, that MS has made me kinder and more attuned to the needs of others. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own “stuff” that it’s tricky to see when someone else might be faltering. I think my experience this year has tuned my radar a bit so that I respond with the same kindness that has been shown to me. This is a work in progress for me, for sure. It’s another “muscle” to exercise.
MS has also made me appreciate, and push, my body. About a year before my diagnosis, I started participating in the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) as a way to drop some pounds and a handful of bad habits. The WLC worked like a charm. I lost weight, kicked a bad sugar habit, gave up soda for good, and became more active. I was feeling the healthiest I’ve felt in years when I was blindsided by my sudden symptoms and eventual diagnosis.
At first I was incredibly angry. Like “Fuck you, universe!” angry. How dare I get this thing when I’m doing everything in my power to live a healthier life. Then a friend pointed out that maybe the universe nudged me towards the Whole Life Challenge so that I’d be in a better place to deal with this thing. I was coming at it from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. She was so right.
I skipped one of the 8-week challenges when my symptoms were at their peak and I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with, but even then, I kept walking for exercise, despite the fact that it felt like I was walking on electrified barbed wire.
Gradually the symptoms faded, and I’ve been able to participate in subsequent challenges and have recently ramped up my exercise even further to include a regular weight workout. A friend and I serve as each other’s fitness buddy which keeps both of us motivated and accountable. That’s been another gift- having someone to push me just a little harder, a little further.
I start another round of the Whole Life Challenge in a few weeks. Each time I play the challenge, I burn in my new and improved habits a little deeper. I’m so grateful that I work someplace where wellness is a huge priority, where our WLC team really bonds, shares, and encourages. I like stretching myself and my body. I like feeling healthy and whole, despite the MS, despite some ongoing low level symptoms.
This Christmas, I’m grateful for all that MS has given me- for showing me that even in our darkest days, there is gold.