I was diagnosed with MS during my 4th semester of law school. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the way law school works here in America, it’s a 3 year (or 6 semester) program to attain a Juris Doctorate. The old adage goes like this, “First year, they scare you to death. Second year, they work you to death. Third year, they bore you to death.” This is only mostly true, since you’ve got more electives your third year.
In any event, when I had my first serious MS exacerbation, it was March 20th of 2007. At that time, I was working on a 30 page seminar paper, a 17 page contract, and was fighting to keep my scholarship. The entire account of my event that day was 3 lines long, with the title being “Today’s fun and frolic: 5 hours in Urgent Care.”
The thing that was really telling to me was looking back at the entries thereafter which talk about the papers I was working on, the number of hours of reading, managing a fledgling relationship, and going to karaoke. I had pins and needles or couldn’t feel most of the left side of my body when you touched it, but that was no excuse in my mind for not getting my papers done, not reading for class, or not going out with my friends.
When I didn’t know it was MS, I didn’t let it stop me from doing ANYTHING that I wanted to do or felt like I needed to do — and when I *did* find out what it was, over 2 months later, my wonderful boyfriend Adam reminded me of the most important thing ANYONE has ever told me regarding MS.
He held my face in his hands and said,
“You are the same person now that you were this morning. We just have a name for what’s going on with you now, and we can start treating it so you can feel better. This doesn’t change who you are or how much I love you.”
That moment made all the difference in my life. I started treatments for MS while continuing an externship in the business affairs department of a major record label. I continued through law school. I had this thing we liked to call “the nods” that started in October of that year. Nowadays, I know that I was having simple partial seizures. My face and hands would lock up, or I’d have an atonic seizure where I’d just kind of “plop” for lack of a better way to put it. My head would nod despite myself… hence they were “the nods” and were just part of MS fatigue in my mind… still not a reason to stop doing things, especially things as important as exams! So, my last 3 semesters in law school were each punctuated with taking exams while simultaneously having atonic seizures. And oddly enough, my grades were better because of how hard I studied with the brain fog I was having from the MS.
I’ve had so many people tell me how brave I am to keep on living the way I do — how inspiring it is to them to see someone with so many reasons to fail still “pressing on” and having a good life. I’ve always found this a little more than slightly amusing, mostly because it almost never feels like a choice to me. The funny thing is that I can objectively see what they’re talking about, but still can’t imagine having lived my life in any other way.
It wasn’t until I was in the hospital this past July that I was forced to acknowledge the extent of my current disability. Honestly, I hate that word — but it’s accurate! It forces me to face that I have limits, but it doesn’t tell me what those limits are.
I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The same is applicable to diseases. Just because I can’t drive doesn’t mean that I can’t go places. Just because there are days that I can’t walk doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t exercise at all. Just because I have fatigue doesn’t mean that I’m lazy or worse, that I should ALWAYS give in to it.
I can say without hesitation that over the last 3 months I have needed to go easy on myself. I haven’t been exercising. I haven’t been going out much, and I haven’t studied or looked for a job… but I have also been having tons of seizures while they get the medicine levels figured out. During that time, I’ve gotten to read a lot of other journals, join several support groups, and to get back to myself.
I find that I’m happiest when I focus on life and MS is just a part of it. It’s when I let myself feel like a victim of MS that I am absolutely miserable. I’ve seen so many others fall into that way of thinking perpetually – like they’re never going to get better, or worse, they should change their lives to being shut-ins because they are ashamed or feel like a burden to others.
If there’s any message I can give to the world, it would be for everyone (especially those of us suffering with chronic disease) to know that a good attitude is the most important thing you can have. If you don’t have it in you to change your attitude on your own, then go get therapy. It can make all the difference in the world. It certainly has for me.
These past 18 months have seemed like years of growth all pushed into the tiniest time frame it could possibly squeezed into. MS has done me so much good that I often think of it as a blessing in disguise… because really, more than half of happiness is in your attitude, and that’s something you can choose to change any moment of any day.
You have it in you to make today great. Get to it. 🙂