So here it is. Saturday, June 21st of 2008 I’m celebrating my 40th birthday and the 20th anniversary of my diagnosis. Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis on your 20th birthday might seem like a cruel joke to some, but for me it was the beginning of my life challenge. What seemed to be an insurmountable prognosis became a series of tests that I passed with flying colors.
Don’t get me wrong… It would be an understatement to note that a lot of this ride has been very difficult. I’ve certainly spent time crying, shaking and cursing the universe that assigned me this lot in life. Wondering in fear what is next and how will it change my everyday. The “what ifs” and “will I be able to handle it ” question marks clogged my already crowded neurons. That ride started out like a rollercoaster with no end in sight. The loch ness monster at bush gardens in virginia is the best parallel. I was too scared to go on it as a 10 year old but I’ve been riding it every since my 20th birthday. This time I was taller than the hand on that little animal painting and had no excuses for not joining the group of apprehensive riders.
Apparently the same universe that I cursed, thought I could handle it… even 20 years ago at this very low period in my life. Apparently it (the universe) was correct. “That which does not kill you makes you stronger” is an apt theme for what turned out to be a scary course with MS. The people I meet who have had this diagnosis for more than a couple of years mirror that posture. It’s the once unwilling boxer now shouting “Is that all you’ve got?” “Bring it on!” I’ll show you what I can handle. It may have taken me years to find this fighter in me… but its with me now. When I think I won’t be able to cope with the symptom de jour… I look back at what I rose to the challenge of, and feel emboldened. (I think I may have left out 1 metaphor…should I go on?! 🙂 )
In 1988 I was just starting out on my life, independently from my family. New to Baltimore I sought out friendships, dated and learned who I am as a filmmaker in a pre-digital, pre-internet world. I also needed to learn who I was (am, will be) as a person with Multiple Sclerosis. Yet I didn’t yet know who I was without MS. The spectrum of “what might be” seemed vast at 20 years old. I feared everything. Would I be able to complete my degree? Would I ever meet anyone who could love me with this disease? At a time when I was unsure of who I am in this world, I had to cope with unsureness of my being at the most pure level.
Discovering myself as a person with an organic disease that is completely unique is very tricky. When I reflect back on that time I wonder how I got through it. Because I was simultaneously coping with my parent’s divorce and my mom moving to Florida, I was alone in the process. But like many things in life, time is the great adjuster.
Time heals all wounds… except of course if they are scars. In retrospect the wounds of coping made me a stronger individual. I feel that who I am today has been shaped by my ability to cope with unexpected changes. As I leaf through the pages of the history that is mine with MS, I continually make that positive Hmm sound. You know the one.. with the little lift on the the last “m”. Almost questioning. As the years progress and I continued to reflect I realized that I can deal with far more than I ever imagined I could. The initial fears that came up while reading the list of possibilities in 1988 played themselves out very differently.
But the THE UNKNOWN loomed large over my college graduation. As I sit here 20 years later, a mother, a wife and a person who owns this version of MS – the next 20 years still hold a lot of question marks. But looking back and looking forward I can say that whatever is in store for me, I can handle. The list of possibilities that fuel(ed) my fears is now like a crossed off grocery list halfway through the store. I’m not sure what that will mean, and I still shudder to think of what I may or may not have to add to my column of coping. But I do know this, my power to persevere has served me well and when it comes down to it, living this life of challenges is always better than the alternative. And conveniently the world of medicine and pharmaceuticals is working hard every day on my (and my peers) behalf to make sure that the second half is easier than the first. How great is that?