I’m reflecting on a year since diagnosis. Eighteen months since the first big episode of illness. Celebrating 18 months of no *relapse*. Wondering how I get where I am today – hopeful, healthy, fit. I do not feel that I have lost anything of that much importance, although the process has been hugely difficult at times. I’m wondering how this post can be helpful to people newly diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS and what I wish I could have heard about when I was first unwell.
The gifts this year has given me are:
Strength: There’s an English proverb; ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’ which I thought about more than once this year. I have compared myself to many in positions far worse than my own too. I have survived something pretty scary, but so far it has by no means been unbearable. A good friend and I navigated our ‘choppy’ waters in parallel (her storm was divorce with young children) and we supported each other. Her strength gave me strength, and I hope it worked both ways. One day I remember her saying to me, “this is *not* the worse thing that can happen to me” and she was so right. For both of our situations. That is why neither of us became wallowing messes of self-pity. She, perhaps before me, knew she would get strong. Move on. Which brings me to my next point,
The Sisterhood: I knew this before but I never really felt the force of it so much as this year. I’m guessing men may have their own equivalent (the brotherhood of man..?) about which I cannot comment, but I feel confidant The Sisterhood would still reign supreme. Although I am obviously biased. Friends have been there for me when I did and didn’t want to talk. They have played it my way when I so needed them to. When you wanted to see them but no-one else you know, for example, setting up co-vert meetings in random places so we wouldn’t bump into “someone we knew”. Taking the mick when I needed them too (“c’mon then. Right… We’re gonna do a bloody fun run… DIY SOS, that’s what we need!! *hic*) and having their own wonderful, chaotic and real lives to sweep me along with – weddings, babies and problems. The Sisterhood will always be there for me. They will help me deal with whatever. We will face it together. We are family (I got all my sisters with me). That message has been so loud and clear, and those sisters of mine will never know the strength it has given me.
A new career: Out of the above I was able to look at my life and see what needed to change. What was going to give me the best possible chance at being well. Being in a highly stressful job where absorbing other people’s pain (I was a mental health professional) did not seem like my best chance at keeping well. But I loved my job in so many ways. The strength and perspective this experience has given me enabled me to think differently about a way out. A way *forward*. By keeping “pushing doors” (thanks Ana) and having faith (thanks George) I ended up doing something I would never have had the courage to do before. I took a risky step of leaving a secure & senior position to go into research. It enables me to use all my experience and skills in a different forum. It enables me to work from home. It has allowed me to feel passionate about my work again. Without this experience I would never have done it. Simple as that.
Wellness: Being unwell is a good reason to start to do what you need to be well. Silly really, ‘cos if we did that before we might not be unwell. It has lead me to thinking about what I put in mine and my children’s body so much more – food, toxins. I see much clearer the correlation of the increases in disease of the Western world and the foods we eat & the way we live our lives. Our busy, busy lives. Where at times, it can feel like we literally. Cannot. Breathe. By seeing this I am making different choices, because I cannot *afford* to be unwell. I do not mean *afford* in financial terms, I mean that if I am unwell and relapse there is always the chance I will not recover entirely from that relapse. I cannot *afford* to eat crap. I cannot *afford* to skip my exercise. My yoga. So doing all I can to be well is how I live. In the words of Jim Rohn “your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change“. By making my wellness a priority I have gained so much, not least a fitter, leaner body 😉 but a healthier way of living. One that my children see and the legacy of which I hope protects and nurtures them and their future. That has to be the greatest gift any parent can give.
So while it seems like a cliché, and if you are reading this and you are in a dark time, I urge you to hang in there. I did not think I would be where I am now, doing what I am doing, writing what I am writing. My life is far, far from perfect. I have the same struggles and heartaches as you all. I am sure there will be many more ‘storms’ ahead for me to navigate. But I think it’s going to be okay.