Dear newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis (MS) warrior,
You have just gotten the news and you are in shock. You will likely go through a range of emotions over the next couple of days, weeks and months. You’ll may feel broken and damaged, and you may start listing your limitations and mourn the loss of dreams that will now have to go unrealized. You might mentally go through a list of family, friends and acquaintances and weigh up the pros and cons of letting them know about your new diagnosis; you want to let them know why you may not be available on a given date but you don’t want to see the pitying looks in the eyes of people whose opinions you value. You will likely experience all of these thought processes and probably much more.
I want to remind you that you are still the same person you were before you stepped into the doctor’s office to be “branded” with a label, “Chronically Ill, Handle With Care.” You don’t want to be a victim and you don’t want to be pitied or molly-coddled. Let it be known that you are still you.
Things may not always go according to plan and that’s OK. In life it never does anyway, whether you have MS or not. Feel free to be as open about MS with those around you as you want. There is no wrong or right way of dealing with MS as long as you continue to move forward, no matter how fast or slow. As long as you continue to put one metaphorical foot in front of the other, you’re doing great! MS is different for everyone so there are no comparisons to be made, no benchmarks, no right or wrong way.
You will probably find a strength and a courage you never knew you had. Yes, you’ll likely feel the loss of dreams of all you “could have been” but from the debris of these decimated dreams will sprout the seeds of innovation. This is your chance to throw off the yoke of the ordinary and enter the world of the extraordinary. From the ashes of your old self, a new you will be born… a little bit battle-weary and with chinks in your armor, but you can survive, you can overcome the fears and you can move forward and embrace this new life because you are strong, because you are alive and because you are a fighter! You are a warrior!
You may have days when you feel like a pin cushion because you’ve had so many blood tests done. You may have days when your taste-buds are numb to the taste of the cafeteria coffee because you’ve been at the hospital for so long. You may have days when you hear so much medical jargon you’ll feel as though you are competent in the field of neurology… There are also going probably going to be days you can’t get out of bed because you are too down to face the world or because MS has decided that today is a “rest day.” There may be days where you can’t cope with being around people, days when you can’t string a sentence together or think clearly. There may be days when your legs won’t move the way they used to and you’ll look clumsy and uncoordinated and times when your body lets you down so badly that your cheeks will burn with embarrassment at the mere thought of it.
You might get so frustrated and so angry that you just want to stamp your feet and throw a temper tantrum like a self-respecting toddler in the prime of his “toddlerness.” I say, “Do it!” You have a right to all of these feelings and more. You have the right to mope for a while, and to feel sorry for yourself for a while. But then make those plans and live your life… because you are a warrior!
It’s not what you have in this life that defines your character but what you do with what you have. You have a choice to make. Multiple sclerosis is a life sentence, not a death sentence. You still have air in your lungs and a spirit that is as strong as you will it to be.
MS can take away many things that you once took for granted, but it cannot take away the most important things. Hold onto those things and hold on tight, because when the nights are dark and the days are long, you will likely need to remind yourself of all that is good in your life. Your strength can become your talisman and a beacon of hope for others.
And when the dust settles and you have a little respite, when the calm does come over you again, because it will eventually, I hope you will realize that you also have the right to be kind to yourself, the right to be gentle with yourself and the right to tend yourself. I hope you realize that you are not broken, merely altered and that you’ll realize that you are a warrior, a fighter, a survivor.
You can fight… not because you have to, but because you want to! You can learn to stand up, stare MS in the face and say, “You may have taken over my body but you will never have my spirit!”
Congratulations, you are officially a MS warrior.