Today marks 4 years since the day I was diagnosed with MS. This information was given to me via a phone call while I was at work. The Doctor asked, "is now a good time". Is any time a good time? Should I put my life on pause for this? After all, I was already in this boat, giving it a name wasn't going to make it any more real... I simply wrote down the information... Multiple Sclerosis, there's a treatment to delay progression, caught it early, won't have major disabilities until later on... I hung up the phone and went back to work... I thought I'll cross that bridge when I get there!
Just weeks after my diagnosis, my boyfriend was deployed on a two-month military training out of state, I took a promotion that meant a lot more work, And within the month, my mom went into hospice care for the last leg of her fight against cancer... I was sick, overworked, and alone, and my mom was dying. But life goes on until it doesn't. That notice came at 5:am 2 months later. I went to work that day. It wasn't until I closed the shop that I looked up at my boss and uttered the words "my mom died today"... I didn't have time to grieve, there was a funeral to plan, a store to manage, and my health to account for... I simply thought I'll cross that bridge when I get there!
I'd made an art of toughing out hardship with a brave face. Then, the dust settled! Loss is experienced in little bits at a time; Some larger than others. I cried the day I realized my biggest hikes were behind me... How much more of me could I sacrifice to a disease I could not begin to accept... if crossing that bridge meant acceptance, I didn't want to cross it at all. I resented my entire life. I resented being the girl with MS.
I don't recall when I started feeling sorry for myself. Each time I heard the complaint of someone having "a bad day"... I would think "you don't know what that means!"... "I know Hardship, I know pain" And I measured that pain against the trivial complaints of others. Measuring my pain against my own depleting strength "what if I'm not cut out for this"... "what if I'm not strong enough"... when is enough, enough... And who decides that anyway? I just kept asking myself, "why me?", and "Why am I going through this?". That moment when enough is enough, hit me when I was at the laundromat one day. I thought I can't keep asking myself why again and again. Frankly, if I knew that answer it wouldn't change anything about life. At that moment I had a single thought that changed everything, and asked myself for the first time, "who do I want to be in this?"
That change in perspective was not enough to get me across that bridge of acceptance. Acceptance of that capacity is a matter of time. A matter of learning to love yourself when you aren't the person you wanted to be. After all, I was an outdoor girl who loves hiking mountains, and now I was the girl with MS. The truth is, the person I couldn't love, was not the me who couldn't hike anymore, but the me who couldn't try. So I made a decision. I made a decision to try.
I enrolled in physical therapy which was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done. 2 sessions per week, week after week, each one leaving me in immense pain, with no improvement. Each session my therapist would say, it takes time for your brain to rewire itself... but seriously how much time?.... on the 12th session, it happened, I could move my ankle again! I started gaining some ground, I got stronger, and even started hiking, but cautiously of course.
With MS there are inevitable setbacks that will arise. And when it comes to getting stronger, the real strength has been that I have kept trying. Because you never know what you might gain in the process.
Summer of 2017, I completed a personal goal backpacking trip, from Elk Summit in Idaho to Blodgett Canyon in Hamilton, 28 miles in three days, which is the biggest hike I had ever done. When I reached the footbridge 3 miles short of the end, the footbridge I used to hike 3 miles into from the other side, I finally accepted it, I am a girl with MS, and I'm a girl who backpacked 25 miles through the wilderness to cross that bridge! Hardship is inevitable, but you owe it to yourself to try because you will never know how strong you really are until you have. Try, try, try again.