To be young is a gift. It is riddled with excitement, adventure, the miracle of life’s possibilities. You feel indestructible, even though everyone tells you that you shouldn’t. I am here to tell you that you should for as long as you can.
I was the healthiest teenager I knew. An on-again, off-again vegetarian, a competitive swimmer. My body was my own and I respected it enough to understand the importance of its care. What happened to me seemed to creep its way in overnight. I know that it didn’t, that I suffered longer than I had let on, but everything changed in the blink of an eye.
“We’d like to talk with you about Multiple Sclerosis.” That’s what they said. Those are the words that changed my life and that haunt me to my core. Multiple Sclerosis. The ferocious pair of words that send chills up my spine—at least to the parts that I can still feel.
I didn’t know how this had happened. I was young—I am young. I am healthy, I take care of myself. Upon my diagnosis I saw an overweight woman smoking a cigarette outside of the hospital and I cursed God for what had happened to me. I had been eating blueberries for the past 18 years! This type of thing does not happen to this type of person, I thought. I stand corrected.
Each year is hard. Each day is hard.
I would not ever make light of the daily journey of M.S. because that journey is grim. When you get sick, it’s pretty much just a stranger telling you that your life is about to fall apart. You’re going to lose everything. All that you know is going to change. What they don’t tell you is that you will stoop down to build yourself back up. You will find yourself again. You are going to be okay.
Being sick shows you the tangent uncertainty of life. It teaches you what to depend on and what is fleeting. It also teaches you about hope. Something I learned in the beginning is that life is worth living, despite all of its unknown phases. I wake up each day thankful to be alive, and also with the understanding that my life is valuable and that my enthusiasm for life is so present, even when my hands shake and I can’t feel the bottoms of my feet.
Having this disease has taught me that my body is not its own. When I want to stand, it has to be my legs that allow me to do so and it has to be on their terms. When I want to write, I must be patient with my fingers as I gladly wait for their nerves to come back to me. My body is its own and it is in fragments, it is weak, and it is reluctant. I mourn for my loss and I still grieve for my youth.
I am approaching my fifth year of illness—or at least being aware of my illness. To say that I am honored to be here, to be alive . . . to be living with Multiple Sclerosis, is an understatement. Sure, my life has changed and my dreams had to be rebuilt, but what I have learned from being chronically ill has been the single most important experience in my life thus far. Being sick has taught me balance.
It has forced me to grow up, to be wise, to be tough, and also to be more compassionate. It has made me appreciate all that I can do, while I can still do it. I aim to savor each second of every day, even when those days are hard.