MS…multiple sclerosis. Sclerosis is the medical term for hardening of the tissue in the nervous system. Ultimately the body replaces this with scars. So, multiple sclerosis is multiple scars on the central nervous system (either brain or spinal cord). Why does the body do this? Excellent question! I don’t think anybody has a clear cut answer. My brother-in-law, a physician, once told me that there is as much gray area in the understanding of MS as there is in the whole of medicine! What they do know is that the body’s immune system attacks the myelin tissue around the nerves. As I am sure most already know, your immune system is what helps you get over being sick. In the case of MS, it’s almost like the immune system gets turned on and never shuts off. When this myelin is destroyed the nerve becomes raw and signals traveling from one nerve to the next move at a slower pace. (Note: this is my interpretation of what I have come to understand about MS)
So…I was diagnosed in October 2003. The right side of my face had gone numb and I couldn’t walk straight. Within 24 hours of the numbness I began suffering terrible vertigo and couldn’t turn my head from side to side without feeling like I was going to throw up all over the place. My fine motor skills took a leave of absence & my handwriting looked like that of my 7 year old. Try to sign yourself into the doctors office when you can barely form the letters with a pen! It took a full month for the numbness in my face to go away…I can’t begin to tell you how many times I bit the right side of my tongue! Through a series of tests (cat scan, MRI & spinal tap) I was “officially” diagnosed.
There are many ways to handle being diagnosed with a disease. Freak out. Cry. Ignore it. Do nothing. Truthfully, aside from committing a felony, I don’t think there is a wrong way to handle it. It’s scary & somehow you’ve got to wrap your brain around it. For the first 7 and a half years I compartmentalized MS. I had it. Didn’t mind talking about it. Took my my daily shot. Saw my neuro annually. Although I noticed degradation in my balance & endurance, I was bound and determined that MS would be nothing more than a topic for cocktail hour. But, as MS is a degenerative disease, this couldn’t last.
It takes a fairly hefty dose of pride to never admit or allow your frailties to show. It’s one thing to talk about it…it’s a wholly different matter to physically live it. I have had recent moments where I have been unable to do what everyone else is doing. Moments where it is obvious that I have a physical disability. For example, playing a silly game with some friends…we had to toss marshmallows into a bucket ( it was a Christmas party)… I think I got maybe 10 into the bucket while my friends managed to get close to 40. (MS does a real number on eye-hand coordination.) Or more recently, I went skiing with family. My right side is weak and makes it difficult to lift up that right ski to turn right. And let’s face it, you can only go left so many times down the mountain before you gotta turn right!
These moments left me feeling so embarrassed and humiliated & the need to explain why I couldn’t “live up” to the expectation. Who’s expectation? I think mine. I’ve spent so much of my life wanting to be seen as “together.” Smart. Coordinated. MS has really gotten up into my grill and made life difficult. Let me rephrase…God didn’t stop me from getting MS. He could’ve. Instead He allowed it. He got up into my grill and allowed the MS to make my way of life impossible. I’ve been forced to learn a new way of life. Sometimes I think the way I used to live was death. It’s extremely exhausting to always be on your A-game and appear to the outside world that you are able to handle all that life brings. That you can manage the kids, the job, the marriage, the home, finances, and the occasional life crisis. Which, as we all know, only shows up when it is convenient. See what I mean? That way of life is not life, more like hell.
A good friend of mine’s husband is a pastor. He did a series on debunking popular Christian myths. One of his sermons was on the scripture that says God will never give you more than you can handle. His sermon point…God will give you more than you can handle, but never more than He can handle. I remember the day I received the call that my MRIs showed I had MS. That was more than I could handle. Today, it is still more than I can handle. Quite simply, it’s because I’m not supposed to handle it on my own. The truth behind that scripture is that God will give you more than you can handle, because He wants relationship with you. He wants you to let Him handle it. When we finally stop obsessing with our expectations of how we should outwardly appear, our brokenness allows Him to rescue us and finally we can be whole. Alive.
This blog post is ridiculously long! I promise not to be so longwinded in my next posting. It’s just that the Lord has taught me so much through this disease. Through this, I see grace in so many more areas and it has caused me to slow down. My marriage, my son, my home…Blessings are in everything…even the tough things…especially the tough things. Life abundant…that is what MS has become to me.