There are five stages of grief and I went through all of them when I was diagnosed with MS in 2002: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and (finally) acceptance. I remember lying in bed in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, hooked up to the corticosteroid drip treating my flare-up, wishing MS was fatal so I wouldn’t have to suffer so long. The thought of carrying this heavy burden through everything I had hoped and planned to do was terrible. Eventually, with the help of some anti-depressants, I realized that my life is going to be long and I would have to find another way through to avoid being miserable.
In another phase I thought I could fix myself through nutrition, acupuncture, vitamins and herbal remedies. I tried everything because the doctors didn’t have much in their toolkit for me at the time and the pain was not responding to medicine. But even these things didn’t work. I had hoped they would be quick fixes, things done to me, while I remained passive and steadfast in my beliefs about how I was going to live my life.
I remained passive and steadfast in my beliefs about how I was going to live my life.
Andrew and I were living in New York at the time and were realizing that the hassle factor of living in the city was not helping me. Things like getting groceries and doing laundry were a hassle and I was struggling with not having enough energy. And we were getting married so it seemed like a good time to move back to Massachusetts. We bought a house, renovated it, moved and got married. And by the time we were through with that I was a wreck.
I was desperate the day I walked into this new-agey yoga studio. They advertised healing, and although I was skeptical, that was exactly what I needed. I started practicing regularly and for the first time I could actually feel my body before it was outright screaming at me for attention. I realized that I had been living as though I were just a head on a stick, internalizing all of my emotions until I finally got sick. Once that mind-body connection was made I started to trust my intuition and see how if I changed my mindset I could change the way my body felt as well. Instead of trying to fix my body to match my life, I started to fix my life to match my body. Finally I had achieved the last stage of grief: acceptance.
I was just a head on a stick.
One of the problems with having MS is that I don’t look sick, and for a long time I didn’t tell anyone that I had MS because I was afraid of how it would affect my career (denial). And since the dominant culture is work-work-work, more-more-more, fast-fast-fast, I didn’t think I had an excuse to slow down, at least not one I could tell people. When our daughter was born I used that as my excuse to cut back one day at work, even though she went to daycare 5 days a week. I had lost my time to rest on the weekends and I really needed it, but still I felt guilty.
On the 10 year anniversary of my diagnosis I announced to the world, via Facebook, that I had MS. It was such a relief! Finally I didn’t have to carry a secret in addition to the discomfort every day. Now I give MS (and our 2 kids) as a reason for cutting back on work and saying no to things. But what is it about me that I even feel like I need a legitimate reason to slow down? And why do I feel guilty? A psychologist once told me that guilt is overrated. In this case that is so true.
What are we missing as we race through life?
I don’t actually believe you need an excuse to slow down. It’s just in my case I am still struggling with whether this was a choice I made or a choice I was forced into. On a good day I am thankful to MS for teaching me very positive lessons that I may not have come to on my own. My life is proof that the fast pace can lead to sickness, both mental and physical, and I believe that many people will come to realize this the hard way over the course of their lives. Not only that, but what are we missing as we race through life?