In my last post, I made a case for folks with MS, particularly the so-called “newly diagnosed” as defined in aforementioned post, to become part of some kind of support group, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of others.
Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the newly diagnosed population. I’ve backed up and taken a more global look at those folks, many of whom are still shaking in their johnnies. The result of those musings grew into this “Open Letter to the Newly Diagnosed”. Make of it what you will.
So you got the bad news. You’ve been diagnosed with MS. It might have happened as long as a year ago, but the shock still feels as fresh as an open wound. You have my condolences and my empathy. I distinctly recall the phone call I got from my neurologist (yes, he did it over the phone) informing me of the reasons why my body seemed to be in overt rebellion against me for nearly twenty years.
I don’t know about you, but there was a weird war of emotions, with mourning and fear of the future edging out relief at finally having a name for all my symptoms.
Standing there, stunned, phone in hand, I saw two roads stretched out before me. One was a narrow road with a large sign that read, “Why me?” That road goes nowhere. At best, it simply loops around in circles, inevitably ending up in the slough of despond whence it started. At worst, your life will hit a dead end. (You’ll probably see Nancy Kerrigan there.)
Avoid that avenue like the graveyard it is.
The other route is, “What now?” It’s a wide open boulevard, with plenty of places to visit, stop, and consider options. The road might narrow in the future, but why limit your travels before you need to?
What I’m trying to say is: Don’t give up in the face of this diagnosis. First of all, between medical and therapeutic advances, chances are you’ll live a completely fulfilling life. Your life expectancy is essentially the same as everyone around you, but I’m guessing you’re more concerned about quality, rather than quantity of life. That’s as it should be… MS or no.
Everyone seems to have their own approach to dealing with MS. And we’ll all tell you about them eventually. (We’re like that.) No harm listening, but don’t believe everything you’re told, even if the source wears a white coat and has a medical degree. Among the many voices, you might find some things that work for you. My contribution to the cacophony is the PB&J treatment I described in this post. It doesn’t just help with MS, but with all of life, plus what follows. Speaking of which…
There’s another diagnosis you face: death. It’s fatal. 100%. No cure, no treatment. (Although the “J” part of PB&J promises a cure.) So are you going to give up in the face of that? I didn’t think so. Why then surrender to MS?
There are actually advantages to having MS. I laid out ten of them in an old post called “Blessed with MS?”. Admittedly, most of those things are tongue in cheek, but there are a few that do improve the quality not only of your life, but of the world around you. As the list notes, my diagnosis has resulted in these improvements: My compassion for others has multiplied, my life focus has sharpened, and my insight into others’ lives has been magnified. Here are a couple more:
My devotion to God has deepened immeasurably as the result of having MS. I’ve met an entirely new group of friends who I otherwise would never have come into contact with. I’m incredibly grateful for these courageous people and for the ways they have impacted my life. Many are in a support group with me (hint, hint).
A theme here is that, if your focus continues to be completely on yourself and your problems, you are likely to wallow and eventually drown in them. That would happen whether those woes were MS, bad relationships, employment issues, or just about anything else.
If, however, you can look outside yourself, vertically and horizontally, you might actually grow through those problems. As St. Paul told his friends in Rome (where he would eventually be beheaded for his faith; talk about problems!):
…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…
There’s no shame in hope, so I will hope. Among other things, I hope you come to a point of peace with your diagnosis, that you don’t let it define you but that you will allow it to change you and your world for the better.
Your friend and servant,
PS: In researching this piece, I came upon this page, which deals with a lot of the same issues. I don’t endorse everything there, but the valuable parts far outweigh the dreck.