10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Having Multiple Sclerosis

Dear Multiple Sclerosis,

You, my frenemy, suck. You’re a selfish, sneaky, hag that seemed to creep in in the middle of the night and steal so many things I hadn’t even realized yet were dear to me. You’re like the Grinch pilfering children’s Christmas gifts. You plucked my dreams and goals, tossing them away while you made your escape. For a period of time, this crushed me. My soul, my confidence and my drive had all been shattered. I was lost, scared and completely unsure of what to do to get myself back to “good.”

You had an arch enemy though, and he had within himself your kryptonite. My beautiful little boy, his unshakeable spirit, the hope that shone through his innocence began to combat your negativity. When I would wake to his smile and hugs, I knew without question, I was stronger than you. And he, well, without even knowing it, he was stronger than me. As my gait got better, my fine and gross motor skills came back more easily, and my word recall did too. You no longer had a firm grip on me.

I call you my frenemy because, in hindsight, there are lessons I wouldn’t have learned without you entering my life. I mean, shit, I’d like to think there were better ways to learn these things, but if you were the only teaching candidate, then thanks for taking the job.

Some people age without ever learning what’s truly important in life. Some die before they have the chance to be truly happy. You prevented me from meeting that fate. You opened my eyes to certain truth:.

1. Being efficient and particular are great qualities at work. But don’t bring those things home with you; your children and your family deserve the ability to not fit a mold, to not have their own creative breath stifled.

2. Structure is good; it has so many positive effects on us. But winging it and breaking the barriers is where the best memories are formed. Having breakfast for dinner, running outside in your pajamas to dance in the rain with your kids, sleeping in a living room fort for three consecutive nights — these are the things you and they will remember when they reflect on your time together.

3. Talking is amazing; communication is key in the health of any relationship. Listening is the cement that seals the cracks of your foundation when it begins to break. Open your ears and close your mouth.

4. Ask questions, use your imagination. Let your children lead you. Play! Too often we “need to” do dishes, laundry, sweeping first. Unless it’s putting out a fire, it doesn’t need to be done first. Your kids need you first. Always.

5. Tell your kids how much you love them. Stop moving, sit down with them, read, cuddle, kiss their forehead. And then tell them what they mean to you. Take no moment for granted; it truly may not come again.

6. Pray. Pray to whoever. If it makes you feel better, pray and give thanks. It forces you to find the beauty, to acknowledge the good and set aside the bad, even momentarily.

7. Count your blessings, not because you’re luckier than myself or that guy in a wheelchair, that woman missing her arms, those people with cognitive impairments (you’re not) but because all of those blessings are privileges not rights. They’re not guaranteed; they could be taken at any moment.

8. Spend a little time acting like a hippie on acid having a really great trip (just don’t actually do the acid). Meaning, enjoy your senses, the feelings you have when you touch someone’s cheek, kiss your partner, hug a family member, hold your child close and smell their sweet little head. Commit these things to memory. When you need them, they will carry you so much further than you ever could imagine.

9. Smile. Be accepting. Don’t judge. Don’t put up with anything that makes you uncomfortable or causes negative feelings. Recognize those who are meant to be permanent in your life and those who aren’t; be grateful for them regardless. Express your feelings. Let no one walk away not knowing you love them. Advocate. Hug people even when it makes you uncomfortable… especially when it makes you uncomfortable. Stop being greedy, realize how good you have it. Find ways to bring yourself peace; you’re the only one who can do this, no one else can, and no one can fault you for living peacefully.

10. Love. Love with your whole heart.

MS, you’ve taken, but in the absence of the things you stole, more important and even better things were able to shine through. New dreams and goals, a happier existence were all born. So my frenemy, I might hate your guts for showing your rather ugly head, but thank you. For everything.

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