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What Baking Means to Me as a Person With Multiple Sclerosis

I have a secret to share.

It only happened a few times when I was about 11 years old. I was home alone on a Saturday afternoon. Idle minds sometime cause children to get into trouble, and I was no different. So there I was, at home and all alone — and I was … baking.

Yes, that’s right, baking.

I’d fumble through one of my mom’s cookbooks and find an easy recipe that called for the least amount of ingredients — usually cookies of some kind — and I’d give it a shot. 

It wasn’t about rebellion. 

My parents had the standard rules, “If you leave, lock the door,” “No friends over while we are out,” and “Do your homework,” but it probably never occurred for them to mention, “And Michael, remember, no baking!” 

I just enjoyed creating something of my own! Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing, so the results were pretty terrible. I’m guessing most unsupervised 11-year-olds would have about the same fate.

Without much success, whatever short-lived baking phase I went through eventually passed and was buried under school work, friends and sports.

Let Them Eat Cake

About a year after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was feeling pretty down about my health.

New exacerbations were common; in fact, most days I woke up afraid to stand up because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to. And sometimes, I couldn’t. There were many instances of my legs just giving out from under me. 

I’d try to play it off, hoping the children wouldn’t notice and reassuring my wife that I was OK. I was also struggling with potentially permanent changes to my vision, so it wasn’t the happiest of times, and I needed a change — something else besides thinking and worrying about my life with MS. 

So one day, I decided to bake a cake. Not just any cake but one of my favorites — German chocolate. 

It wasn’t about burying my worries in food; rather, I was searching for peace in an uncertain world. One cup of this, one teaspoon of that and bake at this temperature for that length of time. 

In a world of “not sure why you have MS or what tomorrow will bring,” following a precise recipe was a welcome change. My health and future had become the great unknown, so I craved a sense of order and resolution. 

It was time to replace the odor of doctor’s offices visits with the inviting aroma of a freshly baked cake. So after a little research, I found a recipe online, picked up a few things at the grocery store and to the kitchen I went.

I’m pleased to say the cake was a success. That’s the good news. The great news is the moment I started baking, it was like I was being reborn. Outside of those few clandestine baking expeditions when I was younger, this was a largely unexplored part of who I was, and it had remained nearly untouched for over two decades. 

Think about that. Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I bet most people go through life missing out on or never fulfilling dreams, passions and hobbies just because, well, regular life gets in the way.

What started as German chocolate cake carried on to homemade Twinkies, apple pie, Boston cream pie, carrot cake, cookies, fudge, cupcakes, brownies and personalized birthday cakes for my wife and kiddos. 

My children are willing and eager baking assistants; creating special moments and memories that I’m blessed to share with them. 

A New Me

Most symptoms of MS are well documented, but there is a large emotional impact that often gets lost in the medical literature. 

Guilt for not being the husband and father I always hoped to be, my career coming to a premature end — those are some heavy issues that weigh on me as I live life with MS.

I write to help bring awareness and understanding to multiple sclerosis. It is a very hard disease to understand, for those that have it and even for those that treat it. 

But to highlight only the darkness wouldn’t give an accurate representation of my life. MS may take many things, but it can’t take my spirit and zest for life.

Although MS has torn down so much, it has also left in its ruin a second chance to become a new me. I would have never started baking if it wasn’t for MS and the intrinsic rewards it has provided reach far and wide:  a new avenue to foster creativity, bond with my children and the chance to shower family, friends or my wife’s co-workers with baked goodies.

We’ve made our kitchen MS-accessible, bringing in stools while I bake to eliminate most of the standing required. I have a drawer and cabinet dedicated to only baking, so I don’t have to spend energy pacing the kitchen for tools or standard ingredients. 

We make sure to schedule rest before and after I bake because even a small amount of time spent in the kitchen can drain my energy. 

We all live day to day not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Having a chronic disease like MS highlights this paradigm; it’s an alarm clock that won’t go off. Some might view the constant beeping as a warning sign of potential trouble ahead. 

I can’t and I refuse to see it that way — my “MS alarm clock” is a reminder that every new day is a gift, a chance to be a new you. And sometimes that new road leads you right back to where you started.

Follow this journey on A Life Less Traveled.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images