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How I Found My Courage Again After Multiple Sclerosis Took It From Me

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.

Those lines by William W. Purkey, a professor, author and motivational speaker, have been emblazoned on countless greeting cards and posters (and spread across half of Pinterest, often awash in glitter).

You likely know the lines, especially the first. But what do they mean, really? Is Purkey encouraging us only to care about ourselves and our selfish needs? Some people might think so, but that’s not what I get from this simple saying.

Other people think it’s naĂŻve to the point of foolishness, especially the thought of loving like you’ll never be hurt. I can understand how some might perceive his advice as unreasonable and impractical. I tend to think, however, that the remark is about courage. It takes courage to dance, to love, to sing, and to live life openly and without fear, especially when there’s so much out there in the world of which to be afraid.

When I was a little girl growing up in a middle-of-nowhere town in Arkansas, one of my favorite pastimes was dragging a giant silver boombox from my room and out to the driveway, popping in a cassette tape and bustin’ a move in front of everyone who lived on or drove down our street. Don’t ask me why I thought this was a good idea. Maybe I watched way too much Jem and the Holograms and was too “truly outrageous” for my own good.

The Pointer Sisters, Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis and the News, Kenny Loggins, Irene Cara and the Doobie Brothers were all personal favorites. And I could shake it to everything from “I’m So Excited” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” to “Danger Zone” and “Heart of Rock & Roll” for hours on end without thinking about who might be watching. I was in love with the rhythm of each song and the joyous feeling of being in control of my own growing body.

The driveway was my dance floor, and when I was on it, I was a star.

I didn’t realize it at the time because I was having too much fun to think critically, but all that groovin’ took quite a bit of chutzpah. That’s the kind of courage Purkey is talking about — a kind of throw-caution-to-the-wind vivacity that makes life more enjoyable. He doesn’t say, “Only dance when no one’s watching,” but to do so “like” no one is.

Multiple sclerosis took that courage from me for a great many years. My body wasn’t a cause for joy anymore but a source of pain and worry. Because of the disease that I knew lurked within me, I felt trapped in a prison made from my own skin and bones. I was afraid to be stressed and to commit to activities. I was too afraid to even take a hot bath lest I trigger an exacerbation. In those years, I was living half a life at best — a gray and lackluster version of what I believe God offers us here and now. Thankfully, those days are done, and I’m back to a fully Technicolor existence.

Here’s the thing about courage: It doesn’t take much to get it back. It only requires a willingness to try, to risk a little hurt, to step out and let life surprise you. No, things won’t always work out the way you want or expect, but to my mind, it’s far preferable to get out there and take a crack at living instead of avoiding life altogether. It might not be heaven on earth, but at least it’s one step closer.

A version of the post was originally published at Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

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