Go for It – A New Outlook for Embracing Life After a Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Once I make up my mind to do something, I do it with everything I have in me. That’s the kind of person I am, and that’s the attitude that helped me build a 30-year career in the retail fashion industry. And it’s the same attitude that allows me to get through each day while living with relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS).
I was 14 when I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was on the “teen board” of a store in Miami and the fashion coordinator said she wanted to be a “buyer.” As a curious teenager, I asked the woman what it meant to be a buyer, and she explained to me that it was someone who bought the clothes that were sold in stores. After talking with her, I knew instantly that it was exactly what I wanted to be. So I focused my whole life on that dream. I went to school where I majored in fashion merchandising and several years later, I became a buyer. I moved all over the country throughout my career to work in several stores, from Kansas to Georgia to Michigan, and I was so proud of the life I had built for myself.
When I was 50 years old, after just moving back to Florida, I started feeling like something wasn’t quite right. I kept having these feelings like I was going to fall over. Feeling confused and overwhelmed, I met with a doctor who suggested I should walk more. I tried incorporating walking into my daily routine, but I kept losing my balance and falling down on the streets of my neighborhood. I decided to see another doctor who suggested I get an MRI. He later called me with the results. “Caroline, you have relapsing MS. And you’ve probably had it for 30-some years.”
How could I have possibly missed that? How could I possibly not have known something like that for 30 years of my life?
My doctor began to tell me more about the diagnosis and the symptoms associated with relapsing MS. He told me that the human body is incredible – it learns to work around challenges to keep functioning. He must have been right, because I had never noticed any symptoms up until that moment in time.
But after I was diagnosed, my symptoms became more apparent. Amidst the new sensations and feelings, I could only think of one way for me to handle the diagnosis. I went back to the outlook that had guided me my whole life: just go for it. I had to figure out what I really wanted and try to think only positive thoughts. My life didn’t have to be ruined because of relapsing MS. Just like I went after my dream to become a fashion buyer, I concentrated on what I needed to do to become as healthy and active as possible. Then, I would be able to use my outlook and truly “go for it!”
Because my job involved frequent travel and I couldn’t keep up with the injections in a hotel room by myself, I quickly realized the first medication I was prescribed wasn’t going to work for me. I made the move and switched to a treatment which worked so much better with my lifestyle. Click here to learn about the option that worked for me.
Shortly after, I realized it was time for me to retire. Although it was devastating, I had to do it for two reasons. The first was what I call “cog fog” — cognitive difficulties that made it tough to remember everything I saw, bought, and needed to accomplish for my handbag buying business.
The second reason was that walking on the streets of New York, which I did several times each year, was becoming more and more unsafe. During my final trip to New York, there was a huge, icy, snow storm, and to travel safely from building to building, I would rely on using a cab. I’ll never forget getting out of a cab at one point and thinking, “I’m never going to be able to do this!” Once, I actually reached my hand out to a person on the street so he could help me get out. Who knew New Yorkers could be so great! However, having so much trouble keeping my balance gave me a new perspective on what would make the most sense for my body.
Of course, it was heartbreaking to retire, but I knew I had to keep going and find new goals. My life had not stopped. My new focus became listening and learning and I would often search the Internet to read everything I could about relapsing MS. I’m still researching and reading today and I stay updated about all the diets, foods, and latest advances in relapsing MS treatments and medicines.
I’m also very diligent about eating right, and my doctor has even remarked on how my cholesterol has gone down. I’ve picked up a few fun hobbies, too! Politics fascinate me, so I volunteered and got involved during the last presidential election. I’ve also started to exercise more, and I really enjoy going to the YMCA and taking senior strength classes. I even suggested they start a chair yoga class, for people like me who can do the moves sitting down — and they did!
No, life with relapsing MS isn’t necessarily easy or happy all the time, and when I realized I could no longer work in the job I loved, I felt defeated. But instead of thinking that the world was coming to an end, I told myself I would get through it. I just put my focus into making my life with relapsing MS the best it can possibly be.
My advice to anyone with relapsing MS is “embrace every day with good thoughts.” Create your own experience and outlook that allows you to “go for it!”
This post was authored in conjunction with Novartis and its agents. Caroline F. was not compensated for her contribution.