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The '3 A's' of Getting Through the COVID-19 Pandemic While Living With a Chronic Illness

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Life can change in an instant.

Twelve years ago, a neurologist told me I had multiple sclerosis, a condition characterized by an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that gets directed against the central nervous system (CNS). Although it was a relief to finally have an answer to what had been causing odd health issues for years, I also felt scared, confused and worried.

I kept thinking, “This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m a husband, a new father, I’m juggling grad school and working full-time to support my family.”

Last week, life — again — changed in an instant, but this time not just for me, but for everyone.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — across the country, cities shut down. Schools, restaurants, libraries and museums closed. Grocery stores ran out of essentials, once busy city streets sat empty and most wondered whether it was even safe to leave the house. News reports about the coronavirus leave us scared, confused and worried.

Again, my first thought is, “This isn’t supposed to happen!”

Our active and very passionate children are not built for home confinement. They miss seeing their friends. Our son was loving his experience on the middle school track team and our daughter was winding down her final year of elementary school.

My wife and I are used to the freedom of going out whenever the need arose. Family walks, date nights, trying out new restaurants or just hugging a friend hello are now risky or not allowed.

The helplessness I feel reminds me of that day in 2008 when I was first diagnosed. I didn’t know the answer then and I certainly don’t know the answer now, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons on my life less traveled that I find applicable and helpful to the current situation.


Living with MS means learning to adapt to major changes in life.

At the age of 10, I became a paperboy and held a job ever since. It’s all I had known. But in 2010, work was causing my MS to flare up a lot. At first, I was stubborn and kept going and kept pushing and grinding but eventually realized I had to adapt. Just like that, my professional career came to an end.

I missed the professional connections, achievements and growth I felt at work, but life went on. I filled the void with writing, keep my mind active with puzzles or reading and now treat my health and wellness as my new career.


I also had to adjust.

I’m in a perpetual state of adjusting just to get by, whether it’s using an eye patch one day or a cane the next.

I never know what tomorrow will bring. Some days are worse than others, but I’ve learned to always be ready to make quick adjustments. I’ve also had to be open to other creative options like cryotherapy or acupuncture, in an attempt to maximize my quality of life.


And, most importantly, I learned to abide.

When I was first diagnosed, the doctor explained that I could go the next 20 years and not have any major flare-ups, or I could wake up tomorrow and need a wheelchair.

It’s chilling to hear what might happen someday. Over time, though, I view that conversation less as a stark warning and more as a powerful reminder to cherish each new day.

Thinking about what could happen is a very dark hole and does more harm than good. What I can do is own my MS and future health. I can keep a realistic view of my disease progression and not slip into any doomsday scenarios. I can’t be in a constant state of worry over what might happen tomorrow; rather, my focus is being the best I can be today. That’s what I can control.

I’ve had to make peace that MS is my new normal. Once I did, I began to recognize the silver linings and found a greater appreciation of life.

When it comes to the coronavirus, be cognizant of the risks. Make smart decisions. But don’t let it consume you.

There are silver linings. This experience has forced our worlds to pause. Take in the sunrise. Go through old pictures. Read that book, bake some cookies, re-connect with your family.

Don’t waste time with the what-ifs; rather, allow this bizarre moment in time to serve as a big, blinking life-altering sign about what really matters. This panic won’t last forever and when life does return to “normal,” focus on not taking the small pleasures in life for granted. Ever.

My goal each day is to be better than I was the day before and I see no reason for that to change now.




We’ve all learned by now that we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.

Life can truly change in an instant.

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles:

Jekaterina Sahmanova / Getty Images.
Originally published: March 27, 2020
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