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Learning to Live in the Present Since My Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

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As a resident of Mill Valley, a city four miles north of San Francisco, I’m relieved to hear that the fires that raged in Sonoma County over the past three weeks are largely contained. Since planned blackouts kept many Californians without power for days, I’m grateful that all evacuation orders that were issued have been lifted.

Since I am a disabled person with multiple sclerosis, it is difficult enough struggling to accomplish my daily routine when the lights are on.  Imagine, then, how treacherous it became when PG&E turned my lights off. What had been difficult for me became nearly impossible!

While I recognize the life I lived before I had MS isn’t the same or as challenging as the life I’m living now, I reminisce about the past, and feel waves of nostalgia about the way things used to be. While years from now I may be wishing that my life had stayed the same as it was before my illness, I certainly recognize that the past has passed, which necessitates living life in the present.

Living life in the present has taught me that people do get sick, and people do get injured. And that some illnesses and injuries heal, and others do not. And we all must recognize that while the past is already written, the future is as yet untold.

In her New York Times #1 bestselling book “Just Ask!” published in August 2019, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a picture book for children about the differences that make each of us unique. The book reflects her own childhood experience of being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was only 7 years old.

Justice Sotomayor writes, “The challenges some kids face can be very hard and sometimes frustrating. Some of us have conditions that require medicines or tools to manage things that other kids never have to deal with. Some of our difficulties are not even visible to others, and they make us feel different, and we may do things that others don’t understand.  Yet all of these challenges often give us strength that others can’t imagine.”

She hopes children who see themselves or their friends in the book’s story will understand we’re all different, and that they will find that notion comforting and empowering. “Instead of fearing our differences or ignoring them, we can shed light on them and explore them together.  If you ever wonder why someone is doing something different from other kids, Just Ask.”

Similarly, I have learned that although living life with multiple sclerosis is very difficult, perseverance is a key to success.

Helping me to maintain a positive attitude about the future, I recall the life and words of Stephen Hawking, one of the most inspiring intellectuals of our time. Professor Hawking, regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein, is remembered as a brave man who lived with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for over 50 years prior to his recent death. In a rare light-hearted speech, he told students to “look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” and stressed the importance of persevering in the face of adversity.  Sharing his message to students about dealing with hardship, he said, optimistically, “However bad life may seem, there’s always something you can do and succeed at. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

Getty image by Farknot Architect.

Originally published: December 4, 2019
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