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How This Lesson From 20 Years Ago Relates to My MS Now

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Twenty years ago, I graduated college and my professional career began.

The pace of my new job was frantic and the first few years felt like a trial by fire.

College educations are great, but know what they aren’t? A true representation of an actual professional job in corporate America! That, I learned, you gotta figure out on your own. And, for me, the process was fun,
exciting…but, at times, excruciating.

I remember quite a few extremely late nights, just staring out the window of my office, with Washington, D.C. off in the distance and wondering just what the heck had I gotten myself into.

Most of my memories of that time period are blurred, at best, or just altogether forgotten.

I remember the thrill of a paycheck, happy hours after work and even my first “performance review.”

But remembering details of specific interactions or incidents with my co-workers and managers?

Not so much.

Except for one.

One interaction stands out…and it took place in an elevator.

I worked on the top floor of a tall 14-story building; our company rented out the two top floors. Another company occupied the other 12 floors.

Each morning I’d drive to work – through the incorrigible Northern Virginia traffic, do battle for a parking spot, and then head up the 14 stories to start the cycle all over again.

Often, the journey from ground level to the 14th floor would be interrupted by employees from the other company getting on and off the elevator.

Sometimes for only a few floors, or worse, just one at a time.

The elevator would slow down, then ding as it came to a stop, doors would open, a few people got on, elevator goes up a floor or two, slows, ding, and on it went.

Anytime I had to leave the office (for lunch, meetings at another building, going home) the travel up and down those 14 floors had to be built into my total commute time.

One day, I was in the elevator with my manager.

Elevator slowed…ding

I remember being stressed, I was already running late because of the day’s traffic and frustrated as an individual got on the elevator and traveled up only one floor. Right after they left the elevator and the door dinged shut, I looked over at my manager and in a snarky tone said, “Going up only one flight, can’t they just take the stairs?  Come on!”

My manager looked at me, nodded but what she said next was not in agreement:

“You don’t know what their situation is. People may look fine, that doesn’t mean they are.”

It was a simple statement. No condescension or indignation, she spoke with only compassion.

Her words stuck with me for nearly two decades and have become more prescient in my life with each passing day.

I live with a chronic disease that is beset with invisible symptoms. And I don’t know what will strike at any particular moment: shooting pains, spasms, tingling, vertigo, blurred vision, extreme fatigue, brain fog, issues
with gait, balance, the list goes on.

There is nothing about me that specifically says, “I have multiple sclerosis.”

To the naked eye, I look and sound like a regular guy. And healthy.

But behind my smile and laughter, the struggle is real.

If I stumble while walking in public, it’s not because I’m inebriated.

If I’m sitting while my wife stands, I’m not being rude or unchivalrous.

If I park in the handicap space, it’s not because I’m lazy.

If I appear aloof, that doesn’t mean I’m uninterested or uncaring.

If I’m just staring blankly in the grocery store aisle, it’s not because I’m trying to obstruct your path…I’ve seriously just forgotten why I am even standing there.

If you see me grimace, I’m not angry, I probably just had a sharp pain somewhere on my body.

If I go take a nap during the day, it’s not because I’m bored or didn’t get enough sleep last night.

If you see me with a cane, it’s not an injury, I just need help getting around that day.

If I’m wearing an eye patch, I’m not a pirate or trying to be silly; it actually aids my equilibrium when I get blurred vision in one of my eyes.

If I’m not at my children’s event or game, it’s not because I don’t care, had to work late, or just forgot.

If you see me randomly laughing, it’s probably at myself. Humor is my best tonic when my body just won’t do the things it is supposed to do.

And this isn’t specific to MS or just medical conditions. Every person you see has hundreds of untold stories each uniquely impacting their day. Your neighbor, coworker or even the person that just got off the elevator.


Getty Image by zoff-photo

Originally published: May 25, 2018
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