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When I Was Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis on Black Friday

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Black Friday is approaching again. I await its return every year with an odd mixture of emotions.
When most people think of Black Friday, they think Christmas shopping, a bargain, capitalism run amok. To me, Black Friday has a totally different connotation. You see, on Black Friday 10 years ago, a doctor showed me an image of my brain. He told me I was sick.

I remember flashes of it, like a slideshow, but I don’t just see the images. I’m there. I’m in it. I feel the feelings all over again. I travel back in time.

I went to the hospital alone. I was attending an appointment to receive the results of my MRI. I had been sick. My hands and feet had gone numb. I was sleeping 12 hours a day and still couldn’t get out of bed. I lost some of my vision — the center of it looked like a shadow. If I touched my chin to my chest, I received what felt like an electric shock down my spine. But that was over now. All of those things slowly disappeared.

I felt much better. I was fine.

I remember the waiting room. The plastic chairs. The impatience I felt. There was a delay. I wanted to get on with my day. This appointment was just a formality. I was fine.

I remember being called in. I had seen this doctor before.

“Didn’t you have someone with you last time?” he asked. He looked uneasy.

“My husband had to work,” I replied. We had attended so many appointments. I was sure I was getting the all-clear, so I told him not to come.

I sensed something odd in the interaction. But it would be OK. I was fine.

I remember sitting in his office. There was a student doctor there to observe. Everything was white. Everything but the chairs. The chairs were yellow. I see flashes of the colors. The room was oddly bright.

He showed me a picture of my brain on his computer screen. He quickly traveled through the dimensions of my brain with the wheel of his mouse. It made me feel a little sick to see him simply scrolling through my grey matter.

He pointed out these little spots that weren’t really visible to the untrained eye. He called them “lesions.”

I felt sick. “Lesions” sounds pretty bad, especially when we were talking about my brain. But I still couldn’t process that there could be anything wrong. I was fine.

He spoke slowly. His tone was patient and soft, doing his best to cushion the coming blow. The student doctors observed as my life fell to pieces in an instant, as though it was a lecture. I was a learning experience for them.

Then he asked me if I knew anything about multiple sclerosis. My brain went into a spiral.

I said “No,” but I immediately started crying. I grasped for the only connection my brain could make. I remembered a classmate at university. She had MS. She used a wheelchair. This was serious.

I don’t remember any more of the appointment, apart from handing a form to the receptionist on my way out. I remember crying and hyperventilating on my way to the underground station. I remember crying on the train, unable to hold it in. I remember calling my friend on the walk home from the station.

I told her, sobbing, that I had MS. She asked me if I was going to die, and I realized I hadn’t even thought to ask if it was fatal. I was in such shock that no questions came to me. Or maybe I wasn’t ready to know the answer.
She looked it up for me while I held my breath. She found that it was unlikely to cause my demise directly. We joked through tears.

I remember waiting for my husband to get home with a sinking pit in my stomach. Guilt. I felt so much guilt. We had only been married for a few months. I was afraid I was ruining his life.

He arrived home, and I greeted him at the door. I was calm by this point, but he asked me what was wrong. I held my composure enough to get him to sit down. I sat in his lap. I told him I attended my appointment. He was immediately filled with tension. I could feel it radiating from him. “OK….” He said in a concerned way, almost like he wasn’t prepared for whatever could be coming next.

“I have MS.”

He gripped me tightly, a reflex of shock. “What?” He almost barked it, like he couldn’t make sense of what I’d said.

“I have MS,” I repeated as I fell apart, bursting into tears. He held me while visible shock and grief spread throughout his face. I remember this moment often. I used to look back with guilt, but now I do it with love. We were in this together.

I don’t remember much more. I know it felt like an ending, but it was really a new beginning for me.

A decade later, my life is filled with more joy and love than I ever could have imagined back then. I’m not an opera singer like I had planned to be back then. But I have a job I absolutely love, teaching children to sing and enjoy music. I have had some scary health times, but I have also learned how to use yoga and meditation alongside my meds to make the most of what I have. I have discovered my inner warrior. I am even the lead singer of the metal band Tales of Perdition. I could never have imagined any of this, or how fulfilling it would feel.

Don’t get me wrong, this life is hard. But as low as you can go is also as high as you can go. You need the lows to appreciate the highs. Ten years later, I am grateful for this life with all of its ups and all of its downs. It isn’t perfect, but whose is? It’s mine, and I’m going to make the most of it.

Getty image by TothGaborGyula.

Originally published: November 27, 2019
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