Bounce Back

“Lauren, once it’s gone, we’re not at a place medically where we can get it back.”
 
The “it” was the functioning of my right hand. The ability to feel the grip of the violin bow; the ability to control the micro movements needed to make the bow dance across the strings; even the ability to simply pick up a pencil from the stand without accidentally launching it across the symphony.
 
It was 2010, and I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years prior. I was one of the lucky ones, and my disease had been relatively stable and manageable up until then. But that luck was changing. The lesions in the MRIs were adding up faster than I could count, and the functioning of my right hand was deteriorating.
 
“I think it’s time we try one of the stronger medications,” my neurologist said. I was stunned.
 
“Am I really at that point?” I asked.
 
Up until then, the only people I knew on these newer and stronger medications had advanced physical disabilities from their MS. That wasn’t me at all. In my mind, I had a mild disease course and mostly invisible symptoms.

And the side effects? The seemingly best candidate for me was an immunosuppressant that could render me more susceptible to serious infection. I teach private violin lessons for 35 kids a week! Kids get sick and violin teaching is close-up and hands-on. Was it worth the risk? I honestly didn’t know.

But then there was that warning from my neurologist: “Lauren, once it’s gone, we're not at a place medically where we can get it back.”

So there it was. I had to choose between potentially life-threatening side effects and losing a career that I loved.

I think that each of us is made of up different aspects that form our identities. When faced with a situation that threatens one of these, we have to make a choice: do we fight to keep this identity as it is and accept that it may have to change and evolve, or do we decide that it is just time to move on and to let that one go?

In my case, the risk of infection was real, but not certain. What was certain was that I was quickly losing function in my hand and that meant the end of life as I knew it as a violinist, violist and teacher. That identity was ultimately more important to me than the illusion of being someone with a benign course of MS.
 
Seven years later I can happily say that it was the right choice for both my career and my MS. By prioritizing my values and options, I was able to keep the important aspects of my identity intact and forge a path forward. I also gained experience in making an honest assessment of my situation, a skill I again got to practice recently.
 
The past two years have brought a painful separation and divorce from a 10-year marriage, the inability to afford the mortgage to my home and in-home teaching studio on my own, a move back in with my parents for 9 months as a 34 year old, the loss of my beloved cat, and yet another necessary medication change. With so many changes threatening my identity, the process was more grueling this time around, but the concepts were the same.
 
Over time, I learned to let go of being a wife and homeowner. I aggressively saved and paid down debt while living with my parents, which allowed me to eventually find a new home for my studio. And somewhere in this process of redefining myself, I found a beloved new identity as a volunteer at a farm animal sanctuary.
 
Our identities naturally change over time. But sometimes life throws up roadblocks that force us to make difficult changes whether we’d like to or not. By being honest with what we can control and what is ultimately important to ourselves, we can come out stronger and more resilient individuals from it.
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Lauren

Lauren Hansen

Lauren was diagnosed with MS in 2005 and lives in Lansing, Michigan, where she is a professional violinist and violin teacher. She also has a master’s degree in public health and health education. In her free time, Lauren enjoys running as well as volunteering at a farm animal sanctuary.

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    9 Comments

  • Avatar
    Marcus  Apr 4, 2017 2:11 PM
    I can totally relate to your story! In 2010 I went from being a husband with twi sons and a house in Texas to being a divorcee living with my parents in San Diego.
  • Avatar
    evamarsh  Apr 4, 2017 2:36 PM
    Dear Lauren - For the past 50 years, I've been told again and again that I would not recover. BUT I found research proving movement speeds repair of myelin and have recovered from ALL symptoms. I also learned to play the violin with my girls! Last fall I did a walking tour of Shetland, and I do Tai Chi twice a week. Now 72 and still dancing!
  • Geraldine Ballas (TIVENAN)   Apr 4, 2017 3:22 PM
    I too have right hand that is not as normal as my left but yet functions pretty well overall. I exercise regularly my fingers (in/out motions) & that exercise has strengthened my hand & decreased the pain. Prayer helps too. ☺
  • Regina Quinn   Apr 4, 2017 5:42 PM
    That was an absolutely awesome post!
  • Pattiewagon   Apr 4, 2017 6:16 PM
    Thank you for sharing your life experience. It means a lot to me to hear someone talking about things that are hard to imagine, or cope with. I've only been diagnosed for a couple years maybe 3? I really don't know when the date was. You see. My memory is going. And I don't mean the run of the mill bad memory. Not that that isn't bad in itself. It is.
    To hear what happened to you after 6 most benign years is most terrifying. I'm so afraid of the that happening. I'm already at my brothers mobile home with his wife. My space is quite small. I need to abbey all rules that they have. Including all the cleaning and cooking most days. I myself never minded doing such work. As of lately I've been hurting through the arthritis and a over heating problem, I don't know where it comes from.
    I finally see a neurologist from a clinic next week. I hope he can help explain what I'm looking at. As in my future and present state.
    I really just want to say great job composing and getting the courage to face your circumstances.
    Sincerely
    Pattie
  • TJ   Apr 4, 2017 10:17 PM
    Thank you for sharing Lauren, yes the challenge is the identity changing, the brain & the mind, the thinking, the unpredictable nature of the change. Having just had a flare up, had plans that now have to out the window, not sure how we will get by, sometimes just reading someone else's story keeps you going a little longer.
  • suzettemm  Apr 8, 2017 9:18 PM
    I like your story. I was diagnosed in Oct. 2015 and was told I had it for at least 10 years. My legs are hurting and am walking funny. My right foot feels like it is turning in and I am having trouble lifting my foot off the ground. I am worried about the future. I am 59 already, so I am close to retiring, but I am worried how am I going to pay the things I need to pay without the income I have now. My doctor wants me to apply for disability but I say I am not ready yet. Scary.
  • Ronanfaintingstone@aol.com   Apr 12, 2017 4:12 PM
    Great article! Thank you!
  • Avatar
    cailinmcduff  Apr 23, 2017 12:52 PM
    Wow thank you so much for sharing your story! I was just diagnosed and have been trying to look at all of the gifts this experience has already given me. You are light and inspiration and such a reminder of all of the gifts that are available through this if you're willing to take a look :)