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.
9 Appreciate this
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.