We often use the phrase “self-conscious” to describe someone who’s very aware of what other people think. A teenager in her first high heels, for example. She’s walking awkwardly, heels clacking, and looking around to see who’s noticing, thinking of what her friends (or that boy) might think, or wondering who sees her as she walks down the hall. She’s self-conscious, right? (I know, because I was her.)
Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in December, I’ve become self-conscious in a much more literal way. At all times, day and night, I’m acutely, almost excruciatingly, aware of my own body. I’m overly conscious of myself.
Incredibly, it's been three months since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Time flies when you're busy and confused. These months have been a whirlwind of appointments and reading and exploration. I would not presume to give advice to the readers of this blog who have years of MS under their belts. But I would like to share my perspective about the bad and the good of being newly diagnosed, beyond just the physical symptoms.The bad: I have no idea what's going on.I'm a person who prefers specifics. I like plans. I like goals. I once ran a marathon largely because I printed out a schedule and refused to deviate from it for five months. Since my diagnosis, I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with the fact that not everything is black and white. In January and February, I visited three different MS specialists, and each gave me a different diagnosis (relapsing remitting, primary progressive, and finally progressive relapsing). Each doctor – well-meaning and concerned – was absolutely sure about his or her findings and each gave me a completely different sense of what the coming years may have in store. Maybe I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. Or maybe I’m just looking out at some rolling hills. If anything has become clear to me, it's that nothing is clear. To be told, "You have MS," doesn't actually tell you very much. Each of us will have a unique experience, and our experiences will evolve and unfold at a pace largely outside of our control. For a planner like me, that's very, very frustrating. The good: I know exactly what I need to know.I have a six year old, a full-time job, friends whom I never have time to see, and a family that lives too far away. Like many of you, I consider it a good day if I can return even half of the messages on my list. Life doesn’t leave a lot of time for considering the big picture.But learning that I have MS has crystalized one thing for me. As hokey as it sounds, the things that matter are the people I love. If everything else is stripped away (and it might be!), those relationships will still be the things that matter. That’s not to say that I’ve given up on more trivial matters. I still care about whether my skinny jeans fit and where I’ll go on vacation this summer. But I have a clarity about my priorities now that I may never have gained without a big kick in the pants. MS is nothing if not a big kick in the pants.I've chosen to be very public (obviously) about my diagnosis. In the past three months, I've heard from many, many friends – and some strangers – with messages of love and support. And however difficult the reason for them, I won't overlook what a gift those messages have been for me. I’m lucky despite it all, and I’m grateful. I hope you all have days that remind you of that as well.
I was in my 20s the first time I tripped while I was jogging. I skinned my knee and my hands. I didn't think much of it. It was dark and I was running in an older neighborhood in Washington, D.C., with lots of cracked sidewalks and tree roots. It could happen to anyone. Right?
Over the next 15 years, there were many more falls. Sometimes while I was running, sometimes walking. Sometimes in very famous places (good morning, Grand Central Station!), sometimes on anonymous sidewalks in quiet towns. I never had any trouble making excuses for my tumbles – clumsiness, ice or too-high heels. I told my stories for sport at cocktail parties, laughing them off and inviting friends to join me in that laughter.