The MS Grenade

Everyone has their own 30-second story.

It’s not a detailed autobiography, just high-level talking points that capture who you are and what you do.

This isn’t just an adult thing; you may not realize it, but you’ve been doing it since you learned to talk. 

The Early Years:  When you are just a toddler and meet someone new, within seconds, you’re discussing how old you are.  Age is the defining characteristic of a child’s life – sometimes a question about having a pet, siblings or how many times the Tooth Fairy has visited might be included - but the focus revolves around your number – 3, 6, or even 9 years old.

The Teenage/School Years:  Your 30-second package includes the high school you attend, sports played or other clubs you are a part of.  In college, an opening dialogue highlights what you are “majoring” in or where you grew up.

Young Adult:  New acquaintances are usually christened with initial conversations about where you currently work, your alma mater and whether you like your job or the city you live in…or perhaps future plans to move or change careers.

Adult:  Fast forward quite a few years, maybe you’re married and have kids.  Neighborhood get-togethers, school functions, birthday parties and other social gatherings all include the reciting of your own 30-second promo.  At some events, it may happen several times.

And it doesn’t only happen at planned social gatherings.  It might occur with the stranger sitting next to you on the plane or while out for a walk with your family in your neighborhood and happen to meet the new neighbors who live down the street. 

Common themes include whether you have kids, how many, their ages, where they go to school, the part of town you live in and what you do for a living.

I used to think nothing of these innocuous introductions.  That is, until I was diagnosed with MS.
Multiple sclerosis is not conducive to the sound bite world we currently live in and I struggle to find a concise way to incorporate it into my 30-second snapshot.

Although living with MS requires more than a bullet point summary, this isn’t just about me.  The individuals I’m conversing with deserve more, too. 

Most people are unfamiliar with MS so it’s a pretty heavy subject to mix into what is supposed to be a light and airy conversation.

But the question invariably comes, “So…what do you do?”

It wasn’t a natural transition but slowly I’ve adjusted to saying that I’m a writer.  Talk about a conversation starter! 

When I still worked and said “Director of Home Equity Product Management,” no faces lit up or eyes twinkled with curiosity.

But, before I can even finish saying “writer” they eagerly probe, “Really, what do you write about?”

And that is where my 30-second promo comes crashing down.  From the Shakespearian mountaintops to cold reality with an awkward conversation killer, “I write about living with multiple sclerosis.”

Cue the “Womp Womp.”

I go from being the J.D. Salinger next door, to just a guy with a disease that is hard to pronounce.

I wonder, is there another way?

A large majority of the MS symptoms I face are of the invisible variety so, for the most part, I look healthy.  And, as with most men in my age range, the assumption is that I work.

Although I don’t consider writing about MS to be a job, it is a big part of who I am.  So, could I have an honest 30-second spot without it?

I want to prove my resilience to this disease while underscoring that it can strike anyone, at any age.  I wear my smile in spite of MS and I’m proud of who I am and the new path that my life taken.   But it’s hard not to feel guilty for throwing my MS grenade out there.

Sometimes, I wish I could return to the days of proudly declaring I was 7, and that I had just lost my 4th tooth.  It’s a simple and true summary, evidenced that within seconds, children return to playing tag or hide-and-seek with nary a second thought of what they just discussed.

I want to bring rays of sunshine into this world instead of being a Debbie Downer…and although I’m at peace with having MS, that’s a hard bridge to sell during a 30-second introduction.

But it won’t stop me from trying.
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Michael

Michael Wentink, Blogger

In 2008, Michael Wentink was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 31, he was a new father, a recent MBA graduate and a Director at a Fortune 500 company. MS altered this path and after an early retirement, Michael is now navigating life on a road less traveled. A native of Northern Virginia, Michael currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two young children. Read about his journey with multiple sclerosis at mjwentink.com and follow him on Twitter.