Obviously, in the few weeks and months after my diagnosis I felt overwhelmed, lost, and confused. You can read more about my diagnosis here. I did not understand how the disease might affect me and how it would make me feel.
As a normally positive person, I tried to convince myself that I was okay and I told others that I wasn’t worried about the disease. However, internally I was seriously struggling. I had little desire to be social with my friends and I was constantly tired. I brushed these things off as effects of the cold weather. The truth was I was grieving. Grieving over the loss of stability, over the lack of control of my body, and over the idea that I had a disability. In fact, one in two people with MS will struggle with depression throughout their lives.
When you’re in your mid-twenties, you think of yourself as young and healthy. A major medical diagnosis turns that view on its head. I had to face the fact that I would have to handle the unpredictability of this disease. One day I may be able to hike for 10 miles and the next my body might attack itself, limiting my ability to move or function normally. I pushed all these thoughts out of my head and convinced myself that I was fine, despite the fact that I couldn’t find the energy to do simple tasks like grocery shop and would only eat Sour Patch Kids for dinner.
One in two people with MS will struggle with depression throughout their lives.
At the same time, I was really struggling at work. It was my first year teaching and I felt like things were out of control in my classroom. It didn’t help to get feedback from Vice Principals like “Your voice hurts my ears” or “I’m not sure you are a good teacher.” Ouch. This exacerbated my negative feelings and my lack of confidence in myself. My health was failing, my work was failing, and I was failing as a person.
Looking back at this time, I wish I had seen a mental health professional. There was so much going on in my head and I was not processing it in a productive or healthy manner. I also didn’t have the time to process it. I was getting to work at 7 am, leaving at 5:30 pm, and working until I went to bed. I felt as if I were drowning in work and problems that I couldn’t solve.
Things slowly started to turn around after a couple months. I asked to switch roles at work hoping that my stress would start to dissipate and I could focus on my health. I started seeing a doctor that focused on patients with MS and I started taking the drug Tysabri. I took a trip to the lake with my family and close friends. They held a surprise party for me called “Hallo-lita” where they tried to lift my spirits. I felt like I finally had a hold on my life and my current situation. Yet, I still hadn’t taken the time to process it all.
A couple weeks after I left my classroom and had returned from my trip, I spent the night alone in my apartment. It’s often scary to spend time alone, because those are the times where you may start to actually think about your emotions or things you’ve been putting off. I was in my room when it all came crashing down. I had been pushing through for so long without giving myself the space to grieve. I thought about the disease and all of my questions, “Why me? Will I lose the ability to walk? Will I die young?” I started to sob. I had not cried since the weekend that I was diagnosed, but in that moment I let the tears pour down my face. I spent the next few hours focusing on this pain that I felt. I finally gave myself the time and space to think and grieve.
Now I won’t say that I was magically better after that night. Obviously, there are times I still get upset about my diagnosis, but I think after that night I started to turn a corner. I remember a week or so later I took a trip to Savannah, Georgia with my parents and boyfriend. We were downtown, the sun was shining, we had drinks in our hands, I was smiling, and I thought to myself that I finally felt like myself again. We all will face hard times in our lives and there is no correct way to process these moments, but looking back I wish I had taken more time for myself to thoroughly think about the diagnosis. There are still so many questions I have and things I do not know, but I’m looking at the future with optimistic eyes.
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