Today I am writing about my identity. I am 5’9”, brunette, blue-eyes, right-handed, live with a relapse remitting MS diagnosis, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, progressive, female, married, Gen Xer. I can be moody. I am an optimist.
My diagnosis is a part of me, but not my identity. It could swallow me whole and decimate my well being if I let it. But, I won’t. When the suction into the black hole happens, there is always a way out. Or at least I keep telling myself that.
When I was first diagnosed with MS in 2013, I had been married for 1.5 years and we were about to start hormone treatment to get pregnant. Not so. I was told by the doctors that I couldn’t do IVF treatments b/c I had a less than two percent chance of carrying a baby successfully to term and a 97% chance of another relapse. I offered to annul our marriage – my husband declined. I started to go down a hole where I despaired and let myself go. I stopped exercising, I ate whatever I wanted, I binge watched television and didn’t do anything productive or creative. All I remember from that time is darkness, isolation and despair.
I can remember the turning point. I had cancelled all social engagements except for one friend who wanted to run her shaman therapy presentation by me. In it, there was something about the ancestors believing that illness is a catharsis that makes us stronger souls. I could either merge with the illness and continue on as a full person, or deny deny deny and fight with my own being until the end of time – including ignoring it and getting steadily unhealthy. So, I decided to try something that might make me quell the despair and brighten my soul: I took art classes – acrylic painting and life figure drawing. The calm that came from delving down the well of creativity was a boon for my quagmire of a soul. I wasn’t a particularly great artist, nor was I a bad artist. But that wasn’t the point. The point was I was just being me in a space of peace and disassociation from my pain with a plug to some higher spirit that guided my hands on a canvas for a time. The point was to get out of the hole, position myself in an endeavor where I could express myself, and then simply create – create what came out of, or to, me. I learned that there is a tremendous amount of energy in our negativity. And it can morph into something positive. If one seeks. If one listens. If one acts.
I haven’t returned to another art class, but I did continue to explore other areas of expression and exploration outside of the hole. I went to beautiful places like the ocean and the beach and the mountains. I walked through the park. I listened to buskers playing music underground or on the streets. I paused and took in a beautiful couple or a beaming child. I appreciated people’s energies and their clothes. I swooned with bird chatter and watched their aerial stunts. I savored the wind and fog of San Francisco with each shiver of feeling as I walked through the streets. I appreciated walking. I appreciated living. I appreciated that this was SO. Much. Better. than being holed up and miserable. I am lucky. I will root down and expand rather than despair and collapse into a heap.
My MS does not define me. It is a journey. There are ebbs and flows with this, as with everything. I have flirted with despair and I will do my best to continue optimism and well-being. I will listen to my body. Listen to my heart. Listen to my mind. I will nurture them all. Treating myself like a precious object will make me stronger. I love this life.