Last time I wrote you had come face to face with the aggressiveness of multiple sclerosis (MS). Your worst relapse ever. Numbness and paralysis catapulted you into a new world. For weeks you were confined to a hospital bed, not even able to wriggle your toes. During this time, you struggled with your new level of dependency and feared the implications impaired functioning would have on your future.
But as you slowly regained movement, you graduated to a wheelchair. And much to your surprise, your first feeling of sitting in a chair was that of relief. It gave you a new level of independence and enabled you to become more involved in your recovery. You were even energized by moving to rehab and channeled every ounce of energy into learning how to walk again.
And you did it! After weeks and weeks of effort, you celebrated taking your first steps. At the time, you were elated. Relieved that your legs could actually hold you upright and excited that returning to your life outside was now a possibility.
Yet here you are at hospital’s front door, and you are overcome by a sinking feeling. Peering through the glass window, life outside seems so fast-paced. It was a struggle making it from the ward to the front door, even with a walking aid. You wonder, “How will I cope out there with my legs?”
I have to be honest. The world isn’t too kind for those who struggle with mobility. The life you have created assumes independence and freedom of movement, from the apartment you live in, your workplace to the social activities you enjoy.
As always, you will rise to the challenge physically. Your unwavering focus and motivation that pushed you through rehab will guide you through the challenges on the outside.
But, unlike your experience in rehab, you will struggle emotionally on the outside. The reason why? Rehab was a cocoon. You became part of a hidden world. As life continued on the outside, you were surrounded by others facing their own struggles with injury, illness and disease. You were the norm.
As you go out these glass doors, you realize you’re now the exception. Everywhere you look, you will be surrounded by people functioning freely and walking seemingly without any thought or effort. And the more you watch others, the more agitated and upset you will become.
It is a constant reminder of what has been lost and the enormity of the challenge in front of you. You will keep asking yourself, “Why is life so hard?” It is exhausting just getting through a day. It doesn’t seem fair. You also become envious of others. Resentful that your life path is different to that of your family, friends and peers. Different to what you had imagined.
I wish I was there to say, “Snap out of it!” (I can get away with being a little harsh, sorry.) But what’s the point of filling your life with negative energy? It will not equip you to deal with the challenges MS will continue to present. And it will rob you of the ability to find joy and contentment in your everyday life.
As you re-enter life outside the cocoon of rehab and feel agitated about being different to those around you, I would encourage you to embrace being different. Don’t worry about the reactions of others.
Remember your first experience venturing out with a walking stick? You were self-conscious. Felt conspicuous. And then that man came up and asked, “Can you go any slower?” Mortified and embarrassed, you lost confidence to use your stick in public. Don’t let the reactions of others prevent you from living your life. Embrace your difference.
Embracing your difference will not only help you cope with the physical challenges ahead, but it will also create new life experiences. In other aspects of your life, you will start making decisions based on what feels right for your journey and your pursuit of good health. And you will be less concerned about what others think.
You know how conservative at heart you’ve always been. Guess what? You find the courage to break this mold. You will leave a secure corporate career, travel and live abroad and then retrain as a social worker. You will no longer live in the city. Instead, you’ll relocate to a seaside town and even write a book.
Each of these life choices were consciously made to encourage your well-being. You were not following expectations. Instead, you were actively participating in creating a life that was right for you. And the good news? Your health continues to benefit.
There is no denying that MS has made you different. But it is more than the obvious physical impairment and implications. You’re different because living with MS makes you more present in your life. You cease opportunities. You seek new perspectives. You learn from others. You dismantle constraint. You embrace difference.
In the future when you look at those walking without thought or effort, you will see this picture differently. Many are walking on a treadmill and living their life on automatic pilot. MS has made you different.
As you now walk out these doors, notice and celebrate the difference all around you. It will only enhance your life journey.