While I didn’t realize it at the time, I can now look back and say that I definitely went through all of the stages of grief after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A family member had given me a book about grief around that time and I thought she was crazy. Why did I need that?!
I realize now that I needed to go through every one of those stages in order to be where I am today. It took me a good two to three years to go through this process and I would say that the stages overlapped and intersected along the way. It was a mass of emotional cobwebs that I was trying to fight my way through. I guess I’m “lucky” to have worked through it that quickly and to have come out on the other side. I know some people can get stuck in any of these various stages along the way, and have difficulty finding their way out.
The denial stage fascinates me. I can’t believe the extreme state of denial I was in after my diagnosis with MS. It was almost comical. After spending five days in the hospital with two MRIs, a lumbar puncture, and the definitive diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I still didn’t believe it. How could I, a former Division I athlete and in the prime of my life, have this debilitating disease?! There was no way! In fact, the first thing I said to my neurologist when I met her for my follow-up appointment at the MS clinic was “Gee, I thought you were going to tell me that it was all a big mistake and that I have Lyme’s disease.” She promptly gave me the business cards for the resident social worker and clinical psychologist.
As the denial started to wane, the realization that I indeed did have this chronic disease started to set in and I got angry. I was mad and pardon my French, I was pissed off!! I was lashing out at those closest to me, angry that they had their health and mad that mine was perceivably taken from me. It wasn’t fair! I was also frustrated because I couldn’t seem to find the support I needed. No one understood, and I found the newly-diagnosed support groups to be extremely depressing.
I like to think that I wasn’t in this phase for long and that I snapped out of it after having it pointed out to me by family that I was just being downright nasty to everyone. I was really angry at the world because I felt like I had no control over my life and again, I thought I had received an unfair life sentence of multiple sclerosis.
Now, with the bargaining stage, I would say that I wasn’t necessarily making bargains, more of beating myself up and playing the second-guessing game. Did I do this to myself? Was there any childhood illness that could have caused this? Did I watch too much TV and eat too many Twinkies as a kid? What could I have done differently?! I was racking my brain trying to think of things I may have done to bring this disease on. I was convinced that MS was something that I may have done to myself and that I could have prevented it.
I hit the absolute lowest point in my life. One that I do not wish on anyone and one that is so surreal I can’t even believe I was actually that low. I contemplated taking my life. I felt like I was a burden to friends and family and that they would all be better off without me. Then, no one would have to take care of me and I would be free of this constant struggle.
Not only was my body not cooperating but my mind was following suit. I just couldn’t figure out how to get through this muck. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I hit rock bottom and I’ll never forget the turning point. It was late at night, I was popping whatever pills I could find in the house, and I called my sister. I can’t remember exactly what was said but it was a wake-up call. What was I doing?!? And why?!? The sound of concern in my sister’s voice spoke to me right down to my soul and snapped me out of it. By acting like this, I was giving up - something I don't do. I desired to live, and nothing should get in my way or hinder that desire.
I think acceptance came to me out of an annoyance and an intolerance for how I was feeling. I was just tired of feeling out of control and miserable. I realized that it didn’t have to be that way, and I didn't need to live like that. I was being my own worst enemy, fighting against and within myself. I needed to take steps to let go of my former life and embrace my new one.
Everyone has struggles, albeit different, but everyone is dealing with something. It is what we do with these struggles and how we approach them that matters in the end. Life is an incredible experience and blessing, and we all have so much to give to ourselves and to each other.
To those who are newly diagnosed, please know that you will get through this and that life will go on. You'll discover inner strength that you never knew existed.
Now I can say that I’m grateful for this entire process and experience. I wouldn’t want to relive it but I know it has made me stronger as a person. I prefer who I am today than the person I was pre-MS. I know now that I can handle anything that life throws my way. I have a deep appreciation and perspective on life, and I desire to value every single bit of it.
To quote one of my favorites from the movie Auntie Mame, "You gotta LIVE, LIVE, LIVE! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"