March was Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month. Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system attacks itself and destroys the myelin surrounding the nerves of the central nervous system.
MS is generally diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40. I was 19 when I found out I had it. No one in my family has MS, and there were no signs of it before I was diagnosed. One day I randomly lost vision in my left eye, and my legs and arms went completely numb. I was terrified. I had no clue what was happening to my body. Later that week I found out that I was having what is known as an exacerbation (a flare-up).
The first thought I had was that this would be the end of life as I knew it. The only knowledge I had regarding MS was all the people I know who have it are wheelchair-bound. In the middle of this storm of uncertainty, one thing I was sure of: I was not going to be bound to a wheelchair. This was the only fear I knew to have. MS has a mind of its own; it is different day-to-day and it is impossible to know how someone is doing if you only see them on their good days. It is hard to explain to someone who has no clue.
Somewhere in life I heard the phrase “conquer mountains.” I reflected on my two choices as I headed back to life after diagnosis. I could either rise or fall. I decided that I was going to physically and emotionally conquer mountains. I would not let this define me. I find that these two common words can be so empowering and recharging. This life motto instills in me the belief that I can do anything in the world; I won’t let anything get in my way. MS has led me to look at life differently and to appreciate the simple things more. It also taught me to be careful of how you treat people, because you never know the battle that they’re facing.
I have been vocal about my diagnosis since the very beginning. I choose to do so as a coping mechanism. I would rather be a victor than a victim. Instead of hiding behind my illness, letting it take away my joy; instead of feeling ashamed, I choose to use my testimony as power. I feel liberated in telling my story and fighting this life-long disease. Instead of acknowledging MS as my weakness, I feel empowered by the strength it has given me. While the majority of society is ashamed of the smallest, most superficial things, I am unashamed of my truth.
This is my story.