A quarter of a century ago, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was a quick process, taking only four months from my first symptoms to the day when my neurologist said “You have MS”.
At the time I knew nothing about this illness. Or what a future with this illness would hold for me.
For the first 10 years after diagnosis, my illness progressed through a series of remissions and relapses. These are periods of disappearing symptoms (remissions) followed by periods of increasing or worsening symptoms (relapses). Despite taking beta-interferon, this continued to happen. During that time, my right leg became ‘heavier and heavier’.
The fatigue was also a constant battle that I fought using coffee, cigarettes, and Modafinil. Though this was a difficult time, I managed to help create a business, get married, and start a family.
Looking back on this time, it was a blur. The crushing fatigue was really difficult.
Then, nearly 15 years ago, I was introduced to a simple drug called Low Dose Naltrexone or LDN. This became a pivot point in my life. All of the things that MS had stolen from me were returned. I could walk and run again. And my energy returned. That crushing fog of fatigue was blown away. The full colour of my life was restored.
It was like returning to my teenage years. Physically, I was back. But the trauma of the previous 10 years left a scar on my psyche. It remains and is part of who I am now. This crook-Multiple Sclerosis-had kept a part of me.
This period lasted 10 years. A decade of good health while the roller coaster of life continued. I was fortunate that I could truly enjoy these years. I cherished my mental clarity. It is only when you have lost something, and have it returned, that you fully appreciate what was lost in the first place.
But the pilferer returned. And this time it was sneaky. It was a minor accident. Trivial. Four years ago, a car hit me from behind as I was stopped in traffic. The impact caused headaches. Constant, throbbing, piercing pain that never stops. However, that wasn’t the whole story.
The lesion in my neck, which had lain dormant for so long, awoke. As it rose from its slumber, stretched, and started kicking its legs; it caused mine to slow. The more alert it became, the greater became my fatigue. MS was leeching and stealing from me again.
Now, nearly four years later, my MS has progressed and stolen my legs completely. My inability to walk has taken my job. The enduring pain makes concentration a distant memory. Once again, chronic illness has taken and grabbed part of me.
This time I have learned. I have learned how to live with adversity. I have learned the skill of enjoying what I have, especially during the time I was healthy. I have learned well because, as I have experienced, the circumstances of my life could change again overnight. This burglar called MS could return at any time and steal something else.
But now I don’t despair. I have learned the tools of meditation and journaling and they have helped me to focus. Not on what has been taken away, but on what remains. It is by being grateful for the many things that I have that this robber doesn’t steal my life from me.
Now, a tasty meal is savoured. I stop to enjoy the view. I bend down to wonder at the beauty and scent of a flower. The riches that I have in these many small things give me true pleasure and joy.
Chronic illness may be a thief, but my gratitude cannot be stolen.