In June this year, I 'celebrated' my fourth MS anniversary.
Now that might sound morbid, but for me, marking the moment matters because it's a chance to take stock of myself and my progress. In four years, I have come a long way on the path of acceptance – and that is something to celebrate.
Adjusting to a new normal
For all of us with MS, the date of diagnosis is a serious line in the sand. Passing my four-year point, I noticed how life beyond that line is no longer consciously altered but simply a new normal.
On the day of my diagnosis, I felt like my world had crumbled, my future had been stolen. I duly wallowed in self-pity. Today, I got up early for a swim and then cycled to work for a job I love with a cheery bunch of people.
Yes, my day is different now. I work fewer hours, I take rests, I have very quiet evenings and I go to bed early. But my life still fills me with a contentment I feared MS would take.
Changing emotions – from anger and fear to gratitude
The emotions have changed too. In year one I was coping, year two was about worrying, year three was too-much-reading, and year four is the start of acceptance. I no longer prepare myself for all the bad things that could happen and I no longer over-analyse every odd feeling (mostly).
I no longer visit my MS nurse with a list of random, unrelated woes. And I no longer get annoyed when she politely suggests to me that ‘not everything is MS related’.
Anger and fear have been replaced by gratitude. I am grateful that I have been fortunate so far in my MS journey. Relapses have been few and far between, and my main concerns are fatigue, cog-fog, an unreliable left side and sensitivity.
Four years have taught me to be happy, be positive, find joy in small things and create a cocoon of love and support around myself.
We MS-ers are lucky to be awash with treatment options, which not long ago were rare. I am also grateful for my incredible support system of colleagues, friends and family. It no longer seems to matter so much when my body lets me down.
And there is a value in optimism, as I am learning. It’s much more enjoyable to live in the moment, to nourish and enjoy my body, and celebrate what it can do today. I have learnt to be selfish about my physical and mental needs, prioritising self-care.
The power of choosing
I choose to let go of the things I can’t do, and I’m working beyond the guilt that comes with cancelling, bailing out, missing out or generally struggling to communicate because my brain has turned to mush. I have stronger, more meaningful relationships because the people who stick around with the new me are the really special ones. And all this just makes life happier!
I’ve turned from reading to depress myself, to reading to satisfy an interest in this vastly complex medical condition. MS is pretty fascinating, if you like that kind of thing. Did you know there's a theory that the genetic origins of MS could be traced back to the Vikings?
Finding the positivity in life with MS
And now year five begins. What will it hold? For me, for you, for every single person in this huge and glorious world, the answer to that question is unknowable. Life is uncertain, unpredictable and unreliable. Yet it’s the most precious thing we have.
Four years have taught me to be happy, be positive, find joy in small things and create a cocoon of love and support around myself. Then I am ready to face whatever I have to face, whenever it comes.
I know this mentality isn’t always easy. Finding positivity when your body betrays you is hard – but what’s the harm in trying?
Why not add an MS anniversary into your life and find reasons to celebrate you and your resilience on every step of the journey.