A Gift, From MS
The holiday season is uniquely stressful, and not just because every pop star since 1974 feels the need to release their own over-produced Christmas album during the “most wonderful time of the year”. Challenges inherent to living with MS require especially large quantities of daily patience, so does anyone else get an especially strong seasonal desire to chuck some mistletoe at the radio every time Andy Williams or Amy Grant comes on endorsing the need “to be of good cheer”? Because if there’s anything we MS-er’s need, it’s someone putting to music a jazzy reminder of how we ought to be navigating a time of year noted for excessive stress on even the healthiest person, right?
The first Christmas following my diagnosis, acknowledging permanent effects of the illness was still a pretty raw undertaking. Painfully chronic paresthesia in both hands meant I would clearly be unable to make handmade stockings for my sons “Middle” and “Youngest” as I had done for their older brother. Initially determined to push through with the assistance of a wildly convenient post-partum, post-diagnosis hormonal imbalance, I eventually concluded the most probable outcome would be two stocking-less little boys come Christmas Eve. This especially meaningful gift of crushing disappointment from my disease came thoughtfully wrapped in a bow of Maternal Guilt, and conveniently served up during an already-exhausting holiday season. Ultimately, with my better judgement in one hand and my debit card in the other, I purchased 3 coordinating, mass-produced stockings so “Middle” and “Youngest” couldn’t tell a therapist someday all their adulthood issues developed once they discovered their mother had made “Oldest”’s Christmas stocking and not theirs.
But this year, I suspected ordering stockings online at Pottery Barn wouldn’t be a realistic solution to surviving the emotional calamities of incorporating my illness into the first Christmas as a divorced single mom. Don’t worry…I’m not here to spin you a tale of holiday woe or seasonal sympathy; I’d rather share a wildly surprising insight about the impact MS is having on my family’s holiday.
Although there’s no question our Christmas celebrations are tinged with echoes of emotional loss and physical compromise, I made a determined choice several weeks ago to search for any hint of post-D life renewal or personal growth beyond loss in myself and my boys. To my amazement, once I started noticing signs, I couldn’t stop seeing them everywhere: “Oldest” decided to use his own money to order Candy Cane grams at school for “Middle” and “Youngest” without any prompting from me. When I simply decided to forgo outside decorations without a hint of obsessive indecision, my inner recovering perfectionist actually rejoiced at freedom from annual exterior hall-decking expectations. I’m treasuring the last year “Middle” believes in Santa Claus, rather than mourn the swift passage of time. “Youngest” dictated to his brothers a letter to the North Pole with a rather considerate request of the elves: “Please send a new cat-food brand so Daisy and Cressida stop puking on Mom’s new dining room carpet because she’s getting really mad!” And when my ex-husband came for holiday visitation, it suddenly occurred to me that he’d probably enjoy a picture with our sons in front of a Christmas tree, so I took one of them in front of mine—not because I had to, or because I was asked to, or even because I particularly wanted to—but because I recognized the opportunity as a small but significantly important gesture for everyone’s healing.
And I believe Multiple Sclerosis is somewhat to thank for these perspectives.
There’s no question managing a variety of ways MS has affected my life—physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially—have transformed me into someone who knows how to face conditions that may be life-altering, but I refuse to brand as life-ending. I know to mourn like hell for as long as I need, and then lean on the support of loved ones as I start to gather up shattered pieces of my expectations. I have labored under the burden of glacial-paced transformation while wobbling precariously as I learn to balance the enormity of my children’s substantial needs alongside my own. I’ve survived what MS has dished out, and so have my sweet, resilient boys.
No, it’s not fair that I got sick, and I’ll agree it’s even more unfair that I’ve been left to navigate a progressive illness and raise three boys alone–but I am also a Chicago Bears fan, so I’ve understood for a long time how the whole “fairness” thing really works!! My early December decision to search for signs of life renewal was probably the most encouraging gift I could give myself this year (although I wouldn’t have turned down a spa day, either). Otherwise, I honestly don’t believe I would have begun evaluating certain aspects of my MS experience in an appreciative light, or recognized I was using the same survival tools to navigate my first post-divorce Christmas.
My gratefulness doesn’t mean I wouldn’t trade my diagnosis in a heartbeat; far from it! It’s just something (a tiding, perhaps?) that brought me comfort and joy this Christmas season, so I pray it might be a gift for someone else’s healing, too. And it guarantees the only danger to the mistletoe in our house this year will come from two ornery, easily-nauseated cats or the trio of blissfully rowdy boys—but definitely not from the resident MS prizefighter.