A woman sits in a comfy chair near a window where autumn leaves are falling. She has an open journal pressed to her chest and is smiling with her eyes closed.

If You Look, You Can Find Hidden Blessings

7 years ago tomorrow, I got a phone call from my primary care doctor. He told me that he and the MRI radiologist found lesions on my brain.

An explanation for my weird symptoms

This likely explained a host of oddball symptoms I was experiencing: being unable to read, feeling covered in creepy crawlies, speaking only in half sentences.

So much has happened in 7 years!

Cycling through the stages of grief

Like most who’ve lived with an MS diagnosis for a while, I can confirm I’ve cycled through all the stages of grief that follow such a diagnosis.

I can also confirm that, while I’ve spent just as much time as anyone else worrying, complaining, and growling about this disease, I’ve also discovered the power of gratitude.

Gratitude and MS

It’s not so much that I’m grateful to have this disease. But I respect how it’s reshaped the way I live my life and see the world. Here are some of the things this disease has taught me.

Self-advocacy

Like most people, I go through periods of insecurity and self-doubt. I’m an introverted extrovert; while I can and do put myself out there, I prefer the life of a homebody. I admire snails, turtles, and hermit crabs. There is safety in having one's shell nearby.

MS has empowered me to push through fear and discomfort in order to speak up, ask questions, and then ask even more questions if I don’t understand something. I find power in knowing things, even if they're scary, like MS.

Steeling myself & taking up space

I’ve also learned the fine art of steeling myself for the healthcare gauntlet of MRIs, blood tests, and insurance barriers.

And in times when I feel vulnerable—during flu season, while traveling with symptoms, even during a pandemic!—I now “take up space” with authority, especially when speaking out for peers who struggle far worse than I do.

I dislike “warrior” labels because I think even the notion of fighting anything is just downright exhausting! But advocating and speaking out? That’s something I do much better now, thanks to MS.

Prioritizing self-care

Listening to my body should’ve sent me to the doctor almost 20 years ago.

I’ve had paresthesias, bottomless fatigue, and a left-leg tremor at least as far back as 2001.

Back then, I was a working mom with two little girls. I figured these were normal sensations for anyone burning the candle at both ends.

Accommodating my needs

Now, I happily leave my desk for a nap when my eyelids grow heavy in mid-day. I reach for a dose of baclofen and a tall glass of water when the squeezing sensation in my ribcage returns. If I’m facing continence issues or “cog fog,” I don’t stress over canceling plans.

Appreciating the good days

On the flip side, if I’m feeling good, I spend all that goodness on activities I love, like walking and gardening and cooking. I run errands with a smile on my face. When someone asks me how I’m doing (in relation to my MS), I tell them, “If I’m out and about, it’s a good day!” Because it is!

I’m consistent taking my medication “cocktail,” eat far better than before, get more sleep, and know how to push back against mood slumps when they come creeping in. I find I thank myself for practicing self-care later when things get rough.

Finding hidden blessings

When I was a girl, my parents bought me a record player from a garage sale. It came with a Rosemary Clooney 45 called “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” (yes, I’m that old).

The song’s final lyrics: If you're worried / And you can't sleep / Just count your blessings instead of sheep / And you'll fall asleep / Counting your blessings

I can still hear her crooning the words.

My gratitude journal

Since my MS diagnosis (confirmed by a neurologist on May 15, 2013), I’ve kept a gratitude journal.

Not that I’m always consistent. But when I feel like my body and brain aren’t talking to each other, or if the world around me has fallen into an existential shadowland, that’s when I get out my journal.

Three is my lucky number, so I write down three things I’m grateful for. These days, positive energy out in the virtual hinterlands is in short supply, so I also find myself in Facebook using #grateful to publicly share my gratitude.  Maybe it’s hummingbirds, slice-and-bake cookies, sunshine, or a happy ending to a reality TV show. Or maybe it’s as simple as lasting remission.

I am grateful

Today, on the eve of my preliminary diagnosis anniversary—a day when the bottom of the world fell out from beneath me—I’m grateful for caring doctors, a resilient family, friends who emerged when others faded, and so many glorious opportunities to do meaningful work.

Please know this: There’s always something to be grateful for, a hidden blessing that only needs your attention to reveal itself. You can count on it.

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