MS Memoir Review: Enjoying the Ride
This fall I finally dug into Mitch Sturgeon’s memoir, Enjoying the Ride: Two Generations of Tragedy & Triumph.1
I don’t often trust memoirs, but I trust this one wholeheartedly.
About Enjoying the Ride
This personal account — truly a family saga, if one can say this about memoir — reads like most others in the category: shared sequences of lived events illuminating an unexpected life trajectory.
But this isn’t just a story about MS, but a record of his life journey (in much the same way that Jennifer Culkin’s A Final Arc of Sky captures more than MS, but her entire life as a family woman working as a life-flight nurse).
The story of Mitch's mother
Enjoying the Ride doesn’t start with his MS, but with the story of his mother. She was rendered quadriplegic at age 35 following an accident that resulted in a devastating spinal cord injury.
It’s at age 35 that Sturgeon finds himself facing his own disabling diagnosis — primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). His lesions persist in areas in his spinal cord that eerily resemble his mother’s own injuries.
Sturgeon’s natural storytelling voice gives this book a friendly access point for all readers. He characterizes people with honesty and compassion and without judgment. Mentions of key MS community figures — Dr. Howard Weiner, Dr. Saud Sadiq, Marc Stecker (the Wheelchair Kamikaze) — lend legitimacy.2,3
A treatise on the importance of attitude
A gentle sense of humor permeates the narrative in a way that reflects Sturgeon’s own desire to “leave people happier than when I found them.”
(I can relate to this—I inherited my own mother’s sunny disposition even through the darkest times. Thanks, Mom!)
“Oh, don’t be silly, Mitchy,” his mother says at one point. “We stay positive because, well because what other choice is there?”
And he responds: What other choice is there? Can it be that simple?
The two sides of the "positive thinking" coin
These days, there’s a great deal of talk about “the power of positive thinking” and its darker twin, “toxic positivity.”4,5 Sturgeon’s positive attitude is neither a Pollyannish display nor a passive-aggressive act. His stories brim with authenticity, humility, vulnerability, honesty, and realism. Trust them.
Sturgeon writes from a place of forgiveness, even of himself in moments when frustration and resentfulness may be the only proper response.
Similarities in film
Finally, I recently watched the film, Hillbilly Elegy, and note similarities.
- Boy comes from a tragic background.
- Boy makes the best of it.
- Boy grows up to become a Man.
- When the past and present collide, Man recognizes the tragedy he’s inherited.
- Man denies giving the past a treacherous foothold in his present.
- Man chooses not to erase the past but, rather, to learn compassionately from it to craft a better future.
About the author
He grew up in a family of five in a Maine pulp mill town in the 1960s. He married and started a family, moving away to pursue an engineering career. He worked for years as a chemical engineer in environmental remediation before taking medical retirement.
What readers can take away from Enjoying the Ride
For people with MS
Sturgeon writes with familiarity and authenticity about his transition from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment. For instance, he writes, upon receiving a tentative diagnosis:
“Even though I had considered the possibility of an MS diagnosis, the doctor’s words stunned me. My body engaged its fight or flight mode, but I couldn’t see an enemy to defend against, and I had nowhere to run.”
Readers with MS will relate to common themes and topics:
- Misinformed doctors
- The dumb things people say
- MS as a “death sentence”
- Inconclusive diagnoses
- The exhausting transition to a “new normal”
- Disclosure strategies
- The crapshoot of DMTs
- MS research ethics
I’m especially buoyed by his sense of humor. Sturgeon has a penchant for writing funny emails and lists which, though official in appearance, poke back at the inequities that MS brings to both people with MS and their loved ones.
For people without MS
Sturgeon gifts the general reader with real-world insights into life with MS.
Some of his stories may surprise readers (for instance, the clinical trial fiasco and the unrelenting mismatch between insurance coverage and medical necessity).
But his generous and thoughtful tone and approach to them create a palatable reality check for people without MS.
He ends the book with “My Keys to Leading a Contented Life as a Disabled Person (Works for healthy people, too!)" that’s also not to be missed.
If Sturgeon's goal in writing his memoir was to raise awareness, he most certainly achieved it.
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