Newly Diagnosed: Being The Best You Can Be Despite MS
As a child growing up in the sixties I was well aware of the popular “look” women had that covered the pages of Cosmopolitan and Vogue magazines. It was the decade of freshly-scrubbed faces like Cheryl Tiegs and Lauren Hutton with blonde hair, button noses and a slender, athletic body. The Beach Boys singing about California girls and the beat about an itsy, bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot bikinis were popular because those were the songs dominating the airwaves.
Being long and lean was definitely “in” because Twiggy was around as well.
My classmates in elementary school (yes, it does start that young) wanted to look like top models so they tried to emulate them. The Women’s Liberation Movement was just coming into it’s own, and before my tiny town became somewhat “liberated” girls spent hours carefully combing through magazines to look their grooviest. (If you don’t know what the word “groovy” means you are young. Go look it up or ask your parents!)
Fast-forward to 1986 and my MS diagnosis. I understood that I had a chronic illness, but I didn’t want to stand out. I still wanted to be athletic and look my best because the media drummed into my young, fertile brain that I had to look perfect in order to be happy. I didn’t want anyone’s help if my legs were clumsy. Bicycling and running were activities I wanted to still enjoy.
I despised being catered to and wanted no one feeling sorry for me.
Everyday I fight battles with MS. I can’t do the same ordinary things I used to do. My husband, in his gentle and quiet way, helps me run the house. There are days I wish I could do more, and when I can I do. But overall it’s become more of a 60/40 proposition. Yes, he’s the 60.
Admitting I needed help was hard at first. It bothered me to have to ask for favors, and caused me periods of great anxiety just thinking about it. I didn’t like the fact I wasn’t the same person I used to be. I began to feel like less of one.
But as the years passed, and after a lot of reading and soul-searching, I learned a powerful lesson: I needed to accept who I was and count my blessings. Be grateful for what’s around you and for the people who love and care enough to want to help.
I began asking for help, a little at a time, and as I did I noticed how much better I felt physically and emotionally. Having others surround me in a caring and non-judgmental way was more than wonderful. It was a life affirming.
And I knew that my loved ones, in turn, felt their own sense of relief after I allowed them to help me. After all, if the shoe were on the other foot I’d feel the same way.
In the end, I may not look like Cheryl Tiegs and I certainly can’t play tennis like Serena Williams. But I am the best Cathy Chester I can possibly be. And that's something I'm proud of.
I think we all need to strive to be the best people we can be despite living with MS.
Do what you can within your specific abilities. Go easy on yourself if your mind’s eye has other ideas. Only you know how much you are able to do each day.
There’s no shame in reaching out for help from family, friends, neighbors, communities, churches or synagogues or wherever else you can find it. There are caring people everywhere. Believe me, I know after 30 years of experience with MS.
I’ll say it again: There are caring people everywhere. Reach out for help. You'll be glad that you did.
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