I can remember getting in the driver’s seat of my car while it sat parked in the driveway. I turned the key to start the engine and I placed both hands on the wheel while thinking to myself, “I got this, I totally got this”. I slowly backed out of the driveway, put the car in drive, and drove away staying within the confines of our small neighborhood. I explored all the streets and cul-de-sacs I could find testing my ability to perform every little test I could remember being asked to execute while in driver’s ed as a teenager. Parallel park, drive in reverse along the curb for about 100 feet, come to a complete stop at stop signs, look both ways before proceeding, turn signals, 3-point-turns, everything. None of it seemed to be an issue so maybe I should try venturing outside the neighborhood? To leave I simply had to pass a stop sign, make a left, and then a right which would place me at the base of a small (but steep) hill with one last stop sign at the top. That last stop sign separated our neighborhood from one of the main roads in our suburban city. So I made my way past the first stop sign, made a left, made a right, and then… the passenger wheel of my car jumped the curb. I hit the brakes and stared at that last stop sign which was just a little bit ahead of me. It seemed to be moving a bit (left and right) which is exactly what I was hoping would not impede my ability to drive when I first got in my car.
Coping with changes
After turning back and making my way inside I sat down on the edge of my bed and thought to myself, “I’m done. I have tried this several times in the last few weeks but it’s not getting any better. So until it does? I’m done. I’m not going to put anyone at risk on the road because I refused to accept that my ability to drive had been compromised. How would I live with myself if I hurt someone? Or killed someone?” I lied back and stared at the ceiling; the white texture seemed to have a subtle movement to it, although I really could not tell you what direction it was going, just that it was not steady. This had been going on for about a month, which in retrospect was really not that long at all, but it felt like it had been a year because, you see, that day was a good day. Most days I had woken up with horrible vertigo, simply moving my head left or right made everything look like it was streaking past me at 100 miles per hour, and this was accompanied by a heavy feeling of G-force like when you are on a roller coaster that makes a sudden sharp turn. Multiple Sclerosis had shown me a great variety of terrible symptoms over the years but this one was unlike anything I had ever experienced. “I can’t wait for this to just go away, I feel so terrible, exhausted, nauseous…this is just the worst.”
It’s all relative
And at the time? I was right. It was the worst. But what I did not realize is that it was only the worst thing that I had experienced at that very moment compared to everything I had experienced in the past. Because this feeling was so new to me and because I was pretty much thinking about it from the moment I woke up till the moment I went to sleep, I never really thought about the future (immediate or long-term). Since then this symptom (or assortment of symptoms really) has gotten so much worse. It has been a little under 3 years since that day and none of this has gotten any better, it has only become more intense. So now when I catch myself thinking, “holy crap, this is just the worst” I remind myself that it’s only the worst compared to everything in my past. I have learned that anything I am feeling or experiencing right now can always get worse but at the same time I know it can also get better.
Things can always get better
There was a time, not too long before all of this, where I spent about 6 weeks (which felt like a lifetime) in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital (because of a horrible relapse) barely able to transfer from my bed to a wheelchair with the help of a physical therapist, unable to fully close my hand into a fist, and barely able to drink water from a spoon with the help of another therapist who was considering whether or not it was time for a feeding tube. Once I made enough improvement to go home and start seeing outpatient therapists, I asked the neurologist I was seeing at the time what I needed to do to walk again and she told me that I should just try to get used to the wheelchair because, “this was the course of the disease.” Well I refused to accept that answer (as anyone should) so I found another neurologist, started new treatments, continued seeing different physical therapists, and did everything I could at home to improve my health, and now? I am sitting here at my desk sipping coffee and typing with my own two hands about to get up and walk up the stairs to the kitchen. So now I realize that MS has taught me yet another lesson in life; things can always be worse but things can always get better even if the difference is just a smile.