Why Do You Celebrate Your MS Anniversary?

Celebrating anniversaries is a planetary custom. The birth of Buddha/Christ/George Washington/Vladimir Lenin/Fidel Castro. The birth of our nation, the end of the Civil War/WWI/ WWII/Korean War/Vietnam. Weddings, births, deaths, tumor removals. The date an ER doc brought you back from cardiac arrest to live again. Your MS diagnosis. But why?

As historian Erez Manela pointed out, anniversaries mean you are one year farther removed from the event. Celebrating it seems to make us feel closer to it.

Forgetting some things and hanging onto others

We fight the surge of time with event memory lest it be lost to a riptide, pulled under and forgotten. We are willing to forget a great many things that left us breathless with joy when they happened but then became unimportant. Maintaining a memory connection with the first perfectly smooth, flat rock you used to skip across the pond a total of 25 times before it sank. During five consecutive days of sunshine and 60 degrees in January one year, you walked 20 miles every one of those days and adopted a puppy that became your special love muffin. You remember the dog but the smell of the earth and the sound of your shoes on the concrete drop away as fast as the click of a slide carousel. Why do you forget some things and hang onto others?

A piece of the puzzle

Maybe remembering the MS diagnosis date is a purely practical thing for you. Because it fits into the bigger story of your disease history, a story you tell from time to time at a party, a family gathering, a doctor appointment, or just to yourself. One piece of a big jigsaw puzzle, but also meaningful all by itself. It redefined who you are.

Less meaningful over time

I conjure it up every so often, but it has become less meaningful over time. Lately I’ve used a bit more energy to do the math, ticking off the years and months with less enthusiasm for getting it right. I don’t think it’s a cognitive problem. I think I just don’t care about my MS history as much as I used to. It scrambled my identity for a long time. But it doesn’t have the same impact on me now.

Allowing rage and pain, and then forgiving

My life has evolved to a joy point. Nothing that involves the ego like you might see in a television commercial. Not something like losing 50 pounds on NutraSlim and rocking a bikini bod. Nor infusing an already bulging investment portfolio with top-performing S&P 500 stocks that just paid huge dividends. My joy point arrived quietly. Only my sister Dana celebrated it with me during one of our marathon phone calls. She wept for me. I feel like I’m your mother, she said, I’m so proud of you right now. You are living solely in the present. The world has been throwing crap pies at you and you’ve deflected every single one. You’re strong, whole, for the first time in your life. You allow yourself rage and pain and then you forgive. Forgiving comes easily to you and always has. You’ve always been okay but now you really feel like you are.

It’s true. She and I used to talk about our parents' death anniversaries and the details of those events a lot more than we do now. We have moved on with our lives, developing our interests and our already-evolved powers of introspection, learning new things and sharing them. I wish mom could see you right now, Dana told me, she’d be so proud of you. That’s how we talk about her these days.

MS still plagues me

Multiple sclerosis still plagues me every day. Spasticity and sciatica batter me when I move, but I’m used to it. After nine years, I’ve stopped taking Vesicare for urinary urgency/frequency. Those symptoms returned, but I’m coping with them without medication. There is an upside to stopping, too. My hair is growing back again and I can pee on demand now. It just doesn’t stress me out anymore.

Free to be ourselves

Remembrance of things past can heal us, serve us in so many good ways. But as time carries us farther away from life events, abandoning memories can free us to be purely ourselves.

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