It's More Than Just Mind Over Matter

I thought it would be easy. You know, mind over matter, positive thinking, putting good vibes out into the universe and all that jazz. Whoosah. Breathe in, breath out. I thought if I put my mind to it, I could control it. I was wrong. I was so wrong.

My mobility represents my independence

My husband Maarten was out of town, so it was up to me to walk my dog Chaka that morning. As I headed out the door, I was determined that I wasn’t going to allow MS to hold me back. My mobility is precious to me. It represents my independence. That independence is something that MS will eventually rob me of, layer by layer, bit by bit, piece by piece until there’s nothing left of me to give. I don’t want that to happen. So I move.

Chaka and I left on our morning walk

Before leaving the house, I strapped Chaka into her purple harness. She doesn’t realize it, but purple is her favorite color. It’s by default, really, since purple is my favorite color. I opened the door to a beautiful, chilly autumn morning. Swathed in my husband’s Northface jacket, Chaka and I pound the pavement for our morning walk. I moved with determination, quick-paced, like a woman on a mission, a woman with something to prove, a woman who didn’t want life to pass her by.

I breathed in the coolness of the morning, the sharp smell of wet leaves curling into my nostrils and giving me life. I waved at passing cars, as I normally do – sometimes not knowing who’s behind the tinted windshield, not that it matters – and kept Chaka reigned in as she trotted along, searching for the perfect spot to relieve herself.

My body betrayed me

As we reached the crest of the barely-there hill, we trudged across the dewy grass and through the parking lot. In the distance, two dogs at the end of their tethers, happily trotting along with their humans in tow. Chaka saw them before I did. The excitement bubbled up inside her as she spun around like a four-legged top. I struggled to make out the walkers from afar, but my eyes wouldn’t cooperate. Thanks for that, MS.

A heavy, stuffy, cloudy feeling filled my head as my legs turned to prickly, thick liquid, slowly flowing downward. And just like that, my body betrayed me. I became one with the curb, holding on for dear life, afraid that I would tip over the edge and be swallowed whole into the crevices of hard, dark pavement.

"It's too soon..."

“It’s too soon,” I thought wildly. “It’s only been a week!” my mind screamed, knowing that my MS diagnosis had only come one week before. I felt cheated. I hadn’t known the relief of remission. All I knew was the past four months of constant fatigue, nausea, and the unsettling feeling of drunkenness. I sat on the curb and cried.

As I hung my head, panic beginning to course through me, I heard a voice. “Are you okay, miss?” A gentleman on The Mountain for a golf tournament pulled up next to me in his large, white truck. “Are you okay?” he repeated.

Touched by the concern of a stranger

I looked up, touched by his concern. A line of cars queued up behind him, but he seemed not to notice as he climbed out of his truck and walked around to the passenger side. Even while practicing social distancing, he showed his very human, empathetic side.

Next to me, Chaka was still. Normally, her fear of strangers sends her into a growling, barking frenzy, but not this time. She simply stared at him as she snuggled closer to me. “I-I’m okay,” I lied. I wasn’t okay. Fear kept me rooted to the curb.

“Is there someone I can call for you?”

Overcome with emotion

I don’t know why, but in what seemed like the space of a few seconds, I blurted everything out to this man whom I never met before. My husband was out of town. I was just diagnosed with MS. My neurologist initially misdiagnosed me and I refused to accept it. My legs had given out on me. I want to be able to walk on my own. I’m so damn tired. I can’t feel my right foot. I don’t want to die.

I was overcome with emotion. Chaka leaned into me and licked my cheek as I put my arm around her and held her close. We were one at that moment.

Remembering who's in control

“You just have to remember who’s in control,” the stranger said, as he looked heavenward. For the slightest of moments, I was reminded of Michael Landon in “Highway to Heaven.” I knew what he meant. He smiled and nodded. I nodded back. “Are you sure I can’t do anything for you?”

I wiped tears away with the back of a hand that had gone cold. That was happening a lot lately.

“Thank you for caring. I think I’ll be fine. I just need a minute.”

He climbed back into his truck, drove off and parked in the lot adjacent to where I sat. Chaka and I continued to cuddle. She didn’t try to break free or whine in the way that dogs do when they want to continue on with their morning walks. It was as if she knew in that moment that I needed the warmth of her closeness, her wet tongue on my face, her horrid fishy breath assaulting my senses. More than anything, I just needed to be right there, with her, in that space and time.

Life returned to my legs

The minute that I thought I needed stretched into ten minutes. When the feeling of life returned to my legs and I was finally able to stand with confidence, I did. The backside of my jeans were wet from half-sitting in the damp grass. Great. A casualty of MS. I removed my jacket, tied it around my waist, and Chaka and I slowly made our way back home.

I thought all it took was mind over matter

When I left the house this morning, I thought all it took was mind over matter. I’d will my body to behave, and through the sheer power of perseverance, all would be well. It wasn’t. MS is with me. But MS doesn’t totally have me.

I’ve always considered myself a strong woman. Something tells me that my strength is about to be put to the test. Okay MS, I think I’m ready.

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