Where is my finish line now?

I was 60 years old when I received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. About four years prior to that, I began experiencing some mobility and hand weakness problems, but the doctor I was seeing did not see the need for further testing. When I changed insurance companies in Jan. 2012, I scheduled an appointment with a new physical therapist. She told me that she couldn’t help me until I had my hip looked at by an orthopedist. Eventually, I received notice that I needed my hip replaced. So, silly me, I thought all my troubles would be over.

After the hip replacement in October 2012, some symptoms remained. More tests showed that I had MS. That came on Jan. 4, 2013. My world spun off into a new trajectory.

I had experienced some depression prior to the diagnosis because of the lack of mobility. My background includes being a competitive swimmer, teaching physical education, teaching adapted physical education, coaching Special Olympics, travelling extensively (US and abroad), and 20 years of executive non-profit management. I loved to walk 2-3 miles every morning. I was a sprinter, have always been a fast walker and loved the exercise. When I couldn’t swim and walk as I used to, I was devastated, especially not knowing why. I love playing with my granddaughters, but I couldn’t get on the floor and play with them or run and play outside!! It was difficult walking through airports. With the diagnosis, on one hand I was relieved I wasn’t going crazy, and on the other hand, I sank further into depression and grief. How could I not do the things I loved?

I saw a behavioral specialist for 3-4 months and she really helped me work through those issues. I have always been grounded in my Christian faith, but it suffered as well. Once I allowed myself to remember that God is for me, still loves me and will never leave or forsake me, I started the climb back up to a joyful and peaceful life. I have helped others to see that joy and peace don’t depend on circumstances, and I needed to “put my money where my mouth was”!!

My neurologist thinks I have had MS for at least 30 years. As I learn all I can about this disease, I realize that there were moments that symptoms began and were explained away by other reasons. Such as heat sensitivity was because of my fair skin and hair, or balance problems because I was getting older, or ringing in my ears was TMJ, or falling on a regular basis couldn’t be explained at all.

As I began telling friends, family and colleagues, invariably they said “Oh I am so sorry”. Please take it from me, that is the wrong reaction!! Instead, let’s support each other in learning how to make the best of a new way of living.

My orthopedic surgeon told me that it would take a year to recover fully from the surgery. I scoffed at that because I was going to bounce back fast and was determined to do so. I am always full speed ahead and competitive enough to say, I’ll do it faster. I am positive and upbeat and often have a difficult time with negativity and the “poor me” attitude.

Little did I know that he was right (sorry, Dr. Wood), plus the MS combined to slow down the recovery even more. I am working with a great PT, and my recovery has been steady and sure. I have seen milestones reached and it feels great. He is also helping to see how I can slow down, change some techniques, and still find success.

Because of my right hand weakness, I am taking notes for meetings on my iPad, eating with my left hand, and being patient with myself when I make typing mistakes. I am walking slower and concentrating more on each step. I have a handicap license plate. I use a cane for long distances or unsure/new environments. I am learning how to use the strengths I still have and adjusting for my weaknesses. It is hard not to want to go at full speed, but there is nothing wrong with slowing down!!

Life takes strange twists and turns. Whether it was dealing with a spouse that died, a divorce, a difficult relationship with my daughter, a job layoff and subsequent change; I have maintained my optimism, strong faith, and “can do” attitude. I know that all things work for my good—if I will let them!! I may be diagnosed with MS, but that is not who I am. I am an intelligent, capable and strong woman who has done incredible things and has an amazing life. I will continue to keep my eyes on God and His purposes for my life. I will adjust and be stronger for it.

My journey is by no means over. I will experience bumps in the road. But as Diana Nyad says “Isn’t life about determining your own finish line?”

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