MS at 23

In just a few weeks it will be my 24th birthday. I can't help but think about how it has been almost a year since I started experiencing MS symptoms after having viral meningitis a few months prior. I have to say it's been both the most challenging, but also most eye-opening, year of my life.

It was almost a relief to be diagnosed after my primary care doctor telling me that nothing was wrong, and that I was completely fine. I played softball from first grade through college, and even through injuries had never felt this way before. As an athlete, you learn to know your own body and its limits. I knew for a fact that something was very, very wrong. It was so beyond frustrating and terrifying to not know what was happening to me. It was hard to explain to my family and friends how I just didn't feel right, how I still felt exhausted after all the sleep and coffee in the world. I was afraid my friends would stop asking to hang out after I had told them no so many times, or explaining that I was so swollen and enraged after a steroid infusion that I would be no fun anyway.

After the formal diagnosis, my family, friends and coworkers were extremely supportive. But there seems to be a fine line from people being concerned about you and pitying you. All I wanted was to be as independent and active as I always had been.

On one hand, I had friends and family inundating me with information on what I should be eating, what drugs I should or shouldn't be prescribed, and how I should be spending my time (based on their research). On the other hand, I had friends who had no idea what MS was. Some said I would beat it, not realizing there is no cure. While I know they all had the best intentions, this made me feel more stressed and overwhelmed than I had ever been.

Running provided me some solace and room to clear my head. I guess it could be my form of meditation. I ran my first half marathon in June, six months after my diagnosis. I've signed up for another race in November. I also play volleyball once a week, and I've tried to be more conscious about the foods I eat.

It seems when people see that you're so able-bodied and active, they forget about your bad days. My coworkers don't understand that sometimes I can't feel my feet under my desk, or that my left foot drags when I get stressed out. My boss asks, "wow, late night?" when I can barely keep my eyes open, even though I got over eight hours of sleep the night before and probably had more coffee than anyone should. I often feel annoying if I vent about it, but I want people to understand that I'm not always at 100%. I'm still trying to figure out how to voice the way I feel without people feeling sorry for me.

I think it's finally hitting me that I'll have to navigate this fine line for a while, especially when meeting new people. Doing more research on my own and connecting with others impacted by MS has truly opened my eyes. The attitude of those I have recently met in this community is largely positive, and I hope to remember that even on the worst days.

I've come to see that MS will change your life, but it's not the end of it. You learn who you are, who should be in your life, and what really matters. I'm just now joining and am really looking forward to meeting inspiring people and learning how to make the most of life with MS. Here's to smoother sailing at 24!

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