MS Veteran: But Definitely Not Out of Action

Quote By M. A. Radmacher: "Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying: I'll try again tomorrow."

Last week I ran into a friend I used to work with and hadn't seen for quite a while; she was someone I really liked. I had always appreciated her energy, her smarts and her sense of humor; had always admired her work ethic as well as her personal commitment to the community she lived in. We greeted each other joyfully, went to a local coffee shop, and started catching up with what was now current in our lives.

Not often surprised... but then I got this question

As a person living with MS for more than thirty years, not much surprises me about who I am in relation to this chronic illness. However, as we were snacking, my friend asked me the following question, "Are you offended when someone describes you as being disabled or handicapped?"

And that absolutely took me by surprise. In these many years of experiencing the spiral of living with MS, I had never actually measured my feelings about that judgment from others. I had always viewed my "disabilities" as restric-tions, boundaries, or drawbacks; juxtaposed with the following realization - that within the parameters of any limitations, is my intention to be the best I can be.

Walking with my cane isn't easy, but I get where I'm going

I could describe the emotional ups and downs of having MS; or I could detail the debilitating physical symptoms of MS that I've experienced for many years. I could convey that fact that while walking with my cane (in a tortoise-like fashion) is not always easy, I do however get where I'm going. And when little kids tell me "you know you walk funny," I laugh with them because indeed I do.

Life has taught me there is a mind/body connection. So here's how I decided to answer my friend: "If someone broaches that question to me, I am not so much offended as bemused by their short sightedness. Because what people need to understand is that I choose to underscore what I can do as opposed to what I can't do. Obviously I know what I can't do, and I am reasonably certain that what I can't do is evident to everyone who knows or sees me. But, what I would welcome from those I come into contact with is some discerning perception; an appreciation that my day to day life is difficult and complicated. And I would also welcome some compassionate awareness that while living with this chronic disease is on ongoing struggle, I am not defined by my MS."

My retirement luncheon

And then my friend surprised me when she said: "I do know that about you" and I felt much better. She asked if I remembered the speech made at my retirement luncheon by my boss. In my early senior years I had worked in the accounting division of a large firm. And after eleven years realized that what I wanted to do and what my body felt capable of doing were no longer in sync. After informing my boss that I had been living with MS for many years, I indicated it was time to accept the unacceptable; that it was the right moment to retire. He said he had always known, and because he was kindhearted and generous, he offered me some part time alternatives. However, having been the office manager of his payroll and credit payment departments, I knew the major scale of those responsibilities and fully understood that wouldn't be fair to him.

I am not the only one in the room

At that final luncheon he touted my competence, my commitment and my dependability. He said that what set me apart (in spite of MS) was my focus and concentration and my keen attention to detail. When he praised my ability to be aware of the needs of our employees and executive staff, as well as promoting the best collaboration and communication of our firm with the companies that engaged us, I felt tears well up in my eyes as I thanked him. And then, as I said goodbye to everyone, I remembered thinking: "One would presume that MS takes everything away, making you less than. But it has also taught me that I am not the only one in the room."

Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

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