Those who know me well understand I spend the vast majority of my time inside my own head. It’ not, I don’t think, because I am self-absorbed so much as I am self-curious and self-driven.
Last week I received the news that there is an 80 percent probability that I have Multiple Sclerosis. It wasn’t exactly unexpected news, albeit news I would prefer to have never received. MS tends to run in families; my mother has MS; her first cousin died from complications of MS; and another first cousin’s son was diagnosed five years ago.
For years I have pursued the cause of a laundry list of seemingly unrelated symptoms, a journey that has sent me into the hallways of far too many medical specialties. Daily headaches. Nerve pain in first one leg, then the other…seven years later. Both disappeared. Both feet have been totally numb for the past seven years. Sometimes the numbness climbs its way all the way to my knees…once all the way to my thighs. And before I could get the scheduled neurological tests done for that, the numbness traveled to my arms and hands.
As crazy as it may sound, I was relieved to finally hear that the problem is all in my head. My brain is misfiring, failing to get complete signals to my limbs and sometimes my optic nerves. That’s happening because an auto-immune disorder is causing my body to destroy the covers of my nerves. Nobody really knows exactly why that happens.
So, I did not fall apart from the new diagnosis. I have watched my mother cope with her crazy quilt of “episodes” for 44 years. I knew I had no choice in the matter, that I would have to do the same. And I am a tough old bird who refuses to allow much of anything to get the best of me.
Or so I thought.
I wasn’t prepared for what has been happening in the six days since I got the news. Before the diagnosis, when I was at my workout class and the muscles in my thighs seemed to be weakening, I gave myself a bruising self-talk that included words like wuss and sissy. When one week a few months ago I could barely walk a block without stopping because my legs felt like I was wearing concrete blocks on my feet, I remember being a bit concerned and wondering if, in fact, I could no longer stay in denial about whatever it was going on in my body, but I still forced myself to keep on going, telling myself “it was all in my head.”
Now I have another problem. Now I KNOW why my legs are not working properly, but I still don’t want to give in. I still feel like a wuss unless I force myself to make it through the dreaded stand-and-sit-in-the-chair-40-times-in-a-row portion of the rigorous workout designed for seniors. Is that a good thing or am I being unreasonable? If I accept the illness and allow myself to do less reps, will that be laziness or simply reality? If I don’t fight every step of the way, might not the disease progress even faster?
I wasn’t prepared for this dilemma at all. I seem to be more tuned in to the symptoms than I was before. Well, before, I was trying to convince myself they weren’t there! That they were all in my head.