If you read my blog yesterday, you read a book review of Birth of the Phoenix, by Harriett B. Varney Miller. And in reading and reviewing the book, I was reacquainted with the symbolism of the phoenix, the bird who weakens and dies in a smoldering heap of ash, and then rises, whole and new and better than before. What better 'mascot' to have, what better symbol, than this mythical bird? In the book, she represented the strength of battered women who have the opportunity to remake their lives.
With MS, it is easy to first be defeated by the prognosis that accompanies the diagnosis. Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive, degenerative disease that can attack any body function, as it rests within the central nervous system, potentially affecting any combination of nerves that conduct message from the brain through the spinal column to all body parts. Not only can it affect mobility, sight, speech, touch, hearing, taste or smell; it can also affect memory, thought processes, the ability to logically organize thought, plan, strategize and other higher order thinking skills. And so, it affects not only your life, but the lives of all who care for you, and are cared for by you. It affects your career, your co-workers, and those you may serve in a career: students, patients, clients, and customers who are depending on you for a service such as teaching, nursing, advocacy and other careers.
Initially, the doctor who has the answers is seen as delivering a definitive diagnosis and prescription. The prescription comes with a vague and limited suggestion of a slowing of the progression. You have a choice at this point to reject, accept, or postpone acceptance of this diagnosis. Yet, most people see doctors as infallible, and diagnoses as black and white. In time, you might realize that something doesn't fit, and you may rethink your agreement or rejection.
If you are like me, you may experience a complete deterioration of your life plans and goals, given the limitations that impose themselves on your functioning in the way you are used to functioning. If you are as lucky as I, you have friends and family who will support you through this dark period, and help you to remember that it is your life, and your choice as to whether to agree or disagree with the treatment.
I was able to rise from the ash pile of my former self and create a new me, and begin in a new direction. No longer could I remember one hundred students names at a time. No longer could I organize their individual styles, strengths, weaknesses and needs in my mind, and meet each one where they needed to be met. No longer could I sit at a meeting table with anxious parents seeking advice based on careful observation. No longer could I be a public school teacher.
I rationalized that prior to the official stamp of diagnosis, I was functioning, despite the odd symptoms that come with multiple sclerosis. I realized that having agreed to the daily injections, I had agreed with the diagnosis despite my consistent and strong belief that this was not MS but something else, something more familiar. I understood then that continuing for four and a half years with injections that troubled me physically, emotionally and economically had brought me down into a depression that deepened by the day, week and month. And when I could see that clearly, and make my decision to stop pretending to agree, stop trying to look like I did have MS and stop injecting something that could affect every nerve in my body, I stopped.
And then I became: I became who I am today, with the strength and confidence of my old self restored, and I arose from the ashes of my aberrant, temporary, indelibly-labeled-with-MS-self. The cessation of injections restored my daily independence. The release from the nightly pain following each injection allowed me to fall asleep at peace with myself, having escaped the unrelenting reminder of this diagnosis. With the help of an antidepressant medication, I began living again, not just existing, and more than just surviving.
Who I am today is a writer, an author, a thinker, an observer, a recorder, and a self-marketer. I am happy with what I have become, and I accept what I've had to leave behind. Phoenix is better with each new rebirth. I have that to look forward to, whenever it may occur yet again.
And a Reminder: Today and Tomorrow:
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