January 14, 2017

How MS helped me finally Face my Fears.

Three years ago, I woke up completely blind in my right eye.

I didn’t think anything of it at first—maybe an eyelash had gotten lost somewhere deep in there, or I was having an allergic reaction to my new skin cream or laundry detergent.

But the next day I started experiencing intense tingling in my hands, and I still couldn’t see properly. It was then that I decided to go to the hospital.

What I expected the doctor to tell me was that I had caught some sort of viral flu and that I’d be prescribed antibiotics and a few days rest.

What I didn’t expect to hear after doing an eye exam and a nerve test (for the tingling) was that my optic nerve was 250 times the size of a normal person’s, and although my eyesight would eventually return in a few weeks or months, the symptoms I was experiencing were synonymous with Multiple Sclerosis

What I was prescribed instead was three years of MRI scans, nerve tests and eye exams. After all that time, the official diagnosis finally came: I had relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis.

Sitting in front of the doctor at the MS clinic, I remember sitting motionless and dumfounded, trying to comprehend the information.

I had been doing everything right. I was healthy and physically active—I ran six days a week and completed six half-marathons a year at lightning speed.

But over the course of those three years, despite how many green smoothies I drank or vitamins I took, the tingling slowly started to spread to all my extremities. Physical activity wasn’t as easy. I started experiencing pain in my joints. Sometimes my legs would suddenly go numb, and I feared they wouldn’t be able to hold or carry me.

Some of my day-to-day tasks had also become hard. There was one time when I couldn’t grip my blow-dryer to dry my hair because I couldn’t feel my hands.

For three years, I knew something had been very wrong. And now that I finally had the answer for what that something was, half of me was relieved. But the other half was terrified.

I remember going over my options for treatment with the doctor. I had my pick from a dozen different injectable medications and pills. She took out ten different types of needles, and showed me how I’d administer each one by pretending to poke them into her thighs and arms..

But even with treatment, there were still uncertainties. Consequently, I was offered another option: not to take any treatment.

I felt uneasy about having to rely on a needle or pill this early in my diagnosis, and I wanted to try to manage my current symptoms on my own.  So, I chose the latter route.

I remember the doctor telling me on my way out of the clinic, “We’ll try no treatment for the next year, and see how it goes.”

The way she said it felt like a challenge, and I thought to myself, “I’ll show you. I’ve got this.”

But the past year has been a big challenge.

A few months after receiving my diagnosis, I fell into a depression. I found it hard to cope with the news and how I was feeling, so I put all my energy and focus into my job by working long hours in attempt to forget, or at least put everything in the back of my mind. This only made things worse. I was running on fumes and beyond stressed—and I quickly found out that stress was a big trigger for my symptoms.

One day, my body retaliated, and I collapsed at home on the kitchen floor. In this moment, I realized that if I wanted to be successful at managing this on my own, I needed to act fast.

On my way home from work one evening, my eye caught a yellow piece of paper posted to a lamp post at a cross-walk with the words, “What’s holding you back?”

Immediately, one word popped into my mind: Fear.

Over the past year, the one thing that has crippled me more than anything has been fear. I’ve been afraid of the unknown, not being in control. I’ve been afraid of change.

I was afraid that what I was going through would impact my abilities both physically and mentally.

I feared that it would affect my relationships—I didn’t want to burden anyone close to me. I also saw needing help as a sign of weakness.

Most of all, I feared that what I was going through would not only change my life, but it would also change me.

I premeditated on my fears for a while, until I realized there was additional option in this whole thing. I could change the way that I felt about these things and push forward.

I found that the best way to do this was to replace fear with a different word. I chose courage, which quickly became my new mantra. 

I began by finding the courage to let myself feel any emotions and sensations that came up, instead of trying numb them by burying myself in other things. I let myself cry. I let myself be confused and angry.

When I felt tingling sensations, I tried to be more mindful about why I was feeling them. Was I getting enough sleep? Was I tired or stressed? This allowed me to tune into my body, and be more aware of how I was feeling and why. This helped me find the courage to let my body cope and heal the way it needed.

The biggest challenge with this was that I needed to be okay with it. I had continued to run and push my body beyond its physical limits over the years because running was such a big part of who I was. I was afraid to lose that part of me, but I also learned that I needed to listen to my body, which was telling me to take a step back.

Instead, I deepened my yoga practice—which ended up being one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for myself. Not only has yoga been a gentle and encouraging way for me to exercise, but it has brought me closer to myself, my body and my mind.

Through yoga, I’ve tackled so many of my inner demons and the thoughts that have been holding me back from moving forward. It’s also made me realize how strong and powerful my body is.

I found the courage to graciously allow myself to lean on those closest to me when I needed support. On my low days, I called my parents multiple times to vent and cry. I let my boyfriend come to all my doctor’s appointments, holding my hand. I answered my friends’ calls, and talked openly about what I was going through.

I discovered that those closest to me weren’t burdened at all by my situation, but instead happy to help. It taught me that accepting help didn’t mean I was weak—it just showed me how lucky I am to have a strong support system.

I also found the courage to find balance, an existence that worked best for me. I eventually quit my job on a whim. I spent years working in an industry that I wasn’t passionate about, taking on projects I hated and being burned out and unhappy was doing me no favors.

I found the courage to move to a new city for a different position that was more aligned with my passions and where I knew that I could more easily manage my stress levels. It was a giant leap of faith, but as it turned out to have a huge positive impact on my health and happiness.

Now, exactly a year after my diagnosis, I sit here and reflect on everything I’ve gone through—and what I’ve learned.

The past year was tough, messy and exhausting. In some ways, it included some of the hardest experiences of my life thus far—and I’m not even sure that this is the hardest it’s going to get.

But it also held some of the best.

My biggest fear did in fact end up happening—my life changed. I changed. But I believe it was for the better.

Beyond learning how to replace fear with courage, I’ve learned the following:

1.) Appreciate the small things— things as simple as being able to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t take any moment for granted. Our health is precious.

2.) Appreciate the people in our lives who love us unconditionally and are eager to lend a hand when we need one.

3.) Let ourselves feel our emotions. We should never be ashamed for how we feel, as this is what makes us human.

4.) Notice when we’re being stretched too thin and when to take a step back. We need to be kind to ourselves.

5.) Practice yoga. Seriously—our body and mind will thank us.

6.)  To find true happiness, we might need to take a giant and sometimes scary leap of faith.

7.) We’re the one’s who can fill the driver’s seat of our own lives. We must create a reality that works for us.

8.) Fear cannot dictate our lives. We must always find the courage to face our fears and push forward.

I’m unsure of what the next year and beyond holds. Yes, this is scary. But through everything I’ve learned, I know I have the capability and strength to push forward.

I can and will take every challenge thrown my way, and I will refuse to let fear cripple me. I’ll embrace the uncertainty. This is my choice.

I’ll show you, I’ve got this.



Author: Kailey Buchanan

Image: Flickr/Conal Gallagher

Editor: Callie Rushton

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