Photo credit: Natalie Puls Photography
Just after turning 21, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an inflammatory disease resulting in neurologic degeneration. I learned at a relatively young age that life can come at you fast.
I’ve always been a driven, self-motivated person, at times to a fault. I think rough patches in life can turn people into a harder or softer version of themselves.
For me, I believe my diagnosis has softened and molded me into a better version of myself. In many ways I am grateful for my diagnosis and the person I’ve become from having to deal with it. I believe I was on a path to becoming a somewhat ruthless person. I was charging straight to the top, head down and no distractions could get in my way. I had all these plans and ideals, and I was going to work hard now to get the payoff later. That’s what you do, right? I thought I would be able to work my way to the top (wherever that is), and then I’d be able to start enjoying life once I got there. I think we are generally programmed from a young age into thinking that is just how you have to do it. Pay your dues so you can retire one day and do all those things you always wanted to pursue. So that was my plan. Then, all of the sudden, I was faced with the harsh reality that I may not have time to get to all those things I always wanted to do if I waited until later in life.
Initially, I tried to fight my diagnosis, be bigger and stronger than it. It worked for a little while. Until it didn’t. I found myself a couple years down the road with bottled up emotions and in a hole I buried for myself, mostly silently, suffering without anyone ever knowing because showing it meant I was weak…and I WAS NOT WEAK…and I was on a mission to prove it. Then, I broke. One day I just broke. Being diagnosed at such a young age meant I didn’t know myself, I didn’t know what I wanted or where I was going, even if I thought I did. I learned about it, mostly because I had to. My diagnosis did change me. That’s the thing. As much as I fought it, and tried to prove I was more than a diagnosis, I failed to see I didn’t need to be bigger than a disease. I finally realized I needed to accept and embrace having MS as part of me. It is not all of me, but it is certainly a significant driver in how I choose to live my life now.
I now prioritize my health over all things, which has involved changing the way I eat. While I’ve always been a mostly healthy eater, I used to eat the way Americans grow up eating which means gluten, dairy, processed foods and sugar were in my daily routine. When you have an autoimmune disease, inflammation is typically the driver of symptoms, so to reduce inflammation I decided to adopt the paleo diet. Within only a couple of months I had reduced headaches and fatigue, two things I suffered from regularly. I also began to have less brain fog. As I began to feel better on the inside, the outside began to transform too.
Having MS changed me, so I changed my outlook and approach and my life changed, too. All of the sudden these opportunities and people and things came into my life, and all of those other plans and ideas for racing to the top seemed silly, like false ideals of how to live life. I don’t have it all figured out, and sometimes it’s just one day at a time, but I have learned that we all need to find our voice, find our passions, and build a life worth living.
We don’t always get to choose our circumstances but we do get to choose how we handle them and how we grow from them. Now I try to spend my time working on things that actually matter to me, like being a positive force in the lives of others, being around loved ones, giving back and paying it forward. I hope I am able to touch people’s lives in a way that helps them to find their own voice and to help them start living a life filled with substance and happiness.