Many of you, without reading my previous posts, wouldn’t know I struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. It isn’t always a daily struggle, but it is always there lurking and waiting to pay me a visit. The visits typically come at the worse times, and the worst thing is, I never know how long the visit will last. Sometimes it comes in the form of leg pain in the middle of the night when I am trying to sleep. Not a stabbing leg pain that causes pain, but rather a deep throbbing pain in my bones. Other times it comes as uncontrollable cold chills and shivering in the middle of the night. But most often however, the visits come in the form of depression and cognitive impairment. No matter what I may know deep down inside, it seems like a switch is flipped in my brain, and all the truth that I may know is clouded.
While I was in the United States Air Force, I really enjoyed teaching. I taught for a total of eight out of my sixteen years in the service. I was able to build lesson plans with ease and then teach 8+ hours of instruction. It’s discouraging to look back at those times, less than ten years ago, and know that I struggle cognitively. Being in law enforcement in the military, I dealt with high-stress situations almost on a daily basis. Quite often, split second decisions had to be made to ensure the safety of myself and others.
For those who struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, you know there are things that can trigger an episode or flare up. One of the biggest triggers for me is stress in life. It doesn’t always have to be a stressful situation like a big move, a death in the family, or starting a new job. It also doesn’t have to be a stressor that you and I would consider negative. There are good forms of stress…but it is stress nonetheless, and I know when I experience either good or bad stress, I can expect a visit from my unwelcomed guest.
One of the hardest things with living with a disability, is the impact that it has on others around me. So many people, when they hear I have Multiple Sclerosis, come out with comments like, “You look pretty good for having MS!” Sure, I am able to get around just fine most of the time, but the majority of what is going on cannot be seen. It’s being overwhelmed or dealing with sensory overload when engaging in conversations with multiple people in a short period of time. It’s sitting in a room where numerous conversations are taking place all at once, and trying to focus on the conversation I am having. It’s having a conversation with someone and knowing there’s a good chance I won’t remember a large portion of that conversation because my brain is trying to process it all, and I’m stuck at the beginning of the conversation.
But the worse part of it all is that life happens and doesn’t slow down just because I deal with these cognitive issues. So, what does one do when life happens? Those who deal with these kinds of issues, like Multiple Sclerosis, often resort to feeling like we need to place our disabilities or impairments on a shelf so that we can be there and be present for others. We often neglect what we are feeling or experiencing so that we can show up for others. When you don’t always have a disability that is visible, others can sometimes unknowingly or unintentionally forget that you even have an impairment. They see you as someone who may not struggle with situations or even simple day-to-day stressors that for most people, are very easy to cope with or navigate through. And that is hard.
Every single person, whether it’s something like Multiple Sclerosis, depression, anxiety, or whatever other name or label can be put on it, is dealing with something. Everyone is dealing with a hardship, and to them, it is very real and numbing at that moment. We need to have a little mercy on those around us. We never know exactly what is going through someone’s head, what they are feeling or experiencing that we cannot see, and that the smile on their face may be hiding their pain. We never know what prison cell they may feel like they are locked in.