1st Dec, 2002
Teresa M Campbell
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
WHEN I CELEBRATED my 70th birthday, I realized I'd lived half of my life as a person with a disability.
I was diagnosed with MS when I was 35 years old. It seems like only yesterday. I wondered what quality of life I would have while living with a chronic disease. Would I be able to continue to swim, hike, travel, work, and take care of myself? Or would I end up in a wheelchair or nursing home, unable to see to my most basic needs?
As time progressed and my physical condition changed, the answers to these questions became real and pertinent. I learned how valuable my previous attitudes and experiences in life were. Friends, family, and MS support groups helped me find answers to my questions.
Each part of my life has had its own meaning and rewards: The first half of my life prepared me to live the second half. Before I was diagnosed with MS, I was always optimistic, motivated, and in control. These three qualities determined how well I would live with MS. Being an optimist, I always felt that MS was something I could live with. I'd do everything possible to maximize my health and to follow the recommended treatment.
Social psychologists have studied people with the same disease treated by the same physician and have seen varying patterns of disease outcomes. It's been postulated that people who feel in charge of their lives are more apt to have milder symptoms than people who feel they're not in control of their lives.
Numerous epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that socially isolated individuals are at greater risk for health problems and death. I've numerous friends and maintain contact via mail, telephone, and E-mail. I attend movies and the theater and eat at restaurants; it just takes a little more planning. Last year, six of us went on a cruise to Alaska, and I accompanied another group of friends for a weekend to California's Mendocino Coast.
"Life Just Changed"
I've always been an active traveler. I lived in Europe for a year. I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of California and attended school in Japan. I even served on the maiden voyage of the hospital ship S.S. Hope to Indonesia and Vietnam. I saw life as an adventure, and I was determined that this belief would not change because I had MS.
After my diagnosis and my acceptance of what it meant, I continued to travel to various parts of the world. With two canes, I climbed the acropolis in Athens, sailed a rented boat down the Thames, watched the sun set over Milford Sound, and enjoyed the Bolshoi Ballet perform Swan Lake inside the Kremlin. I had to modify how I traveled and had to accept certain limitations. But I always knew I could manage to do what I wanted. My motto became: There's always a way.
After working for many years as a university professor, I retired to conserve my energy for other things. I'd earned tenure and promotions because I'd continued to perform my job duties; I never asked for special considerations and usually gave more than was required.
I grieved when negative changes occurred in my life. Grieving is normal for any loss. Rachael Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, said: "The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life more than anything else. The way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves from life." When my walking became limited, I bought a scooter that took me where I wanted to go. It enabled me to be a mobile person again -to visit the arboretum and to see the baby quail in the spring.
When I could no longer climb the stairs, I bought a stairlift to carry me up. No longer able to take tours of Europe, I took accessible cruises and traveled to wonderful places. Limited in my ability to exercise, I started swimming and using a gym three times a week. Looking for new interests and challenges, I bought a computer, learned how to operate it, and started writing stories for magazines. My life didn't end when I was diagnosed with MS, it just changed. I grieved each loss but continued to focus on what I could do.
As I thought about my life, I realized I had a story to tell; talking about loss is a way of grieving. I needed to grieve the loss of who I was before I could accept the person I'd become. I'll never again be the person I was when I was diagnosed in 1966 with MS, and I'll never again be able to do the things that person did. She was the end result of many experiences that had happened in her life. The person I am now is a continuation of those experiences.
Studies have demonstrated that talking about your experiences can decrease your blood pressure and increase your immune system's ability to fight disease. Telling a story is a way of healing.
I wrote Life Is an Adventure about all that has happened to me in my life. It's a story of living life to its fullest while managing loss and grieving. Grieving allowed healing to occur.
When I think of my life, I like to think of an old saying: "Life is like a coin. You can spend it anyway you wish, but you can only spend it once."
I hope I have spent my life wisely.
© 2002, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis