I wrote this for the Payton James Freeman Essay Prize, but it didn’t place or win. That’s all good. I’m not bummed about it at all actually.
The important thing is that I wrote this essay, that I got it down on paper.
And now I get to share it with all of you. 🙂
“You’re a broken man now.”
His words haunted me. They rang in my head through my sleep and repeated themselves again during my waking hours like a mantra. The sad part was that I believed him. I believed I was broken.
In January of 2013, I woke up to find my world had changed. I had no balance and could barely walk. The doctor at the clinic misdiagnosed me with Labyrinthitis, a disorder that comes from trauma to the inner ear. It would take two weeks to repair itself. It took longer than that.
It didn’t get better. I kept falling, kept going numb in parts of my body and was slowly losing my ability to function. I was bed ridden for close to a month. When I finally was able to go back to work in February, the unthinkable happened: I lost the ability to speak, went partially blind and lost the ability to type. I’m a writer. I was able to write 20, 000 words in a weekend. Now I couldn’t write a single one.
My brain knew the words it wanted on the page, but my fingers couldn’t hit the right keys. My mother urged me to go to the hospital. I agreed and was met at the emergency room by my mom and my boyfriend. After six hours, I was lucky enough to see a neurologist. He examined me and said: I’m pretty sure it’s Multiple Sclerosis, but we’ll have to run some tests to be sure.”
I could barely take care of myself. My boyfriend had to help me in and out of the bath. He could barely stand to look at me and, when he did, it was with a look of the utmost disgust. He could barely stand to touch me. I spent a lot of my time on my own, thinking my thoughts into a darkness that would never answer me back; it would only swallow them.
I had blood work done, an MRI, a spinal tap. They measured my sight and what I was able to do physically. Then began the waiting. For months, I didn’t know what was causing the war within my body and I withdrew from life as much as I could. When I did go out, it was with a cane or not at all.
Finally, after months of not knowing what was wrong with me, in April of 2013, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I would have to wait until August 21st, the day before my birthday, to find out what kind I had. I remember the look my then boyfriend gave me when the diagnosis was given. It was not one of support. It was one of disgust. When we got home, he looked at me and said. “You’re a broken man now.”
I was too shocked to respond. The truth is, I actually believed him. I believed I was broken. Never mind that I had been strong enough to walk again, talk again, write again. I believed him. I should have left him right then and there, but I thought: who else would want me?
Things became more difficult. I call May of 2013 my Dark Month. I had withdrawn from everyone and everything I loved. I would go to work and come home, seeing my boyfriend only when he had time for me. I know now that I was horribly depressed and lost within myself. I was unable to find my way out. It was as if I had died, in a way. I couldn’t find the trail of bread crumbs to find my way out again.
Things reached a very dark point for me. I remember the day well. I had been given a prescription for a pain medication while I was waiting to find out what MS I had and they could prescribe the MS medication. The pills helped with the spasms but they made me sleepy. I wondered what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up again. I sat outside at work, that bottle of pills in front of me. I called my boyfriend and told him. “I can’t do this anymore. I just want to take all my pills and end it. I want to quit.”
“So do it.”
I was silent for a moment but then said: “Did you hear what I said? I said I wanted to kill myself.”
“And I said: do it.”
A piece of me shattered inside. I realized it wasn’t the MS that had me thinking I was broken, it was him. I hung up on him and did what I should have done in the first place: I called my mother. “I didn’t raise a quitter.” She told me. “You’re so strong, Jamieson, you’re stronger than this. I didn’t raise a quitter. Don’t quit on me now.”
It was my mother that kept me alive. I started doing what I could to get better, stronger. I remember looking at a magnet on my fridge that said: My life is up to me. So I chose to live, knowing that we only get the one shot at it. I needed to get back to living.
The first thing I did was learn to have a shower again. I had been having baths because there was no way I could stand and maintain my balance. Taking a bath on my own took a long time. I had to lift my legs carefully over the side of the bath tub and slowly inch myself down into the water. Getting out was more difficult, heat being bad for MS symptoms. However, it was the only way I could bathe.
Taking that first shower was perilous, but it was lovely. I was standing, supporting myself, strong enough to stay standing. I marveled at the ability to take a shower, something I had always done before was now cause for celebration because I could do it again. I decided to see what else I could to to take control of my life again.
I decided to take the garbage out myself. For months, neighbors had been doing it for me. There was a flight of steps and a long walk to the dumpster. I would not have been able to do that before. However, after months of essentially sitting still, I was desperate to move, however haltingly.
I remember getting all the trash together, taking the trashcan up the back steps and carrying it down the walk. It took me an hour and a half to do such a simple chore, but I did it. I felt a glow inside me and, for just a moment, I stood there by the dumpster and looked up to the sky, congratulating myself on what I had done. Like taking a shower, I had done what I thought to be impossible.
I started doing other impossible chores: cleaning the cat litter and ironing my clothes again (both of these required balance). I cleaned my apartment, did my laundry, even went grocery shopping. All of these chores took longer than they had before and I had to be careful doing them.
However, that wasn’t the point. The point was, with each chore, with each thing I hadn’t been able to do for months, I was taking back a piece of myself that had been lost along the way, gathering up the bread crumbs and finding my way out of the dark. Then, in October of last year, I did what I should have done months ago. I broke up with my controlling, abusive boyfriend.
He came over to get his belongings and yelled at me, raged at me. “I don’t understand. I’ve given you everything: an iPad, a Kindle, an entire new wardrobe! Wasn’t that enough?”
I shook my head. “No. I wanted your love and your support. Money can’t buy those. You have to want to give them.”
Finally, as he was leaving, he turned to me and said: “You’re broken! Who’s going to love a broken man?”
“I am not broken.” I said. “And I’m going to love myself.”
With him gone, I grew stronger. I was getting better not only physically but mentally as well. I was going out, taking classes, filling my brain with knowledge, reconnecting with friends. I started doing more things for myself and eventually I no longer thought of myself as broken.
In January of this year, I decided to try my hand at dating again. A lot of men couldn’t look past the MS though. Quite a few of them saw me with my cane and couldn’t even look past that. Even when I eventually stopped walking with the cane, many of them would run as soon as I told them I had MS.
I despaired at ever finding someone to love me as I was. I knew I loved myself, but thought that I would never find love, true honest love. I went on a handful of dates and none of them ever amounted to anything. They were with men stuck inside their own problems, their own issues. They didn’t have room for mine.
So instead of looking for love, I really focused on loving myself and being thankful. Once again, however, it was my mother who gave me some sage advice: “How do you expect to find love if you’re not open to it? You have to be open to the possibility of love.”
I had been emailing a man and decided to just lay it out on the table in all honesty before I met him. When I told him I had MS and Cerebral Palsy, his response was music to my ears. “It’s unfortunate that our society views illness or disability as a weakness when it is really a strength.”
I decided after that email, he at least deserved a coffee date. We’re still together six months later. Recently, he said to me: “I don’t see you as disabled. When I look at you, all I see is how awesome you are. You do more than people I know that don’t have anything.”
It’s been quite a journey, finding my way out of the dark. It may not be the life I chose, but it’s the only life I have. I’m going to keep on living it and remain thankful and grateful for everything in it. It’s taught me about thankfulness, about wisdom. It’s taught me that, no matter how difficult things become, I am capable of anything I set my mind to. That, just when life seems it’s bleakest, something will light up your way forward.
I’ve finally found my prince, but it’s not a happily ever after. Our story, our life together, is just beginning…