Life is funny when you stop to think about it.
I’ve been carrying around a thrum of sadness for a few weeks now. While my general outlook on life has been positive, there was still this ache inside of me. I didn’t know where it was coming from. I assumed that it had to do with the current pandemic and how much it’s changed our lives. The world has been a very sad place lately, so it wasn’t a surprise that I felt sad.
This was different though. It wasn’t a sadness because the world was in mourning for what it used to be. This sadness ran bone deep and though I meditated and tried to find an answer to why I was carrying this within me, its reason remained elusive. Oddly, it was thanks to Facebook that I figured everything out.
I was scrolling through the Facebook Memories on my wall this morning when I came across several memories from a few years ago, saying that it was the anniversary of when my life had changed. Then it hit me: I was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on August 21st, the day before my 35th birthday.
All throughout today, I’ve been reflecting on that and the journey that began seven years ago tomorrow. This journey took me though some very low times in my life, perhaps the lowest. I know that I hit rock bottom seven years ago and that ever since, I’ve been trying to live my best life. I try to remember my life before that moment, before the fear and uncertainty and the diagnosis and though I remember bits and pieces, it’s like who I was before multiple sclerosis changed my life has been wiped away.
Since that moment, the journey I’ve been on has been one of incredible scope and in the process of picking up the pieces of me that had fallen to the ground, somehow, I found myself. I wrote about part of that journey in my memoir Little Yellow Magnet but it is a journey that still continues to this day. I’m constantly trying to find myself and find my footing on the path that I am on.
I realized that I’ve been carrying sadness for a long time. For years, there were a few dates that stuck with me and that I observed almost like they were holy days of some kind: December 30th , August 21st and May 13th. I was struck with a then unknown sickness on December 30th, 2012. On August 21st, 2013 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. On May 13th, 2013, after suffering from a debilitating depression, I came very close to taking my life.
Every year since then, I’ve held on to those days, December 31st, August 21st and May 13th. They’ve been my trio of personal holy days to be observed and remembered. Gradually over time, I’ve been able to let go of them. I celebrate new year when December 31st comes around and though I recall what happened on that day in 2012, I celebrate the life I lead now. May is no longer my dark month as if once was before, filled with foreboding. I now think of it as the month that I decided to change my life, that I took back control of who I was and where I wanted to go. I let those days go, let what they meant to me and what they represented fall into the wind to have those emotions taken away.
If I hadn’t seen my Facebook memories, I would have forgotten what August 21st was to me again. However, just because my brain had forgotten, my body and spirit hadn’t. They remembered and the sadness that I’ve been feeling building up inside of me was a reaction to the day that was coming. On August 21st, 2020, it will be seven years since my diagnosis. It’s funny, on one hand seven years should feel like a long time, but to me it feels like yesterday.
That I can so easily delve into that pain leads me to believe that I haven’t let go of that pain as much as I thought I had. I was carrying sadness that had no source, nothing to cause it and I knew that it wasn’t the pandemic or the current problems of the world. The body remembers sadness and trauma, even if we don’t consciously do so.
I need to let go of this sadness. It no longer has any place in my life. Sure, there may very well be some new sadness or tears to be shed, but I don’t have to hold on to my past sadness anymore. I’ve grown so much, beyond what I ever thought possible. Why would I let my emotions hold me back? I have to let the old emotions go.
However, before I do so, I can’t forget what the emotions taught me. What the sadness meant when I was feeling it.
When my life hit rock bottom, when I was bed ridden for a month and a half, when I had to learn to walk and speak and type again, that sadness proved that I could still feel. Part of me wanted to give up, to let my life go from me so that I could walk into the darkness, to let the dark forest claim me.
I didn’t do that. I chose to live.
The sadness I carried with me was a reminder that I could feel, that I contained emotions and feelings. That I could be sad told me that I could be happy as well. For a while, it was important to honour the sadness every year on my holy trinity of days because it was an indication of how far I have come.
There is fear wrapped up in that sadness, too. For a long time, I was afraid of what the MS would take from me, that it would eat away at my life and what I had built, at what I perceived as worth saving. For a long time, I was so afraid of what would happen. Sadness was my constant companion and fear was my constant bedfellow. I was afraid of not being able to walk again, of losing the ability to talk, of my body rebelling against everything I had done to get better.
I remember that first year. On the night before New Years Eve day, I was so sure that I would wake up the next morning on the anniversary of the day that my life changed, and I would be right back to where I had been before. I sat there on December 30th, 2013 and I was so afraid and so sad that I was letting my fear take me over. When I woke on December 31st and I was okay, I was still able to talk and walk, I rejoiced.
Even so, for a while, I still felt fear every May 13th, August 21st and December 30th. Even though I’ve worked hard to better myself and have made new memories to fill my memory of those days, I supposed there is still a small part of me that remembers. How else could I be feeling sadness that had no cause?
I named the Cerebral Palsy I live with Cybil Paulsen and the Multiple Sclerosis I carry within me Max Shadow. I did this because I thought that if I wanted to understand my enemy, I had to give it a name so that I could know them intimately. I named them because I feared them. I fear them no longer. I am living my best life, a life I once thought impossible to achieve, because of the MS. It has taught me what be grateful for and what to cherish.
Normally, I wish Max Shadow a happy birthday with a soupcon of sarcasm thrown into it. However, now I will wish Max well and thank him for all he’s done. It’s because of him that I finally grew into the person I was meant to be all along. I have a gift for him this year, too. I will let go of the fear that I have been holding on to and the sadness that I have been wearing as a mantle even without knowing it. This year, I let all of that go.
So, Happy Birthday Max Shadow. Thank you for showing me who I could be.