I tell myself that I was diagnosed with MS at the best possible time. I had recently become eligible for medical insurance at my job, so I was covered during my hospital stay and was able to go on disability when I came home. Not long after returning to work, my unpredictable symptoms started causing me to come in late or miss work altogether and when I discovered that my department was devising a plan to get rid of me, I beat them to the punch and left.
Ironically, I accepted a management position at my beloved martial arts school and even with the increased physical demands of my new workplace, my symptoms bothered me less than when I was sitting at a desk all day. Several people at the school knew my situation, but most didn’t and I didn’t advertise.
After a while I became good at camouflaging my symptoms, so I started pretending they weren’t there. Then there was the pride factor. More than the pain of spasms in my left hand, or the crippling knot in my lower back, or a limp I disguised as swagger, I feared being pitied and underestimated. I didn’t want anyone thinking of me as that poor girl who can’t do this or can’t handle that. After lying in a hospital bed thinking I wouldn’t ever get up from it, I wasn’t about to deal with pity. I kept the details of what I was still experiencing to a minimum.
I built up reserves of courage and walls of inner strength and it was a learning experience like no other. I went through the rigors of two Black Belt tests and continued to train with peers that didn’t sugarcoat their punches or take-downs. I re-energized students on the verge of quitting on themselves through leading by example. I avoided discrimination in my subsequent workplace by not mentioning my MS since I knew it wouldn’t keep me from doing my job. I spared my family worry since most of them live too far away to check in on me or come running if I need help. I willed myself to almost never need help.
But the truth is I did need help. Eventually, I had to accept that at some point, no matter how tough and self-reliant we’d like to be, we all need some support (if not full out rescue) sometimes. And that’s okay.
One night as I went to walk my dog, I felt dizzy and short of breath in the elevator. I used my counting mechanism to calm down and told myself that when the doors opened, I would step out and sit on the floor until I felt better. That night I hardly remember those elevator doors opening at all and when I opened my eyes I was face down on the basement floor in a pool of blood. My darling dog was standing near me, even though I had dropped the leash, waiting for me to get up. I was dazed as I looked at the amount of blood that had come from a gash just below my hairline. I shuffled to my feet and continued out with the dog, (I guess I was still out of it) and came back up to my apartment within a few minutes – she doesn’t waste time.
Without locking my door or taking the leash off the dog, I plopped on my couch and took my phone out of my pocket. I dialed the last missed call, a dear friend to whom I casually mentioned that I had fallen and “kinda hurt myself a little.” I guess he could tell by my tone that I was out of sorts and kept me on the phone while he got in his car and came over to check on me. He walked through my door and found me with blood streaming down my face like something out of a slasher movie. He went to work cleaning me up and searched my medicine cabinet for bandages and peroxide. Of course I had none, so we went to an all-night drugstore, then to an-all night drive through for something to eat.
Confident that I didn’t have a concussion, he returned to the meeting he’d left to come help me, but called every fifteen minutes to be sure that I stayed awake and wasn’t feeling nauseous. I ended up being fine, but I gained a new appreciation for having help in a tight spot.
These days, I still err on the side of self-reliance and I doubt that will ever change. But I understand and accept that letting people in and getting them involved in what I need is me taking care of myself too. Plus, allowing someone to help me makes them a hero, so it’s a win-win, right?