Seven years ago I was diagnosed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d had the MRI right before Thanksgiving discovering lesions on my brain. So I spent Black Friday wondering if I had a brain tumor, a stroke or any number of autoimmune illnesses. The first week of December I had the lumbar puncture and more blood tests. Then, during the last week of classes, my cell buzzed while in class where we were giving final presentations. I stepped out, gave him permission to tell me over the phone and learned I had Multiple Sclerosis.
Bah the fuck humbug.
We discussed next steps like starting interferons and such. I went back to class and gave my presentation. It went fairly well, I think I got an A. I told my parents. Later that day, I went shopping at the Gap and my credit card was declined. I cried over that, I distinctly remember bawling angry tears over my fucked up credit and wishing I could get it together. I did not cry over my diagnosis. Not for another two years.
Referring to his own MS diagnosis at 25 Richard M. Cohen once said, “Denial is misunderstood. Selective denial can help keep us from overload in dealing with grave issues and help us move forward through something.” I’m inclined to agree, except to add that while denial can help us push through whatever it is we need to push through (for Cohen it was his career as a war correspondent, for me it was my career as a scholar) the anger that fuels it still bleeds out in other, usually destructive ways.
It’s incredibly easy for such anger to come out when you’re surrounded — seriously surrounded, from November to December when you step inside any drugstore, just stop and pause to take in how fucking shiny everything — by signs that everything is wonderful. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about coming together, warmth, coziness, family, especially showing those you love just how much they’re loved by how much materials you can bestow on them in the name of such love.
For me, the anger and resentment were mixed up with the fact that my split up dysfunctional families do not have any central location to cozy up. Then throw my diagnosis into the mix and the feelings of isolation and alienation grow even bigger.
It’s honestly difficult for me to write this 7 years later. There was a time when you couldn’t shut me up about the goddamn holidays and all its bullshit and why can’t we be connected throughout the year, why just this one specific time, and why must I come to you when you know I have an illness that makes movement and travel challenging if not impossible?…well, maybe if I’d admitted as much to myself than perhaps folks would show the understanding I so very much needed and, albeit reluctantly, wanted….
…or, maybe the assholes who were assholes before your illness are still gonna be assholes after. BUT, it’s the giving folks the chance that matters.
So I guess in seven years, that’s what this illness and this time of year have taught me.
Bah the fuck humbug, indeed.
Linda Chavers- Multiple Sclerosisby