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  • I didn't know how it happened. I mean, I did. But I understood his frustration. He'd just gotten up to use the restroom. How did this woman, a stranger, end up at our table, chatting as if we'd known each other since birth?

    He wasn't gone that long.

    One thing just led to another. We were getting ready to leave the crowded cafe. Shut down. Pack up. Restroom. The woman needed a table and asked if we were leaving. I invited her to join me as I waited. We talked of art, the weather, our weekends. She mentioned the paper she'd come to write, and I asked a question.

    "Psychology," she said. "I've gone back to school. I was working in sales, but I had to stop because I have multiple sclerosis."

    "I have MS!"

    Suddenly, there we were. Talking. Really talking.

    "Did it help?" a friend later asked.

    "Help?" I thought.

    Over the years since my diagnosis, I've known other people with the disorder, including my best friend's dad and my cousin, but running into someone near my age at a similar state of progression with similar symptoms felt more like finding someone from home on the other side of the world.

    "I don't know that I would say that it helped, but it was interesting. We understood each other."

    Helped with what?

    I am not looking for a way to understand the disease or handle my symptoms. I have doctors, books, and blogs to help with that, and each body expresses the disease differently. (It's a very personal thing.) I accept the things happening to me; I don't resent that I lived so long undiagnosed. Resentment wouldn't fix it and not knowing led to a whole retinue of coping mechanisms on the path to some pretty incredibly places, which in turn made me the person I am. I love me. I love my life. I am not looking for help.

    Coffee shop woman and I held something in common. It was almost as if we'd gone to the same school or shared a hobby like knitting or astronomy, ham radio or model train building. We had a connection.

    Over the years, people have suggested support groups, advice that I try to see as flowing from love. I don't want a group of strangers to understand what I'm going through. I want to share my life (and this huge part of it) with friends and family. If I join a(nother) group, I'd rather something focused on prison issues, photography, or writing. I don't want to sit around dissecting MS. It's just something I have.

    Of course, I do write about MS (case in point), but I also write about the theater, the weather, and the taste of tea in Sri Lanka as I play cards, Kings and Assholes, with my South African friends after a long morning hike. MS is not the reason I write. I have a degree in journalism. I have been writing far longer than I've known about the disease. I write every day and have for more than 10 years.

    I write because I have something to say. I write to feel more alive and make myself see. I write to share the world as I see it. I write to change the world. I write to get lost. I write to find myself. I write to connect with other people. I write to let us all know that we're not alone. I write to keep my writing skills sharp. I write to exercise my brain and because I'm bored and because I want to remember. I write because I'm scared I'll forget. I write to be understood. I write to understand, learn, and grow. I write because it's hard. I write to make it easy. I write because I am a writer. Telling me "it must be cathartic" or "I hope it helps" sells my writing and me, as a writer, short.

    I am not short.

    I am not short, and I am not broken. Well, I am, but that is what it is. My body. Not me. My immune system has attacked my central nervous system, and I am slowly progressing toward (greater) disability. We all have to play the cards that we're dealt. Mine might not be suited for poker, but there are a whole bunch of games I can try.

    I was not looking for help from a stranger in a coffee shop on a random Monday morning. I really just enjoyed the unexpected connection and quick conversation before heading out and on with my life.
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