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  • I used to keep a list tracking the benefits of having multiple sclerosis. (I might have written about it. I think I did. I should look.) Within days of diagnosis, after too much time on the internet, with doctors and testing, I realized that there was entirely too little positive news about the disease so I did what I do and tried to find humor in the situation. I tried to focus on the bright side, and I wrote.

    Unfortunately, I lost the list when I changed jobs. Somehow, the notes on my phone had tangled with the wrong profile, and when my work account vanished so did tiny bits of my history. Off the top of my head, I remember things like not feeling my feet meant no suffering the blisters on long walks for charity and that MRIs prepped me for a career as a magician's assistant. Give me a box and cut me in half; no problem!

    The disorder lent weight and credibility to complaints about hotel rooms. It let me board first if and/or when I wanted, and… There were more. I know there were more. Let me think… Oh! A cheap date! I am a cheap date! I always seem drunk.

    Seriously, though, I don't know what MS gave me. Despite diagnosis in my late 30s, I started showing signs around the age of 12. It feels like maybe I have always had it; it is just part of me now.

    I might be more careful, more cautious, more cerebral. I am probably more organized and insanely detail oriented. I am reliable. I maintain a careful calendar and keep lists on my phone. I follow them. If we set a time and place anywhere in the world for any point, if I agree and add the date to my calendar. I will be there. Period.

    I make time and space for the things that I want and I work very hard to put things back where they "belong." If I don't, I won't be able to find them again, and my brain has retrained itself along the lines of Benjamin Franklin.

    "For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
    For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
    For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
    For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
    For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
    And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail."

    Rather than gifts from the disease itself, though, it is easier to list the things that came with my diagnosis. After decades of feeling the world shift beneath me, of feeling insecure and being insecure and called clumsy, a klutz, or a mess, I gained confidence. I wasn't a hypochondriac. There was actually something really, really wrong with me, something far worse than anyone could have imagined, and I was fine. (Even today, people underestimate how far the disease has progressed because I "look so good" and "do so much.")

    With my diagnosis, I realized that I was strong, far stronger than I'd ever imagined, and that I was not less because I fell down; I was more because I got up. People who laughed were just being jerks.

    I realized that I didn't care for the opinions of jerks, and that was OK. I learned to say no and stand up for myself. I learned to push back.

    I learned to let go.

    I realized that life was too short to live it for others. I realized that I was only going to get one, and this one was mine. I decided that I wouldn't cry for my future while still in the present because I would not waste feeling good on feeling bad for myself.

    I realized that I probably wouldn't cry in the future either.

    My understanding and empathy grew as my vocabulary shrank. I stopped talking so much. I started listening more. I cut out platitudes and acknowledged that sometimes, life sucks.

    My relationships changed, some faded while others deepened, and I joined a secret club of people with hidden diseases, dark humor, clear vision. I joined a club of people determined to live life fully in the here and now. Without any sort of secret handshake or insignia, somehow, we knew each other by sight.

    With my diagnosis, I got answers. I got help. I got hope. I couldn't stop or reverse the disease, but I could try to slow it down and treat some of the symptoms.

    I could probably go on with the things I have gained through my journey with MS, but really, they're just things gained in the journey of life because MS is part of me.


    I did find the list or most of it, anyway, as it stood two years ago, two years and a month.

    * Credibility (and weight) to complaints about hotel rooms
    * Support from the strangest parts of my life and the unlikeliest allies.
    * Magician's Assistant: Uniquely suited to working in confined spaces (based on MRI experience).
    * Being present: I will never be as young and as healthy as I am right now. Don't wait to live.
    * Cheap date: Always feel drunk
    * Confidence: Symptoms without a diagnosis made me insecure. That's gone. I'm stronger now.
    * Quotes: My symptom tracker offers a new, non-cheesy, inspirational quote every single day, ex "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" by Andre Gide.
    * Prime seating in restaurants: You want me to go upstairs? I don't think so.
    * Drafts: Getting out of every war draft. Ever.
    * Boot camp: Definitely getting out of that
    * Government jobs: I have a severe disability; I have an edge! Bring on Schedule A.
    * Numb feet: Blisters didn't hurt much on the 60-mile 3-day for the Cure
    * Excuse for forgetting anything: I have brain damage!
    * Naps at work
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