You Are Stronger Than You Think

By Penelope Conway

There are so many things that I’m thankful for. I could list the usual: family, friends, warm fuzzy slippers and coffee…but those things seem so shallow to me now. Not because they aren’t important, but because my focus has shifted greatly over the years.

This morning, as I sat asking myself why I’m thankful, a flood of thoughts came to my mind. I have seen people faced with terrible circumstances who have become bitter in the process, and I have seen others rise above their challenges and become a light and a source of hope to the world around them. Which am I? Which are you?

As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I remember the day I sat in the doctor’s office when he gave me the unwelcome news that I have MS. I went through a full range of emotions in the weeks that followed from denial, to pain, to anger, to depression, to acceptance. It was a shocking blow to my life and something that I never saw coming. I had plans and MS wasn’t one of them.

It’s definitely been a hard road. I have had to adjust the way I do just about everything because even the simplest of daily tasks have become challenging for me. Some days I even have arguments with myself about getting dressed for the day or going to the store for something other than toilet paper. It’s amazing how much I took for granted before MS.

But you know, regardless of the struggle, I refuse to give up. I will NOT let MS keep me from being thankful…or from living.

The questions that I’ve asked myself, even just recently, have been simple. Can I be thankful regardless of the circumstances I find myself in? Can I find beauty in the chaos? Can I look this disease of MS square in the eyes and say, “I am not defeated because of you and in spite of the challenges I face, I will be thankful for each new day I am given.”

I decided to stop questioning why I was going through this crazy storm in my life and resolved to be thankful as I go through. I pictured myself as a tree swaying in the wind, but anyone who has ever lived through a tsunami, hurricane or tornado knows that even the strongest of trees break. It may still be standing when the storm subsides, but scars are left behind as a reminder of what once was branches and sometimes even the trunk breaks.

The truth is, multiple sclerosis changes you. It leaves scars both in your brain and spine, but also in your heart. You change. The storm you are enduring…people can’t see it. Some try to understand, but without living in your body and experiencing your journey by walking in your shoes, they just can’t understand the mental and emotional pains you face each day along with a slew of symptoms. They don’t know how often you cover your tears with a smile and piece together your heart with bubble gum and shoestrings.

Are you stronger because of MS? Absolutely you are. You are stronger even in the breaking. You have endured much and just like how a tree grows new limbs once a storm has torn it apart, you are growing and changing every day. You may be at a place where you feel like the storm is overtaking you, but the winds will calm and the sun will come out.

Hold on with everything you’ve got, then when you find your strength again…hold your head high proud of what you’ve come through and choose to be thankful for all you’ve overcome. I have learned that strength isn’t measured by the amount of things I can do or by how little I cry, it’s determined by the attitude that I have while going through the storms in life.

Not many people can make it through a storm, break, then keep going…but you are doing it. So the next time someone tells you to stay strong, smile in your brokenness realizing that your scars speak of your strength and tell a story that only a warrior can tell.

*Penelope Conway was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November 2011. She is the author and founder of Positive Living with MS (positivelivingwithms.com) where she uses humor and her own life experiences with MS to help others navigate this unpredictable journey. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day.

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Everyone Has a Unique Diagnosis Story

Everyone living with MS has been diagnosed at different stages in their lives and each has a unique story and experience. We wanted to know more from our community members, so we asked a simple question: “At what age were you diagnosed with MS?” Not only did several hundred community members respond, but we heard bits and pieces of so many different diagnosis stories. Here’s what some of our community members told us.

Diagnosis at any age

Many of our members reported completely varying ages of diagnosis, including the following responses:

“At 24 I was diagnosed… now it’s 10 years and 4 kids later.”

“I was 29 years old, started with numbness & tingling in left foot… within a couple of days both legs were numb & tingling.  After a month & a bunch of tests I was told it was MS.”

“They told me in my 20’s it might be MS, I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 50.”

“I was diagnosed at 43 in Jan 2014.”

“For me it was two years ago at the age of 55 years old.”

“I was diagnosed at the age of 60 in 2015.

“I was 41, but had symptoms a few years prior.”

“The official diagnosis came when I was 21

“I was diagnosed at 52 years old.”

There is not often a direct path to diagnosis

Many of our community members have found that confirming their MS diagnosis was not a simple nor a fast process. A large portion of our community members experienced symptoms for months, years, or even decades before getting an actual diagnosis.

“I was 23, but I had undiagnosed left sided weakness and heat intolerance since about 14

“For me it was at the age of 29, but I started showing symptoms since the age of 15. I was hospitalized for weeks because of numbness on my left side from head to toe. They ran the gamut of tests they had back then and had no idea…

“I was 38 but took 8 years to get the diagnosis!

“I was diagnosed at 43 years old, but I had been experiencing symptoms for at least 15 years. It almost came as a relief, because at least now I knew.”

“Diagnosed at 54, with weird symptoms for over 2 decades.”

“Symptoms at 26, diagnosed at 52.

“Probable diagnosis at 28 … definite at 33”

“My first symptoms at 45, final diagnosis at 48, after misdiagnosing and treating sinus area pain”

Incorrect diagnoses

Diagnosing MS can be a challenging process; early symptoms can often be suggestive of several other conditions. Not only did many of of our community members report having a long journey to diagnosis, but also, having stops along the way where they were misdiagnosed, or treated for something different.

“Diagnosed at 56….it took many years as it’s a disease that masks others…they thought it was Lupus for many years”

“I was 34 but misdiagnosed for 10 years”

“I was 33 years old, but was misdiagnose with Epstein-Barr for seven years”

“I was 29 but I had been misdiagnosed with hemiplegic migraines for year before”

 “At 31… Was told it was a brain tumor…

“I was diagnosed at 19 but had symptoms my whole life doctors thought I had a stroke or diabetes or just bad migraines”

Regardless of age, the road to diagnosis may not be a direct or simple one. An MS diagnosis can come at any time in life, and can change everything.  Whether you’re diagnosed at 15, 55, or 95, we’re here for you! We hope you’ll continue to share your diagnosis experiences with the MultipleSclerosis.net community.

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