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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Thank You, Maybe

By Lauren Kovacs

I admit this is a tough emotion for many MS folks. I am not exactly the “glass is half full,” sparkles, and glitter type. Not sure how I survived as a college cheerleader. Many were bubbly, barf. I was more of the stick in the mud with a giant white bow.

Gratefulness has been a learned trait. I force myself to see the green grass and pretty unicorns. I often see giant animals pooping on my lawn with sharp pointy things on their heads. Many of us have to really try to be thankful. Come on! MS has taken a lot and it is not a generous disease.

Alas, finding thankfulness is hard, but we must try. I would fit in well with a Grinch family, however green is not my color. See, glass half empty!

I have to “cheer” myself on just to get to the bathroom in time.  Finding things to be grateful for takes on a new identity. If I manage to tie my shoe or put elastic in my hair on the first try, I celebrate it.

Small things deserve great thanks. MS folks adapt better than most. I am a lefty, yet I have learned to apply eyeliner with my right hand. I drove my figure skating instructor nuts because I spun like a lefty and jumped like a righty. In kindergarten, I cut paper right but, wrote left. Drove my teacher crazy enough to put me in some special ed. classes. Little did I know that one day this ambidextrous trait would come in handy. That is something to be very thankful for.  I still can’t write right handed, yet every other thing I can do with my right hand.

I learn to be thankful for much smaller things. Simple stuff does matter. Think about just getting through the day. Toilet paper, straws, walkers, naps and all that meaningless stuff is, in fact, deserving of our thanks.

I am thankful my boys can enjoy gluten. Stuffing at Thanksgiving would suck. I am grateful I have enough self-control to resist it. Talk about resisting temptation.

MS reveals how tiny stuff can induce great thanks. I am very thankful for anti-bacterial wipes. I can de-germ my walker and wheelchair wheels pretty easily. Think about where they go. When I did horseback riding therapy, those wheels went over horse poop.

Even though I have had to give up my jeans, being small enough to wear fun kid-size leggings is a trade off. Yes, I have lots of sneakers too, but less of an ankle injury risk than heels. I am truly thankful for that.

It may take some thought, but we can find stuff to be grateful for. It might seem simple to some. I get weird looks for being thankful for my piggy dog, but he cleans up all the food I drop on the floor. He is now on a diet though. Poor guy. He loves food.

I am thankful for having a life jacket. Drowning in my own pool was not on my bucket list. Small things to be grateful for shows humility. It can be fun, too.  I love that I can paint my own nails, if I use glitter polish. Covers the mess well.

When going around the table talking about what you are thankful for, think. Small things show that you have character. It might make someone else see how blessings come in all sizes. I personally, am grateful for whoever invented elastics for pants. Sweet tea is a close second. Electric toothbrushes are a lifesaver, too. No swamp mouth.

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