By Chernise Joseph (Zivvy)

Anxiety. I’m full of that right now.

It’s pretty common, but it still feels like something you’d see in a horror movie: it sneaks up on you, there’s some loud, dramatic cue of music, and then suddenly whatever else you’re doing feels irrelevant because now you have to run from It.

Tonight, I sat outside with my friends and watched the tree canopies above us get caught up in the wind. It’s a cool, breezy night tonight in Texas, and I honestly would swear that, when I looked up, I saw the 100-year-old oak and pine trees all around us turn and begin to talk to each other. I wondered what they were discussing. The weather, maybe. It’s been some miserably hot days lately, after all. We sat in near total darkness after an impromptu scene change from inside to out and I’d never quite experienced a night like that before. The wind blew harder as a cold front rolled in and the intricate light from the football fields nearby illuminated each of the leaves tangled together high above us. They started to shiver too against the chill, and I heard their little whispers beneath the hum of crickets and falling leaves. Everything sounded alive, like the breeze awoke the evening just for us. It was starting to rain, they said, just before I felt it. Their murmurs grew louder with the roiling wind that carried the icy drops to us, nearly a shout, and I understood why they called it howling. Maybe it wasn’t the wind making that sound, after all.

Maybe the trees weren’t actually saying speaking, but my mind was calm enough to think they were. I was there and present, in the moment, even as my friends chatted to one another about social sciences or evolution or something else. All I could think about in between each second was the fact I was witnessing something irreplaceable. There would never be another 9:43 PM on October 14th, 2020. I was living it and I appreciated that more than anything else. I didn’t think about my problems or the stress that came just living everyday with multiple sclerosis.

If I could put it into words, it was revolutionary.

Why? Because I had become so accustomed to that constant hum of stress and anxiety in the background of my mind that I didn’t quite remember it was possible to live without it–not on my own, anyway. I remember I noted how the absence of anxiety made me uneasy, like missing something you never wanted in the first place.

The rain started and the moment was gone with a mad dash back inside, but that feeling stuck with me. I realized how important those little moments are, even if they seem inconsequential on a bigger scale – I still have MS, I still have anxiety, the world keeps turning. I get it. Believe me. However, I can’t help but wonder how different life would be if I actively searched for those moments more throughout the day.

For about a year in college, I studied Buddhism and even used to go to a weekly meditation group. Don’t click off yet because I’m not going to lecture you on learning the Art of Meditation, but I hope I can humanize myself a little and say I never understood it really either. They used to tell us to meditate at red lights, while watching TV, even in the bathroom. Even if it’s noisy, shut your eyes and shut down your mind and just be. Yes, I’m laughing with you, believe me. It sounds nice in theory, of course, but who can just magick away their racings thoughts at the flick of a switch?

That’s a trick question, because you can. Don’t ask me techniques, but I did it that night and it felt like I discovered the meaning of the universe wasn’t 42, it was wind, leaves, and rain.

On a less metaphysical note, let’s talk about grieving for a moment. The grief you feel isn’t just in your head, it’s very real. I know I have mentioned this before, but this is a topic that gets glossed over so much in the MS community that I don’t think the weight of it is appreciated. You lost someone. Tragically, too. Unexpectedly. Other people are encouraged to get into therapy when something like that happens to them, but we are expected to just tough it out and keep going because we aren’t actually planning a funeral. Ignore that. Please. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation because one of my biggest sources of mental turmoil over the years has been living in a fog of mourning who I was before multiple sclerosis, so much so that I missed out on a lot of good.

Before my diagnosis, I had just been invited to an international conference to present my short stories, I’d won one of the most prestigious awards from my university, I was interviewing for job placements in South Korea. I was the It Girl. I was 23 and laughing in the face of life because I’d figured it all out with about 50 years to spare. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the It girl, only now I accessorize with cool, red balloons instead of nice earrings. Literally overnight with this disease, everything I thought I cared about vanished. My future went from being planned until I was 70 and ready for retirement (don’t do that), to this strange, frightening, wonderful amorphous thing that I can’t control, and I have had to come to terms with that. I’ve also had to humble myself and let life figure me out instead of vice versa. That’s the fun part.

Reader, the future isn’t real, only theorized about. The past is gone and won’t ever come back no matter how many times we try to rip holes in the space-time continuum. The only moment that exists and that we should all care about is right now. Don’t be afraid to do what makes you happy right now, and certainly don’t be afraid to do nothing at all if not sit and listen to the trees speak to each other. I’m confident they’ll teach you more than an article post ever could.

*Born in the heat of Texas, Chernise Joseph is an avid writer with perpetual writer’s block. She was diagnosed with MS in 2016 and has been on the ride of a lifetime ever since. Read more from Chernise on her blog millennialwithms.com.

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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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