“What would you say to yourself 3 years ago?”
I feel that I’ve written in detail of the biggest struggles I’ve had since diagnosis with MS: depression, anxiety, and coming to grips with the longevity of the disease, and the meaning of life in entirety. I also feel that these struggles may be more specific to myself in their enormity and significance.
Recently I’ve been inspired by my few days in Mexico City, where I’ve walked into a young, professional, and thriving Mexican culture; that seemingly takes from it’s thousands of years of heritage to develop a level of pride, exuberance, and blunt acknowledgment of reality to develop it’s attitude.
With this in mind, I got to thinking about an interview I did with Healthline, two days before I left on this trip. In it, they asked what I would say to someone just diagnosed. I, being me, tried to say something simple, but then got caught in a long diatribe, and struck some good points amongst a bunch of rubbish.
“MS isn’t a piece of you, or a part of who you are, it’s something that you will have to confront and deal with, but it’s not something that will define you. I’ve had the best three years of my life since my diagnosis.” Then I stumbled into my own self-realization/justification for the second part of that sentence; about how I struggled hard for a bit but now know myself better than ever. The interviewer asked, “How has your life gotten better?”
I think I did a fairly decent job paraphrasing that day, but I wanted to take the time, mostly for myself to do that now.
In three years since I was diagnosed, I moved from the comfort of all that I know and set out West to San Francisco and the Bay Area. In those three years, I’ve kept multiple friends from my past, while making new friends in new situations. I’ve learned more about what I truly believe about myself and the world around me, by being confronted with many people with differing beliefs and engaging on conversation and dialogue. I’ve learned more about how I feel about my hometown and childhood, by learning about people with much different backgrounds, and by moving away from all of the people I knew before.
While the move to SF is an easy thing to point to, that simply, doesn’t explain the best things about the last three years. The fact that I made the move, which for some of you will sound simple, almost like a “no-brainer” decision, and for others sounds like such a big risk, is a huge factor. Being diagnosed seems to have opened up a thirst for living life, that I didn’t have before. This move was a part of that.
Professionally, I’ve grown and learned to be more of a leader. I’ve been a part of something special, at RockIT Recruiting, which I will also have to add; I got very lucky to be a part of. Through the people here, I’ve learned to push myself, and that I’m not “that” smart, while gaining confidence and a more accurate view of my own intellect. I’ve gotten lucky to meet a ton of people I consider my close friends, in the offices that we’ve inhabited. Few have moved to new things, and are still in touch, but, in another lucky event, most are still working by my side 3 years in.
I’ve learned a bit more about myself in dating. “How do I date girls if they know I have MS?” was the first thing in my head when I left my one, long term, and hectic, relationship with the only person I ever loved 3 years ago. In the years since, I’ve dated a lot of women in many different circumstances, and I started off not talking about MS, ever, then decided I was going to be open with it.
I can’t point to one person who walked away from me because of it, and I can only say that it changed relationships that I’ve been in. It’s made me confront my own health a bit, as I realize that MS isn’t too scary for women I will date, unless I’m being particularly unhealthy. The things I put up with in relationships have changed, and the things I look for and think about for the future are constantly being updated.
While I’m not where I’d want to be in this regard, I can take a lot of solace that in the last few years I’ve hung out with, hooked up with, and dated a few people that are excellent, and were positive influences on my life. MS didn’t make this easier, but it sure as hell didn’t take it away.
I’ve traveled more than I can comment on. I did a lot of travel in the US, which I feel is under rated. The United States is huge, and starting with my 3 week road trip from Lambertville, NJ to San Francisco, CA, I learned I wanted to see more of it. Big Sur, Tahoe, Seattle, New Mexico and Arizona, San Diego, Newport and Laguna Beach, Denver and Steamboat, Sonoma and Napa, New Orleans and my possible favorite, Austin are all places that I’ve fallen in love with for sometimes surprising, sometimes not, reasons. The country I live in is huge, and there are a lot of places that I just don’t feel happy in. But, all over, there are places to love, and places where I didn’t think about before I saw them.
I’ve gotten the chance to explore outside of the United States, and awaken a hunger for more. I fell in love with Barcelona at first sight, and then stumbled into Lisbon, missing Barca until I saw the wonders of Lisboa, Cascais, and Sintra. I had more than a few pints with some wonderful people in Dublin, and thoroughly enjoyed the Irish culture. I am, right now, reevaluating everything I would have ever thought of Mexico City, as I sit in a wonderful flat in El Condesa, and feel that same fire I did in Barcelona. This city and the wonders I’ve seen here, have been amazing, and it makes me feel alive.
I used to strictly travel to beach towns, as I love warm weather, and I love the ocean. I love the coastal views, and I love the sun. But, now I’m realizing that there are many other things to explore, and I want to see Central and South America, and more of Europe, followed closely by my first glimpses into Asia, Australia, and Africa.
I haven’t totally gotten a grasp on my health and my internal feelings towards myself, but I’ve made strides forward and steps back in this regard more so than I ever have. I’ve learned more about healthy eating and how it makes you feel to really cut all of the toxins out of your life. I’ve learned more about falling into despair and adding all of the possible toxins into your life, and the way that effects anxiety, depression, memory, attentiveness, and just day-to-day life. I’ve struggled to quit smoking like 13 times, and promised to myself that I won’t stop fighting it. I’ve learned that my vanity and confidence can be quickly boosted, if I just fight to stay in better shape. I’ve learned that that is worth it for my happiness.
The one thing I’ve learned most, though, is that while you are alone on this Earth and can’t really count on anyone else, like you can count on yourself; there are still people, knowingly, and unknowingly, around to help you find your way and help you evolve as a person. As you meet more people, you will be given a chance to think about the bad in people or the good in people. I have to admit that there are many times, since MS came into my life, where I focused on the bad in the world, especially the bad in myself and my thoughts/actions. But, I still haven’t lost that overall outlook, that optimism that keeps me palatable to myself.
MS, and other diseases, can’t take that from you. Nothing can. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t look to friends, family, dating partners, or anyone to define that part of you. Don’t let experiences, some that are horrific, define how you approach life. And keep going. The more inquisitive and explorative I become, the more I like myself, the more others close to me seem to like me.
I still haven’t figured out the meaning of life since my diagnosis, and I am fairly sure I never will, but my overall understanding, empathy, and compassion for other people, and my understanding of my abilities to affect others, and to lead and even, at times, inspire, has only grown the more I learned.
Don’t let some outside force hold you back from what you are curious about. Yesterday I climbed the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. I struggled to get to the top, and then stood there looking out over the valley that was settled almost 2000 years ago by pre-Hispanic Mexican tribes, and I was suddenly overwhelmed. Without being diagnosed with MS, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now. And that’s fucking awesome.