Making Sense of My MS

Rockford, Illinois © LISA S CLARK 2022

This is a photo of me as a pom pon girl in high school. During my high school years, I remember having tons of energy in all areas of my life. It was when I started college that I started to experience mental, emotional, and physical fatigue that simply intensified as the years passed. Fatigue is the most common Multiple Sclerosis symptom. 

During my freshman year in college, I also started having significant symptoms of depression, another common MS symptom. The summer before my senior year, I also started having dizziness and vertigo, and this triggered panic attacks. I had lived with anxiety since I was a child, but this was on a whole new level. 

I’d like to say that I sought help for all of my symptoms, but I did not. I shoved it all down, and forged ahead to graduate school. I set a goal for myself to get a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and to become a Licensed Psychologist. At the age of 36, I reached that goal. But I was beyond exhausted. The year was 2003. 

I was eventually diagnosed with MS in August 2016 when my left arm and hand went numb. I finally had a symptom that I couldn’t ignore or push through. I went to my doctor, and she immediately sent me to the hospital to get multiple MRIs done. The results showed lesions in my brain and spine – classic Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple blood tests, to rule out other medical conditions, confirmed the diagnosis. 

I am happy to report that function returned to my left arm and hand, and that I have been stable (i.e. no new MS lesions) for the past 6 years. Getting the MS diagnosis was scary as hell, but my life finally made sense to me. The diagnosis also made me determined to enjoy all areas of my life moving forward. As I indicated on my Profile, I am Reclaiming the Joy of My Youth.

To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, go to www.nationalmssociety.org

Grief and Loss

There is nothing harder than losing a loved one. Only God can give you the strength, peace, and comfort necessary to handle the unbearable sadness and suffering you feel. I experienced this myself 11 years ago when I sat next to my dad’s hospice bed in his final days at home. In just 3 weeks time, my dad was hospitalized, diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (as a nonsmoker), brought home with hospice care, and then passed away. It was a complete shock to me and my family. As my mom said at the time, it was a nightmare. 

My dad and I were alone in his room on this Saturday, June 11th when he said to me, “I am ready to go, Lisa.” He passed away 4 days later on June 15, 2011. By that time, I had learned to cling to God. Not lean on, cling. And in the month that followed, my Faith was renewed, as I experienced incredible strength, peace, and comfort despite incredible pain. All By The Grace Of God 🙏🏻

No More Playing Dumb

I have a vivid recollection of not studying for AP Chemistry exams my Senior Year in high school (1984-1985). Why?! Because when I got A’s, I was teased by the popular boys in my class. I realize now that this was based on their own insecurities, but it speaks to the times – girls were supposed to be sweet, attractive, and not overly ambitious or smart. If you went to college, your main goal was to get a MRS degree.

I really didn’t embrace my intelligence until I went to graduate school in 1992. It took moving to California for me to forge a new path and identity for myself. Everyone but my mom Ulla tried to talk me out of it. Thank you, Mom – I couldn’t have done it without your support.

Young at Heart

Green Bay, Wisconsin © LISA S CLARK 2022

This is 55. When you stay young at heart, it shows. My husband has true love, peace, and happiness in his life, and for a man, that is everything. He loves his job, and his health has never been better. Most importantly, he knows how to play and not take life too seriously. I turn 55 myself next month, and try to follow his example as much as possible.

Be Yourself

Lund, Sweden © LISA S CLARK 2019

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

This is one of my favorite quotes because it delivers a very important truth. If you want to live a peaceful, joyful, and powerful life, you must embrace your authentic self.

What is your authentic self, you ask? It is simply who you were created to be in this world.

The process of discovering your authentic self is not so simple. This is because most of us have been influenced by our families, schools, and communities since a very early age. As we grow up, there are pressures to fit in. We receive strong signals that it’s not okay to be ourselves.

So over the years, we become someone that makes others happy, while we ourselves feel empty and lost. We feel like we’re faking it all.

If you do decide to embark on a journey of self-discovery, know that it will take work. But as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy.

Once you discover your authentic self, you begin to see that what makes you unique in this world is where your value lies. 

The Gift of Crisis

My crisis started the first week of August in 2016. Within a few days’ time, I lost function in my left hand and forearm. Just like that. No warning. Boom. All the things I took for granted and did on a daily basis, I could no longer do. I couldn’t type, hold a plate, wash my hair, tie my shoes, open a jar, hold the steering wheel. It was terrifying. The medical appointments and MRIs that followed were equally terrifying. By the end of the month, I had a diagnosis. Multiple Sclerosis.

I spent the month of August in constant prayer, seeking God for strength and courage. I can honestly tell you that by the time I received the diagnosis, I accepted it gracefully. Was I extremely sad and scared? Absolutely. But I accepted the results because I knew by Faith that nothing just happens. That this was God’s will for my life.

Since that time, I have regained 100% function in my left hand and forearm. I still have the tingling sensation, but that is a minor inconvenience. The first gift I received from this crisis is that I no longer take my body for granted. Typing this post right now with both hands is such a blessing to me. Given there is no cure for MS and that it is a progressive disease, there is no telling what parts of my body will be affected and when.

Which brings me to the second gift of this crisis. If you do research on MS you quickly find out that it’s all a big mystery. They don’t know what causes it, they don’t know exactly why the medications help, and everyone experiences the disease differently. So basically, you are forced to accept the fact (that we humans try so hard to ignore) that life is unpredictable. You are forced to take life one day at a time, to pace yourself, to set priorities, and be adaptive. And this has brought great clarity and focus to my life.

The third gift of this crisis is that it strengthened my relationships with my husband, family, and friends. I found out on a much deeper level how much people loved me, valued me, and cared about me. I tend to be the strong one in a group, always taking care of others. It was very healing for me to be vulnerable and allow others to take care of me. I was surprised by people’s compassion and experienced incredibly sweet moments with my loved ones.

The last and most important gift of this crisis is that it has brought me closer to God. I know with 100% certainty that I could not live with Multiple Sclerosis without Him in my life. He gives me the strength, peace, joy, and courage I need to move forward in my life. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I leave you with a Bible verse that has been on my desk since the day of my diagnosis. “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear. I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13