Happy birthday, Joan Didion – and me

Joan Didion is one of the most beloved American writers, and she also happens to have MS. Recently I found out her birthday is on the day I was diagnosed three years ago. So I guess today it’s happy birthday to her – and to me. In a way, it’s like a different person was born on the day I heard the words “multiple sclerosis”. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: life was never again the same. Even though I continued to go to work everyday and tried as hard as I could to lead a normal life, changes were gradually happening inside me. I became more relaxed about some things, and yet even more worried and anxious about others. I began to listen to myself more, especially my needs, and not caring so much about what other people think. I try to take better care of myself. Weird as it may sound, my self-esteem actually got better in many ways. I’ve been gathering my strengths and working on strategies in order not to let anyone treat me disrespectfully anymore. It’s like I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished even with limitations most people don’t dream of, so there’s no way they’re going to bring me down. I go after the things I need more easily instead of being shy and insecure about them and doubting myself. I’m working on not depleting all my energies when I go after something. And of course this all sounds very inspiring and pretty, but let’s not kid ourselves – it didn’t happen overnight and it isn’t like this every day. It’s a work in progress, a process. There are setbacks. Things I need to work on more. Things that I don’t get right on a first try. Or a second. But as much as I hate having MS and as much as it scares me, it was a much needed wake up call and a chance to make some changes along my self-development path.

Joan Didion on being diagnosed: “I had … a sharp apprehension of what it was like to open the door to the stranger and find that the stranger did indeed have the knife.” It’s so true and it brilliantly sums up what I felt three years ago. But let’s not forget that we all with no exception possess self-defense tools and techniques to face up to that stranger with the knife. We need to find them, develop them and use them. We will be fine.

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