If you’re like me, once you start telling people you have multiple sclerosis, you probably start hearing about – and from – other people who also have the disease. Perhaps because I was quite public about my diagnosis, writing about it in a major national newspaper, I heard from lots of folks, many of them recently diagnosed and looking for information, guidance and support. I was happy to hear from them and to help however I could.
Having MS places us in a large and growing community – one most of us would just as soon not be part of, if we had our druthers. But I have found corresponding with other people who have MS to be rewarding in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have “met,” mostly online, lots of nice people I wouldn’t likely have connected with under other circumstances. And I’ve developed a much deeper sense of compassion for people, not just those whom I know have MS, but for people in general. I have come to understand that almost everyone faces challenges, whether they’re physical, mental, financial, or social. Realizing that has helped me give others the benefit of the doubt, and it often stirs up in my heart a feeling of tenderness toward others that I hadn’t recognized before I was diagnosed.
The connections I have made through having MS form a big web that stretches across the country and all over the world. The National MS Society is celebrating those kinds of connections with its new public awareness campaign, which highlights real-life incidents in which people with MS have connected with one another in important ways. Often those connections take place online, and often they involve one person’s sharing key information that benefits another person whom they have never actually “met.” It’s a powerful concept and one that the Society is right to celebrate. Here’s more about the “EveryConnection Counts” campaign:
MS divides minds from bodies, pulls people from their lives and away from one another. MS is a destroyer of connection. But it is possible to build connections that MS cannot destroy. Our connections raise questions, find answers, bring knowledge and provide hope. Every connection we make is a small victory, and our small victories will create larger ones that will help end MS forever. Every Connection Counts.
I value the connections with other people that I have made through my having MS. But the person I’ve connected to most strongly is myself. My diagnosis more than a decade ago was a real eye-opener. It made me re-think the way I was leading my life. My sudden uncertainty about the future forced me to decide which elements of my life I treasured most and spurred me to shed things that weren’t serving me well.
I made a huge effort to slow down and savor every day. I tried to make time to do things I love. That meant carving out time to read and do yoga. It meant taking time to scratch my dog’s belly a dozen times a day. It also meant slowing down and being mindful, really tasting my morning coffee and basking in the morning sunshine. And it meant taking time to spend with my family and friends, my connections with whom I have learned never to take for granted.
Jennifer LaRue Huget was diagnosed with MS in 2001. A freelance writer and children's book author, she lives in Connecticut with her husband, two teenage kids, and two brown dogs. Her Web site is www.jenniferlaruehuget.com.