Discovering Hope After a Chronic Illness DiagnosisNov 01, 2023
It’s inevitable. Some days, when you're living with a chronic illness, you just feel a bit “blah”.
Today was one of those days for me. Feeling a bit worn out after a string of challenging days. It started with my six-monthly MS infusions and then a trip to the surgeon to check on how my single mastectomy scars are healing.
Sometimes, I catch myself wondering, "How did my life end up like this?"
It seems like there’s an endless cycle of appointments, treatments, and so much time just trying to get back on my feet. And yep, recovering from Covid on top of all that!
But then, something small yet meaningful happened. I stumbled upon an article I wrote back in 2015. That year was a big deal for me – I had just turned 40 and my book 'Life Interrupted' had been published.
The piece? It was a deeply personal letter to my 22-year-old self, right after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It was a time filled with fear and uncertainty. When life as I knew it changed forever.
Reading it again brought a smile to my face and lightened my energy. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how tough things seem, there’s always a glimmer of hope.
If you're dealing with a life-changing illness, facing new symptoms, or coming to terms with a tough prognosis, stick around, it will be worth it!
This letter, from my 40-year-old self to my 22-year-old self (yep, a bit of time travel, so bear with me!), might offer you a ray of hope and a fresh perspective on your own challenges with chronic illness.
3 Things I Want to Tell the Young Woman Just Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis
Letter originally published in The Mighty
I know. The doctor has just left the room. Your stomach is churning. You’re confused. Your mind is racing. Tests have just confirmed that an unexpected hurdle has just forced its way into your life — uninvited and definitely unwelcome. You have just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
According to the doctor, this neurological disease will be part of your life forever. There is no cure. Yet how it will impact your life is unknown. The frequency and severity of relapses are unclear. The brochures show pictures of walking sticks and wheelchairs. You’re wondering is this now an unescapable reality? Such questions go unanswered. As you will learn with MS, there are no definitive answers.
I hear your confusion. The prognosis makes no sense. You’ve always been so healthy. And why now? As a 22-year-old, life is just beginning. You have just graduated from college and are embarking on a new career. Life is carefree. You’re living in the city and embracing a busy social life.
And what of your plans and dreams for the future? Yesterday they inspired you. Today they taunt you. How could dreams of overseas holidays, a fulfilling career and buying your own home ever come to fruition given that your future is now unknown. You are overcome by despondency; there is no hope.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, I want to yell out stop! I have gained invaluable “insider information,” which will allay these fears, ease your anxiety and reintroduce hope into your life. For example, I would encourage you to:
- Stay in the moment.
Fight the urge to race ahead. What’s the point of imagining every possible catastrophe, which may or may not be part of your future?
- Know the intensity of emotions you’re feeling right now will lessen.
No need to make any rash decisions; wait for the storm to pass. You will regroup and be ready for the next challenge ahead with a clear mind and heart.
- Keep dreaming.
Dreams will create the momentum needed to move beyond the frustration of MS.
I also need to be up front, since there will be challenging times ahead. The disconnect between mind and body will be frightening at times. Legs unable to move, vision blurred and hands non-functioning.
But you will get through these moments. You will discover strengths you had been oblivious to. And these challenges will demand your evolution and growth — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Hearing this news today has been tough. But I implore you to keep going. And as an incentive here’s a sneak preview of what awaits…
Living in Scotland for a year, volunteering with children with special needs in Romania, retraining as a social worker, moving to the beach and having your life partner literally walk into your life forever.
I know! So hold on and be inspired by this information. Today you received some devastating news. But MS doesn’t signify the end. This new journey will be filled with incredible experiences. And today I am genuinely excited about the unimagined possibilities that will be part of both of our futures.
Embrace the unknown,
Teisha (now 40!)
Fast forward to today, and here I am at 48. Honestly, life has thrown its share of surprises. With MS, I'm not out running marathons, but I've managed to keep relapses at bay for over 10 years. I’m continuously working on building my strength and creating an environment conducive to my overall wellbeing.
Finding Strength in Chronic Illness Uncertainty
Embrace the unknown.
That’s how I signed off the letter. Little did I know back then just how 'unknown' my future would be. Never could I have imagined that it would include a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. But here’s the silver lining: we often underestimate how much we learn and grow from living with a chronic illness. Even though I knew nothing about cancer, I’ve unearthed countless insights on how to use your mindset to live well with a chronic illness.
The insights I shared in this letter, plus many others I’ve gained in living with MS, have definitely made coping with the stress of a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis possible.
Who knows what other unknowns await us. But I will continue to embrace life, confident in the knowledge that no matter what happens, I can draw upon all the insights I’ve gained since being diagnosed with MS all those years ago.
If you're keen to discover even more insights that I've gathered over the last 25 years, I’ve got something special for you. Click the link below to learn about the upcoming mindset masterclass, 'Reclaim Your Life.' I’d really love to meet you there and chat some more. It’s a chance for us to share, learn, and grow together as we navigate life with chronic illness.