People have referred to me as what they would call an old soul. Animals are my biggest love, I love campaigning against unfairness in society and I love the company of books over that of certain people. My mum always told me to be kind, caring and having empathy because not everyone has an easy life.
She taught me well.
Now, I rest my case about awarding myself such qualities though, as articulating who and what I believe to be, is for others to decide.
As a child, my best friend and I did a lot of role-playing, acting out what we thought would be adult stories and/or emotions. In a way, it opened up a whole storybook filled with people, each with their own psychological qualities and mindsets. We talked for hours about how we would deal with these emotions.
It was not always an easy task; nevertheless, I believe that my love for psychology was born during those days. Recognizing people’s emotions or ‘reading people’ came easily at some stage.
Despite a detour and studying library sciences, twenty years later psychology is still one of my main interests. Before and after having to defer a degree in psychology when MS arrived on my doorstep, I landed a cert in psychology as well as a diploma with merit in counselling. Still, my urge to study is still quite present and it should be easy so to think that being in tune would help me deal with my own celebration.
Since last year, however, I have moments where I struggle trying to forgive and forget some friendships gone sour. I keep trying to figure out what, why, where and when things went wrong, but a clear answer has not yet emerged.
Moments of stumbling like this never last long though, as I do not allow myself to be dictated by friends too selfish to be kept. But, when a tiny, bad seed is planted in your mind, it tries to grow out of control faster than you can imagine.
My frustration is still valid and will perhaps always be: life with an illness like multiple sclerosis is unpredictable. Aside from not knowing if I will be fit enough tomorrow to walk around, or if I will be able to sleep at night of neuropathic pains, dealing with a lot of doctors and medication, MS really does change your life.
Nevertheless, I do realise that from the opposite point of view, it must be hard for people trying to deal with someone who had to change out of medical necessity. It must seem as if the old me is long gone, and people around me had to accept a new friend in their life.
In trying to learn what drives people, I sometimes become a person too analytical for my own good. But as any human being with a brain built to think, dream and feel empathy, I have learned that not everyone has your best interests at heart. And at times, especially when severe fatigue takes over my day, learning to accept this is a mountain too high to climb.
Not every friendship or relationship is meant to last forever. Time heals, but it often makes you recall and remember what happened, and the hurt comes back to remind you that not everyone is what they claim to be. I think I’ve made a step forward, and for a split second, I am reminded of how certain people have reacted towards my illness.
For example, remembering how people decided to – literally – leave me behind because they could not handle my illness is the biggest hurt. Quite often, it seems as if only people living with MS know what I deal with on a daily basis, and while I love my MS friends a lot, I do not want to say that fit or healthy people don’t realise what my life is all about.
Some simply do, others don’t.
Only then, I become acutely aware that I truly am not the same person anymore. I could almost split my life in two, saying “my life before MS” and “my life after my diagnosis”. Where it used to be “life before living in Ireland,” it now has a much deeper meaning. I did not ask for this diagnosis, just like people with cancer didn’t ask for their illness, yet we all share the same common denominator: we are all changed, people.
Every single one of us.
When I think further, there must be a lot of people living with a degenerative illness who are going through exactly the same ignorance as I am. Where I hope that my friends with MS can move forward after being hurt badly by people who meant nothing, I know I have to protect myself from feeling negative energy from toxic people.
Being positive and happy-go-lucky, I will not be dragged down. Out of necessity, I learned to step away from toxic friends and friendships as soon as it becomes apparent I am being held for a fool. Again, not every friendship or relationship is meant to last forever.
Forgiving myself for having let myself be hurt is paramount. I have other people in my life who have been there since day one. Having a support network is imperative and with their help, I am ready to completely break away from feeling resentment.
Instead of counting sheep at night, I count my blessings instead. I am blessed to have people in my life who care, support and would do anything to help me out when needed. Instead of focusing on a few lost friendships and family members, I focus on the ones who stepped up. And instead of being overly analytical, I simply enjoy being able to read people the same way as I read books… with a lot of love and an awful zest for life.
Life with MS can be difficult and testing, but only if you let it.
©Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2013.