One of the things I do is help people listen to their gut—something I wish I’d done back in 1992 during a particularly challenging transition in my life. Instead, I let fear guide me to make poor decisions.
I was a single mom raising my three small children after their father moved far away, completely removed from their daily lives. Life was more stable at home but I agonized over the psychological and emotional consequences of being left and growing up without their father. I tried to fill the void, but it wasn’t realistic, I couldn’t be mom and dad.
Years after the divorce I met a kind-hearted man who—to my utter amazement—fell in love with me and my family. All our baggage seemed like nothing to him, he just wanted to help.
We’d been seeing each other for a few months when my doctor called to inform me that the tingling in my arms and legs was MS. My first thought was, ‘ Oh My GOD how am I going to take of my children!’
My boyfriend swooped in, supporting me in every possible way. Rather than scaring him away, the news strengthened his resolve.
So grateful was I to have a positive male in my children’s lives that I ignored the red flags fluttering in every direction—a childish temper, irresponsible with money and a need to be right at any cost.
People who knew this side of him never said a word. I always wondered why they didn’t speak up. Perhaps they decided I was better off with him than without. Perhaps I did too!
I married him and had another child. But by year three I couldn’t ignore the red flags any more. I had always grounded my children in the notion of respect, and they saw it completely lacking in their step-father. We were anxious in our own home, tiptoeing around him to keep the peace.
I wasn’t the damsel in distress he thought I was. Yes I had been feeling weak and beaten up, but I became informed about my illness and reached out for support. I learned to manage it. I began to move forward. I wrote Crossed Signals, a novel about MS and the importance of communication in families. I spoke about it in high schools. I facilitated workshops for people with MS and went on to become a life coach. I took back my power!
I was clear, but I was embarrassed too—though not for long. I knew deep down that the only people whose judgment mattered were my children. I needed to be a strong role model for them, to show that they have the power to change a bad situation, that they are never helpless.
I grew from this too. I realized that getting a chronic illness is not the end of your life. Today, twenty-four years later, I am passionate about my life, I am in a healthy relationship and I look forward.
My children are in their 20s and 30s, independent with successful relationships and careers. I am so proud! Every now and then I’m visited by guilt for the stress I inadvertently put them under, and when my anger flares up I take a breath and remember that we all thought we were doing good, even when we saw things differently. The past is gone. I learn from it, not beat myself up with it.