Life is for the living

Post by Val Flaming for the Kind Kindred series.

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I returned from India last month, where I had the opportunity to work in a slum school with primary level students for a week. I signed up for KOM series knowing that being in India would be life altering. And it completely was. But, by the time I got back to northern Canada I had picked up a highly contagious bacteria and was sick for about as long as I was in the country to begin with. But I went to India for a reason; I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 21 years old. It stopped me from moving so badly that I started to believe that I wouldn’t see 30.

I woke up one day during my senior year of college and my vision was out of focus. After that, many mornings I would wake up with a new sense or ability suddenly missing. One morning, I discovered that I could no longer write my own name, other days my speech would slur so badly that anyone could swear I was inebriated. Then the dizziness and vertigo set in and I became too tipsy to walk myself to classes; the right side of my body started going numb and I began to appear as though one side of my face had fallen. A final blow to my ego was losing control of my right hand so much that I couldn’t play my orchestra instrument – something I’d done for more than a decade.

The first few years were really bad. Between the MS flare ups, daily disease symptoms, drug side effects and figuring out who I was all over again–I was miserable. There were many weeks that I would lay in bed unable to shift my own head due to vertigo or lift my own body due to mind numbing exhaustion. I felt utterly cheated and seriously questioned my own ability to survive this illness.

It felt like years before I was able to tolerate the side effects of the drug meant to slow disease progression. But after awhile the symptoms I experienced did stabilize and I learned how to live, think and eat in a way to best manage MS. I made a ‘before I turn 30’ bucket list to keep me focused on goals that I could feel good about the next time MS stopped me from moving, which started becoming less and less often.

I started doing all the things I ever wanted to do. I lost more than a hundred pounds, I started running. I took that crazy public relations job, bought a house and started travelling. After my first overseas trip (China!) I returned home and decided that the next challenge to myself would be to organize an MS event since none had happened in my hometown in twenty years.

I lead the MS walk yearly in my community to reach out to other people living with MS – aiming to build a community across an illness that isolates people–because the kindness and compassion of my family and friends has led me to the amazing place that I am today. Whether it be helping someone walk or listening to a person’s fear about the future with MS–sharing the kindness that helped me survive my 20s is a wonderful feeling.

I might wake up tomorrow and not be able to feel my legs again or walk on my own. But if I do, I will breathe.
And I will start over with the example of patience and understanding my family and friends have shown me throughout my 20s.

Bring it, 3-0.

Valdine just returned from two weeks in India as a voluntourist where she proved to herself that she could survive on the other side of the world. She’s still brainstorming on ways to scare herself in her 30s. Suggestions are always welcome!
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