It was really a no-brainer for me to tell my family and close friends about my MS diagnosis. Who else was going to take pity on poor me when I needed a shoulder to cry on or I had chocolate cravings?
That didn’t mean it wasn’t hard. I have a might prideful streak to me, and I felt like even uttering “MS” was admitting defeat. And saying it aloud those first days gave it power, made it real.
Harder still was telling others not in that inner circle. I made a mental list – whom do I tell? And how? This isn’t the sort of announcement for which you send out little embossed notes.
I knew it would be impossible to keep under wraps. I tell one person, and it would spread like wildfire or mono at a high school.
Hardest of all was telling my employer. At the very least, I had to share my hospitalization with supervisors. But I was terrified of divulging my horrible truth, especially when it was clear that I was still in the throes of an exacerbation.
C.J. Cregg: What are you taking?
President Josiah Bartlet: I don’t know. My wife hands me pills, I swallow them with water.
Sam Seaborn: Sir?
President Josiah Bartlet: Vitamin C, Vitamin B. Is it possible I’m taking something called euthanasia?
Sam Seaborn: Echinacea?
President Josiah Bartlet: Ah, that sounds more like it.
The president was on my mind. The fictional one, that is.
Being the TV junkie I am, I made the logical leap right to The West Wing and Josiah Bartlet. I am a big Aaron Sorkin fan going back to his Sports Night days.
Well, he hid his relapsing-remitting MS from just about everyone. Granted, his employer is essentially the electorate, so you could see where showing weakness might tend to be bad news for his job future.
But then he had flare-ups. It’s been forever since I watched the show, but I do remember the health crisis and that goosebump-giving episode that capped Season 2, when he was considering running for re-election.
Abby Bartlet: We had a deal!
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet: Yes, we had a deal.
Abby Bartlet: Yes, Jed. Look at me! Do you get that you have MS?
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet: Abbey…
Abby Bartlet: Do you get that your own immune system is shredding your brain? And I can’t tell you why. Do you have any idea how good a doctor I am and that I can’t tell you why?
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet: I’ve had one episode in two years.
Abby Bartlet: Yes, but relapsing-remitting MS can turn into secondary-progressive MS oftentimes ten years after the initial diagnosis which is exactly where we’ll be in two years! Do you know what that’s going to look like if it happens?
And then in Season 3, the president was censured by Congress for the whole MS cover-up. While my situation will never be that convoluted or that public, I felt just as vulnerable as the president.
What if they thought I couldn’t still do my job? Scarier still: What if I wasn’t able to do my job? The MS story arc on The West Wing showed the president still able to be leader of the free world, which is, let’s face it, a far more demanding job than mine.
Admittedly, I struggle at work — to go above and beyond like I used to, to multitask at the level I once did, hell, to even make it through a complete 8 hours.
But I show up every day I can, albeit with a little less verve. And some days with a limp and a cane.
Just like President Bartlet. Art does imitate life sometimes.