The first time “it” happened I was walking as fast as I could through the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. Everyone walks very fast in Manhattan, and when you’re trying to catch a bus, they walk even faster.
They do this without looking anyone squarely in the eye. There must be an unwritten law that you aren’t allowed to look anyone in the eye if you live in the Northeastern United States.
Trying to catch my bus, I noticed my body felt very “uneven.” I would take one step and my foot would touch the ground; the next step it would not.
What was up with that?
I looked down to see I had one shoe on. What? Yes, one shoe off, one shoe on…(I won’t continue with that.)
I looked in back of me, and the fast walkers of Manhattan were kicking my shoe out of their way to catch their bus.
My foot was so numb I never noticed my shoe had come off.
The second time “it” happened was the following year. I was going out to dinner with some friends to a bar/restaurant. After waiting for our table at the bar (and one glass of wine later) we were called to our table. Following the waiter up two short steps, I fell down. Plop. My legs had given out.
“How many drinks did you have?” the waiter asked, smiling like I was a cheap drunk.
I could have said a lot of things, but I blurted out, “Only one.”
Not exactly clever.
The “it” I am talking about are those things that happen to us while living with Multiple Sclerosis. Those humiliating and embarrassing day-to-day activities that happen if we fall, trip or collapse during the treadmill of our lives. They can happen in an instant or over time, but when they happen, how will we handle it?
After 26 years of living with MS, my response to that question is to handle it with grace and humor. After all, what are our choices? We can either cry or laugh.
I choose to laugh.
Those of us diagnosed with an autoimmune disease end up listening to family, friends, doctors, therapists, social media and countless other well-meaning people trying to help us manage our disease. People, in general, are more educated about MS today than they were 26 years ago.
But we still have a long way to go.
I hope we handle their education with grace and humor, while letting them know that MS is not something to laugh at, but we can still laugh at ourselves.
Today I would have told those people kicking my shoe around Port Authority that I have MS, so if it happens again they will think twice and be kind enough to tell someone they lost their shoe.
Today I would have told the waiter at the restaurant about MS, so if it happens again he would use more tact, and show more compassion.
And both times, I will continue to laugh inwardly and, outwardly, helping to spread MS awareness.