Like many with chronic illness, I tell no one. When I begin wearing a brace, I keep it discreetly hidden under long socks and trousers. A few months later, because of worsening back fatigue my doctor advises I begin using an electric wheel chair.
Once I am in that chair, the whole world will know, but I walking is too difficult to sustain. I order the chair.
At my next department meeting, I say, “On Friday, you will see me using an electric wheel chair. I need it to manage the fatigue related to multiple sclerosis.”
I see the shock and concern on their faces. “It should not have a major impact the department.”
One by one, the physicians come to my office to talk.
“I had no idea.”
“You look so good.”
Then, difficult questions begin.
“Who will lead the department now when you can’t?”
“How much longer do you think you will you be able to keep working?”
“It will help me manage my fatigue more effectively. I plan to continue to work and run the department; nothing should change. It’ll be fine.”
My wheel chair arrives, and now the world knows. Continually, I must answer their questions.
“What happened to you?”
“Are you ok?”
If I want to continue leading, I must project confidence about our future. I say it over and over, that things will be fine, even though I still have plenty of doubt and fear. Initially I take people to my office to explain, but after a week of explaining every few minutes, the answers come more easily.
Driving with a joystick is not easy. Making clinic rounds, I stop to speak with the scheduling clerks. As I back away, my wheelchair catches their desk. Each time I try to back out, my chair drags their desk away from them.
As the clerks stand, and help pull their desk away from my chair, I begin joking about my inept skill with joystick driving. Seeing my laughter, the clerks begin laughing along with me.
Despair fades each time I laugh at my chair, my drive, which has stopped defining my future.
Our spoken words, and our laughter, are powerful agents for healing our soul, if we choose to use them. Our mother’s were right: self-talk is perhaps our most important tool to increase our misery or our happiness.
It is a pity we do not teach more of this in medical school.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.