Journaling Through The Difficulties

Kelli Petrarca
Multiple Sclerosis
Journaling Through The Difficulties

Kelli was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in December 2005 and began a journey that has some valuable lessons for anyone living with chronic illness, and everyone else as well.

“I first began to notice difficulties concentrating. I was an avid reader, but I could read the same paragraph 10 times and not know what I read. It was maddening. But my physicians didn’t really see reason for much concern as the results of whatever tests they ran were not alarming. But then I began to develop numbness and tingling in my feet which continued to worsen. This was the symptom that led to testing for MS and the eventual diagnosis.”

“My neurologist broke the news to me. Even though I knew MS was on the list for six months, surprise and shock followed. For weeks that “MS” was the first thought that entered my mind in the morning and the last in the evening. I was frustrated. Then angry. Then I was afraid.”

“It is not just ‘an illness’, it impacts every aspect of my life. Nothing in my life has remained untouched by my MS. With MS in particular you don’t always (or ever) really look “ill” and people don’t understand. ‘But you look well’, is so common and misses the point.”

“I started keeping a journal. My 2006 New Year’s resolution was to write. I started writing in January of 2006, kind of a ‘scribbling toward sanity’. It began as a way to understand and deal with all that was going on as a result of both the symptoms, the illness, and the reactions of others. Writing helped me try to make sense out of it all. MS affected my marriage, my professional life, everything. Journaling helped me try to grasp the magnitude and impact of the diagnosis and the changes it wrought. I wrote most evenings, and sometimes for hours over the weekends.”

“Writing was cathartic. It gave me a way to get some emotions out that I could not get out any other way. It helped me get some sense out of what seemed so senseless, almost surreal.”

“MS had affected how I thought and processed information. Journaling helped me find new ways to cope with the cognitive difficulties. When I’m writing I feel ‘normal’. I feel the way I did before the MS symptoms, especially the cognitive ones, invaded my life.”

“Others have seemingly used writing to help deal with their MS issues. Blindsided : A Reluctant Memoir by Richard M. Cohen and Facing the Cognitive Challenges of Multiple Sclerosis by Jeffrey N. Gingold were two books that were particularly inspirational to me. Reading Cohen’s and Gingold’s stories provided validation, encouragement, and more. I might no longer be able to do some of the things that I had before MS, but there is so much that I realize I can now do that I hadn’t in the past.”

“So far, I have been more fortunate than others. With education, planning, doing some things differently, a proactive exercise and diet plan, and medications, the symptoms of this illness have not prevented me from working. I have been able to continue my job at a community mental health agency where I conduct group and individual counseling for people living with mental health issues. My personal experience with MS can bring a sense of understanding and empathy that is special. Someone mentioned that I am able to demonstrate to others that they don’t have to let an illness or challenge they might have define who they are and what they can do. Each of us chooses how we feel about our circumstances.

“I hope to find ways to educate those living with MS. That is one of the reasons that the journal grew into more of a memoir. I hope one day it will be published. Information is empowering. Knowledge can provide hope. You can proactively participate in your treatment program. MS does not have to be a disabling illness. It can be, but you can minimize how disabling you permit it to be. It’s like the famous adage when life closes one door, it may open another, sometimes many more. I do things now that I have never done before. I have a new perspective on what is important in life.”

This new perspective lead Kelli to a conclusion that is part of that silver cloud so many struggling with chronic illness or any other life issue hope to find. She said it quite succinctly and quite powerfully:

While I wouldn’t wish MS on anyone, the list of what I have lost to MS is shorter than the list of things I’ve gained.”

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