Words are a funny thing. No matter how effortlessly they fly off the tongue, their weight is undeniable; if not for the speaker, then for the listener and if not in the present, then in the future. At their best they become a catalyst from which we set great things in motion. At their worst the able-bodied become crippled. I was not going to become crippled. Not willingly.
In spring of 2003 I was fortunate to become a patient of a top neurologist in the country. Unfortunately, I was only sixteen. My list of priorities before getting an MRI consisted of getting As in school, getting to rugby and throwing practices on time, getting noticed by boys and getting my driver’s license, like, yesterday. You can imagine my displeasure at being in a doctor’s office waiting for what was potentially the biggest news of my life.
We were lucky to reach a diagnosis relatively quickly. At the time, I felt relieved to have an answer at the very least. It was Multiple Sclerosis, relapsing/remitting to be specific. MS manifests itself differently in every person so it was my understanding that there need not be an automatic jump to the worst-case scenario, especially since we found out early and I would start treatment immediately. On the inside, of course, I had a hard time with it. Essentially, the gravity of the situation was not lost on me, but I was sure as hell not going to lose myself over it…
The worst was behind us, our course of action for long-term treatment was set, the wrap-up small talk until next time had begun. Here is where the “okay” doctors and the “outstanding” doctors are separated, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. Instead of giving the remainder of our appointment an appropriate level of serious reflection and even the slightest air of hope, I was given unprovoked advice on surviving this apparent storm. I literally heard “Continue to do well in your English classes. You want to be able to get yourself a good desk job” come out of this woman’s mouth. The female neurologist, who had no doubt overcome odds to be where she was today, just told me to lay down and take it. She told me to let this disease become who I was, to let this be what mattered in my life. I was incensed. Then I was defiant. Then I smiled politely and marched out of that office and knew I would never have to listen to her again.
As frightening and humiliating and abrupt and tactless as it was, it was also empowering. She spent the entire time I had known her talking to my parents (who felt scared and guilty and overwhelmed and never noticed) instead of me about what we were going to do about my health and for this one particular exchange she directs it straight to me. I would call it a mistake, but it has become a gift.
As cliché as it is, this has become one of the defining moments of my life. I found a way to use what she said, but not in the way she intended. That became my inner motivation to continue to power lift, play rugby and throw for the track team and plenty of other things in the last eleven years. I did excellent in school, save for math and chemistry, but not because that was how she figured I would still have a chance. I earned my own chances despite the less-than-ideal start down a road that was to be rocky enough on its own.
The unintended consequences and opportunities that stem from words are impossible to ignore. We owe it to ourselves to be mindful of them when we speak and when we are spoken to. Then, we owe it to ourselves to make the best of them or write them off completely, whatever empowers us. I have a beautiful life as a proud wife and full-time mother of two. The icing on this cake, to be sure, is that I get to stay at home and work at a desk any time I feel so inclined, but definitely not because I was told to.
Guest Post by: Safire Waldron