Fearless- it means different things to different people. For me it has been about not being afraid to follow my gut, even if it’s difficult. We can be paralyzed by the fear of what we don’t know just as much as what we do, but what we do with that fear? Do we give in to it? Do we face it head on?
I try to be fearless. I was raised to be confident in my ability to be successful in anything I put my mind to, and I was raised to not be afraid of failure, but to learn from it and grow. That gift from my parents has helped me throughout my entire life. Among my friends, I am known as “The Unicorn”, because I almost always have a silver lining for what life throws our way. I can be perceived as overly optimistic because I genuinely believe that everything will work out in the end. I believe that even if things get difficult and life throws us a curve ball, I have the ability to handle it. So in many ways I am fearless.
One thing I have learned about myself is that being “fearless” can be my coping mechanism. Assuming all will be fine is how I go through life because it allows me peace to enjoy each day and not worry about the ‘what ifs’. But sometimes the ‘what ifs’ need to be acknowledged, respected, and accepted.
This year is about me facing my ‘what ifs'. Being fearless even when I am scared.
My first step is acknowledging my current and potential reality. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. There had been warning signs, and I had ignored them because they were more of an inconvenience, and I was too busy living life to listen to my body. Finally, my body forced me to listen. It took two weeks to find a doctor who knew what they were looking at, while a numbness relentlessly spread along the right side of my body, and then another 2 weeks in the hospital getting treatment to get it under control.
I left the hospital a different person. I wasn’t feeling much like a Unicorn. I was terrified of the ‘what ifs’. I tried support groups, but they felt to negative . I spent a lot of time trying to cope with a diagnosis that came with very little insight into what my future would hold. It might progress, but it might not. There was no way to know. It took time, but I worked on a new approach to how I lived my life. I tried to let go of the things that caused stress that I couldn’t impact. I tried to listen more closely to my body, even when it is whispering, to respect it and what it needs. Part of that was deciding to not take medication. I didn’t feel sick. The meds at the time of my diagnosis were mostly Interferons, which make you feel awful, and only reduced the chance of a relapse by thirty percent. I approached my disease with a commitment to reducing stress, taking better care of myself and mentally deciding that if MS wanted me, it would have to be ready for a fight..because I wasn’t backing down.
Eleven years later I can say I am one of the lucky ones. I haven’t had a relapse since my diagnosis. I don’t have the chronic pain, extreme fatigue, and all the other physical challenges so many have to deal with. I have some symptoms, but they are more just reminders to take care of myself. I gained a better perspective on life. I now stop and smell the flowers. I appreciate the little things. I think I have become a better friend, mother and wife. I push my body and my mind to its limits because I like feeling strong and capable. The one thing I didn’t do was ‘own’ my diagnosis, or acknowledge and accept the ‘what ifs’. It was too scary to stay there and why would I? Why would the unicorn look into the darkness that may never even need to be seen. And because I didn’t ‘own’ it, I also didn’t really share with people that I had it…until recently. Of course my family and friends knew, but I hated the idea that people might label me as having a weakness, or feel sorry for me. I didn’t want to be defined by the one thing in my life that I had no control over. So I controlled it by keeping it within my close circle.
That is, until last year. I started sharing my story with more people. Friends of mine would ask me to meet with their friends who had recently been diagnosed, and that was so fulfilling…being able to help other people not feel alone. Showing them someone who understands what they are feeling and help them talk through their own plans and options for moving forward.
I also started a part time business with a health and wellness focus. Part of my growth was owning my reason for pursuing this venture. The more time I spent evaluating my ‘why’ the more I realized that deep down inside, I was afraid that my health could change, and I may not be able to maintain my career in the corporate sales world... or that I may wait too long to do all the things I want to do with my life and my family. My health may not allow me to, when I finally have the time. I realized I need a plan B… just in case.
It was hard to spend time in that head space after all those years of avoiding it. Living like I didn’t have it and not fully accepting it had worked up to this point, but it wasn’t working anymore, because I hadn’t fully accepted it. I realize now that I can accept it mentally without accepting it physically . I can maintain my belief that I will remain one of the lucky ones. That I will live my best life each and every day. And the most important part is that I know those that know me would never feel sorry for me or label me because they know I am a Unicorn (actually, make that a Warrior Unicorn!), and those who don’t know me, well, it doesn’t matter what they think.
I know I am fearless, but can still be scared at times. I know I can be the optimist who believes it will all work out because even if it doesn’t, I can and will handle it.
Even bigger than me and my ‘owning’ my life, I know that people get their strength from one another. I am sharing my story with the hopes that I can help even one other person feel a bit more fearless, or a bit more hopeful in their own journey, with whatever they are learning to ‘own’.