Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Still Making Sense of Suffering: Ruminations on Thirty-Five Years with Multiple Sclerosis

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Still Making Sense of Suffering: Ruminations on Thirty-Five Years with Multiple Sclerosis

Article excerpt

My article "Making Sense of Suffering" was published in Dialogues Summer 1992 issue. It detailed my journey of coping with multiple sclerosis. At the time of its publication, I was working for Dialogue as an editorial assistant, back when Ross and Kay Peterson were at its helm. As I reflect back on that experience, the thing that stands out most clearly is a profound answer to a prayer the day after the MS diagnosis was confirmed in 1988-although I had been experiencing symptoms as early as 1983 before MRI machines were used for diagnostic purposes. MS is a very complicated illness because, although they share many things in common, every sufferer has a unique manifestation. My 1992 essay explained it this way:

While there is controversy about the cause, MS is a disease of the central nervous system where the fatty coating of insulation around a nerve cell (the myelin sheath) is gradually destroyed-causing paralysis, numbness, and/or impaired sight, speech, hearing, and balance. A demyelinated nerve fiber cannot carry impulses to and from the brain.1

Above all else, I am still here! While the disease has forced me to adapt to painful losses, I have survived and argue that I am stronger because of experiences with MS. MS is considered to be an autoimmune illness where a body's own immune system attacks itself. The National MS Society website clarifies further. Here is a snippet:

An exacerbation of MS (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare-up) causes new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms. It can be very mild, or severe enough to interfere with a person's ability to function. No two exacerbations are alike. . . . In the most common disease course in MS-called relapsing-remitting MS-clearly defined acute exacerbations are followed by remissions as the inflammatory process comes to an end.2

In 1988, I was just beginning a very severe exacerbation that started with balance problems, but over the next several months would cause vision problems, loud ringing in both ears, dizziness, and slurred speech. The confirmation of my diagnosis came to us by phone on February 5, 1988, my daughter Shannon's eleventh birthday. The next day I was alone for a short while in the kitchen. Quoting again from my essay:

Not only was my right leg completely numb, but the dizziness and loss of equilibrium had begun. I was alone at the kitchen table-confused, depressed, and ill. I prayed that I would be able to cope with whatever came but wanted some relief, too-or at least an indication that the Lord had not abandoned or betrayed me. When I finished the prayer, an unusual sensation filled my body, and I felt the symptoms lift. My leg felt whole, and the dizziness stopped. I walked around the room normally for a moment.

While I was marveling that this had happened, an even stronger impression consumed me. I sat back down. Somehow, intuitively but inexplicably, I knew that this absence of symptoms would only last for a few minutes, that it was strictly a gift to let me know the Comforter was near. I felt a caution, too, that almost bordered on rebuke, that I should not ask inappropriately. When we agreed to come into mortality, we accepted that conditions would not always be easy. I wept and silently said another prayer of gratitude for the knowledge that the Lord was with me no matter what I experienced in this life. In only about five minutes, the symptoms returned. I have analyzed-perhaps even overanalyzed-this experience. Was I part of the "wicked and adulterous generation" that seeks for a sign? Was my motive pure? Was I seeking for a sign or just some comfort? Besides, can we really ask "inappropriately" for relief? Aren't we supposed to "ask and it shall be given," or are there some things in life we should just accept as gracefully as possible even though life is not fair or easy? How do we know when we're asking for too much? Should we know God's will before we ask? I have no answers, only more speculation and more questions. …

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