Home > Living Well, MS Experience > Silver Linings Exist: Reflecting on a Decade With MS

Silver Linings Exist: Reflecting on a Decade With MS

By Kristen O'Toole
April 12, 2024

I recently turned 50, so I gave myself permission to reflect on the past decade. You see, I happen to have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 40.

Some of this I might have learned just by getting older. But my life is so different now that I don’t know if I would’ve learned the lessons that I have if I hadn’t been forced to just slow down.

My MS has been completely life-altering to me. I have used a wheelchair since I was 40. I have not worked since I was 40. I used to travel all the time. Now, I don’t drive and air travel is very limited. My world is my apartment.

Appointments to get my hair done, enjoy a pedicure or a massage, etc. – all the things girls do – have now been traded in for all the things that a patient does: appointments at physical therapy, the neurologist, the urologist, the primary care doctor, infusions, bloodwork, imaging… The list goes on.

So, I will never be one of those people who says, “I’m glad that I got MS,” but I have found some silver linings.

Since I’m 50, here are my top 5 MS silver linings.

  1. Empathy — I needed to learn how to be empathetic, so I certainly did. It’s so easy to spot when someone has little empathy. I regularly put myself into other people’s shoes, and it makes me realize how good I have it. Which leads me to my next point.
  2. Gratitude — I always say there are certain things that I’m fortunate for, and I have a friend who tells me, “MS does not seem fortunate. And you are not fortunate.” She is right, on one hand, but on the other, I have it so much better than so many people. That keeps me very grateful for the things I have, like my independence and my relative health.
  3. Listening — Because of my MS, I often can’t get the words out. I think my brain works faster than my mouth! That was not always the case. As a result, I think I do a better job at active listening.
  4. Patience — Patience was not always my virtue! Now, I wait on everything. I don’t drive, so spontaneity is out the window. I have to plan everything. Not to mention, everything takes me longer. My fine motor skills are not great, thanks to the MS. So, between that and using a wheelchair, everything takes me a long time. But my attitude now is, “I’m doing it. So, as long as it takes, it’s still better than not doing it!”
  5. Routine — I had very little routine before MS. My life was very fast paced. What would seem boring to me before, I now embrace. MS makes me tired, and my sleep schedule is weird, but it is a schedule nonetheless. In addition to getting my DMT every 28 days, I am diligent about taking my other pills and vitamins 3 times a day. I also have always had a trainer, but, for me, I know I am very fortunate to have one now. My trainer not only keeps me on track physically, but she is also a huge help to me while I exercise. Instead of fetching weights, bands, steps and other equipment, which is a workout in itself for me, she gets them.

The past decade has been extremely different than the one that I envisioned for myself, but I feel that we have to play the hand that we’ve been dealt. And so that’s what I do. And some days I do it way better than others. Fight on, MS Warriors! It is not for the weak. What are your silver linings? We all have them.

Kristen O'Toole

Kristen O’Toole is a former public relations executive. She now volunteers for the National MS Society as a Walk MS Team Captain, District Activist Leader and serves on the Government Relations Advisory Council for her state, Florida. In 2019, she was named Southwestern PA’s MS Activist of the Year. She was diagnosed in 2014 and wants to raise awareness and understanding about MS until we find a cure.

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