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Staying above water with MS

By Paul Obeid
September 15, 2023

Editor’s note: If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988

After I was diagnosed with MS four years ago, my brother, who has diabetes, told me to take it as a blessing. “Whatever,” I responded. My diagnosis had led me to consider suicide, so his words made no sense to me.

But I get them now. I’m a different man. Before I become a vegetable from fatigue in the evenings, I live every minute of the day to its fullest.

Getting to that mindset took a lot of hard work, though. I had to fend off cultural stereotypes under which those with disabilities are considered inferior. I had to put aside inappropriate comments from those ready to tell me about acquaintances with MS who had a tragic outcome. I had to ignore people like the woman at work who would wash her hands after shaking mine. And I had to defeat my own mind, which refused to admit that I needed to deal with my emotions.

I had to come back from very dark places, ask for help and get therapy. I had to accept hugs, learn from people with MS and do for others.

The symptoms started eight years ago: dizziness, leg pain, blurry vision, pressure around the ears… Do these exercises for vertigo, I was told. Wear different shoes. Use these eye drops. Take these antibiotics.

I felt terrible but tried to be a tough guy. One day I started seeing double while driving on a highway and had to cover one eye to get home. And then one morning, as I tried to get out of bed, I ended up flat on the floor. I drove myself to the hospital, where I had an MRI. The doctors found brain lesions.

It was April 27, 2019, the day my nephew was born and the day I found out I had MS.

I’d never heard of it. When I got home, I googled “multiple sclerosis” and it all sank in: I could end up in a wheelchair. I was an active 37-year-old. I coached soccer and rode a bicycle. I kayaked along the Amalfi coast, in the Everglades and Porcupine Mountains.

A man and a small dog in a kayak on the water. I tried to imagine how I could keep doing what I loved without depending on anyone, how I would get myself from a wheelchair into a kayak. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have probably been able to handle the news better.

Soon, the steroids I took for my MS made my acid reflux worse. One night I could barely breathe, I called 911 and ended up at the hospital again.

I lost the will to live. I ended up on suicide watch and in the arms of a nurse in her 50s who, as I cried, hugged me as her own and told me, “It’s okay, baby.”

After a reevaluation, the doctors decided I wasn’t a real threat to myself. But when they sent me home, they told my brother, one of the few people who knew about my diagnosis, to hide my guns. I left with a helpline number, the name of a therapist and no plans to call.

I felt alone in the world, ashamed. If someone found out about my MS, I got upset. All the way in my native Lebanon, my mom started getting suspicious. I wasn’t answering the phone. She flew over, saw my limp and the large needles I used for my injections, and broke down. I avoided looking at her. I couldn’t take it.

I ignored the doctors’ recommendation of having a psychiatric evaluation but went to PT. Two weeks later, I managed to make it to the mailbox and back. Then one day I heard the physical therapist who was caring for the elderly woman next to me go over her chart with her: hip replacement, stroke, high blood pleasure, mobility issues, breast cancer. Plus, she was taking care of her sick husband.

“Dude, there’s nothing wrong with you,” I told myself. But the stress, flareups and medications made it impossible to tough it out.

I was really messed up inside, but cultural and personal prejudices about mental health kept me from seeking help.

I finally figured, if I pretend to have a car accident, people won’t get mad at me for killing myself. I tried to cross the path of an 18-wheeler. At the last moment, I changed my mind and he swerved.

I finally went to therapy. Two weeks later, a car stopped suddenly in front of me. I downshifted and went up on a curb. I was happy to realize that deep inside, I did want to live.

Now, I avoid others’ pity, dismiss the medical horror stories I hear and ignore uninformed people. And I know that men do feel fear, cry and need help.

I started participating in Walk MS, where I have made friends who hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay. I work as a real estate agent and at a bank, where my colleagues are amazing and my manager checks in on me. And as an MS Ambassador, I tell my story and help college students find power within them.

I’m living now.

Paul Obeid

Born and raised in Lebanon, Paul moved to the United States in 2005. He lived in Florida, where he enjoyed going to the beach, boating and kayaking, before moving to Michigan 8 years ago. He is a real estate agent with Sotheby’s and works at Comerica Bank. A busy life helps him stay motivated. He wants to hold kayaking events to raise awareness about MS and help those affected by it.

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