Tag Archives: new identity

Transformation

It’s that time of year again… the summer is drawing to a close, with everyone taking their last trips down the shore, enjoying the joys that summer always brings, while preparing excitedly for a brand new school year.

At this time every year, I like to reflect upon how insanely different my life (and my attitude) is since MS made the decision for me to retire on disability in May, 2014, after already being on sick leave for all but the first four weeks of the school year.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life without the career that had defined me in so many ways, and that I was so passionate about. I considered myself beyond lucky to have a job that I loved, because so many people are not as fortunate. People often told me that I was one of the few people they knew who actually liked her job. And I did. Every damn second of it.

Now that I am a few years removed from the feeling of such a devastating loss for me, I have clarity that I didn’t have before, and gratitude for everything, including the painful, emotional, difficult situation that started me on this part of my journey. I never dreamed that I could ever be in this beautiful place that I currently find myself in, happier than ever, which I could not have imagined when I was still working.

The other day, a Staples commercial came on TV advertising their usual 10 cent sale, and I was brought back to the days when I used to have lists of which retail establishment had things on sale that I needed for my classroom so that I could stock up for the year. I used to get so excited about these things, and now it hardly even phases me. I love that because it shows how much I have grown during the last couple of years.

I’m not saying that I got here without my share of growing pains, but I am saying that I understand it’s all a part of the process. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating a new life, it changed my perception of everything I knew.

What I know now is that regardless of how much I loved my students (and still do!), my own family always needs to come first. I often lost sight of that as a teacher, but I don’t regret it because now I have all of these amazing young adults who make up such a big part of my life, and I love that. I love watching them venture out on their own, doing the adult thing, and spreading their wings to soar.

I also know that taking care of myself is vitally important. When I was working, I overlooked my own wellness in favor of my job and my students. Again, I don’t regret it because of the amount of love and gratitude they gave back to me (and still do), but I know that I am of no good use to anyone if I am not staying on top of my own health and wellness. This includes all the things I have incorporated into my post-teacher life: meditation, yoga, hardcore exercise, acupuncture, reiki, and healthy eating, all of which force me to put myself above all others so that I can stay strong for the long haul.

I remember the days when the weekends meant nothing more than time to grade, write lesson plans, and create dynamic presentations for my classes, leaving no time to actually enjoy spending time being fully present with my loved ones. Once again, I have no regrets about how I lived my career because it’s what the kids deserved and I don’t know how to do it any other way.

But now… now life is better than I ever thought possible. My circle of friends has changed, but in a good way because I am surrounded by other people who take nothing for granted and never waste an opportunity to laugh and smile because we are grateful for the life we are living, regardless of whether we chose it or not. I am more in love with my husband than ever because we have been given this incredible gift of time together. Hell, we even booked a vacation in September, something we have never, EVER done before. Some small part of me still feels like a rebel for doing it, but no matter how much time passes, I guess old habits do, indeed, die hard. But lucky for me, I have worked very hard to help these old habits go by the wayside.

The transformation from Mrs. Rankin to Rennie has not been an easy one, but it is ongoing and I’m getting better at it all the time. I have been transforming my entire world: physically, mentally, and spiritually for the last few years, and my progress has been slow but steady, and that’s ok. I know that as human beings, one of our biggest challenges is having the ability to change according to our life circumstances, good or bad. I’m not going to lie and say that the process has been an easy one, or that I don’t have my moments of weakness, but it does get easier with time and with the determination to live my very best life possible. Rather than crying about the fact that I am not going back to work this week, I am happily wishing my former colleagues the very best of luck as they begin the new school year. Life is, after all, what we make of it, and I am making mine everything I want it to be. So who wants to join me in a glass half full of lemonade?

The sunrise over the Raritan River by Rutgers University, a very symbolic photo at a place that will always hold an extra special place in my heart.

Tripod

For 13 years I worked with an amazing bunch of people. I was one of the “older” teachers yet a large group of us just connected. We were “friends” from day one. I felt so lucky to be a part of an awesome teaching staff who also happened to be made up of incredibly cool people. We spent countless Friday afternoons at happy hour, as well as weekend parties and summer get-togethers. Having come from a different school district, I was floored by how friendly everyone was and how openly they accepted this new (but slightly older) teacher into their social circle. Even though as high school teachers we did not all see each other much during the school day, there was a certain comfort knowing they were there, and the working environment was one of family. I never once took that for granted because I felt like I had the perfect work life. My students were such fun and coupled with my coworkers, I felt like I had found my forever home away from home, the place where I could happily spend all the rest of my teaching years, and it truly did feel like family. After putting in a few years in a different school district, typically referred to as a “suburban school with urban tendencies”, I felt like I had died gone to heaven. I fell in love with it all the second I walked through the doors of my beloved BORO. 

My beloved tripod. This was taken just after I stopped working.

Little by little as the time passed, I felt that as the “younger” teachers continued on their life plans, which included getting married and making babies, we drifted a little, but I still felt a strong connection to my BORO family. In the fall of 2006, I suffered a bad MS relapse that took me out of work for half the school year. I went out on sick leave in October and was finally cleared to return in February. I never felt more unloved, unappreciated, and disrespected. There was definitely truth in the statement “out of sight, out of mind”. I began re-thinking my future as former administrators of mine who had left the district began courting me because they wanted me as part of their team. But having earned tenure already made me seriously consider the fact that with a chronic illness such as MS, I might not be able to earn that job security elsewhere…not because I wouldn’t work for it, but because a relapse could happen at any time, and attendance is a huge factor when districts determine whether or not tenure is granted. I felt so isolated from my BORO family and I quickly realized that everyone is replaceable…on all counts. 

Going back to work after the half year on disability, I seemed to fall right back into the place I left. Happy and appreciative, and full of love for my students and coworkers. I continued this way until the fall of 2013 when my career abruptly came to an end. I started the school year not feeling strong or ready for the pressures of the job, and I lasted exactly four weeks. My whole identity, not to mention my friends of so many years, were left behind when I walked out the door on what was unknowingly my last day of school ever. And that’s also the day I learned an important lesson: there is a big difference between being friends with your coworkers and having a friendly working relationship with them. 

Luckily, I have always had my tripod… two of my coworkers who have transcended the work/friend line.  These girls have taught me so much about true friendship because even though the thing that connected us initially (our jobs) is no longer connecting us, they remain loyal, loving, and supportive friends. Ever since I stopped working, we see each other at least twice a month to catch up. They call and they text, and they know everything that goes on in my life, and vice versa. If I have a doctor’s appointment, I know they will check in on me to see what is going on, and they never make me feel like a lesser human being for being who I am. I don’t have to pretend or be fake with them, and I can cry (or laugh) freely without fear of judgement. I call us the tripod because we stand together, and without any one of us, we are not complete. I feel 100% confident in saying that each of us feels the same way, and when we go more than two weeks without assembling our tripod, we all need a fix. Our jobs brought us together but it’s the mutual respect, the love, and the importance of our friendship that has kept us in each others’ hearts in such a special way. While I know others have chosen to move on, for whatever reasons, I know that this tripod will be standing strong together for the rest of our lives. We all need a good, solid tripod to count on: to hold us up when we wobble and to lean on when we need it. It’s much easier to face the uncertainty of life with these girls by my side. At this stage in my life, I am more content with the quality of my relationships than the quantity of them, and even as I’ve been writing this entry, I have these song lyrics circling around in my head: 

Oh I’m a lucky [wo]man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah others they got none, uh huh

–Pearl Jam “Just Breathe”

Lucky indeed. 

My tripod, my girls, and the best inside out Oreo you’ll ever find. #luckygirl

Picture Perfect

I have always been into taking pictures and documenting memorable times in my life. In fact, my friends often referred to me as the archivist of the group. For four years of my life, I documented every single day with a photo accompanied by journaling about that particular photo. It started off as a project (known to photographers everywhere as Project 365) intended to improve my photography skills, but it turned into so much more than that. For 1,461 days (there was a leap year in there), I never missed a day. Even though I’ve taken a little bit of heat for grabbing my camera (or my iPhone) at every moment, everyone enjoys seeing the pictures once they are taken. So why am I writing about this now when my last p365 spanned the dates from 1/1/15-12/31/15? I wish I had a better answer, but the simple truth is that I just started assembling my photo book for that last project because for some reason, I kept putting it off. It is somewhat tedious to put it all together, but it truly is a labor of love, and now, looking at the photos I chose, I am reminded why I took on this project (whole-heartedly) for each of those years. 

In the process of reviewing, editing, and formatting so I can finally order the book. I can wait to get it in my hands!

In the process of reviewing, editing, and formatting so I can finally order the book. I can wait to get it in my hands!

As I’m working on my book, the first thing I think about is how my camera/iPhone may as well have been an extension of my arm during all of those years. Being without it was almost like being naked. I snapped photos all day long, and then at the end of the day, I would either choose one to journal about, or else I’d make a collage if I couldn’t pick just one. And even though putting the book together is laborious, seeing an entire year of my life laid out in front of me, in a tangible form with actual pages to turn, is amazing and truly rewarding. 

A little taste of year 1!

A little taste of year 1!

Now that I have been “on hiatus” since December 31, 2015, I can appreciate the many reasons why Project 365 is so good for my soul. (Side note: I am sure there will be many more p365s in my future, but taking a break in between is necessary sometimes!). So initially I started the first one on September 1, since in a teacher’s life, that’s really the “new year”. I continued for three straight years before taking a break before beginning my fourth. In that time, however, I “retired”, and even though my other “photog friends” were committed to beginning again on 1/1/15, I was anxious about it. The first three years were very school-centered, because my life was very school-centered. Starting the new project, I worried that I might not find things to take pictures of and journal about without that most vital part of me that I had left behind when I walked out the door of my school for the very last time.  For that reason alone, I committed because I needed to prove that even though my life had changed so much, I still have a life worth documenting. 

Year 2

Year 2

Re-living each memory that will take its place in the book has made me see how incredibly differently I live my life now that I am not working. First of all, I have truly learned to stop and smell the roses, sometimes literally. Where my prior photo books are overflowing with pictures having to do with my teacher life, this one is full of natural beauty, and beautiful friends and family. It’s amazing how a project like this can make me see how my priorities have changed so much for the better, even though I once thought I’d never be a complete person or have a fulfilling life without being “Mrs. Rankin”.

Year 3

Year 3

While the initial intent was always to improve my skills as a photography hobbyist, the concept of finding something beautiful or meaningful to photograph each day certainly embodies the sprit of optimism, which was, of course, very appealing to me. This latest project was the most challenging for me because of the many life changes that I was dealing with, but as I placed each picture into the book, they were like footsteps leading me on my journey to where I am now…completely at peace in retirement because I am surrounded by so much love from so many amazing former students who remain constants in my life, totally present with family and loved ones whenever I have the opportunity, and still the fervid optimist I always have been. And the best part is that my journey is far from over! It’s true that my journey has not taken me on the course that I had anticipated, and it certainly has not been perfect. In fact, most would say that my life is far from the textbook definition of perfect. But now that I’m living my life this way I realize that it’s perfectly me, and that feels pretty damn good. 

I can't wait for a new book to top this pile.

I can’t wait for a new book to top this pile.

August

It’s that time of year again. As August comes to a close, the back-to-school photos are slowly creeping in to my various news feeds. This has never been an easy time for me, whether I was full of anxiety preparing for a new school year, or even now that I am no longer working and full of nostalgia for what used to drive me. My emotions are all over the place, and even though I have come to terms with how things have worked out for me, times like this still tug at my heart strings. 

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

This is going to be the third opening of school since I began my disability retirement. It does seem to get easier every year, but I don’t think I will ever be un-phased by it. The first year, I went running to my daddy’s house in Florida to escape, and took myself completely off of Facebook for two weeks. I am pretty sure that I just did not want to see the world (in which I proudly resided for 15 years) go on without me. But it does. Everyone is replaceable at work. EVERYONE. And even though I thought my world would come to a halt, it most certainly has not. Quite the opposite, actually. 

I no longer spend the summer, especially August, in back-to-school mode: decorating my classroom, lesson planning, PowerPointing, re-vamping past activities, creating seating charts, photocopying, and shopping for school supplies. Yet the other day I still couldn’t turn away from a commercial advertising a 12-pack of Sharpies for $3.00! (It wouldn’t have been so bad if Bruce didn’t catch me in the act. Old habits…)

I never imagined that I could exist in a world where I wasn’t Mrs. Rankin, the teacher. My whole life revolved around my “kids” and my job. I remember feeling such intense loss and emptiness, and I felt as if my whole identity was a question mark without that one thing that had always defined me. But in these last three years, I have worked incredibly hard on figuring out who I am without what I had always considered the characteristic that most described me. 

Having been a teacher will always be the one thing I am most proud of in my life, because I was lucky enough to meet and get to know a new crop of amazing students every single year. People don’t become teachers for the salary, but the rewards are priceless. Nothing makes me happier than visiting with former students who are growing up to do unbelievable things as they find their own ways to being productive members of society. 

Three years later, I still find this time of year bittersweet. But I no longer feel like that world goes on without me, because this new world that I have been exploring is fulfilling my soul in completely different ways. For every teacher “friend” (a term used very loosely since only about three of them have proven to truly be friends) that pushed me aside as part of their past, I have been blessed with new friends who have made it clear that they are committed to be by my side in the future. 

I will always miss my students, but I will never miss the way I sacrificed so much of my life (and my energy) for my job. Life is about the loving relationships we build and maintain, and memories we make along the way. Those memories should include the people we love most, and although I loved (and still do) the thousands of students who entered my classroom through the years, I am grateful that my focus is now squarely on me. It might sound selfish, but I spent too many years focusing on others that I lost sight of the most important thing of all: taking care of number one! 

For as much as MS has taken away from me, I have been given many gifts that I never would have been given otherwise. I now appreciate and am grateful for every minute I get to spend with my loved ones, and I never take it for granted. I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to listen to my body, resting when necessary, and making it stronger by dedicating the time (that I couldn’t spare when I was working) for proper exercise. And of course, I will be forever indebted to my MS family, including the best trainer ever, for walking (or hobbling or rolling) into my life and changing it forever, in all the best ways possible. 

So even though I’ll always feel a little pang of sadness at the beginning of the school year, it does, indeed, get just a tiny bit easier as time goes by. There is a reason why things worked out this way for me, even if it isn’t blatantly clear to me at the moment. But I believe that the universe works in powerful and mysterious ways, and things unfold exactly as they should. The only thing I know for sure is that I am a happier, more balanced person now, even despite the obstacles and the circumstances that brought me here. In fact, three years ago, I would have never been able to say, with 100% sincerity, that life is pretty damn good. Today I can tell you that it’s friggin’ awesome…as long as you open your eyes and take a good look around. 

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

Half Full

I love my volunteer job for so many reasons. In addition to the administrative tasks that I work on while I’m there, I also get to interact with the patients as they go through the intake and the exit procedures of the office. Though many times I serve mainly as a friendly face on the other side of the desk, there are occasions when I feel I serve a much greater, more important purpose, and often I feel that the patients affect me way more than I affect them. These are the moments that remind me of how far I’ve come, and they are the moments I never forget. 

IMG_2092

One such occasion happened a few weeks ago, when I had the pleasure of meeting a patient I had never met before. This woman has been a long time patient, always coming in with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. She’s also a workaholic and a perfectionist who defines herself by her job. To be honest, she quite reminds me of the old me: the Mrs. Rankin me. 

As a teacher, I was never done, and my work came with me everywhere.

As a teacher, I was never done, and my work came with me everywhere.

Unfortunately, after 23 years of steadfast dedication to her job (as a paralegal), my new friend arrived at the place that no MS patient wants to be. She suddenly finds herself in the position of having to choose between her passion, her livelihood, the one thing she feels truly defines her, and managing her MS on a daily basis. Not everyone gets to this point, but many of us do. For us, just living with Multiple Sclerosis becomes our full time job. 

I sat in my usual seat as I listened to her cry about how she wasn’t ready to stop working, and how much she loves her career. I couldn’t help but go to her, because I was getting emotional myself. In an instant, as the tears began to flow, I was immediately brought back to the moment when I was faced with the very same decision. My heart was breaking for her, and also a little for myself. It’s always frustrating to think that perhaps others won’t understand, because we “look so good”. It’s also scary wondering how will we find our self-worth if we are not contributing to society somehow through our work. Plus, there’s a fear more powerful than anything, that’s always in the background because MS can wreak havoc on us at any moment, without warning. All of that adds up to tears. 

I tried to comfort her as best I could, knowing that it probably wouldn’t help much, but also that I could definitely give her the benefit of my experience. I told her that I was in her exact position three years ago, and that I have no regrets. I told her that everyone is replaceable even if you’re the best at your job. Once you’re gone, there’s always someone else. I told her that she spent the last 23 years working at her job, so now she can spend the next 23 working on herself. I told her that she would eventually stop crying, even though it didn’t feel like it right then. I told her that it wasn’t her fault that her body was letting her down. I told her how much better she would feel physically, without the incredible amount of stress any job places on our bodies, causing symptoms to flare. I told her how amazing life can be when you look beyond your job because only then can you be completely content and at peace. We are, after all, human beings, not just work machines, and how lucky she is to be forced to learn this while still at a young enough age to really enjoy living for a long time to come. 

It really blows my mind how my life has changed in just three years. It’s a short time, yet I’ve come such a long way. I remember how defeated I felt…how utterly devastated. I felt worthless. Like a failure. Like my life was now meaningless. But you know what? I just had to find the true meaning and value without using my profession as a crutch. 

This was my home for many years, and now my world is so much larger than this one classroom.

This was my home for many years, and now my world is so much larger than this one classroom.

Three years later I can be proud of who I have become. I volunteer my time, and I love that I am able to give back in this small way to the medical team that has always taken such good care of me.  I work on my body in ways that make me stronger, even if my nerves are misfiring. I happily enjoy whatever time I get to spend with my loved ones because I am fully focused on them, without the work distraction. I have an entire MS family who loves and supports me 100% of the time. I have so much to be grateful for, and I am now, more than ever, a glass-half-full-kinda-girl. 

MS family love.

MS family love.

Winning

Please take three minutes to watch this VIDEO before reading today’s blog!

Years ago, while I was still working, my principal showed us this video at a faculty meeting. Even though the context in which it was presented escapes me, the power of this video never has. The message is clear, and it can be applied to anything at all. 

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because lately I haven’t quite been myself. Physically I have been feeling off, which immediately affects my mental state. As if the MS (and the many joys it brings me in the way of obnoxious symptoms) isn’t enough, this allergy season is a brutal one for me. I end up in an endless cycle where coughing causes back spasms, disrupting my already troubled sleep patterns. This then causes me more pain, because less sleep/rest causes my pain to intensify. Spending days on the couch “resting” makes me feel like I’m being lazy, or that I should be doing other things. I know my body needs the rest and I allow it, but it doesn’t do much for the psyche. Even the girl with the perpetually half full glass of lemonade has her moments. As much as I am that girl, I do allow myself the occasional short-lived pity party

The thing is, everyone feels down in the dumps every once in a while. If you don’t, then I admire you, and I’d love to know what your secret is. It’s human nature to  experience all emotions, including sadness. If you don’t experience sadness every once in a while, the happy times wouldn’t be nearly as sweet. What I do know for sure is that the longer you wallow in your self-pity, the more you retreat from everything and everyone in your life. Once that happens, even the smallest of tasks seems impossible, then stress sets in, and all of a sudden you feel utterly overwhelmed. This is yet another endless cycle unless you are strong enough to pick yourself up. 

When I was still teaching, I never gave less than 110%, up until my (unexpected) last day of work. I was awarded "Teacher of the Year" just 2 years before MS ended my career.

When I was still teaching, I never gave less than 110%, up until my (unexpected) last day of work. I was awarded “Teacher of the Year” just 2 years before MS ended my career.

The girl in the video fell due to something outside of her control. Another runner “clipped” her heel, causing her to fall. As I see it, she had two options: lie there on the ground sulking in the fate handed to her, or else pick herself up and do something about it. Isn’t this how we should look at life? Once you pick yourself up from a fall, amazing things can happen. 

No matter what is happening in my life, I do my best to keep smiling. It's not always easy, but it always makes me feel better.

No matter what is happening in my life, I do my best to keep smiling. It’s not always easy, but it always makes me feel better.

In my life with MS now, the running part is just a metaphor. When I fall down (physically OR metaphorically), I know for sure that nothing good can come from it. But when I pick myself up, nothing bad can come from it. There is no such thing as failure when you’re trying your hardest, and you simply can’t compare yourself or your abilities to anyone else. You can’t judge yourself by comparing your own capabilities (or disabilities) to other people or you will never find peace with your station in life. 

Again, I am not saying that you don’t deserve the occasional pity party. But the quicker it’s over, the better your mental state will be, and as we know, stress and negativity will certainly affect MS symptoms. With MS, so many things are outside of your control, why not do your best to take advantage of what you can control? Ultimately, the choice is yours. Are you going to lie down and lose the race? Or are you going to get up and do what you can? You might not win… but then again, you might! 

I didn't win the race, but I gave it everything I had. I ran this 5K on my 9 year diagnosiversary in 2012. Things have changed for me, and I can't run anymore, but I still give my all to everything that I am still able to do.

I didn’t win the race, but I gave it everything I had. I ran this 5K on my 9 year diagnosiversary in 2012. Things have changed for me, and I can’t run anymore, but I still give my all to everything that I am still able to do.

Strength

Last week, Bruce was home from work on Wednesday, so I asked him if he’d like to accompany me to my trainer to see what it’s all about. I was pleasantly surprised when he said yes, without even a moment of hesitation. The idea was multi-faceted in nature. I really wanted him to meet the woman who has helped me re-gain control of certain aspects of my life that I had lost after a bad relapse. I wanted him to see “the basement”, my happy place, and the place where so much magic has happened for me. My journey in the basement has been full of triumphs, but also has not been without its share of disappointments. I have laughed (and cried) in the basement, and I have opened up my body as well as my mind there, too.  I wanted him to have a visual of the space where I spend my time working to stay strong for us. Plus I wanted him to get an idea of just how hard I do work, despite my challenges. 

This is the basement. Diane is the boss of the basement and she will remind you of this if need be!

This is the basement. Diane is the boss of the basement and she will remind you of this if need be! It’s also one of my happy places.

I had warned Bru ahead of time that The Boss would not allow him to merely sit and watch, and that he would be expected to workout with us. He agreed, as long as she promised to “take it easy” on him, which she did. 

This is part of "inchworm", Starting from a plank position, walk the legs (without bending them) to your arms until your body is folded, and then walk your arms out until you are back to the plank position.

This is part of “inchworm”, Starting from a plank position, walk the legs (without bending them) to your arms until your body is folded, and then walk your arms out until you are back to the plank position.

As we entered the basement, we quietly said hello and moved over to the treadmill so as not to disrupt The Boss who was finishing up with the client before me. I got on the treadmill to warm up, and Bruce watched in wonder as I did my circles on the treadmill. The rule is that I’m not allowed to hold on with my hands at all. I start off walking forwards, then sideways, then backwards, etc., rotating first clockwise then counterclockwise. I have built up to this point, though. It didn’t happen on day one. I can see why this would impress Bruce, simply for the fact that I have very little feeling from my waist down, and zero feeling in my feet (thank you, MS for that lovely gift!).

IMG_1989.MOV      (click the link to see the video of my circles!)

As Diane finished with her other client, I was wrapping up my warmup and finally my guy got to meet this amazing woman who has helped make my life better in so many ways. We went through a workout where Bruce was challenged to train the way I have, week after week, for over three years now. For every move Bruce did, adjustments (or up-buttons) were added for me (the disabled one) because I work this hard every single week, and even though I’m sure he thought he knew how hard I was working, I was glad that not only could he see that, but also was now experiencing it for himself. 

The natural tummy tuck: pikes on the balance ball. I'm getting better all the time.

The natural tummy tuck: pikes on the balance ball. I’m getting better all the time.

In the end, Bru did great. The Boss was even quite impressed with how well he did, and so was I. But ultimately I like to think that Bruce gained a little perspective, not just on my life but also on his own. Despite the obstacles that MS places in my path, I do everything in my power to overcome them and I know that I am a stronger, more centered person for it. Nothing comes easily but I work my butt off because it’s very important for me to remain strong. Ultimately, the stronger I am, the more quickly I am able to bounce back from relapses, which is a huge quality of life issue. Plus it makes me feel more empowered, even though I know that working out can’t cure MS, it goes a long way towards helping me feel more in control of the things that are way beyond it. 

Superman!

Superman!

I don’t just do it for me though. I do it for Bruce. And for me. And for our future. And to make the most out of this wacky life we share, that definitely isn’t what we dreamed it would be, but that we wouldn’t trade for anything.  

Team Rankin. All in.

Team Rankin. All in.

 

Vacationing

Who doesn’t love a great vacation away from the stresses of everyday life? When you think about taking a vacation, images of restful days in tropical places, or even experiencing a myriad of adventures unique to the chosen vacation spot come to mind. For me, and for many of my fellow MS warriors, there is nothing more stressful than a vacation, from planning and packing, all the way through to getting back home afterwards. 

Heading out for our most recent road trip.

Heading out for our most recent road trip.

In the last few years, Bruce and I have taken shorter vacations (long weekends) within driving distance, for many reasons. First and foremost, being able to move on our own schedule is a huge stress-reliever. We don’t have to worry about getting to the airport, going through security, or any unforeseen delays out of our control. I don’t get exposed to the range of germs in one of our cars as I do on an airplane, which may seem paranoid to many, but those of us with compromised immune systems are hyper-sensitive and we are affected quite easily, regardless of the precautions we take. It’s also nice (and a necessity!) to travel with ALL of my prescribed medications, especially the one that is not federally recognized and I am not allowed to have with me when I travel on an airplane. Yes, I’m talking about my medicinal marijuana, without which I can not sleep, and I’m unable to find relief from the constant neuropathic pain. Additionally, crowds and small spaces cause me so much anxiety because I can’t maneuver through them like I used to, and can push me into a full-blown panic attack at any moment. 

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Luckily, Bru is a pretty cool guy. He understands that things are different for me now and he is open to road tripping to destinations within driving distance for us. This allows us to stop as necessary, whether to use the restroom, or simply to stretch my legs without fear of being knocked over by turbulence or even the vertigo that happens when I’m in a small, crowded space, such as an airplane. The trade-off here is that we stay at beautiful hotels and resorts because we aren’t spending so much money on airfare. Plus, having our car with us means we can go out to pick up things we might have forgotten to pack, and not have to spend a fortune at the hotel gift shop trying to get those same items. 

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We research our destinations and we have an idea of the things we would like to do and the local attractions we’d like to see, but we remain flexible in case I need to rest in between activities. Plus, we try to go to popular places, but off-season in order to avoid the crowds. Inevitably, certain attractions have shortened hours, but with a little advanced planning, we enjoy everything that much more because there are so many fewer tourists around. When I am able to enjoy myself more, Bru is able to enjoy himself more, which makes it all worthwhile!  

Sometimes we even do things that don't involve eating or drinking, like this stop at Indian Echo Caverns near Hershey, PA.

Sometimes we even do things that don’t involve eating or drinking, like this stop at Indian Echo Caverns near Hershey, PA.

I’m not saying I’ll never get on an airplane again, but I really wouldn’t mind if I didn’t. I am fortunate in that I did my share of traveling while I was young(er) and healthy. I haven’t been everywhere I dreamed of going, but these days, vacations have taken on a whole new meaning for us. Of course we still enjoy seeing new places and experiencing new things, but now it’s more about spending time together, enjoying each other, and getting away together. It’s about laughing and eating and drinking and more laughing. 

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Life with a chronic illness such as MS forces me to make compromises every single day. Those compromises don’t just involve every day activities, but also things seemingly as innocuous as a vacation away with my husband. Gone are the days of long, epic trips to exotic and exciting locales, such as Alaska (where we finally took our dream honeymoon for our tenth wedding anniversary), but that’s ok. We have discovered that we love exploring anywhere, and we actually really love road trips! And the truth of the matter is that vacations are also about relaxing and taking it easy, which we do a heck of a lot more of now. 

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Most healthy people would say I’m crazy, and perhaps even some of my fellow warriors out there (although I know at least four others who get me here!), but Bruce and I have never followed the herd, and we aren’t about to start now. We do things our way, and we don’t look back. While you take your fancy vacations to places like Europe or Hawaii, Bru and I will be at some craft brewery somewhere on the East coast, drinking beer and playing Sesame Street Chutes and Ladders. 

(You know you’re jealous!)

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Proposal

Even though when I was younger, I dreamed about being proposed to in the perfect way, I think I somehow convinced myself that it didn’t matter in real life because that’s not who Bruce was back then. There was no proposal, there was no ring, there was no engagement, and there was no wedding. I would have married Bruce with a piece of string around my finger, and my ever-sensible self felt it unnecessary for him to spend two and a half months salary on something (meant to be symbolic) when we were so poor that we often went food shopping in my mother-in-law’s pantry. We chose to get married in Las Vegas. Just the two of us. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but in the year 2000 we were pretty cutting edge, because our wedding was webcast live on the Internet. We have an amazing marriage that gets better every single year and we are more in love now than ever before, so I have not regretted any of the choices we made when we were young(er).

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have a complete makeover. I was invited to the event months before, and I had been looking forward to it for some time. Bruce suggested that we have a “date night” that night since I’d be all made up. He also said we could walk around town (New Brunswick), and take some pictures, which is one of my favorite things to do. None of these suggestions were unusual because this is something we do quite often because we just love New Brunswick and Rutgers so much. That is, after all, how we met. We even joked that we were getting “dressed up” for our date. Bru wore shoes (not sneakers) and a button-down shirt as opposed to a hoodie, his top of choice.

As we made our way to New Brunswick, it was eerily quiet. I realized it was spring break so the “kids” weren’t out and about like usual, which I later found out was just another reason why Bru had chosen this night in particular for our date. We headed to the area of campus known as Voorhees Mall. It’s a beautiful spot, lined with trees and surrounded by majestic, old buildings, and most importantly, it is home to the statue that is affectionately called “Willie the Silent”. Legend says he was given this nickname because he whistled every time a female virgin walked by, hence he was silent. Bruce had already decided that he wanted to take some pictures in front of our pal, Willie, as we had for our tenth wedding anniversary.

Photo taken by Idalia Photography for our tenth wedding anniversary

Photo taken by Idalia Photography for our tenth wedding anniversary

When we reached Willie, I began setting up our pictures, fussing with the selfie stick, and trying to decide if the shot would be better as a landscape or portrait layout. I didn’t even realize that I was asking Bruce what he thought and he hadn’t responded, nor was he standing next to me anymore. I continued to debate (with myself apparently) the best approach when Bruce said, “Hey, Ren?”, just as he has said a trillion times before. As I turned around and answered, “Yea, babe?”, I saw my husband, on one knee, right there in front of Willie.

I must have pressed the remote on my selfie stick as Bru called my name. You can see him on his knee, brow furrowed.

At that moment, I wasn’t sure what was happening, and I innocently asked, “What the fuck are you doing?”. Bruce allowed me some time to process what was going on, because clearly, I needed it. He lifted his hand slightly, and at that moment I realized that he was holding the most beautiful engagement ring I have ever seen in my life. I was overcome with emotion as Bruce, my husband, my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, my partner in crime, my one and only, retroactively asked me to marry him. I don’t think the younger me could have dreamt up a more perfect proposal.

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A collection of pictures from our special night.

We have always done things our way, without concern for societal norms, and Bruce’s proposal to me (after being together for over 21 years and being married almost 16) is no exception. It’s that much more special to me that he still chooses me, MS and all. He knows the road is bumpy, yet he still wants to walk by my side. He knows what our future could be, and he doesn’t let that scare him away. He has seen me at my worst, and he loves me more despite it all. I have never not felt loved by Bruce, but this “retroactive” proposal made me feel so special, so valued, so cared for, and more in love than ever.

I wish there were words that could adequately describe how grateful I am for a guy who is evolving with me instead of running as far away from me as possible. Far too few marriages grow stronger with age, and I’m proud to say that mine has, no matter how unconventional it might appear to some people. Maybe if more people tried out marriage before their fancy proposals, the divorce rate wouldn’t be so high!

All of this just proves the point that every single one of us has our own journey and we will never be happy if we constantly compare ourselves to others. My journey is my own, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This coming from the disabled girl who hasn’t come down from the clouds since her husband proposed to her…

Like Bruce said after he proposed to me, life is a collection of stories, so you may as well have the best ones. This one certainly tops them all.

Handle with Care

In the spirit of MS Awareness month, and since this will be my last blog entry in March, I am taking the advice of someone very special to me. She reads my blog religiously and as much as last week’s entry was appreciated for its honesty, she suggested I write about the things we, as MS patients, would like to hear and see from those around us who do not walk in our shoes. I enlisted the help of my MS family for input, and it’s amazing how easily the ideas came to us.

My amazing MS family and I brainstormed this week's blog together and so I speak on behalf of all if us today!

My amazing MS family and I brainstormed this week’s blog together and so I speak on behalf of all of us today!

The first thing that came up is that we really just want to be treated normally. If you see us walking or getting our rollators ready, just smile and say hi. We don’t want to be made spectacles of, but certainly offers of help are appreciated, even if we just tell you thank you anyway but we are used to it and we’ve got it. Even if we do need help, we are hesitant to ask for it, so please do continue to ask because at some point, we all really do need some assistance.  The offers and the smiles go an awfully long way for us, and we are always amazed at how many good people there are still in the world.

Also, even though we have our limitations, we do like to be included in invitations to do things. We’d like to be the ones who decide what we are (or what we are not) capable of, and your assumptions that we wouldn’t want to be included because of our limitations make us feel less human. By the same token, we need you to understand that as excited as we may be to join you, the possibility of us not feeling up to anything on the actual day exists. And as disappointed as you may be, it is way worse for us. Keep in mind that when we are out, we immediately scope the path to the bathroom, and we are constantly assessing our route given the layout of the space. What seems “close” or “easily accessible” to you, is not the case for us, as our mobility is compromised, and we definitely have a fear of making a scene while trying to maneuver our way about. Thinking about the location of the table in relation to the layout of any venue is something that we are constantly doing because it can be very anxiety-inducing for us. Please understand that it’s not that we aren’t enjoying ourselves if we aren’t tearing up the dance floor or walking around mingling with the crowds, it’s just that we have a smaller comfort zone than we had before MS came along.

When talking to my MS family, we spent the most time discussing the seemingly simple question we always hear: “how are you feeling?”. Or even worse: “are you feeling better?”. Both of these questions are often followed by the phrase “…because you look so good!”. We’d much rather you ask “what’s up?” or “how’s it going?”. Honestly speaking, most people don’t really want to hear how we are feeling, and we don’t want to be downers by rattling off a list of symptoms we are currently experiencing. We like to focus on positivity, and ruminating on our issues robs us of our optimism. We love it when you tell us how gorgeous, fantastic, amazing, etc. we look, and hope that you will feel free to compliment us as often as you’d like. Just please don’t make a sensational statement like that where it’s tied in to how we are feeling, because one has absolutely nothing to do with the other, and they are totally unrelated.

At the end of the day, all positive thoughts and genuine interest in us is greatly appreciated. We may not be able to do all the things we used to do, but we are still, at the core, the very same people you have always known and loved. Please don’t let our limitations define us. Just focus on who we are as human beings, and we will all be much happier!

(If you have any suggestions out there for what you personally would like to see and hear from others, whether you have MS or any other chronic medical condition, please feel free to reply here, or on any of the social media outlets. My MS family and I would love to hear what you have to say. Be well, all!)