Type A

Today a specialist asked me if I had a certain personality.
I may have responded with an arch look.
He rephrased the question. “How would you describe yourself? Your personality? ”
I knew where he was going with that line of questioning. He wanted me to confirm his at-a-glance hypothesis that I am a Type A personality. Apparently The Specialist subscribes to the popular theory that Type A personalities are more prone to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS.)
“Has anyone ever told you that you are a control freak?”
He has nothing to gain from this line of reasoning. Think about it. Of the two of us, who is more likely to have a Type A personality: the guy with the medical degree, or the gal with the MFA?
I countered, “I think that’s just blaming the victim.”
I don’t (necessarily) have a bad personality. I just have a bad disease.
The Specialist kept describing the Type A personality. “Do you set goals for yourself?”
“Sure I do. And maybe I’ll accomplish all of those goals in a day, and maybe I’ll only accomplish only one. Or none at all. My body has the final say.”
“So you’ve reached Acceptance.”
Acceptance. I didn’t know what The Specialist would think about that. Acceptance doesn’t carry much of a cachet among Type A personalities.
I ventured, “I don’t know if that’s good.”
Though of course, I do know that it’s good. In my case, Acceptance is reasonable. All my MRI’s in the past four years have come back showing no new lesions. It’s appropriate to reach Acceptance when you’re on a drug that actually works.
The Specialist was happy to hear about the efficacy of the drug, even though he couldn’t find “daclizumab” or “DAC HYP” on his portable information device. (I probably spelled it all wrong.) He seemed more frustrated that he couldn’t shoehorn my personality into his Type A hypothesis. He kept trying. He listed high achievers who had autoimmune diseases. Montel Williams’ MS. Michael J. Fox’s Parkinsons.
I could think of one other thing these guys had in common, besides autoimmune diseases. “These guys are both celebrities. You kind of have to be a high achiever to become a celebrity.”
Whereas, you absolutely don’t have to be a high achiever to become a patient with MS. It’s just not that simple. I know plenty of high achievers. And most of them are not celebrities. Most of them don’t have an autoimmune disease, either. Nor do they deserve one.
I don’t deserve one, either.
“Do you think you used to have a Type A personality, back before your diagnosis?”
Back before my diagnosis, I’d majored in philosophy. What kind of Type A personality would be stupid enough to major in a thing like that?
The kind of Type A personality who thought English majors weren’t thinking hard enough.
Fine.
Have it your way, Specialist.
He proposed, “Some people think meditation could be helpful for people with multiple sclerosis.”
So now he’s “some people.”
“Meditation could be helpful for anyone.”
Touché.
I’m not making a very good case for my being a Type other than A.
The Specialist is an Ear, Nose, Throat guy.
He finally got around to asking me to stick out my tongue.
“You know, thousands of years of Chinese medicine has taught them to diagnose an entire person with one glimpse of the tongue.”
Diagnose?
Or simplify?
I had my tongue sticking out, so I couldn’t reply. And anyway, I didn’t think of a good comeback until after I left the examining room. Here it is: “For hundreds of years, Gypsies have said they can see a person’s fate with one glimpse of the palm.” You don’t see me rushing out to consult any gypsy. I consulted my half-Chinese husband instead. My half-Chinese husband said my sharp tongue was one of the first qualities he loved about me.
So maybe there is a perk to being Type A, after all.
The Specialist had said, “Things happen for a reason.”
I agree with half of that statement. Things happen. But If you’re going to look for a reason, don’t stick your tongue out at a Chinese guy, and thrust your palm onto a gypsy’s lap. That’s just silly. None of us are so special we should waste our breath whining, “why me?”
I may have a strong personality, but I don’t think it’s so strong it could cause a disease.
While I was waiting for The Specialist, I was reading Population 485, a delightful book by a Michael Perry, a volunteer fireman. He writes, “We are creatures of myth, hungry for metaphor and allegory, but most of all, hungry for sense.”
Sometimes our hunger for sense has us gobbling up nonsense.
Perry writes, “Surely, we tell ourselves, we can’t die just because we hit a patch of pebbles on a curve.”
But as Perry clearly illustrates, we can and we do.
We identify with our problems, with our illness, with our fate, instead of detaching, and researching cause and effect.
I think I’ve figured out why I contracted MS. It had nothing to do with my personality, and everything to do with my intestinal parasites.
Surprised? So was I.
It’s a wild, random world. (Is this the observation of a Type A control freak?)
Namaste.

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Gratitude

This morning, my local neurologist sat me down after performing my annual exam. For the exam, she’d checked my reflexes, had me follow her fingers with my eyes, had me push against her (“you’re strong”), had me stand on one leg, then on the other, had me walk on tip-toe, walk on my heels, walk a (flawless) heel-to-toe.
She prefaced her conclusion by saying, “You might be unhappy to hear to this.” Naturally, I was all ears. “How long did you say you’ve been diagnosed with MS?”
“Sixteen years. I’ve had MS for over twenty years.”
“Over twenty years? And you can still swim laps for thirty minutes?”
But not for thirty five.”
She nodded. “Not for thirty five. Swimming laps for thirty minutes is really good for someone who has had MS for over twenty years. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, maybe you want to do better, but you are doing very well.”
I corrected her assumption. “I do want to hear that. I’m so glad I’m doing well.”
I’d reported to her, earlier, that the parameters of my abilities are shrinking. I’d wondered aloud if I was transitioning into Secondary Progressive MS. “I can’t do as much as I used to. I can’t walk as long, or as fast. Every time I push myself, the MS pushes back.”
She’d agreed with my tentative assessment. “I often see this kind of gradual decline with people who have a mild form of MS.”
There was once a time when I would have bristled at that remark. I would have resented the suggestion that my nemesis, MS, could be described as “mild.” There was nothing mild about the pain I was experiencing right there in her office, which was why I had swung my aching leg up onto her examination table and used the table as a barre to stretch.
There was a time when I wasn’t willing to believe the MS could get any worse.
I know better, now.
My neurologist sees worse cases of MS every day. At least these days she can tell her patients that there are effective medications —medications like the one I’m on—in the research pipeline. There’s much more reason for hope than there was back when I was diagnosed.
And that is why today’s post is simply a post of gratitude.
I am very grateful.
Grateful for having a fine local neurologist.
Grateful for having insurance.
Grateful for having a $15 co-pay.
Grateful for being on an effective medication.
Grateful to be receiving that medication free of charge through an NIH study.
Grateful to have friends and family who support me. (It’s not too late, by the way, to support me in the MS Walk.)
Grateful to be able to swim 30 minutes of laps.
Grateful you visited this blog.
Grateful that yesterday, somebody searched Google for “Happiness with Multiple Sclerosis” and ended up on here on Ms. Lab Rat. What a hoot!
Am I happy with Multiple Sclerosis, the disease? Nope. I can’t say that I am. I hate this disease.
But am I happy, despite Multiple Sclerosis? You bet.
I welcome all seekers of happiness, with or without Multiple Sclerosis.
Thanks for visiting.

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