How I Learned Resilience with my Illness by Choosing to Live for Each Day
by Josh Leetch
Cold. The feeling can be a physical state, as much as it can be a mental state. The worst part is both states can go hand in hand.
It was a frigid winter day in November. The cold north wind blowing against my face had the same feeling as if I had shoved my head into a bucket of ice water. My whole body was an icicle, even underneath two layers of thick coats.
I had school off due to a doctor appointment, but in this current freezing state, I almost wished I had been in school where it was warm. Thoughts raced through my head, fast enough to give myself a piercing headache to match the cold all around me.
Many questions . . . but the first and foremost one: Why Me? This question will probably follow me through the rest of my life. I blinked my mind to dwell somewhere else. Why me? On that day I had been first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. That day will haunt me physically and mentally for the rest of my life.
It all began on Halloween night, October 31st 2014. Normal day, same usual house. But something felt different. I was enjoying my day since school was done and I decided to get some pizza with my mother. We headed out and the brisk afternoon smacked my face on my way out the door, and then, we were on our way.
Then . . . something changed.
I looked at my hand. I couldn’t focus on it. I moved it, and there was a visual echo of the hand that followed around the actual hand itself. This can’t be good. I decided I probably just needed sleep, so I laid down after I got home, hoping that I just had a really bad cold.
I told my mom about it and then went straight to bed. The bed was cold, but in a strange way. Then a headache abruptly kicked in as soon as I was down and the bed felt weird. Dizziness followed the headache, making it feel like my bed was a bull ride from hell. Then the vomiting started, followed by rapid changes in how warm or cold I was feeling.
It felt like a frozen knife was stabbing inside my skull, while simultaneously getting whacked in the stomach by a truck. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
The next day was a Monday, so I got to skip school, which provided a much-needed distraction. I soon found myself in a clinic with comfortable and soft—but bland-colored—chairs. They called me into the MRI room and I mentally prepared myself to enter into the metal coffin. The constant *thrum* from the machine didn’t help the headache, which quickly became a minor migraine. I couldn’t move at all, my feet were tied down, the same with my arms. My head was also held down by a strange helmet, making me completely at the mercy of the metal box.
I quickly tried to push this panic deep inside myself, as I knew the scan would be done faster if I could lie still. I couldn’t move though. I have vivid nightmares about that experience once in a while. As soon as I was freed from the medieval torture device, I greeted my mom, and rushed out the door.
“That took a lot longer than I thought it would,” my mom said.
I suppose the time I had been in the MRI was unusual, but I brushed the thought aside, as I was starting to get hungry. Ten minutes later, I was enjoying SmashBurger, letting the delicious aroma of the popping oil from the hamburger assist me with banishing my troubles. It’s hard worrying when there was a hamburger with smoked, crispy bacon, and tangy, sweet barbeque in front of you!
Taking a bite, my bliss was interrupted by my mothers blaring phone. She picked up, said, “Yes. He’s here,” and handed me the phone.
Just having turned 18, they wouldn’t talk to my mom, so it all fell on me when I answered the phone. “Is this Josh Leetch?” they asked.
“I’m sorry to inform you, but we have reason to believe that you have Multiple Sclerosis, due to unusual spots on the brain.”
I didn’t hear anything after that. You ever listen to the song “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd? The one about how the main character decides to stop caring, and basically falls back into his own mind?
Yeah, that was me.
I knew I was crying, but in my own head, nothing was wrong—it couldn't be! The doctors words had not yet hit me mentally; going deep into myself was the only thing I could do to escape reality.
I was stuck inside my head—in an endless, lonely, and cold room. To be completely honest, part of me is still there. It’s taken months to crawl back out of that hole.
My next step was to get a Lumbar puncture, which rendered me immobile for 24 hours. That just happened to take place during finals for my senior year. Yeah.
Even before the Lumbar puncture, I knew it to be true; all the signs and symptoms fit. Throughout the whole experience, I meandered along, trying to ignore anything that would set me off, because I could not take much more.
Hands down, it was the scariest time of my life, and looking back on it, it hasn’t gotten any easier. My diagnosis changed my life in more ways than I will ever realize, and it changed my family member's lives too.
My family has supported me through this journey, but they can only do so much. They can only try to help my external actions. They cannot help me with my physical issues I’ve come to realize. They try not to worry about it (same as me), but whenever I have an appointment that my mother comes along with me, I can see her pain and worry. For me, seeing her pain is much worse than having the disease.
After realizing that there was always going to be that look in my mother's eyes, I’ve decided that I need to believe that it will be all right in the end, no matter what happens, before I can start to help my family understand what I'm going through and how I deal with it.
Today, two years later, I’ve decided that my health issues cannot control who I am. I've decided that if I live my life according to what the doctors tell me, then I will not truly live. For example, if I focus on the idea that I may not be able to walk someday in the future, it’ll get me nothing except worry. Now, whenever I get tired of standing, I tell myself that being able to stand at all is a gift, and that I cannot worry about it.
Understanding the gift of simple things—what most people just take for granted—helps me get through the day. I see it less as a dark, negative thing, and more as a light, positive thing. I can speculate what could happen, good or bad, but it makes life seem small. Instead, I live my life to the fullest, just to say that I did actually live, and will continue to live.
I live to create stories that I may one day tell my children, in hopes that they will understand this idea that life is precious, and live in the same way I do.
Hearing the phrase LIFE IS SHORT means much more to me than it did before the diagnosis. Those words put into perspective that life needs to be lived to the fullest . . . now. You may not be alive tomorrow. Live for now. Today! Enjoy the small things. Love your family.
If you see life for how truly short it is, then maybe next time you see someone that you’ve been secretly in love with for for many years, you will talk to them. Tell them what you're feeling, right now. That's how I found my current girlfriend. And that's the message that I try to pass on to people.
Life is too short to dwell on the past, so why worry about it? Live for the now, and live the life that you want, not what society wants for you. There is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to be happy with the life you’ve got. It’s all a matter of perspective.
These are the things this disease has taught me, and I will continue to live this way for as long as life will let me.
Now, I don’t feel that same, cold feeling that pierced every fiber of my being during those few rough months. I am finally warm, safe, and ready to take on the world in the way that I see fit.
Hopefully, you can start to see life in the same way as me, and start living for the now. Because that's all we ever have.
About the Author
Josh Leetch works full time and hopes to graduate college. One day he hopes to start a family. He lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.