Everyone Has Their Mountain
Written by Marisa Bonanno
Thirteen years ago, I was told those four words that changed my life: "You have Multiple Sclerosis."
I had no idea what MS was, nor did I know anyone with MS. There was tingling in my arms, I felt fatigued a lot, and my right leg would drag so badly that I had trouble crossing a room. My symptoms would come and go, but I never knew when I would have another relapse or how long it would last. I had a 2-year-old child and feared how I would be able to take care of myself, and my son.
Work was out of the question. How could I work while having MS? I felt alone and scared. As time passed I slipped into a major depression.
But I wasn't really alone...
I learned of others like me and how they dealt with their MS. Eventually, I joined support groups and met other people who understood what I was feeling. They were a great source of support and helped give me the confidence to move forward.
A few years went by and I met someone who showed me a mountain. "Would you like to go hiking?" he asked.
I said, "Are you nuts? I have MS! There's no way I could climb a mountain. What if I start having problems? What if my leg dies out on me? What if my fatigue hits and I don't have the strength to get back down? What if… What if... What if..." Since I got diagnosed, these questions prevented me from doing many things. But, my friend convinced me to try, promising me that I only had to do as much as I felt comfortable with. I relented, and once I convinced myself to do the climb, I decided to go as far as I could.
The day came and I was very nervous. The “what ifs” were flooding my head and I was having second thoughts. I figured I came all the way to this mountain, the least I could do was to try and see how far I could go. It was very difficult and I didn't think I could make it, but I reached the summit! It was small, but it was a mountain nonetheless. The view from the top was amazing. Even more amazing, my attitude started changing. If I can climb a mountain, I wonder what else I can do that I thought I couldn't? I've learned that the "what ifs" were causing me to miss more of my life than I realized.
The feeling of conquering something was addictive and I wanted to climb again. The second time was not as easy, but I was determined. Slowly and steadily, I made it to the summit. It took a lot out of me but it was breathtaking! The problem with hiking up a mountain is you have to go back down! The concept seems obvious, but it really hits you hard when you can barely get your leg over a single rock never mind trying to get down. There is no other way off the mountain; you just have to keep plugging away until you reach the bottom. I was very fatigued, my right leg dragged and I thought to myself, “There is no way that I'm doing this again!”
But I am a stubborn girl, and I ended up climbing again...and again. Some times were easier than others and there were other times that I swore I'd never go again. Each time, I was terrified that the MS would take my legs, but I went anyway.
Each year I challenge myself to bigger mountains. What drives me to climb now is the same question that once held me down:
What if my legs get so bad that this climb will be my last? What if I don't climb this year, would I regret it if I can't do it next year?
Over the past six years, I have climbed some sizable mountains in New England, many of them over 4,000 footers. Each had its own challenge, but they also provided amazing views and feelings of accomplishment. I have finally completed my last remaining of New England's top ten highest including Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Only a few years ago, I thought climbing mountains for me was a crazy idea. But here I am, crazy as ever, and still ready to climb.
All of us with MS have our own mountains to climb. For some, it is walking to the mailbox or around the block, or standing for a moment to take a photo with family, or going out with friends. For others, it may be playing with your kids (or grandkids), volunteering at an event, or inspiring people with a speech. I made my mountain a literal one but we all have our mountains none the less. Some days I made it all the way to the summit and some days I didn't. We all have our good days and our bad days. We do what we can, when we can. If we can't, that's okay too. Let's use our bad days to rest up and plan out our good days.
We have MS, but MS doesn't always have us! Find your mountain and climb it!