It seems like everywhere I turn these days I see grey: the erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey is a monster best-seller that Saturday Night Live poked gleeful fun at this past weekend (see below), and Liam Neeson’s film The Grey arrives on video this week. Is it a coincidence then that my mind has been turning around the color grey and its relation to multiple sclerosis? Or some kind of destiny?
Let me begin by explaining that when I was younger (I am 47 now), I found it easier to reduce my understanding of issues and relationships to black and white. One politician was good, and another was evil. If a marriage ended, it had to be one person’s fault, the other the victim; I didn’t have a sense of mutual culpability. It sure made life easier: I didn’t have to analyze or understand the greater complexities of life.
I believe I turned a corner when my wife’s co-worker’s family was described a few years ago as perfect, devoid of any problems. It just didn’t seem possible to me: how could a family not have problems, how could everyone be perfect? Now I’m not saying I wished this on anyone, but when a divorce recently rattled the family, I wasn’t especially surprised. Life doesn’t usually spare a family from some measure of pain or adversity. Very few just get off, have a “white” life. After thinking it through, I realized, sure, some have it harder than others, some easier, but generally life is grey (even amid the spectacular color of spring here in the Northeast).
This is a long way of saying that for those of us with MS, life can be greyer than it is for people who don’t have to live with a chronic disease. We get to ask ourselves questions like: Has the disease made me a better person? Is it a gift that has afforded me an opportunity to grow in ways I never would have otherwise? Like many of us these days, I do a fair amount of reading on the Internet and regularly encounter this attitude, one I cannot embrace. There are many people sharing quotes about perseverance, pictures of kittens and positivity. On the one hand, I get it: If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. On the other hand, I can’t get all mushy about a disease that picked me. I played no role in the decision-making process that led to my contracting the disease: it was just, as Bob Dylan said, “a simple twist of fate” (see below). I didn’t choose MS; MS chose me.
The flip side of all the positivity on the Internet is anger about the disease that has changed our lives in so many unexpected ways. But I personally find anger to be a negative energy, counterproductive to the way I want to live my life. Which isn’t to say I don’t get angry about it. I get pissed off, no question. I just cannot let my anger be a guiding principle.
A couple of years ago, an MS friend directed me to an exclusive on-line group for people with the disease. They took pride in saying it was a “unicorn-free zone,” no new-agey optimism allowed. To be fair, the group was a place where people could vent about the challenges they had to face, not a bad thing to be sure. Perhaps I misunderstood the group’s mission, but there was so much negativity and snarkiness that I ended up feeling bummed. Needless to say, I eventually lost interest. Didn’t Woody Allen use a quote from Groucho Marx in Annie Hall to describe his love life, “I wouldn’t want to join a group that would have me as member”? Well, that group anyway.
Unfortunately, we can’t quit the MS club. We each have to find ways within the boundaries of black and white to cope with the challenges brought about by the disease. I don’t use the word grey in the context of MS to say MS makes life colorless. Not at all. It just makes it even more complicated. The way life would be without the disease but more so.
So keep fighting the good fight. Make every day count!
Bob Dylan Simple Twist of Fate
50 Shades of Grey/SNL