Editor’s note: In recognition of MS Awareness Month and the upcoming Walk MS El Paso event on April 2, we invited El Paso Community College biology instructor Laila Rajabi to share her story about enduring multiple sclerosis.
In 2014, I was a tenure-track professor, had a full schedule of play dates with my beautiful toddler and still had time for hobbies; life was flowing. One day, I noticed numbness on my left side that began to spread, and I soon found myself in the hospital unable to walk. After numerous tests, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
MS is a disease in which your immune system attacks your brain and spinal cord, leaving lesions that disrupt daily function. My two doctors and the National Disease Cluster Alliance claim that El Paso is a “cluster region” with high cases of autoimmune diseases, but there are no clear answers as to why.
When my diagnosis came, I fell into a darkness of confusion and defeat. I regained my ability to walk but was left to ask if I would still be able to be a mother, wife or function in society. I spent my life working hard to get where I was and all of a sudden, everything that I thought defined me was compromised. We think we have our lives all figured out and then a dragon strikes and robs us of the life we built. Because I am in and out of remission, I have had some serious re-discovering to do.
I fought for my tenure-track position by removing things that filled my spirit. I would get home from work and was in so much pain that I started turning my son and family away so that I could recover in bed. I kept saying, “Push through! You’ll get stronger,” but my quality of life quickly disappeared. After much prayer, I decided to let go of my tenure-track for a part-time position at the college. I am now redistributing my limited energy towards close family, friends and experiences that bring me healing.
Though there are times that I can’t get out of bed, I wait the storm out and savor my good days. MS is teaching me how to slow down and treat myself well. I have come to understand that my true nature is to love and be loved. My heart swells with gratitude for the light that I have received from my loved ones. They taught me the power of unity and resilience during the darkest hours.
If you have MS or are diagnosed in the future, do not lose hope. You may have to surrender and grieve the death of your old life to begin a new chapter. Stay proactive about your healing and don’t be afraid to reach out to those living with invisible illnesses. If someone you love is diagnosed, please do the research and educate yourself to understand their needs. With every ending is the chance for a new beginning.