When I was twenty eight years old, I seemingly had everything I ever wanted in life. I was married to my college sweetheart, Jocelyn. We had a 1950’s ranch house in Weymouth, Massachusetts close to friends and family. I was on my way up the corporate ladder as an analyst for a real estate development. Jocelyn worked as a guidance counselor at a local high school. At that time the conversations between Jocelyn and I revolved around next steps in our lives like having children or getting a dog.
Everything was going to plan until May of that year, when I started experience numbness in my legs and feet. Next thing you know, the numbness spreads and I am unable to walk or go to the bathroom. Up until this point, I had been blessed with good health. I am 6’2″, 200lbs. I played hockey and football in high school and was still in good shape. I had never broken a bone or had any physical injuries. What was happening with my legs and my ability to walk was freaking me out!
Seemingly overnight, I find myself in the hospital. I am going through a series of medical exams like X-Rays, CatScans, MRI with and without contrast dye. I even endured the most medieval of all neurological exams, the spinal tap. Twice! During this time, I felt scared, confused and alone. No one was telling me what was going on and no one could assure me that I would ever walk again. When I was discharged from the hospital, they hadn’t made confirmed diagnosed. I was going to have to wait for all the exam and lab results to determine the nature of my condition.
I’d like to say I handled it better, but I didn’t. I went into a deep depression. I cut myself off from the outside world. I didn’t want friends and family to see me. I wanted them to remember me as the big, strong hockey and football player that I had always been. I didn’t want work to find out because I was sure I’d be fired. I even pushed my wife away because I was sure that our hopes and dreams of having kids and a dog were ruined.
I felt like I had no where to turn too. No one who would understand. I was alone, isolated and retreated into a hibernation mode where I slept the days away. I felt like life as I knew it was over and it was. In June of 2005, I was diagnosed with an Acute Onset of Transverse Myelitis and probable Multiple Sclerosis. Over the next couple of months as I struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis, I fell further into the throws of depression.
At the time, I didn’t know about resources available to help me overcome the fears and struggles that I faced when I was newly diagnosed with a chronic illness. I didn’t understand the healthcare system. I didn’t know the right questions to ask the doctors. I didn’t even know what kind of specialists I should have follow my condition. So, I stayed in that depression for months.
It wasn’t until my birthday of that year that something happened to snap me out of my depression. When it was time to open presents, I was handed a package. Insidet was a book about Soft Coat Wheaten Terriers and a note that I was getting a puppy.
While I should have been happy, my heart sank. I could barely walk. I had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. How was I possibly going to walk and take care of a dog? I was going to thank Jocelyn, but tell her that the timing was not right and that I couldn’t possibly accept a puppy in my life right now.
As I looked around the room and I looked into her eyes, I knew at that moment that she needed me to have the dog more than I ever wanted to have the dog. I grabbed her and hugged her and told her I loved her and promised her that I would walk that dog twice a day. Once in the morning when I wake up and again at night before I go to sleep. It has been eight years now since I got my dog, Ted, and I haven’t missed a day walking him!
When Ted snapped me out of my depression, I realized that my interests had changed. I no longer wanted to work in real estate. I wanted to become more involved in healthcare and help patients like me overcome their stress and fears associated with their diagnosis. This journey lead me to write and publish, The Dog Story about my initial diagnosis as a resource to those newly diagnosed with any chronic illnesses, not just Multiple Sclerosis. I then went on to work at a hospital and get my Master’s in Public Health Administration.
One resource that I didn’t know was available to me to help me navigate the healthcare system was a chronic illness coach. According to a recent study, “coaching is extremely effective in helping those with chronic illness become better equipped with self management skills to live productive lives.” Coaches are trained to maximize your potential despite your chronic illness and to steer you away from solitude. These interventions may be necessary to turn a corner in a patient’s life to help them adjust to a new life with a chronic illness. The US Surgeon General also promotes having an effective self-management of chronic illness plan as a way to prolong the aging process.
Today, I offer these chronic illness coaching services to help promote a plan of effective self-management of your chronic illness. My goal is to help you author your own success story and live your BEST life possible.