Four words that may save your relationship

Four words that may save your relationship – dealing with multiple sclerosis in a relationship

Anita M. Warner

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 16 years of age, a time when most girls are just starting to date. Unlike most of my friends, I was preoccupied with an incurable medical problem. The last thing on my mind was dating. If I didn’t date, I would not have to tell anyone what my medical problem was, nor would I have to face rejection.

Nine years later, I thought I was ready. I was more mature and he was the man of my dreams. We met under unusual circumstances–I literally fell at his feet.

“Here, give me your arm,” he said as he helped me get up from the most embarrassing fall I had ever taken. We introduced ourselves, sat down on a bench together and talked until the mall closed.

Todd was a medical student at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who liked to write in his spare time. I was a student at Widener University majoring in journalism, who was clumsy, had a limp, a slight tremor on my left side, and suffered from dizziness. I told Todd that all of my problems were the result of a bad fall I had suffered years ago. We made plans to see each other again.

Time passed. Todd and I had been seeing each other for about three months. He was ready to date me exclusively. Most women would have jumped at the opportunity to be Todd’s steady, but I couldn’t respond. All I could think of was my high school senior prom, how I had felt out of place and rejected–the only student there who walked with forearm crutches and whose date was her cousin.

What was it about me that had this guy so interested? Was the lie I told about the bad fall that convincing or was it that I had actually come so far in my recovery that no one could tell I had multiple sclerosis unless I told? No matter what Todd wanted, I had already been conditioned to keep my disorder a secret. I would rather not tell than be rejected.

All of a sudden, Todd spoke. “Is there something wrong? Do you want to talk about it? I can handle it.”

“Well, I need to tell you something important before we get too serious,” I said. But just when I got up enough nerve to tell him, I bombed.

“Todd, I have ah, ah,…oh forget it.” He insisted I take a breath and tell him after dinner.

After dinner I told him only a half truth. “I have a medical problem that may interfere with our relationship. Are you sure you are still interested in me?”

“I am quite sure,” Todd answered.

Every time Todd wanted to go out after that night, I always had something to do. He was the medical student, but suddenly I had the busiest schedule of any student around. Todd realized I was not ready to make a commitment, so he went on his way.

One day, about a year after we stopped seeing each other, Todd called me to tell me he was getting married. We talked and laughed and reminisced about old times. Finally, I told him the truth: “I have multiple sclerosis.” His response was, “You weren’t just diagnosed; you could have told me a long time ago.”

After hanging up the phone, I wondered if those same four words could have saved my relationship with that incredible man. Through this experience, I learned that the greatest rejection is self-rejection and denial. If someone is truly interested in me, he will overlook my medical problems and direct all of his attention to me, the individual. I, therefore, must first love myself, and everything that comes with me, before I can love anyone else.

Anita M. Warner is a production assistant at WJAR, an NBC affiliate in Rhode Island.

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Multiple Sclerosis Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group