I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when I was just 13. I struggled with depression for years. If I pretended I didn’t have MS, would I still have it? So I didn’t do all the things my physical therapists or other doctors told me to do. Can’t I just act like it’s not there? Rumors were going all over my school about what was wrong with me, so the approach of my parents was to just tell everybody exactly what was going on. I learned from them that authenticity is the best approach.
The dictionary identifies “authenticity” as “the quality of being real; genuineness.” I feel like this came easy to me when I was growing up. I had even accepted the fact that yes, MS is in me, and I will just accept it, because I can’t change it. But then, before I went to college, my neurologist warned me that if I tell everyone I have MS right away when they meet me, they might look down on me and judge me. I’d like to just blame him, but I was scared about that, too. So I took his advice. When I got to college, I didn’t tell anybody that I had MS. This was when the whole not-doing-what-that-doctor-said caught up with me and my MS symptoms started showing up, physically. I didn’t really have much of a limp until then, actually, and nobody here was part of the “brain day” that my middle school had put on to teach the students about many things, including what MS was.
My limp? I had a bad knee. Do I have one leg shorter than the other? Sure, let’s go with that. Did this and that happen? Um…yes. I got out of things by saying I couldn’t play with my bad knee or (some other excuse). But pretty soon, all of this was hard to keep track of, especially when the questions got harder. “How did you hurt your knee?” I know that isn’t a hard question, but it is if you can’t stick with a story. I became a very good liar.
Soon, I told some of my friends about the MS. They were still friends, even though I didn’t connect with all of them super great. But it wasn’t long until I found this group of girls that was active in our college’s Cru movement (formerly called Campus Crusade for Christ). They were fun and liked the same sort of things that I liked. They genuinely wanted to hang out with me, and didn’t just hang out with me because it was convenient. It was in Cru where I took the faith I’d had growing up, and made it MINE. I realized that I hated all the lies, and I started telling the truth. I remember one summer when I wanted to stay in my college town, so I applied for jobs everywhere. I even got SEVEN interviews. But I was honest and told each of them about my MS. I was offered one job that didn’t even pay anything (that I wanted). I couldn’t even take it because I would have had to pay rent anyway. I probably would have been offered a few of those jobs if I hadn’t said that I had MS, but it didn’t feel right. I had learned enough since I even had MS that getting in too deep wasn’t good for me physically, either.
Life has certainly been a roller coaster; it would be even without the whole MS drama. But I still agree with the fact that authenticity is the best approach. I was actually still a pretty good liar, and would lie about the smallest things. And then I got married, and my husband is the word “integrity.” He has challenged me to not lie about even a small little thing. I still struggle with this, but I am improving. I know, not everybody can be married to somebody who feels as strongly about moral character. I am blessed to be continually challenged by him not only to tell the truth, but to be as authentic as I sound like I am most of the time. Do you have somebody to challenge you to be authentic? Why don’t you just become that person for someone else?