Tabitha age 39 Myrtle Beach, SC
Her Story: I have had the pleasure of knowing Tabitha almost my entire life. Anyone who has ever met her has described her the same way. She’s beautiful. Absolutely stunning to look at and equally beautiful on the inside. Her smile and laugh could light up an entire room. She is the second oldest child in a family of seven. Her childhood was full of love, laughing, sports, dancing, singing, theatre and music. One of my favorite memories of Tabitha was in 7th grade. It made such a profound impact on me that I still remember it vividly today. Tabitha saw a classmate sitting all by himself at a lunch table. He hung his head low and seemed sad. He was a little nerdy by 7th grade standards but Tabitha certainly didn’t mind. She saw a soul in need of some company. With no explanation she excused herself and joined him. I remember it shocking me. She was so brave and kind. A true leader. Despite her immense popularity, she never let it get to her head. She was always grounded and knew what was important in life. She was only twelve at the time yet seemed wise beyond her years. She knew that outward beauty was only a temporary thing here on earth and that the truly beautiful things in life were much deeper.
At the young age of 18, Tabitha was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A disease that has unzipped her outward shell and allowed her to focus on the core of her inner soul.
When did you first realize that something was wrong? It was a series of events. First I developed blurred vision but I didn’t think much about it. I got some glasses and they seemed to fix the problem. Then I started to struggle with school. I was always a good student but suddenly math became almost impossible. In fact, it prevented me from graduating high school on time. Everyone thought I was goofing off and not focusing on my school work but it was more than that. I couldn’t remember formulas and nothing made sense in the classroom. Actually, the only thing in my life that did make sense to me was music, so I focused on that. I love to sing. Then one morning I woke up and my entire left side of my body was completely numb. I was only 18. That’s when I saw a neurologist. Two weeks later after a series of tests, I got the diagnosis.
What is Multiple Sclerosis? It’s an autoimmune disease that attacks your nervous system. The nervous system is damaged with lesions disrupting the flow of messages from the brain. It affects everyone differently but the disease can alter your ability to walk, talk, see and think. There are periods of time when my symptoms are better, it’s called remission. And there are other times when the symptoms are worse, a relapse.
How did you initially react to having a chronic disease? I was stunned. Stunned mentally, physically and emotionally. For years actually. The night I got the diagnosis I remember feeling so sad and crying. The bishop from my church came to my house and said a prayer with me. He gave me strength to put one foot in front of the other and reassured me that this disease was not a punishment or in any way my fault. That kind of support really helped me.
When did you accept it? I used to write a lot of poems.They helped me sort through my emotions surrounding the diagnosis. I also remember a life changing line in the movie Shawshank Redemption. As silly as it sounds, it changed my outlook and helped me. The character Brooks said it best, “get busy living or get busy dying”. So I figured I better get busy living.
What symptoms have you experienced? I’m legally blind, I have sporadic neuropathy (heaviness and painful prickles) in feet, hands and legs, balance issues, forgetfulness, incontinence, dizziness, numbness, shakes and muscle spasms. Basically my nerves are having a party and I’m not invited. I mean, honestly, sometimes I beat myself up trying to brush my teeth. (laughs)
You have a good sense of humor, don’t you? Yes, you have to! Everybody needs to laugh more! (laughs again)
How does this affect your everyday life? It affects everything, everyday. It’s something I have learned to accept. I can’t drive, I can’t read and it’s an effort to walk. Daily living is a challenge. I have to focus on every movement and every breath but ya know what…it keeps me living in the present.
Do you ever feel isolated and alone? Yes. I feel alone from the world I once knew. I have no patience for people who seem to live on another planet. Ya know? So many people have no clue about what’s really important in life. They get caught up in the material stuff. So, yes, I feel like I’m alone when I hear people talk about meaningless crap and I’m focused on living.
What makes you feel good? Laughing. Helping others . Singing. I love to sing. God gave me that gift. I also like things tidy. I think I became a neat freak after my diagnosis. It’s something I can control.
What has living with MS taught you about life? To chill out and put things into perspective. Everything is not as serious as you think it is. Give yourself a break. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do!
What advice would you give someone who has been diagnosed with MS? Accept the disease, don’t fight it. You have MS; MS does not have you. Learn its rules and how to live together. When you do this, you will find harmony.
How can we help others with this disease? Be kind. It’s that simple. Offer help, be compassionate, lend an ear, share a laugh or visit. Just make sure they have what they need and keep them safe. Use empathy and avoid sympathy.
As a patient, what would you like neurologists and doctors to know about living with this disease? Please treat me as a person, not a diagnosis.
Here’s why we think Tabitha is all that and a bag of chips
Although she has a whole bunch of reasons to complain, she doesn’t. She focuses on what she can do instead of what she cannot do. Sometimes when people “get busy living” they deserve to be recognized. Tabitha’s perseverance leaves me in awe every time we speak. No matter how bad my day is, she grounds me and keeps me focused on what really matters in life. Thank you Tabitha! I know you have helped others by sharing your story. Hold your head high and walk proudly, there are others behind you.