I had not been so excited for a date to come since my wedding day almost eight years ago, but May 4, 2013 was the day I’d been imagining and dreaming about for the past five years.
As Dan mentioned in his last post, May 4th was my graduation day from Central Michigan University. On that sunny Saturday, I donned my mortarboard cap, black gown and white-trimmed hood and graduated with my M.A. in Humanities.
Since then it has been quite a month-long celebration with family and friends, which I have relished.
First, I celebrated on graduation day with Dan, my parents and brother—I smiled all day. Then, the very next weekend, some family and close friends commemorated my achievement and participated at Frankenmuth’s Walk MS—our team T-shirts were CMU maroon and gold and emblazoned with our team’s mascot, Irving, wearing his own cap and gown. Such fun!!
A few weeks later, I celebrated with my church family at a special graduation service—it was so wonderful being recognized along with four other Immanuel members, who happened to be celebrating their high school graduations with all of us. What an important milestone!
Capping of the month, Dan and I made the trip to Iowa for his cousin Zachary’s wedding. And while there, some family members celebrated my graduation once more.
Yes, I celebrated every chance I got. This achievement is a big deal.
I’ve put up with recurring pressure sores and the bathroom floor getting imprinted on my face. There also has been a lot of hard work, late nights, tears and frustrations. But I never gave up and trust me; I could find every reason why I should have.
Like so much in my life, this was a mental challenge for me. Especially since most of my reasons to quit were because of the realities of my MS (or so I thought), but this disease was not going to keep me from accomplishing something I wanted so badly.
But one question seemed to be asked by most everyone and followed me everywhere was, “So what’s next?”
Answering that is no easy task and has made me see the bittersweet reality of accomplishing this goal. Over the last five years, I’ve proudly worn the identity “Graduate Student.” It’s what I was and what I did. Never did I fumble or stammer when people asked me about my career. I was studying for my Master’s degree.
Only now, ask me what I do and the stumbling is back. And sadly, that seems to be because my identity is most commonly consumed by my disability and my Multiple Sclerosis.
“Work um… what do I do? Well, I don’t work. Because of my MS, working a traditional 40 hour week isn’t possible. Hey, um, where did you say you worked?” Subject changed.
Silly right? But that’s how I felt. Without having a title or a goal in mind, my identity was undefined or worse yet, I was only this disease. Still my even sillier thought was how I conquered graduate school but could not make my MS go away.
Somehow I thought that by the time I completed grad school, my MS would be a distant memory. In my messed up way of thinking/defense of said screwy thinking, it was only six short months after receiving my undergraduate degree that I “received” my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.
Didn’t we all think that this disease would be cured five years after diagnosis? Oh okay, maybe it will take ten. But fifteen years after diagnosis, surely this disease would be history! And then my “real life” could get back to what it should be.
But surprise on May 4, 2013, MS is still here and doesn’t seem to be going away.
Sure I’m educated; although I’ll admit I am a little slow when it comes to accepting reality. But now I finally have realized that my MS isn’t going to go away – well duh!
Only now, I’ve learned to honestly answer that question by saying, “I’m not exactly sure what’s next, but I’m going to focus on making my outside as completely awesome as my highly educated inside.”
And that is as great of an answer as I figured out thus far.