Since being diagnosed nearly two years ago, I’ve made a habit of ‘coming out’ with MS. I’ve written newspaper articles about it, talked on national radio about it. I’ve told employers about my MS, told friends, told taxi drivers, bus drivers, barmen and MPs; told the world. But recently I realised I hadn’t reached everybody; there was someone who didn’t know, someone whose opinion was beginning to matter a lot to me. Suddenly I was abnormally reticent on the subject. This time the stakes felt higher.
It was the third date. Things had, contrary to my humble expectations, been going phenomenally well. It felt like the right time to let him know what my work was really about and why recently I’d taken bolder choices with life decisions. We were in a small restaurant, in a village on my favourite stretch of this coast. I made no concrete plans of what I would say but I had written fictional disclosure scenes and hence thought a lot about how these things can play out. Talking to him felt effortless, surely the words would come.
But life, unlike fiction, doesn’t always go as scripted. I hadn’t predicted he would get in first with a health disclosure of his own. Prior eating, a natural deadline for a diabetic, he told me he had Type 1 Diabetes. Ironically amongst all the other important things we shared, like values and a love of the same Radio 4 programmes (deal breaker), we both had a chronic health condition. After his honesty I felt an irrefutable impetus to tell him, I also now knew I would not be cast as the ‘ill one’ in the relationship.
Our food arrived and he asked why I was up in the smoke the previous week. I prevaricated. I’d gone for a Neurologist’s appointment, but instead of saying this I recounted in detail a meal I’d also enjoyed that visit with close friends and family.
Then, I cut to the chase.
‘But that wasn’t the reason I made the trip, I went up because..’
I couldn’t get it out.
‘I’ve got something I need to tell you..’ I faltered again, tears surprisingly prickled behind my eyes.
‘It’s alright take your time’ he said, ‘you don’t have to tell me anything right now.’
The couple on the neighbouring table were now unable to ignore the unfolding drama on ours. The food served, sat untouched, going cold.
‘I’m supposed to be good at this, at telling people about this, it’s kind of my thing. But I am making such a mess of it.’
‘I’ve just told you I have diabetes,’ he comforted. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘It’s worse,’ I said.
And then I gathered myself. ‘I was up in London to see my Neurologist, I have ….’ I even avoided the acronym to prevent confusion.
I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but I remember what didn’t happen. He didn’t look at me differently, talk to me differently. He didn’t get up and walk away. It certainly didn’t water down his feelings for me. He said the right things and, over six weeks on, continues to say exactly the right things, better things than I could have imagined or would have thought of myself. The most difficult subjects have not been negated, but neither have they taken centre stage. There is of course no knowing what will happen, but I have not felt so well, so healthy, so happy, in a long time.
We left the restaurant. The weighty clouds were barely clearing the top of the ridge backing the stalwart cliffs, shrouded in grey and buffeted by wind. We went on to a neighbouring village which, in contrast to the rough drama of the bay, was quaintly dressed up in its Christmas finery. The date, and these weeks subsequently, turned out better than I’d have scripted. There were no abrupt endings that dark Sunday in advent. It seems sometimes someone else’s words can be better than your own.
Copyright (c) Cathy John 2012. All rights reserved
PS. Injecting MS’ers let me tell you, compared to the diabetes kids we are all wearing clunky no-brand trainers. Their injecting paraphernalia puts ours in the shade. My Copaxone kit is a very poor cousin to all his fancy insulin injecting gear, which has this high-tech, high-end, robust, hiking apparel look to its cases. It is all chunky zips, weatherproof fabrics, easy to grip syringes with proper subcutaneous needles; basically good design. Sometimes sadly there’s no doubt you have a disease where there’s not a lot of money sloshing around.