Healing – the journey of a lifetime

August 13, 2018

My name is Danika and I am a 27-year-old, imperfect, passionate woman, on the journey to finding balance amidst life and all its beautiful chaos, hoping to empower others along the way. I am also a wife, Bernese mountain dog mom, registered nurse (agency/locum nurse), and family nurse practitioner student.

What I love about people is that each one of us has a different story to tell and from our stories we can encourage others and process our own experiences.

Up until a year and a half ago I was living in what felt like a perfect dream. I had just married an incredible man, we spent a month in Greece on our honeymoon, and he was almost finished his family medicine residency. We were finally going to be free to explore the world as two medical professionals working and traveling.

I was in a blissful place of all things unfolding exactly how I envisioned. Of course, this perfect-sounding story had to end somewhere right? Well it did. Over the span of four days. This blissful ending begins with me lying on the floor in the kitchen after hysterically crying while busying myself with doing dishes.

The journey begins

I was alone in what felt like the center of ruins from a bunch of bombs that had just gone off. The music was blasting in the living room and the floor was frozen, but I was deaf to the music and numb to my body.

My week had started with the news my grandma, who I thought was completely healthy, was about to die. I flew to see her and my family. Two days later I was home and back to work, only to experience my first pediatric death in the emergency room.

That same day after my shift I had an appointment with the ophthalmologist about my strange vision change, only to find out I may have a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis. I didn’t think I could handle all this, how were all these horrible things happening all at once? I remember lying there and thinking my life was over.

It was going to be over because of my own death or the death of a life I had envisioned. Amidst losing a child at work, my grandma, and the uncertainty of my own life, I began to mask my fears and sadness, pretending nothing was wrong.

Doubts

I was holding myself together by a string, but I wanted so badly for people to see me as a well-composed strong woman who could manage it all, so I didn’t take days off, I didn’t cancel my conference presentation the next month.

I certainly did not tell my family or friends that I was sinking into a dreadful pit of morbid thoughts about my future or lack thereof. After my CT scan, I learnt I did not have a brain tumor, but the relief about this finding wasn’t there because now I feared living a life with a debilitating illness.

With no official diagnosis of multiple sclerosis made, I spent the year seeing specialists, having multiple MRIs and walking around in zombie mode continuing to pretend everything was fine.

What if I had multiple sclerosis? I wouldn’t be able to wear my favorite heels, my husband would have to push me in a wheelchair and bath me, my mom wouldn’t get to see me raise children.

I would never finish nurse practitioner school, and people wouldn’t think I was competent as a nurse anymore.

Dark hours

These thoughts circled my head all day every day. I was able to grieve the loss of my grandma and no longer feared a child coming into the emergency room, but I wasn’t able to cope with the loss of what I felt was my life’s dreams and goals. I spent a full year hiding this from the world. I was ashamed, terrified, and in denial.

I wanted to hide this diagnosis from everyone in fear they would look at me differently, pity me and my husband, and deny me of my dream career as a nurse practitioner, because I now had a debilitating disease.

The dark thoughts were very real and turned me into a person I had never been. I was moody, irrational, anxious, and stressed out! I was living with no idea what would happen, I had no control, and it seemed God had forsaken me.

From fear to freedom

Fast forward now to the moment I felt instant relief from this foreboding doom of what my life might become (later I would find out this relief was only possible by setting myself free of the most vulnerable component in my life; my deep dark secret fear of what others would think of me if they knew I had a debilitating disorder).

When I officially received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I was encouraged to post a video sharing this diagnosis and the last year of my life. I thought I can’t possibly do that, then everyone would know my deepest darkest secret, but I felt this compelling feeling in my gut that I had to share, so I did.

Once I had posted, instead of feeling like curling up in a ball and hiding from the world, I felt set free.

I am not my illness

I felt I no longer had to hide from myself, I could live again and become the strong woman I had always admired. It gave me acceptance to rid me of the label I put on myself. I was not multiple sclerosis Danika, I was Danika who has a chronic disorder and lives a full and wonderful life.

Things really turned around for me in this moment. I learnt that life doesn’t have to be perfect, food is medicine, meditation is stress-reducing, and slowing down is acceptable. Healing is the journey of a lifetime and I am learning every day a little bit more about what it means to live a healthy well-balanced life.

A brighter tomorrow

I am not hiding anymore and I am encouraging others to share their story. We all have knowledge to share and we are not meant to hide in our own skin. For now, I am loving being back in school working toward my dream career, I enjoy making different meals from a wholefood plant-based diet, and I am excited about my first garden.

My husband and I have bought a home on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia and we are heading to the Yukon to work and explore for the last bit of summer. I am also learning that life will throw curve balls at you, but it’s your reaction to them that will change the outcome. Thank you for reading my story, I hope it has encouraged you to share your story!

Danika

Photo credit: Tara Love Photography

 

 

12 thoughts on ‘Healing – the journey of a lifetime

  1. Thanks for sharing with us Danika. I too have been in hiding. I’ve told a few people but not a lot. I only tell who I think NEEDS to know. I just recently told my husband’s family and I’ve been diagnosed for 6 years not. I started a new job a little over a year ago and I haven’t told any of my new co-workers. I just don’t know how to go about sharing it. I do good so I don’t really feel the need to let everyone know. Yet it still feels like I’m hiding. I don’t know. All my close friends and family know and all my church family knows. Just not something I willingly share with others I guess.

  2. Wonderful. I have been diagnosed 2016 and since then i have become a better human. Diet-Meditation and self belief is the only cure possible. When the diet is wrong, medicines are of no use. When the diet is right, medicines are of no need. Wish you a speedy recovery.

  3. My story is very similar to your Danika – though I wish I had a wonderful husband!

    I went through the stress of a job contract coming to an end and my Dad falling ill in New Zealand on the other side of the world from where I lived in the UK. Amid all of this I had my first relapse – double vision, which struck just before an important job interview (it didn’t go well), and then my second – optic neuritis. My Dad lay in hospital at Christmas time, my flight to visit a friend in Barcelona was cancelled, and I found myself standing outside Gatwick talking to my new consultant.

    I wasn’t diagnosed until four years later. The urgent referral came through after my first relapse had resolved, so I had to wait longer for the “dissemination in time” criteria to be met. I was lucky not to have a relapse in that time, then last year I had three. I was referred again after the first one, and eventually seen and diagnosed by the correct doctor at the correct hospital (long story) in November, after my fifth relapse.

    I have told everyone. My only ongoing symptoms are cognitive and it’s hard to convey the impact of a very invisible disability.

    • Hello Fingersandtoes, thanks for opening up and sharing your story with us here. As you say, living with an invisible condition is incredibly difficult and people can often be dismissive or cruel if they can’t easily see something ‘wrong’ with you. Here’s hoping that with greater awareness of MS and other serious conditions, people will slowly become more understanding and empathetic in this world. Best wishes to you. Laura, OMS team

  4. Thank you for sharing Danika. I was diagnosed and had three children after that, so do not give up on your dream of having a family. That was 22 years ago and I would not change it for the world!

  5. Hi Danika and everyone who reads this. I am now 58 years old and had my first episode of neurological symptoms in 2006 although I’d had a few odd sensations from 2003. I was a health professional too from the age of 17. I had to retire at age 52 as my mobility and balance were deteriorating. It was in 2010 when I was formally diagnosed with ms that I first started exploring how to better manage my symptoms and I thankfully found the Recovery programme we are all familiar with. It has changed my life. My mobility and muscle strength has improved and I lead a very full life. I enjoy travel, spending time with friends and family and although I do have some mobility and balance issues I cycle and swim regularly. My biggest hurdle was learning to be gentle with myself and stop pushing and striving to do and achieve. Like you Danika I consider myself to be a strong woman so accepting help doesn’t sit easily with me. I have learned to adjust and be a little kinder to myself. I wish everyone well on their unique journey. I may have ms but it does not have me. Life is wonderful- enjoy !

    • Hi Meg,

      Thanks for sharing this with us. We are so glad to hear that you are doing so well and are learning to be more gentle with yourself too. Sometimes we can be our own harshest critics but from what you have revealed here, it sounds like you really are doing whatever it takes and that you have a lot to be proud of. Best wishes to you, OMS team

  6. Thank you Danika!! So much of your story resonated with me! And thanks Susan for your positive comment! The support and guidance of OMS has helped me become healthier than I ever have been, well diagnosis aside!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story. As most of us with MS, there are parts of everyone’s story that resinate with us. That being said each story is unique and your willingness to share shows strenght and determination!!
    The power that hope brings is so strong and truly not talked about enough in the MS community. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Jelinak speak a couple of years ago and he used the phrase that “MS is a dis-ease” in our body and that was so powerful for me.

  8. Hi Virginia,

    Thank you for replying to my story. I have not heard Dr. Jelinek’s quote before but I will definitely keep that on my mind!

  9. Hi Everyone!

    Thank you so much for sharing thoughts of insight, understanding, and encouragement. I also really appreciate that each of you has shared a story of your own. I think we underestimate the amount of healing that comes from sharing and being open to a connection with others who have had similar experiences.

    Thank you again.

    Danika

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