Katy Mena-Berkley, is a professional writer based in Chattanooga, Tenn. She earned her BFA in fabric design from the University of Georgia and launched her writing career with a fashion column in a local alternative newspaper. Katy’s interests in fashion and foreign culture then led her to Florence, Italy, where she interned as a contributing writer for textile publication La Spola. Since returning stateside, she has worked in reporting, editing and copywriting.
Some may call me crazy, but here’s the truth. I’m grateful to have multiple sclerosis.
Diagnosed 11 years ago, I was shocked into a state of clarity when my body betrayed me for the first time. And why wouldn’t it? I’d been blessed with my youth, my family, and my faith—which hadn’t been truly tested until my vision went double as I was driving on the side of the mountain near my parent’s house in Tennessee.
I was home from college for the weekend and got into a petty argument with my mom about something I can’t even recall anymore. In true 19-year-old form, I jumped in my car and headed out for a while, lighting a cigarette to calm my nerves.
I panicked when the Honda Accord in front of me suddenly cloned itself, and I immediately stamped my cigarette out in the ashtray. I knew what was happening.
Having ravaged my mother’s body for years, her multiple sclerosis wanted to move on to me. After all, double vision was her first symptom decades earlier, a symptom she still lives with at times.
Given my disrespectful attitude that Saturday afternoon, it made sense to me that MS would manifest itself in my body at that moment. I had sinned horribly, and it was time to pay the price.
For about a year, I continued in that mindset, sure that every flare-up of the disease was punishment for something I had done wrong. Maybe it was my guilt-ridden Greek heritage. Maybe it was the Southern Baptist culture that surrounded me. But for some reason a voice in my head kept telling me I deserved to suffer. The vision problems and tingling in my left hand were simply payback from the universe for my disrespectful attitude and underage consumption of alcohol on certain weekends.
It wasn’t until I experienced an MS flare-up a year later that I began to understand what I’d been taught at the Orthodox Church.
The medication I was taking had stopped working, and the disease was flooding my body despite anything my surgeon father or my neurologists could do. I bounced from doctor to doctor, trying to find respite from the discomfort that had come to be my constant companion.
I saw a holistic practitioner, tried acupuncture, and, unable to do my regular workouts, threw myself into afternoons at the yoga studio or water jogging with my best friend at our university’s pool. Forced to truly slow down, I finally began to find healing in my mind and my heart.
God hadn’t given me MS as a punishment for my sins, and there is still no way to determine where or why I got sick in the first place.
Here is what I have come to know as my truth. I haven’t been targeted by some higher power to get sick—but God also hasn’t chosen to remove the thorn in my flesh. My illness has a purpose, and I am still on a quest to find out exactly what that is.
Over the years, I’ve continued to get knocked down by my disease. I’ve gone blind; been paralyzed; and felt chronic pain so excruciating it kept me awake for days on end.
I’ve given myself shots; endured chemotherapy; and was forced to cut my precious hair short as it started to fall out.
But I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.
In the silence of sickness, I have developed an intimacy with my faith that might never have existed—at least not by the time I turned 30 years old. Forced to relinquish any delusion of control I had over my life, I have learned to give it up to God with all of my heart. He is my soul, my breath, my salvation and joy.
I don’t know what direction my disease will take over time. But there is an unshakable peace about the mystery. All I have to do is listen.
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