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    Contest Winners - A New Respect

    Jacque Stonehocker is from Northern Utah and writes regularly for MSConnections. She is currently working on her novel Awakening. Jacque credits her MS diagnosis with giving her the peace and the time to do what she really loves...write.

    A New Respect

    The new swimsuit fit like glove; a bright, tight, floral glove. In years past, my appearance would have been my major concern. How fat do I look? How wide am I? How lumpy are my thighs? I sure could use a tan. But those toxic thoughts didn’t enter my mind as I headed out to my first-ever Aquatics class.

    My new attitude started to form two years ago when my body would no longer get up before dawn, commute fifty-plus miles to the gym by my office, workout with ridiculous intensity, take a hot shower, blow dry all of my thick, long hair, dress in a business suit-complete with pantyhose and pumps, and rush to the office for a twelve hour work day--topped off with a ninety minute commute home. It just wouldn’t. It refused. It rebelled. It started demanding long naps on my cold office floor. It was so exhausted that my brain was even exhausted. It compelled me to stop a successful career dead in its tracks.

    I hated whatever was happening to my body. It was a new hate. Unfamiliar. I was accustomed to hating it for being too big, too out of shape and aging too fast. This was far more serious than my former, vain rampages. This was terrifying.

    A dozen doctors, thousands in medical bills and three neurologists later, I got the news. “You have Multiple Sclerosis,” said the latest Neurologist. “I’m sorry. Let’s get you started on treatment right away. The other doctors should have caught this; it’s obvious in your symptoms and on your MRI. You didn’t need to suffer these last two years. Medication would have helped.”

    His words didn’t make me angry, sad, despondent or afraid. I felt relieved. He told me the truth. My days of being in limbo were over. He believed me. He cared. I wasn’t going crazy. It wasn’t all in my head—sort of. It was throughout my nervous system and he felt that medication would begin to help. My body image changed in a period of seconds.

    I could still walk most of the time. I could still golf once in awhile. I could still shower myself. I couldn’t do any of them well, or like I used to, but I still could.

    I asked him if the medication would make it possible to return to work. “Probably not,” he said. “Not with your fatigue and the cognitive problems you’re having. Damage has been done by this exacerbation going on for far too long. The goal is to keep you from getting worse--to slow down the progression of the disease and the accumulation of disability.” I was thrust onto a steep learning curve.

    So when the MS Society Chapter sent out the flyer for the MS Aquatics class, I signed up immediately. I wanted to keep the mobility, and ability, that I have.

    The first day we didn’t rank ourselves by body size, age, or style. Initially, we ranked each other by degree of disability. At least I did. I ranked fourth. But by the end of the first class, I no longer saw disability, illness or wheelchairs. I saw people. People just like me; with hopes, dreams, families, life experiences and inner beauty. We were just lucky enough to have MS bring us together to become friends.

    My body is beautiful. I can move all of its parts; I can stretch, strengthen and feel gravity increase its pull when I step out of the pool. My mind is beautiful too. It has learned to be more open to new experiences, less stressed in new situations, make friends easily and has an improved sense of humor brought on by the strange happenings MS brings my way each day.

    I am beautiful. We are all beautiful. An interesting turn of events opened my eyes to truly see, and appreciate, my beautiful body in its perfectly imperfect form.

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