Brain Health//

“Even If It’s Only One More Time in Your Life, You’re Going to Get Back on a Horse”: Ann Romney’s Journey with MS

Part two of a five part series.

Today, I bring you part two of my journey with multiple sclerosis. The disease completely changed my life; and unexpectedly, mostly for the better. I never thought I would say those words when first diagnosed but here we are. You can read part one here.

About a year after my initial diagnosis, and in desperate search for answers, Mitt and I went to see another doctor in Boston, Dr. Howard Weiner at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

After examining me one morning, Dr. Weiner quickly explained that my MS was on the offensive and that we had to act fast to try and put it in check. I imagined I would come back in a few days and begin treatment. “No,” he said, “Come with me, we’re going to start right now.” And he took my hand and walked me into the treatment room, where he started me on a regime of steroids to halt the progress of the disease.

So, there was something we could do! I didn’t know if this was a long shot – a Hail Mary pass – but it was something, and that gave me hope.

And, after a while, I did feel a little stronger; the fatigue had gotten ever so slightly better, and

Dr. Weiner’s treatment was beginning to work—at least the disease wasn’t getting worse, which meant I could start to try to rebuild some of my physical strength. Had I stopped with my first doctor’s answer to “come back when it got worse,” I might be in a very different position today. I often hear from women who are suffering with chronic disease, who have seen doctor after doctor, and feel like nothing more than a number in the system. I pray that they will not give up hoping and pushing and advocating for themselves–relief might not be around the next bend, but it could be around the one after that, or the one after that.

During this time, Mitt had been asked to run the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He worried that moving away from my doctors and my routine in Boston would take an even greater toll on my body. I had none of it. “You have to do this,” I told him, and explained that I didn’t know if I would get better or worse, but life was going to move on; and, even if I was in a wheelchair, I would be by his side. I told him what he had told me: “We’re in this together, remember?”

When we got out to Utah for the Olympics, I didn’t know how much time I had left before any physical activity was a thing of the past. As a young girl, I had loved horses—I had a special bond with them. But when I married Mitt, and we had all those boys, I hadn’t had time to ride. So now, I said to myself, even if it’s only one more time in your life, you’re going to get back on a horse. And if getting back on a horse isn’t a metaphor for, well, getting “back on the horse,” then I don’t know what is!

And so, I got back on and…I wasn’t quite the equestrienne I remembered. The first time back on a horse, I could barely do a lap around the ring before I was physically and mentally exhausted. But I came back again, and again, and slowly my strength started returning. It was amazing, how my body slowly started to respond to the activity: my balance, my muscle memory, my strength—it all started to improve. I also noticed that my outlook was improving as well: the days were more joy than darkness, and then even the darkness wasn’t so dark anymore. I thought even if I didn’t have much more time, I was so grateful to remember what joy felt like. So, in your dark moments, find something that you love or just some personal goal to strive for – whether it’s a creative outlet, or sporting activity, or involvement in your community– and even if you can only do a little bit, do it. I promise you you’ll find joy in it.

Above all, I would not have been able to fully recover without faith. One day I was riding in the cool mountain air, with my horse. It was cloudy, and the wind was picking up – one of those powerful, cinematic moments when a storm is brewing – but I felt that it was majestic, not threatening.

My horse felt it too, and he started to spook. He wouldn’t listen to my rein. He was in a moment of hesitation and fear. I whispered to him, listen, I’m up here in the saddle, I have this great view of the valley and the mountains and the sky, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just be patient, and listen to the rein, and everything will be fine.

And then I realized: this is what the Lord wants from me as well. He can see the things I cannot, he knows the things I cannot. And at that moment, I began to listen— patiently, faithful— and trust in His plan, not mine.

One of the things about having your life pulled out from under you is that you begin to realize that miracles happen every day. That life itself is a miracle; that there is goodness in all things, if only we look for it.

From that moment on I really began to recover in the air of the Rocky Mountains, finding my joy on the back of a horse. I think there’s great wisdom in this aspect of letting go. Letting go and using the energy we’re tempted to devote to anxiety and stress for something positive.

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