Every day, I wake up just like everyone else and see the sun shining and the birds chirping and have the promise of the entire day set before me – 24 hours, 1,440 minutes – just like everyone else. The only thing that makes my waking up a little different than your waking up is that I have multiple sclerosis (MS), but MS does not have ME. I believe in the poem “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest:
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
MS is just on the journey with me to do what is part of my DNA – teach, mentor and lead. These three things have been part of my life career as a retired captain in the U.S. Air Force and a community volunteer. You can do anything you set your mind to do and like any challenge, you get to decide every day how you will overcome the obstacle.
I have a “use it or lose it” philosophy about the cognitive and physical aspects of my disease. We all have a bank of mental and physical energy with which to get it done – and every day we get a new deposit to spend anew. Life with MS is a choice to be healthy and to choose how to spend my energy account. I have learned to listen to my body and know how to space out my activities to maximize my output for the results I seek to achieve, whether it is celebrating the centennial of my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., serving as the Gateway MS Ambassador, or giving out over 15,000 school bags to students in the St. Louis Public Schools, I choose how to maximize my energy resources.
When I wake up and my body or my mind act like they want to hold me back, I remind them that I am directing this destiny and I do not say “I can’t,” because “can’t” only means “constant act of not trying.” I refuse to let that be a part of my life story. It may mean that I choose to do one or two things instead of the three or four that I might normally do, but I continue on and so can you. MS means “MOST STUFF” to me, that on most days I can do most things.
You have a choice, remember that, you did not choose MS, but you do get to choose how you will handle MS. Living with a chronic illness is only limiting if you believe “I can’t” instead of “I can.” You must monitor your energy level, think of your longevity, and keep your mind sharp. Read a book, go to museums, challenge yourself with a new task, eat a healthy diet, and exercise daily. I choose every day to put one foot in front of the other and use my 24 hours for the greatest good instead of allowing MS to stop me.
MS also challenges our cognitive abilities and I choose every day how to keep my mind sharp. I keep busy through volunteering with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring Reading Program, along with my work with VA, and serving as the Upsilon Omega Foundation vice president and the Omega Center, a community service center, manager. As an active member of my fraternity, I was challenged in 2011 to plan a huge centennial conference in St. Louis, some thought it couldn’t be done, but “I DID IT!”
What can life with MS look like? It looks like a man who was area captain for four states and who traveled to make history. It looks like a man, for the second time, who donned a tuxedo to attend the inaugural balls for the nation’s re-elected first black president. It looks like a man sitting proudly in the blue section of the inaugural ceremony. It looks like a man who mentors through the Boys and Girls Club, who reads at Lexington Elementary School, and who recruits through Team 100. It looks like 1,440 minutes of “I CAN.”
Every new day is a new opportunity to be greater than your limitations. Remember, “I have MS, MS does not have me.”
About the author: This article was submitted by Philip White (as told to Taye Foster Bradshaw). Captain (Ret). Philip White is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. For 26 years he served proudly with the United States Air Force, stationed in several U.S. posts and countries including Korea, Japan, Philippines,and Germany. Following his retirement from military service, he returned to his teaching roots at Whitman Air Force Base, accepting a position as director of Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC). After retiring from his position as director, he accepted a volunteer position as a member of Team 100, with Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring.