Wild and Precious Life: Renewed, ready and able

2013-04-01T19:55:00Z Wild and Precious Life: Renewed, ready and ableColumn by Joan Herman / For The Daily News Longview Daily News

What becomes of a writer?

Well, she works full-time, becomes consumed by the work she loves but must do to earn a living, and therefore is too tired to write.

I regret that I’ve taken a full year off from this column, but I refuse to be hard on myself. I know how much energy it takes to write, particularly while holding down a challenging teaching job — and especially while struggling with a disability that, I am sorry to say, is not unchanging.

Much of the reason I have not written also stems from a reluctance to reveal some of the physical changes I’ve experienced.

I have a full-time job that I value greatly and cannot afford to lose. Yet good writing, by definition, must be honest and real. Where do I find the balance?

As I write this, I’m dictating my words, rather than physically typing them. The technology that allows me to do this is called Dragon software, the brand name for the voice-dictation software I have.

I now use it at work as a faculty member at Lower Columbia College, and at home for all of my typing. I do this because I have lost considerable dexterity in my right hand, making typing the old-fashioned way extremely laborious.

I hate the disease, multiple sclerosis, and the steady, incessant changes it has wracked on much of my body. My mind remains sharp and, shall I say, stubborn. I continue to learn through all of this that I’m nothing if not a fighter, even a leader. This is something I did not know about myself before being diagnosed with MS 13 years ago.

The severe muscle spasticity, or stiffness, in my legs has made walking even more difficult. And it makes me much more vulnerable to falling. My dear body sometimes feels as if it’s been through a war zone; occasionally I see a mysterious bruise on a leg or arm and have no idea when or how I got it.

I worry tremendously about the possibility of suffering a debilitating injury from a fall and no longer being able to work. I still have much to offer. I know that.

I’m still young enough at 54 and, I suspect, blessed genetically with a solid frame from my German and Irish ancestry, that I have not sustained serious injury, which is not to say I have not broken bones.

Sometimes I do think about giving up, giving in, but I just can’t.

Often I am told that I am inspiring; those who say this explain they can’t imagine how they would handle a similar situation.

It is not something I would have chosen, to be inspiring in this way, though I understand it. It comes with the territory of dragging my body around and still somehow managing to have a smile on my face much of the time.

I tell them you just do what you have to do.

I don’t think I am unique. A long-time friend is diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and exhibits resilience and optimism. I tell her that she is such an optimist, and she doesn’t see it. But I do.

I understand her response. She’s just doing what she has to do.

What brought me back to this column? A desire to share my perspective, which is unique in several ways. One, I have lived in two bodies—that of the athlete and that of the “cripple.”

Despite my disabilities, I still work full-time, which surprises many people when they meet me. Through my writing, I want to show that “disability” does not mean “inability.”

I am a writer. I want to give a face, at least in my small fish bowl, to the millions of people living with disabilities. And mostly, selfishly, I want to share my experience in the best way that I know how.

Joan Herman, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 12 years ago, teaches English at Lower Columbia College. She chose the title for this column from lines from a poem: Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? / Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? ... Herman can be reached at catladyjoan@gmail.com.

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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