I’ll never forget him in his ill-fitting trench coat and his cartoonish large head towering over us, just a bunch of wide-eyed, snot-covered children at Tonawanda Elementary School. His name was Officer McGruff, the Crime Dog. He pointed his furry finger at us while an accompanying, un-costumed police officer warned us against the dangers of drugs.
I looked up to McGruff. We had a bond. We understood each other. I knew this because a year or two earlier, I had won a safety poster drawing contest and was awarded with my very own plush McGruff doll. It may as well have been an official sheriff’s badge and a key to the city. I was now a safety expert. I took everything he stood for to heart. I mean, he had a trench coat and everything!
Like most other children in today’s world, I vowed to:
Say NO to drugs.
Say NO to strangers.
Say NO to cigarettes.
Say NO to alcohol.
Say NO to peer pressure.
We were being prepared for real life situations, all harmful to varying degrees. We were taught to be empowered, to be our own advocates in potentially dangerous situations.
But what happens when we get older? I still have to say no to alcohol (thanks, Rebif!), that creepy guy at the bar, and that second (third?) slice of cake, but what poor sap in a sweaty mascot suit do we have to prepare us for the times we need to say NO to good things?
I always imagined that my young adult years would be full of late nights and parties and whatever else it is that kids think adulthood is all about. I’m in my early thirties now, and while that — at one time — seemed ancient, let’s face it, the thirties are the new twenties and I should be just blossoming right now. And I suppose I am, in my own way. But sometimes it gets lonely.
Never did I imagine, as I sat crossed-legged on the floor in my old elementary school, rocking the latest and most neon early nineties fashion, that I’d one day have to say no to my family and friends, in favor of my health.
I’m so tired now, so very fatigued. My friends are still very social creatures (and good for them!), and I many times have to turn down invitations to get-togethers and instead live vicariously through them on social media from inside of my blanket burrito on my couch.
I fear that one day, these invitations will come along less frequently and, maybe, eventually stop. But, so far, the opposite has happened. Have I “lost” some people along the way? Yes. But they’re not missing. I’ve realized that the people who truly matter, the ones that really care about me will want to preserve me and understand when and why I sometimes have to decline an invitation. And these are the relationships of mine that are evolving and maturing.
If there is one thing I’ve learned and really grown to accept and embrace in these last three years of living with MS, it’s that your health and wellbeing are so, so precious. I’m not made of rubber, like I was when I was a kid, and none of us are exempt from the surprises that life throws at us.
People will come in and out of your life, but you only get one body and that one meat suit is what you’ll be driving for the rest of your life. Love it! Thank it! One heart, two lungs, one set of limbs, one brain. I still have a ways to go, but I’ve learned to better nurture these things to hopefully avoid any more permanent damage. I’ve learned to be more in tune with my body and listen, really listen to it.
Say YES to fostering healthy, positive lasting relationships.
Say YES to your body, when it calls for your attention, trying to warn and protect you.
Say YES to continuing to live your life as you normally would, while remaining mindful of how it may affect your health.
Say YES to your tomorrow, because today’s choices will leave an impact.
Say YES to YOU.
We don’t need a dog in a trench coat to tell us that.
This article was authored by Cat Stappas and originally published on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s blog, MSConnection.org, on July 27, 2016.