“My childhood was best described as turbulent – my parents divorced when I was young, we moved around A LOT, and I lived with an abusive stepfather for many years. By the time I was a teenager it had all taken quite the toll and I struggled heavily with depression. I didn’t care about myself or my future and it showed in my daily decisions. I was a mess. I was a completely reckless teenager. Sometime after getting put on probation, totaling my car, and losing credit from skipping school, my mom decided I needed a change.
One night I was out with friends and when I got home, I knew right away something wasn’t right… my mom and Uncle were waiting for me. She said, ‘You are going to live with your dad,’ and my Uncle was there to make sure I didn’t give her any problems. Since I hardly knew my dad and my whole life was in Michigan, I was devastated. My mom already had a bag packed for me and it was waiting in the car. I didn’t even get to go in the house, just straight to the airport. What I thought was the WORST moment in my life, eventually turned out to be the best thing for me.
It was a major adjustment for both of us as I had only seen my dad about once a year before that, but we made it work. Shortly after I moved, I met Steve. We were introduced by mutual friends at a high school football game and clicked instantly. We started dating and quickly became inseparable. We were 100% completely in love! I was getting back on track, starting to think about a future and I even graduated from high school a year early. Things were definitely looking up!
Then one day I started feeling a little nauseous in the morning, but it went away once I ate so I didn’t think much of it. After a few days, I mentioned something about it to my stepsister and she insisted I take a pregnancy test so, I bought a box and headed over to her house. I took the test in her bathroom and the 2 little pink lines showed up instantly. She said, ‘You’re definitely pregnant and probably farther along than me!’ (She had just found out she was pregnant the week before.) I honestly can’t remember how I told Steve or his first reaction, I just remember feeling completely overwhelmed and trying to make big decisions we weren’t ready for … two lines on a pregnancy test changed everything. I was 17 and I had just figured out how to be a teenager, how in the world was I going to be a mom?!
When I found out I was pregnant, Steve and I started discussing all of our options. My stepmom was furious that we were even considering adoption or abortion and lost her sh*t. She started screaming at me and calling me horrible names. My dad went along with whatever she wanted, so I went to stay with Steve temporarily.
My mom flew out to help me figure out what to do and she was willing to support any decision we made. Steve and I had decided we were too young to have a baby so once my mom came to town we went to an abortion clinic. From the moment I stepped foot inside the clinic, I knew it was a bad idea for me. It just felt completely wrong. After that, I decided it would be best to return to Michigan with my mom because Steve and I couldn’t afford to live on our own and I was no longer welcome at my dad’s. My dad and stepmom had kicked me out of the house.
Steve stayed behind in Nevada and we promised each other we would figure out a way to make it all work. While I was going through these major decisions, all of my friends were enjoying their senior year, going to football games, prom, spring breaks, etc. I remember a particularly rough night during finals week when our daughter Chloe was a baby. She would NOT stop crying and go back to sleep no matter what I did. I sat in my rocking chair and cried while she cried because there was nothing else I could do. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone, and I knew I didn’t want to keep raising her by myself, so I started making plans to move back to Nevada. Everyone kept telling me we were too young and it would never work, but I knew in my heart they were wrong.
I should have felt alone but the truth was, I was excited to become a mom and I didn’t miss partying with my friends. I finally felt like I had a purpose, a reason to be alive. It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t just my life anymore. It was about this little baby growing inside of me and I was focused on giving her the life that I never had.
I enrolled in college, found a job and helped out with my siblings. Overall I had a pretty easy pregnancy and on the morning of May 8, 2001, I went into labor. The doctors usually tell you first babies take their time, first babies come to the world slowly. That rule does NOT apply for our family. I remember yelling at the nurses as I was walking in the door that the baby was coming NOW, my mom was yelling that the baby was coming NOW, yet they shushed us and said they were sure we had a lot of time. They were wrong, my daughter started crowning in the hallway and worked her way into the world very quickly – the doctor never even made it in the room! From start to finish my labor was under 4 hours and I delivered a perfect, tiny baby girl. With one look at her, I knew my life would never be easy and it would certainly never be normal, but it would definitely have meaning.
The first year of being a single mom was a blur of diapers, bottles, doctors’ appointments, work and school. It was about pure survival. I had the support of my mom, stepdad and siblings but also the knowledge I was on my own with this in so many ways. Steve was still living in Nevada at the time and our relationship was tested regularly. Back then you could only call long distance in the evening, there was no video chatting and no unlimited texting. Our conversations were quick but we both knew we loved each other and wanted to find a way to make it work. The day after Chloe’s first birthday we moved back to Nevada and started living together as a family for the first time.
While most of our friends were enjoying their early adulthood years, Steve and I focused on being a family. We both worked full-time and I continued to pursue my bachelor’s degree. Chloe went to daycare during the day and Steve’s family often babysat her on the weekends while we worked. It was a crazy, busy, chaotic time that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
We got married on October 11, 2005, at the same place we attended prom together in high school. It was an amazing day I will never forget! Family came in from all over and our daughter was the cutest flower girl in the whole world.
Life was magical except for one thing – I was having health issues no one could pin down. I saw a ton of doctors but they mostly chalked everything up to stress or anxiety. Sure, life was overwhelming at times, but I knew it wasn’t causing the pain I was having.
The first neurologist I saw said, ‘I would diagnose you with MS, but you’re too young so I don’t know what’s wrong.’ He dismissed me from his practice. After seeing multiple doctors, finally receiving the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had been told by so many doctors that I wasn’t sick and it was all in my head. It was a relief to finally have a name for what was happening to me. Steve and I weren’t sure how it would affect our lives, but we knew that we could handle anything together.
In 2007 I graduated with my bachelors degree in elementary education. Over the next few years I tried several medications to help control my symptoms but I just kept getting worse. Nothing we tried worked and I had extreme nerve pain daily. My legs were increasingly weak and before long I had to use a cane to walk even short distances. I suffered from severe fatigue, optic neuritis, and many other symptoms. By 2009 I was using a walker 100% of the time and Steve would push me in a wheelchair for long distances. In two years, he pushed me all over Disneyland, Six Flags, the San Diego Zoo, and more (he is pretty awesome).
Eventually with medication, changing my diet, and exercising often, I finally started feeling better. I was able to get off of all medications and my MS went into remission, it was AMAZING! My neurologist said, ‘I’ve never seen a turn around like yours!’ and I definitely was living life to its fullest. I earned my master’s degree in elementary education, attended as many soccer games, school events, family functions, and birthday parties as possible. We were busy and life was good! I was on top of the world for 6 years!
It started out with familiar twinges, pains, spasms, and weakness in my legs. I knew my MS was starting to flare up again but I tried to deny it to myself and carry on like normal. It was 2016 and our daughter was in high school. She was super active with soccer, friends and life – I didn’t want to go back to that mom who couldn’t be there for all of the things. I couldn’t be sick, I wouldn’t be sick.
I made adjustments to my routine, I got my medical marijuana card (which helped with the muscle spasms) and I pushed through. There were days I was so tired I couldn’t get out of bed, days that going to the grocery store seemed as complicated as going to the moon but I did my best and I tried as hard as I could to deny what was happening. Unfortunately autoimmune diseases don’t work that way.
After being healthy for so long, I felt like my MS flaring up again meant I had failed, like I had done something wrong. Even though I knew MS was a relapsing remitting disease, I just didn’t think it would come back with a vengeance like that. I hid my symptoms as well as I could and tried not to complain to my family and friends about how I was feeling. I tried medications to manage my symptoms that had worked well for me in the past, but this time they just caused unwelcome side effects. I was unable to sleep because of the pain I was having and I struggled with being an effective teacher because of the lack of sleep. Around this time Steve convinced me to try marijuana for my pain and it was AMAZING! Life changing! I was able to teach during the day and vape at night so I could sleep/ get some relief.
I pushed myself for over a year and eventually ended up taking a temporary leave of absence in the fall of 2017. Mentally I thought I would take time off, find a medication that worked and then go back to teaching but after a while I knew that wasn’t going to happen. My doctor recommended a permanent disability instead of temporary and as hard as it was for me to accept it, I did. It was different this time – the same medication that worked last time didn’t touch my symptoms, none of the new treatments worked and no matter what I did to my diet, supplements or routine I just had to accept it – I was sick in a permanent way. I had gone from being a full-time teacher/soccer mom to a disabled homebody overnight and it was really hard for me, I felt like I had failed.
It wasn’t until I stopped teaching that I started feeling depressed and alone. My colleagues kept saying they wished they could stay home like me and wanted to know my secret for getting disability. There is no secret, I am disabled. It took me a long time to realize that having MS didn’t mean I had failed, it just meant my life was taking a different path than I had planned for.
One day I decided to stop caring about what people thought and I created a public Instagram account to share my story. I have met so many amazing people who are going through similar situations and it has really helped me not feel so alone. (Feel free to connect with me, my username is ms_fighting_mom) I try to live life to its fullest now instead of focusing on all of the things I cannot do. Steve and are in our mid 30s and celebrating 20 years together this fall! I have full faith in us – no matter what life throws at us we have handled it together and always will. Our daughter has her driver’s license and she is graduating high school this month! I am so happy I have been able to be there for all of the excitement that is senior year and I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring for her.
Together we run an online Etsy store which allows me to participate in the household income but also work around my illness when needed. I do not anticipate being able to teach again – my legs no longer work like they used to and neither does my brain. While there is a chance that I can go back into remission (I hope I do!) I am not counting on it.
If you asked me what the most complicated part of my life has been it wouldn’t be the MS diagnosis, or the teen pregnancy or the abuse from my childhood – it would be the judgement I have faced from others. People are so quick to look at us and immediately assume things. It took me a few years to find a pediatrician that didn’t immediately assume I was a horrible mother with no clue what I was doing. We’ve been ignored at furniture stores and gotten dirty looks in public more times than I can count. I’ve been looked up and down by a TSA agent who rudely said, ‘You’re handicapped?!?’ in disbelief because I used the handicap line at the airport. A hotel clerk laughed at me because I was so tired that I didn’t know what color my car was. When a lady tried to cut in front of me at Costco, I said no because my MS was flaring up and I needed to sit down, the employee loudly asked everyone in line behind me if it was ok with them and then let her cut in line anyway.
People feel like they have the right to judge others by what they can see, but there is no way to know what another person is going through. If I had one request for everyone reading this it would be – instead of judging someone, try and have some compassion, think about how you would like to be treated – remember you don’t know what they are going through.
I don’t want people to feel sorry for me when they read about my experiences. I want people to be aware that EVERYONE has a story. Have some compassion and stop judging others.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elaina Barber of Las Vegas, Nevada. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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