Control Freak

It has taken me a decade to admit that yes, I am a control freak. From wanting the bed made every morning, to checking in three times to see if my husband followed my to-do list when dropping off the baby at daycare: I have accepted the truth that I am not as laid back as I pretend to be. I realize it can be a funny or endearing term, but I also know from experience there is a deep-seeded anxiety that lives in all of us control freaks.

“If I don’t have the control then I am in danger.”

I don’t know when or how it began for me. My creative mind can concoct all kinds of catastrophic events from the time I open my eyes to the time I lay my head down on the pillow. I am always blown away when I ask my husband what he’s thinking when quietly sitting there, and he says, simply and honestly “I wasn’t.” No fatal car accidents? No chicken pox before we get the vaccine? No spontaneous job loss?

When I became pregnant, my husband and I were both sure my control freak tendencies would go into overdrive. Surprisingly, the opposite happened. For the majority of my pregnancy and after Naya’s birth, I rode a pink, fluffy dopamine magic carpet. I didn’t think about SIDS. I didn’t care if the dog barked and woke her up. My baby weight didn’t faze me. I had forgotten about being a control freak.

And then, after suddenly going blind in one eye, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 29. Healthy. Doing everything (well…mostly everything) right.

Anyone who has MS, or loves someone who has MS, knows it’s about as unpredictable as it gets. Almost every question I asked my doctor was met with:

“We don’t really know.”

“It really is different for everybody.”

“It’s hard to say.”

For a control freak, they may as well have just hung banners in the exam room that read, “Hey, this is your worst nightmare.

And so began a surprisingly predictable dance through Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief:

Denial: “Don’t think for one second I’m changing my diet, getting on medications, or running some marathon. This will NOT define me.”

Bargaining: “Alright, God…. I’ll make you a deal. You give me MS and we’ll call it a fair trade for my kid’s lifetime guarantee of protection.”

Anger: …. {This one doesn’t need a caption. You can imagine it.}

Depression: Why me? This isn’t fair for Naya. What kind of mom am I going to be?”

Acceptance: Acceptance and I have a funny relationship. Acceptance is like that pair of skinny jeans that only fits half of the month, but man do I rock them when they fit. And when they don’t fit…. Well, I guess I just recycle through the stages again. It took me almost a year after being diagnosed to fully grasp what acceptance meant for me.

Let’s be honest. Even after all the self-exploration and grief work, I’m still a control freak to the bone. I make to-do lists and set reminders. I still ask one hundred questions. But here is something I learned by being handed this new journey of MS:

Acceptance: None of us are in control.

The week I was diagnosed, feeling angry and victimized that I couldn’t predict my future, a dear friend of mine took a playful and adventurous dive off a cliff into the Boundary Waters never to come back up for air.

Acceptance: This world, our health, the form our bodies will take years from now, is not guaranteed.

Through accepting this painfully terrifying truth I have started to heal and live better. I have allowed my grief to be witnessed, I have changed my diet substantially (goodbye, cheese….hello, kale), I have become more compliant and accepting of my daily injections, and I have run a marathon (…well, I walked an organized MS 2k, but who really counts the miles?). And, finally, I have come to understand that my lack of control over the future is just as it should be.

Acceptance: “The uncertainty of life is the most generous source of opportunity.” (a quote from the PaleoChef, Mary Shenouda, that I read to myself when I need reminding) 

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Danah Brown

Danah Brown was diagnosed with MS in August 2013, three months after giving birth to her baby girl. Danah is a psychologist and lives in Iowa with her husband, daughter, and dog, Ernie.