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No joke: Life with MS was a laughing matter

By Dan Digmann

A trained motivational speaker wasn’t responsible for teaching me my latest lessons about living my best life with multiple sclerosis. 

It was a stand-up comedian. Specifically, it was everything my wife, Jennifer, and I debated and did to see Emmy Award-winner John Mulaney live on stage. 

Whether we’re watching one of his Netflix specials (again!) or catching short clips of his routines on YouTube, the former writer for Saturday Night Live makes us laugh. A lot. 

So, imagine how out-of-control excited I was when Jennifer told me that, as a shared present for our 17th anniversary, she purchased two handicapped accessible seats to watch John Mulaney perform just an hour away from our home in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Hooray!

There was a slight catch to us seeing him as part of his “From Scratch” tour at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The 7 p.m. show was sold out, so the tickets were for his 10 p.m. performance.

We paused and thought it through:
  • If he doesn’t take the stage until 10 p.m. at the earliest and the show lasts a little more than an hour, once we get to our van and drive home, at best we’d be in bed by 1 a.m.  
  • We both have MS (mine is relapsing-remitting and Jennifer’s is secondary-progressive) and there are all the things that could go wrong because of our fatigue and bladder issues. 
  • I work full time and, after a late night with John Mulaney, I still will have to work a full eight hours the next day.

The lure of actually seeing our comedic icon crack us up in person overpowered any MS-related fears we had, and we were full steam ahead.

That is, until the night of the performance.

About 90 minutes before we had planned to leave, Jennifer and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about what it really was going to demand of us to make the event our reality. We already were feeling a bit tired. Did we actually have it in us to drive an hour down to East Lansing, find parking, walk to the performance hall, stay awake through a show that didn’t start until 10, and then drive an hour back home well after midnight? Whew.

I actually said to Jennifer, “I realize the tickets cost a bit of money, but I almost want to say I’d pay you that much to just stay home and get some sleep.”

We stared at each other for about two minutes as we pondered our next move. Suddenly I had an epiphany that gave us points of clarity to move forward with seeing John Mulaney perform. We quickly discovered these three clarity points also help with making the most of the opportunities we have and inspiring the actions we do and don’t take. 

I hope they also offer you some perspectives to consider the next time MS causes you to question or doubt your next move – no matter how big or small. 

1. What do you really want to do?

As we debated whether or not to bail on the John Mulaney show, here’s the thought that pushed Jennifer and me to stay on track: I pointed out that if we decided at 6:30 it was best to stay home, how likely was it that come 9:30, we’d be kicking ourselves that we let this opportunity slip through our hands? Yeah, we would have regretted that decision, well, forever. We really wanted to go. 

So there. Do what you can to make it happen, and don’t look back.

2. Just give it a shot.

This truly is the best any of us can do when we’re living with MS. Yes, there is a lot that can go wrong because of our unpredictable disease, but there also is a lot that can go right because we all are resilient. We win simply by not letting MS make the decisions for us on whether or not we try. I reassured Jennifer, “Let’s say we get 10 miles or 30 miles out of town and just aren’t feeling it. We’ll just turn around, come home, and feel good about ourselves because at least we tried.” 

It would have been our conscious decision to not go rather than a decision based on MS-incited apprehensions.

3. Make a plan and keep an open mind.

As soon as we decided to go, Jennifer was busy developing a game plan. “We’ve got this,” she said. Say we made it to the 10 p.m. show and were too tired to drive an hour home. “We’ll just get a hotel and spend the night in Lansing.” If we didn’t make it home until the morning or it was too much for me to get up for work in the morning? “You work remotely, so you’ll just go in a little late and work later into the evening or work for a few hours on the weekend.”

The only thing we can predict about MS is that it is unpredictable. The one thing we all can count on is our ability to be flexible in the face of adversity.

We saw John Mulaney perform. And we laughed. A lot. 

With two opening comedians, the show didn’t end until just after midnight. Jennifer and I pulled into our driveway at 1:30 a.m., got to bed a little before three, and I logged into the virtual office just before 9 a.m., really tired, but still laughing.