"Playing the MS Card"

Community Member

I can hear your indignant cries right now.   What does she mean, playing the MS card?   Well, I mean using the fact that you have Multiple Sclerosis to get out of doing things you would rather not be doing.   You know like chores, attending boring social engagements, or in my case, using my MS to save face for quitting martial arts.

I have never been athletic.   As a kid I was always one of the last chosen for sports games.   I still remember the humiliation of standing on colored circles in gym class according to height.   There I was at the beginning of the line in my blue zippered gym suit standing next to August Soldano, the other shortest kid in the class.   We would look at each other like stranded Lilliputians on an island with a tribe of tall, well coordinated savages.   These savages would take out their god given gym talents by beating us smaller kids at every competitive game and sport.

I remember in those days we had what was called "Presidentials" to complete in gym class.   Remember this?   The official name was The President's Physical Fitness Test, which for me, was just another name for public shame.   You got this score card to fill out for each fitness skill which became a written testament to my general lack of coordination and athletic prowess.   I remember the agony of attempting to see how many baskets I could shoot in the span of sixty seconds.   Can you guess how many I got in?   ZERO   Not one made it in.   I sat there, afterwards, in a small heap on the gym floor close to tears.

I carried those feelings of gym inadequacy into my adult years.   I pretty much suck at every athletic activity known to man including miniature golf and throwing a Frisbee.   But until the Fall of 2007 (when I was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis) I never had an excuse for my lack of sports ability other than I am an uncoordinated klutz.   But now due to my MS I have the perfect excuse to save face.

My family and I had joined a Tai Kwon Do class some years ago before my MS diagnosis.   I tried.   I really did.   It was fun for several years but when they got into the more advanced forms and sparring (I am really not into getting a beating no matter how much padding I wear) I decided to quit.   My husband and eldest son continued to go to the class without me.   Am I a wimp?   Yes without a doubt.   But even wimps have pride.

One of the few other ladies who had joined the class carried on after my departure.   She would talk to my husband during class and made mention that she missed me.   Her reason?   She told my husband she missed having me in the class because I was one of the people she could feel confident to beat during a sparring match.   "Oh no she didn't!" I declared as I cocked my head back and forth like a crazed rooster.     My husband, delighting in the image of two women fighting, egged me on.   "Why don't you come to class and show her what you can do?" he urged.   "No," I pouted.   "She could definitely kick my butt up and down the street.   But she doesn't have to announce it to the world!"

The day I first played the MS card was the day my eldest son was taking his black belt test.   I showed up to cheer my son on during the five hour grueling ordeal when I saw my nemesis.   She seemed happy to see me.   We exchanged pleasantries and then the interrogation began.   "Why did you quit taking classes?" she inquired.   And then she added, "You could be getting your black belt too today.   It is a shame you quit."   There was a silence as she fondled her own black belt.   Impulsively I uttered my "excuse."   "I was just diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis."   In an instant her smiling face turned to concern and embarrassment.    "I am so sorry.   I didn't know," she apologized.

I felt an immediate remorse.   MS was not the reason I quit Tai Kwon Do.   I just lost interest.   I didn't want to spar.   But my MS provided me with an easy excuse at the ready.    MS had the power to shut someone up who was calling me a quitter.  Although it was not a proud moment for me I did think about the power the diagnosis could give me. I was no longer just an awkward klutz. After all these years I finally have a reason for my nerdy gait and lack of coordination.

To be honest, except in the incident I have just described at Tai Kwon Do, I have never played the MS card otherwise.  All too often my MS is not an excuse but is a very real reason for me to slow down and say no to unnecessary demands.   One of my close friends reframed it this way:   "Maybe now that you have MS you will learn to be more kind to yourself."   If "playing the MS card" means learning how to relax and not feel forced to go through life at top speed then I am guilty as charged.

What about you?   Have you ever used your MS as an excuse?   Have you ever played the MS card?