MS Moments: Ones We Wish We Could Forget

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

From leaving your keys in the icebox, to forgetting your co-workers’ name, the list of embarrassing situations that MS could bring into your life is unfortunately long. These “MS moments” leave you scrambling to regain your composure and can be downright embarrassing!

What’s worse is they seem to get more humiliating, the further you move along the MS Embarrassment Spectrum. They run the gamut, from seemingly harmless (Okay, I will be late, so what if I can’t find the keys?) to obscenely embarrassing (I’m going to fall in front of my husband’s coworkers, AND I’m wearing a dress, so they may see my underwear somewhere in between the act of falling and me laying on the ground). Ugh.

For me, the moment I learned about embarrassing MS moments was before I was even diagnosed. I kept falling while training for a marathon. I’d cut my knees, my hands, broke a toe, but what was far worse than anything physical was my bruised ego. Once I fell at a traffic light during morning rush hour traffic, there were probably 50 cars stopped at a light when my right leg dropped. I fell and my face skid along the patch of park where I was running on the outskirts. I got up, had dirt and rocks all over my face and up my nose. I looked at the cars. I cried.

No one helped me. I did make eye contact with one man and his eyes said, “I’m sorry.” I think that was why I cried. That was when I realized I had the potential to fall at really embarrassing moments. Later, my biggest nightmare was having to walk through the cafeteria at the school I was teaching in. All the kids would sit there and eat breakfast, and I’d have to walk across this huge linoleum floor with them yelling, “Hi Mrs. Utitus!” and I had nothing to hold on to. If you have MS, you understand how hard it is to navigate linoleum floors.

I learned to call over to one of my students to ask for help with books. Each day the kids were excited to see who got to help me. I’d almost always put one arm around the student while they walked me to class, engaged in our conversation. To them we were just conversing and I was a kind teacher, to me, they held me steady. This is just one example of how we learn to cope as we learn to navigate our disease. Embarrassing moments are always around the bend when you have MS so you learn early on, proactively, how to hopefully PREVENT them from happening.

I’ve also become stronger. So what if I fall? OK, I wasn’t strong enough to brush off falling at my husband’s work holiday party, exposing my undies, but most of the time, I can handle the embarrassment now. Embarrassment keeps me humble. It keeps me human. When I look past my ego, I can see good in those moments. Humility is a beautiful thing. AND, sometimes I need to laugh at myself. I’m far too serious anyway.

Sorry Barry Manilow

If you can’t see the good in these embarrassing moments, take comfort in this. Cornell University psychologist, Thomas Gilovich, calls it “The Spotlight Effect.” Essentially what he concluded was, as awesome as we may be, people don’t pay as much attention to us as we think they do!

He conducted a series of offbeat experiments designed to look at the relationship between our personal perceptions of how we may think other people view us…versus how other people may actually view us. In one exercise, he sent students into a room where classmates were filling out a questionnaire, and he had his test group wear an embarrassing outfit – Barry Manilow T-shirts. (Sorry Manilow fans, but it is true!)

After the exercise, Dr. Gilovich asked his students if the classmates had noticed the outfits. The test subjects reported approximately 50% of the students had noticed and reacted negatively. In actuality, only 23% of the students in the room reported that they had noticed this intentional fashion faux pas. So perhaps we aren’t really making as big of fools of ourselves as we sometimes think we are, right?

How Do You Cope?

It would be so incredibly useful if when a person was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis they were also given a package of “thick skin” to help navigate the journey. Imagine having the ability to not care at all about what other people think about you? Imagine, instant immunity to all judgment or excessive sympathy, and a protective barrier that will forever preserve your pride and sense of self. Unfortunately, there is no such product or quick fix to protect or prevent embarrassing moments, but I hope you will take some solace in the fact that everybody has them. How you frame them, how you cope with them, and how powerful you allow them to be, is ultimately up to you. It is the one part of embarrassing moments that you can control, well – sort of!

Stay humble my friends, and don’t forget to laugh at yourself sometimes—it’s incredibly healing!

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