Stories to Inspire: Family Comes First

By Lisa Norman

Photo of Lisa Norman at the beach with her daughters
Lisa Norman (center) enjoying the beach with daughters, Cierra (left) and Shannel (right).

In November 1995, I entered the specialist’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina to learn why my left eye was constantly twitching and jumping. I left with a diagnosis of “you may have” MS. Following an MRI, the “you may have” became the “you do have” relapsing-remitting MS. Unbeknownst to me, this was the start of my depression.

After my diagnosis, episodes of burning pain, uncoordinated walking, and exhaustion began. My daughters, Shannel and Cierra, were young and seemed to demand more of my attention. I thought I was giving them enough and would sometimes become frustrated with them. There were times when remembering and completing the things I needed to do became hard for me.

In 1998, I saw a neurologist who started me on a disease-modifying therapy. I mistakenly thought the injections would stop the pain, and with no immediate relief, a feeling of helplessness and confusion came over me. I now realize that depression creeps up when you are the most vulnerable, and by the time you become aware, has already affected much of how you feel.

Over the years, my symptoms were becoming more frequent and more obvious. I tried to hide my disease from everyone except my family. I gradually started explaining my disease to friends and some seemed to shun away. I felt insignificant. How do I live a normal life, when I don’t even know what normal is anymore?

I decided to isolate myself, only spending time with my family. I stopped going out in public. My family understood what I was dealing with, but they did not know about the negative thoughts I was having… feelings of unhappiness, worthlessness, lethargy, and emptiness.

One night in my bedroom, I could no longer tolerate the misery and pain. My daughters were playing in the living room, and my mind was taking me to a dark place. I started to look for a way out – any way I could get it. I noticed the medicine bottles on my nightstand; I had placed several pills in my hand, when suddenly my daughter Cierra screamed out, “MA!” I was so shocked that I dropped the pills and rushed to the living room.

My daughter had dropped a mirror and had a piece of glass in her foot. I became so focused on making sure I removed all of the glass, I seemed to forget about my own situation. My daughters mean the world to me; they love me unconditionally, and they are depending on me. MS has issues bigger than I could have ever imagined, but I needed to find a more appropriate way to deal with my feelings. Family comes first.

I told my doctor about my recent thoughts of suicide, and the other things going on, like angry outbursts, mood swings, seclusion, sluggishness, and no concern for myself or others. He told me I was going through depression, explained some of the signs and symptoms, and prescribed an antidepressant.

Things were better for a while, but depression returned and I began contemplating suicide again. This time, when I reached for my pills, I could see the label that said, “This medicine may cause drowsiness, dizziness, and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.” I did. And he got me through this difficult time.

Depression can be life-threatening when suicidal thoughts arise. One study found that the risk of suicide was several times higher among persons with MS than the general population. My doctor explained that many treatments are available; we just had to find the one that would achieve the best results for me. I was fearful about what may happen with trying another unknown antidepressant, but my daughter Shannel, who was now older, told me, “You need to put your hope in something.” I needed to put my hope into getting well, not just for me, but also for my family.

Fortunately, my doctors were able to prescribe exactly what I needed. I learned that antidepressant medications can be helpful, but each individual has a different response. Various medications and doses may need to be tried before an effective medication, or a combination of medications, is identified.

I was lucky to have had enough gumption to seek medical attention before doing something so terrible that neither my family nor I would have ever recovered. I am now able to maintain a quality of life that is happy, active, well-rounded, and functional… and I even enjoy spending time in public places! I have lived with MS for almost 22 years, and my last MRI report showed no new activity. With guidance from my neurologist, support from my family, and continued use of appropriate medications, I have been in remission for the past 13 years.

I hope my story of adversity, perseverance, family, and emotional wellbeing is an opportunity to encourage others to know that hardships will come, but you don’t have to let them define you. Should you ever find yourself in a position where you frequently have negative feelings or even question your will to live, please get immediate medical attention. A change of medication and/or having someone to speak with can change your entire outlook. I would never want my daughters, Shannel and Cierra, to be without a mom. I am so thankful to have their support. I have learned that despite my challenges with MS, I have people who are devoted to me. I have also learned that family comes first.