If a homeless alcoholic woman can be a leader, we all can, whether we realize it or not. A woman named Linda told my multiple sclerosis (MS) support group how seven years of increasing disability and depression had left her feeling useless. “I couldn’t do things for my family or anyone any more. I couldn’t do things I used to do with my friends. So I withdrew.”
Today, at age 55, Linda is pretty, with wavy brown hair and big green eyes. She sits up straight in her wheelchair and speaks in a strong voice with a hint of laughter behind most of her words. But ten years ago, five years after diagnosis, she looked different. In pictures from that time, she looks sad, defeated.
“I was bringing everybody down,” she said. “My brother Peter stopped coming to visit; then he stopped talking to me on the phone. He said it was too painful. I thought people were abandoning me, but actually I was driving them away.”
One day a 23 year old niece named Angela appointed herself Linda’s “personal trainer.” She started coming over once a week “just to be on your team.” Gradually, Linda started to accept her young relative’s support. Angela suggested Linda could try to ride in an MS bike event, using a recumbent handcycle, which you lie back on and pedal with your hands.
“At first, I was like, right, maybe I can make one block. I didn’t find the bike easy to use at all. But my brother Peter is a fix-it guy. He modified the bike so it worked. That kind of brought him back into my life. I built myself up, and when I rode in that MS event, my whole family was there.”
That day, Linda realized that she did have a major impact on her family. “I saw that if I was miserable, I was bringing them down with me. But if I was positive, my family would be happier. If I was at peace, I could calm other people. If I feel love or show joy, other people pick up on it.”