Running With Multiple Sclerosis

I was terrified, close to tears, and there were 12 miles left to go.                           

I followed the race trail and walked on, tormented, obsessing about all of the terrible things that could happen to me today and in the future. I had some big worries: the neurons in my brain that could get damaged, the possible memory and mobility problems. But I also had smaller, pettier worries: what I’d think of myself if I didn’t finish this course, or what other people might think of a long finish time.

Somewhere between miles eight and nine, cars slowly came down the course to clear the road, pushing the few of us half-marathon stragglers to the edges of the street. The race organizers had created a staggered schedule to fit several races on the same morning, so the cars were making room for the next race: an 8K. I was suddenly surrounded by people who had just started running, people who were talking and laughing and maintaining a healthy pace. They passed me. The critical voice in my head took it as another sign that I was failing.

As a clinical psychologist, I’ve had countless conversations with patients about internal critical voices: how much pain they cause, how distorted they can be, and how much they can hold us back. It does no good to listen when a cruel part of the psyche is being discouraging. It’s demoralizing. But knowing these things didn’t stop me from beating myself up.

Relief came when I found another voice in my head, one that was not a perfectionist, and I took some time to listen to it instead. It didn’t conjure a phantom audience who would jeer at me for taking more than three hours to finish a half-marathon, or an imaginary Future Me who can’t think anymore.

It knew what was important. My husband would be waiting for me at the finish line, whether I got there on foot or on some kind of sweeper van that picked up the people who couldn’t finish. And despite my fear that I would lose the abilities to walk and to think, at that moment I was both walking and thinking. I may not have been running, but I managed to put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, rhythmically, and several miles were behind me.

It’s not easy for me to focus on what is important. I get lost. I ignore what I have now, for fear that I could lose it one day. I hope I’ll always have access to the part of me that knows that the important stuff is what I have in the present moment that precedes everything I can’t know.

So, on this rainy Canadian morning, my feet and my thoughts could still move forward, despite numbness and fear and lesions on my brain and spine. And if one day I find that I cannot put one foot in front of the other, I’ll trust that Future Me will still find a way to move forward.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Cristalle Sese is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Los Angeles.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Health

Just In