Poet and teacher Laurie Lambeth discusses her perspective on the ever-changing normals of life with the constant reminder that "physical ability is tenuous at best."
The fact that Laurie Lambeth's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) came after only one month -- and after only one "event" -- made it a relatively uncommon one. Most people have at least a couple separate events (symptoms or flare-ups) before they're diagnosed. Lambeth's first symptom, at age 17, was numbness that spread up her left arm and down her body. She had been snapping her fingers to music one day, and the next her hand went numb, a sensation, or absence thereof, which diffused across her left side. As the result of this early onset, Lambeth -- who is now 43, a PhD, and a prize-winning poet -- has lived with the degenerative neurological disease for all of her adult life. How the disease informs her life, poetry, and concept of "normal" is itself a work in progress.
Despite Lambeth's young age at the time, the diagnosis itself was not particularly distressing. Her neurologist's nonchalant attitude about MS made for a diagnosis that was pretty low-key. "My neurologist said to me, 'think of it as minor inconvenience. Avoid hot tubs. Have a nice life.' That was it. There was no hysteria about it for me because he minimized it so."
That was in her senior year of high school. As the realization set in more, however, Lambeth began pouring more of herself into academics, which had not previously been her driving force (training horses and her involvement in the visual arts had played center stage). "I tried a lot harder in high school after my diagnosis, and then threw myself into college," says Lambeth. "I thought that if I could no longer count on my body, I could at least rely on my mind. I didn't know that my cognitive abilities would change, that following and synthesizing a number of strands of discussion would come less easily, or that remembering simple words would be much harder for me than for others my age."