When Nicole Lemelle was diagnosed with MS in 2000, she discovered what it meant to lose much of what she thought essential to her own identity. She was diagnosed while in nursing school, after bouts of optic neuritis. But that didn’t stop her from getting her degree and moving with her husband, Tommy, to Maryland from her hometown of New Orleans.
However, when her MS flared in 2009, she was forced to give up nursing. Not only that, she had to return to Louisiana and live with her parents for a year until Tommy could leave Maryland. “It was a big shift,” Nicole recalls. “My identity was wrapped up in my job. And I’m married — I was supposed to be with my husband! The only reason I came back to New Orleans or my parents’ house was MS.”
She asks, “Who do you become when the major pieces of yourself are gone? I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work. My friends didn’t understand.” She had traveled constantly for a job as a clinical specialist for a medical technology company. “Not driving meant a loss of independence and privacy. I missed grabbing my keys, slamming the car door shut and going wherever I needed to go — by myself!”
Nicole had always enjoyed writing, but had been too busy to spend time doing it. “I was reunited with writing when my husband and I lived in different states,” she says. “It was my outlet for grief.”
She began a blog that she called My New Normals. “My new normal was MS and everything MS dictated,” she explains, adding that the “s” on the end is because what is normal keeps changing. Writing for her blog helped her realize that her core couldn’t be touched by MS. “Who I am internally — it doesn’t matter that I can’t walk.” Now Nicole has begun blogging at the Society’s blog, as well.
While she is physically weaker and slower than a year or two ago, “emotionally I’m stronger, more resilient and tenacious than ever. Looking forward, my new normal is uncertain. In my heart I feel it is going to get better, so I don’t get down. I think, ‘this is passing, this is passing, this is passing.’
“If I stop doing what I love, I feel MS is winning. If I get down, I feel MS is catching up. I’ve learned so many skills, and one is to use humor to get through it. As someone said to me, if you can laugh at it, it hasn’t trapped you anymore.”