After getting diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Meredith White comes to terms with the weight of knowing what that diagnosis brings, and the uncertainties of living in a body with an incurable degenerative disease. Read her essay at The Walrus.
One night, three months later, I slid into an mri machine, a little excited, a little bored, a little anxious. My primary fear was that I had some hidden and unknown piece of metal in me that the magnets in the machine would excite out of my body in a painful discovery. The machine switched on, nothing happened, and I exhaled. Nothing hidden, nothing mysterious. I settled in and lay as still as I could for the next forty-five minutes while the mri clanged, whirred, and clicked. To give myself something to think about, I recited poetry in my head. In what may be the best example of dramatic irony I will experience in my life, a poem by William Butler Yeats came to mind: “I have drunk ale from the Country of the Young / And weep because I know all things now…”
Yeats’s speaker has gained prophetic vision through sharing in the drink of the Country of the Young—the land of the immortals, in Irish myth. The speaker is undone by this knowledge of what is, and what is not, to come. He seems paradoxically shrunken, his life condensed to one miserable fact: that he will never be with the woman he loves. Knowledge of what is to come, Yeats suggests, will not spare you from the necessity of experience.
The vision in my right eye never fully returned. With both eyes open, I don’t notice this, but if I squint or wink or cover over my left eye, I am reminded that I carry this small neurological scar and that one day I might have more. I’ve wondered, struggling through a bout of debilitating fatigue, if the fog in my brain and the weight in my limbs might never lift and if this would mean I have to give up my ambition to do, to see, to write, to accomplish anything. I try to look straight at the future, but it dissolves, in my flawed vision, into a continuing mystery with a slight possibility, now, of bad things. A life can feel so small. But there is a contingency plan, phone numbers of the clinic to call if I need to. I take a deep breath. I remind myself that Socrates was wrong: there are many things beyond myself that are worth investigating in the meantime. There are so many activities worth doing with a belief in their certainty. When I go to work. When I see my friends tonight. When I finish this essay. When, when, when.