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THISability members offer each other support

Image Source: IDAOTTAWA

After Ed Lent discovered he had multiple sclerosis, he kept his diagnosis secret for as long as possible.

"I didn't want to get fired. I didn't want to lose my job. I was really scared," said Lent, a Norwalk resident and founder of THISability, a bimonthly LGBTQ-friendly support group for people with MS.

"(Telling my employers I had multiple sclerosis) was the hardest thing I had ever done," Lent said, likening the feeling of living secretly with MS to the feeling of living as a closeted gay man. "You have to admit to yourself that you're disabled. It's the psychology of, 'Oh, crap, I'm disabled.'"

"I think there's a lot of people who don't come out, in a sense," Lent told The Hour. "They feel like they're the only person in the world (living with multiple sclerosis), and I've seen how communication helps people talk about their issues."

At a recent meeting of THISability -- the group convenes the first and third Tuesdays of each month at Triangle Community Center -- Lent and six other members compared stories about the elaborate lengths they'd gone to conceal their diagnoses from bosses and loved ones.

Lent attributed partial immobility in his left foot to an old accident; Ginger Tobey, a New Orleans native, told peers she had fallen out of a tree as a child; Diana Foote, a Westport-based writer, blamed her difficulty walking on a bum hip.

"People really thought I was drunk a lot because of the way I walked," Foote said with a laugh, adding that this is a common issue for people with MS.
"I was at my daughter's nursery school, and people were looking at me because they thought I'd been drinking," said Erica Caldwell, founder of Norwalk's other MS support group, which meets first Fridays at South Norwalk Library.
Much of the conversation at THISability meetings involves this kind of experience-sharing.

"It's unbelievably good to sit with people who are going through similar things," Foote said. "We talk about everything."

Lent estimates the group has a revolving roster of about 14 members, representing a wide array of vocations.

"We have lawyers, sheet metal workers, writers," Lent said. "Disability affects all levels of life, and I think it makes us more interesting."

Apart from exchanging war stories, THISability members exchange tips -- "You have to have a shoehorn," for example, Lent said -- and, often as not, to laugh at their situation.

"You have to laugh it off sometimes," Lent said. "Because otherwise you're going to sit in a dark corner and cry," he added, laughing.

"We rearrange our priorities," Caldwell added, pointing out that due to MS, she spent more time reading to her children than she might otherwise have.

"I got to move back from Florida," where she had worked as a food critic until her diagnosis, Foote said. "I hated it!"

Lent said that the members of THISability think of themselves as "ambassadors" for people living with multiple sclerosis, especially those who have been recently diagnosed.

"We're always looking for new members," Lent said. "Right now, there are people sitting in their living rooms staring off into space because everybody left them and went to work."

"They're trying to figure out day one, and here we are living it," Lent added.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by THEHOUR
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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