Life with MS

To Beat MS, Embrace Your Inner McMurphy

By Angelina Leary

In Ken Kessey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the movie adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, Randle Patrick McMurphy becomes a savior for the inmates of an insane asylum in Oregon. He built up a sense of self-fulfillment against societal norms and inspired the patients of the ward to live their own lives, not the lives set up by expectations (symbolized by the passive-aggressive Nurse Ratched). There is one specific moment, in the novel and the movie, when McMurphy discovers many of the patients admit themselves into the asylum, even though they hate the setting. A shocked McMurphy replies: “What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin’? Well you’re not! You're not! You’re no crazier than the average a**hole out walkin' around on the streets and that's it.” This was the turning point of the novel. The patients eventually think of the label of being “insane” as sort of a power – an instrument to change the world, all out of societal perceptions. Having an illness is a power if one so chooses to use it that way.

I believe having multiple sclerosis is the same concept. I was diagnosed the Sunday before my senior year of high school. I’m not going to lie, I felt as if I checked myself into the self-pity of that same Oregon ward. I felt the societal (false) belief that my life would be controlled in the same fashion Nurse Ratched controls her patients – and I had no say. I felt as if my own body placed me into this imprisonment.

A side of me, a side like R.P. McMurphy, did not stand for this concept that multiple sclerosis will control my life. It was my senior year of high school, and I wanted to experience everything that went along with being a senior.

My high school, Western High School, hosts an annual mock-beauty pageant, called Mr. Western, in order to raise funds for prom. Twenty-four seniors are selected to be Mr. Western contestants and escorts. Before spring break, I developed my McMurphy confidence and decided to audition to be an escort in Mr. Western, a position I understood includes everyday afterschool rehearsals for two to three hours, dancing, and other physical activities. I was honored to be selected as an escort, but I understood the difficulties my newly-diagnosed multiple sclerosis may create. It was a struggle, but I am very proud to say I went to every rehearsal and performed my best, a feat with multiple sclerosis.

The night of Mr. Western finally came. It was sold out with more than 700 people in attendance. The mock beauty pageant included swimwear, casual wear, formal wear, and talent portions. Some of the acts included: Rocky Horror Picture Show, synchronized swimming (with a blue mat), the YES dance, and many other ridiculous performances and showcases.

While getting ready for the next section, I remember someone yelling for me to get on the stage, where my senior class officers were already there, introducing themselves. I remember getting tears in my eyes when they explained what multiple sclerosis was. I cried more tears of joy when I got on stage and saw a check for $2,000 dollars as a donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. It was an incredible deed, my peers giving back to the community. I felt humbled and grateful. And in that moment, I realized what multiple sclerosis truly is: something I must live with, but will never be controlled by. Multiple sclerosis is my personal Nurse Ratched. I will overcome it.

While this is a personal win against multiple sclerosis, I must thank everyone who made it possible: Lorianne Turcotte, Steven Triana, and Daniel Bonnett for putting the show together and creating the ability to have my peers donate to the MSF; Western High School’s Senior Class Officers for keeping the hype up and allowing me to defeat my disease; everyone else included in Mr. Western for being able the raise the funds for prom, and the MSF for providing quality of life tools for MS patients. Thank you all.

At the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle Patrick McMurphy’s impression of free will and loving one’s life allowed the patients of the ward to free themselves; they were able to live the life they wished. I believe everyone has their own personal Nurse Ratched, one must allow their McMurphy side to take over and not be submissive to life’s obstacles. Mr. Western is just one battle won against Nurse Ratched. Many more battles will be won and I will live the life I wish.