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The Post-Diagnosis Happiness Manifesto

Just under a week ago, my partner Ken was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. With his diagnosis came a brand new to-do list: tell family and friends. Contact work to talk about options. Make appointments with a specialist. Look into treatment.

For me, the diagnosis also came with a new list of daily tasks. Until Ken’s relapse is over, I am by his side to help with the little things that he used to do so easily. My list includes: Tie shoes. Open pill bottles. Help shave. Cut food.

These new tasks are a challenge and an adjustment. But worse than all the items added to our to do lists, are the ones the diagnosis seems to take away. Our travel dreams are on hold. His plans for work are being adjusted. So are my hopes for graduate school. Who knows now where we will live, and what this means for our life together?

For days, I walked around slightly dazed, mourning our sense of normalcy and the future we thought we had.

And then, last night, I got an email. My godmother reached out to me to offer me comfort and guidance. At the bottom of her message, she gave me another list. But this one was different. It was balm for the soul.

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A Good Year to Be Fearless

It started on New Year’s Eve, with a tingling in his hands. Over a few days, the tingles evolved into numbness, and spread to his legs and torso. He had trouble picking things up, and dropped his DSLR camera in a department store. Ken, my boyfriend and partner of almost four years, was experiencing the small and slow rebellion of his own body.

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Life, Love

Big Scary Future

When I was five, I wanted to be a “circus girl.” I don’t know what that entails (I imagine the trapeze), but that’s what I told my parents. A circus girl.

At thirteen, I wanted to be a therapist. At sixteen, a lawyer (ha). By eighteen, I had no idea what I wanted to do for work, but I knew that I wanted to study Religion. So that’s what I did, and three years later, here I am, writing from an Oxford theology library. I’m one year and a few weeks away from my college graduation, after which I am told I will enter “the real world.” (Apparently, everything up until now was just practice.) And here’s the catch: I still have no idea what I’m doing.


Like any fretful, over-organized college student, I’ve thought of a hundred possibilities. I’ve considered grad school, seminary, social work, and even trying to find a job with just a Bachelor’s degree in Religion (HA). I’ve looked at Oxford, Harvard, and Yale, wondering if delaying the “real world” is the best way to handle this crisis. I’ve searched for internships and volunteer opportunities in my hometown and across the world. I’ve thought about taking a gap year again. And while this laundry list of options reassured me at eighteen, now that the time is actually nearing to get my act together and make a choice, I am totally terrified.

Growing up is difficult. I’m sure it was difficult for my grandparents in the fifties, for my parents in the eighties, and for me today. And I know that one day, I will look back at this time and think, “calm down. It’ll all work out,” just like I think about my gap year now. But being in the thick of it, I just feel confused and overwhelmed.

I shared these concerns with Ken, the one who calms me down when I get panicked about one thing or another.

Big Scary Future - Sara LaughedKen in Den Haag, with a massive case of what we call “bird hair.”

“I just have no idea what I’m doing,” I said.

“Neither do I,” he said. “Neither do any of us. Look at that guy over there.” He pointed to an old man crossing the street behind a woman. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s just following his wife.”

“Does she know what she’s doing?” I asked.

“Probably not. We’re all just doing out best, and taking it one day at a time.”

At the time, his words fell on deaf ears; but now, a few weeks later, I’ve let them sink in. I may not know what I’m doing. I may feel totally lost, stumbling forward in the dark with little to guide me. But I’ve still got some time to work it out.

For now, I’m just going to take it one step at a time, and have faith that somewhere down the road, all those timid single steps will look like something. Maybe, in the end, a walk in the park. Maybe a meandering way to get from A to B. Maybe a pilgrimage to somewhere I’d never imagined.

I don’t know. But at the very least, I’m sure it will be a beautiful journey.

Big Scary Future - Sara Laughed

Love, Sara Laughed

Faith, Love

Unequally Yoked

This weekend, I was lucky enough to fly to the Netherlands for two and a half days to see my lovely boyfriend Ken for Valentine’s day.

Ken and I have been dating for almost three years. When I found out I was accepted to Oxford, one of my first thoughts was how much easier it would be to see each other (the English Channel is much smaller than the Atlantic Ocean, after all). But, although we’ve made the trek a little more often, we still spend months and months apart. As such, I was so incredibly excited to come see him, even if it was for only a few days.

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The Love I Miss

I get a few responses when I tell people I’m in a long-distance relationship. My favorite is, “Oh, that sucks.” (Thanks!)

DSC_9211-2My favorite picture of us. Old men have a tendency to interrupt our best pics.

In some ways, it does. It’s difficult to maintain love and intimacy when there’s an ocean between you. But it’s good in other ways. It allows me to live my college life without too much influence from a boyfriend. I get to participate in activities, hang out with my friends, and generally live my life like a single girl (minus the dating around) during the school year. And then, when I’m on break, I get to dedicate my whole heart to the person I love.

DSC_9675From our vacation in Rome.

Or, that’s how it was. Now that we’re a little older, my boyfriend Ken has a job and I’m closer to graduating, which means summer work and internships for me. It’s harder to make time to Skype – because of his work schedule, because of the things I’m up to at Oxford, and because when you’ve been dating for three years (as we have), the desire to talk constantly tends to fade.

But as things get harder, we also get closer to being together again. For years, I’ve been planning on moving to the Netherlands after I graduate. If that does happen, it would mean that we could live together and actually experience life in a normal relationship – only four years late.

And a part of me is scared of that. How will we adjust to normal domestic life? How will I handle that in addition to moving to another country, having to make new friends, and leaving my family behind? Can I handle it?

DSC_8407My early attempts at Dutch domesticity.

When Ken and I are apart, I wonder. But when we see each other again, I remember why I made these choices. Because love isn’t about trips to Paris and Rome. It’s about understanding each other – and Ken understands me better than almost anyone.  It’s about accepting each other, flaws and all – and he loves me even when I am messy, or jealous, or bitter. Even when I’m so sad that all I want to do is lie in bed and eat chocolate-caramel digestive cookies (which happened yesterday. Sigh).

Sometimes I wonder how he can love me like that, when I can find so many flaws in myself. But that kind of love is the reason we’re still together, three years after the first time we held hands. It’s how you have to love someone to make this kind of relationship work. It’s an honor to be loved that way, and it’s a privilege to get to love someone the same way back.

And no matter how hard it is sometimes, that love is so, so worth it.