In 1994, I was busy pursuing my first master’s degree, in Behavioral Medicine. I had been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, just one month before enrolling in graduate school full-time.
Several family members assumed that I would cancel my academic plans, after being diagnosed with MS. That simply didn’t reflect who I was. I forged ahead, eager to pursue my educational goals, with or without MS.
I immersed myself in learning all that I could about the types of symptoms that individuals with MS could develop. In addition to the more commonly known physical symptoms, I learned about how MS might affect my emotional well-being, as well as my cognitive abilities.
I desperately needed to feel more in control of my life, having been diagnosed with such a notoriously unpredictable disease. Learning as much as I possibly could about MS was one way for me to feel in control.
At that time, I very much wanted to complete medical school. I began, however, to question if it was actually realistic to do so. Therefore, I asked my neurologist for a referral to complete neuropsychological testing. (At this time, completion of those tests was still valid for me, since I had not yet completed several years of coursework in clinical psychology, including psychometric testing).
I completed a full, two-day battery of neuropsychological tests. All of the following areas of intellectual abilities were measured: immediate memory, delayed memory, verbal fluency, speed of information processing, verbal memory, spatial processing, abstract reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and manual dexterity.
I was totally exhausted by the time the testing was finished. I waited a week, eager to review the neuropsychological report that I stopped by my neurologist’s office to pick up. I hesitantly started to read the specialist’s interpretation of my test results.
He indicated that I certainly possessed an extremely high IQ, with above average verbal abilities. However, some of my results did not bode well for an individual interested in pursuing a medical career. More specifically, I scored below what would be expected on some measures that assess memory capacity, as well as cognitive flexibility in demanding situations.
His summary stated that I most likely would never be able to handle remembering the intense amount of detailed information presented in medical school. In addition, the rigors of completing medical school would prove much too stressful for me, exacerbating my MS symptoms.
This neuropsychologist stressed, however, that he believed that I could have a very promising career as a clinical psychologist. I don’t want to be a psychologist, I thought. I was absolutely heartbroken by reading such words.
They were an external validation of my worst fear, that MS had already begun to alter my most prized possession: my mind. I placed the neuropsychological report back in its manilla envelope, prepared to drive home. I couldn’t make it, at least not before pulling over to the side of the road, due to crying so hard.