We have all had those conversations with ourselves - 'what would my last thoughts be if I was on a sinking ship?’ As a non-believer, I've wondered if I would I hedge my bets and start to pray to a (wo)man above. The closest I've come to that sinking ship 'moment' was in the days and weeks around my unexpected diagnosis with MS. In those long days, I was overwhelmed with good wishes, cards and gifts from family and friends. I was given religious relics, mass cards and messages saying that I was in people's prayers. I appreciated each and everyone of these gestures, but I confess, it did nothing to draw me back to the teachings of my Roman Catholic upbringing. Rather, it reinforced my lack of faith. Would I say that I am a full blown atheist? Probably. This can be tricky living in Christian Ireland, when education, births, deaths, marriages and everything in between is immersed in religious ceremony. But I am happy enough to go along with these and actively participate at times. Am I a hypocrite? Probably.
I met someone soon after my diagnosis who asked me, 'Have you thought, why me?' My initial response to her question was to imagine myself on a Eurovision stage, having a Linda Martin moment, belting out her tune 'Why Me?’. My second thought was 'Why NOT me?’ I certainly didn't ask the God that I don't believe in, 'how could this happen to me?’ It's just the deck of cards that I've been dealt and I may get on with it. However, I know that family and friends continue to pray for me and I genuinely appreciate that. I feel if they can get comfort from their own prayers, or if their faith helps them come to terms with my diagnosis, that's good for me.
So, am I ‘faithless’? I don't think so. I have faith in my medical team in Beaumont Hospital. In a way, I feel that I have almost transferred a traditional religious belief onto them, willing them to make the best decisions around my care. In a wider context of medical research, I have faith in new developments in medical treatments and ultimately a cure for MS being found in my life time. Perhaps this is unrealistic, but that thought helps me stay optimistic about the future.
If you are religiously inclined, there is no point in praying to God to win the Lotto, unless you buy a ticket. In the same way, I have not passively handed myself over to a medical team to do all of the work. I'm working damn hard to be well, trying to strike that balance between meds, exercise, lifestyle and general well being. I try to practice mindfulness as much as I can, to appreciate the moment, to see beauty, to embrace life with both hands. I continue to be touched by gestures of human kindness. And so, I'll keep the faith.