Arnetta Hollis is a spirited Texan with a warm smile and engaging personality. In 2016, she was 31 years old and enjoying life as a newlywed. Less than two months later, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Arnetta’s reaction to the news was not quite what you’d expect. “One of my most difficult and greatest moments in life is being diagnosed with MS,” she recalls. “I feel that I was blessed with this disease for a reason. God didn’t give me lupus or another autoimmune disease. He gave me multiple sclerosis. As a result, I feel that it’s my life purpose to fight for my strength and multiple sclerosis.”
Healthline sat down with Arnetta to talk about the diagnosis that changed her life, and how she found hope and support in the months immediately after.
How did you receive an MS diagnosis?
I was living a normal life when one day I woke up and fell. For the next three days, I had lost the ability to walk, type, use my hands properly, and even feel temperatures and sensations.
The most amazing part of this scary journey was that I met a great doctor who looked at me and told me that she felt that I had MS. Although this was scary, she assured me that she would provide me with the best treatment possible. From that moment on, I was never scared. I actually embraced this diagnosis as my sign to live an even more fulfilled life.
Where did you turn for support in those first days and weeks?
In the early stages of my diagnosis, my family collectively joined forces to assure me that they’d help take care of me. I was also surrounded by the love and support of my husband, who worked tirelessly to make sure I received the best treatment and care available.
From a medical standpoint, my neurologist and therapy team were very dedicated in caring for me and providing me with hands-on experiences that helped me overcome a lot of the symptoms I was facing.
What drove you to start looking for advice and support from online communities?
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I was in ICU for six days and in inpatient rehabilitation for three weeks. During this time, I had nothing but time on my hands. I knew that I was not the only person faced with this disease, so I started searching for online support. I looked at Facebook first because of the diverse groups that are available on Facebook. This is where I’ve gained the most support and information.
What did you find in these online communities that helped you most?
My MS peers supported me in ways that my family and friends couldn’t. It’s not that my family and friends weren’t willing to support me more, it’s simply the fact that — because they are emotionally invested — they were processing this diagnosis just as I was.
My MS peers live and/or work with this disease daily, so they know the good, bad, and ugly, and were able to support me in that respect.
Did the level of openness of people in these communities surprise you?
People in online communities are pretty open. Every subject is discussed–financial planning, traveling, and how to live a great life in general—and a lot of people join in on the discussions. It did surprise me at first, but the more symptoms I face, the more I rely on these great communities.
Is there a particular individual you’ve met in one of these communities who inspires you?
Jenn is a person I met on MS Buddy, and her history inspires me to never give up. She has MS, along with a few other debilitating diseases. Although she has these diseases, she’s managed to raise her own siblings and now her own children.
The government has denied her disability benefits because she doesn’t meet the work credit minimum, but even with that, she works when she can and she’s still fighting. She’s simply an amazing woman and I admire her strength and perseverance.
Why is it important to you to be able to directly connect with other people who have MS?
Because they understand. Simply put, they get it. When I explain my symptoms or feelings with my family and friends, it’s like talking to a board because they don’t understand what it’s like. Speaking with those who have MS is like being in an open room with all eyes, ears, and attention on the subject at hand: MS.
What would you say to someone recently diagnosed with MS?
My favorite piece of advice for someone who is newly diagnosed is this: Bury your old life. Have a funeral and grieving time for your old life. Then, stand up. Embrace and love the new life you have. If you embrace your new life, you’ll find strength and endurance you never knew you had.
Some 2.5 million people are living with MS worldwide, and 200 more people are diagnosed with the condition every week in the U.S. alone. For many of these people, online communities are an essential source of support and advice that is lived-in, personal, and real. Do you have MS? Check out our Living with MS community on Facebook and connect with these top MS bloggers!