Keely Cervantes

Like a Goldfish

Having Multiple Sclerosis is a lot like being a goldfish. Let me explain. Have you heard the saying that “goldfish are known to have three seconds of memory?” Can you imagine? Three seconds. However, in truth, their memory can last up to five months. One might say that is not terrible considering the lifespan of a fish. But to a living creature, the experience can be a dizzying cycle of forgetting and relearning. Whether it is 3 seconds or five months, the outcome is still the same. Now imagine living as a human with no recollection of the past. In the end, a short memory is a short memory is a short memory.

If I could express to you what my life with MS has been like in the last few years, I would. However, to do so requires remembering a me that lays forever hidden in a labyrinth of damaged myelin sheaths and clumped-up lesions. Distorted and hazy, I can never tell what is real and what is not. The life that lay before me arrives jumbled to meet the swirling vastness inside my mind. Days go by at such a speed I barely have the chance to retain them before they turn into oblivion. I often listen to my family as they bond over times of joy and comedy, retelling events where I might have made them happy or done something wildly outlandish. Yet, the wildest thing of them all is that these memories sound like another person. As if some being had chosen my body for the taking to live a life that was once mine. One can spend their life recording it, but if those “memories” sit as forgotten moments on a page, are they really yours? My memory may be longer than five months, yet it sure as hell does not feel like it.

Like a goldfish living in a glass bowl, the world around you is warped to a monstrous size that your mind can barely comprehend. You cannot hide, and you cannot swim away. In the end, you are forced to stare back at the hideous creatures before you and hope that you can stay adrift in this unknown space, that you might be able to control the waters around you. This “control” however—the power that you think you have—does not exist. Nevertheless, one day you wake up to find yourself in a place you have never seen before. The faces you have come to bear once again, leaving you confused and fresh-minded. Knowing this, would you continue swimming?

Like a goldfish, I also become accustomed to the torments of daily living in a sea of unknowing; my symptoms like sharks come to attack with complete disregard. Regularity is scarce in the face of MS; as pieces and parts of me shift in an endless attempt at finding wellbeing. In any case, a constant state of stability forms out of the deep darkness, and I learn to take it in stride. Each moment stands as a hurdle; day three comes with pain, day fifty-nine arrives with a torrent of anxiety and “what-ifs,” day one-hundred-and-four chooses this time to rinse and repeat. And that is okay; because it has to be. I float through the good and the bad, and a pleasant middle-space forms sluggishly out of the chaos.

Like a goldfish, I sometimes cannot recall how existing might have felt when I did have consistency. Was life good? Or did I deceive myself into believing it was? Nevertheless, there is no reason to dwell on the past, for the present still stands before me in full bloom. Thus, ever so, so slowly, I set forth to rebuild what becomes broken. Relearn what may be lost. For, I must create a new constant state to survive against the waves that crash into me. For the eyes that peer down at me, mystified by my disability. My failure to conform to what is “normal.” Experiencing the world is as unique to one as it is to another, and having a disability is just a part of that reality.

Having Multiple Sclerosis is a lot like being a goldfish. And maybe one day, I will finally be on the other end of that glass bowl. Until then, I swim on, for today’s tomorrow will not live itself.

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About the Author

Keely Cervantes recently graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. Keely currently works as an online tutor and hopes to continue their pursuits as a writer. When not writing, Keely likes to spend time reading fantasy and science fiction novels.