One day I'm talking to my younger brother on the phone (who also inherited the ALS gene) and he's telling me that he's gone to seek professional counseling from a psychologist because not a week goes by that he doesn't think that he has ALS symptoms. It is hard to imagine what it is like to have this on your mind all the time and how sad it can make you feel. Of course I asked him what advice the psychologist had offered him. Her idea of a coping strategy was to have him imagine that he put the "problem" in a file folder and lock it in a file drawer and just never open it. I was disappointed and angry. This was no help at all! He told me that she started crying during their session and at least that part I could understand.
We're discussing all of this and I tell him that I've recently made all my funeral arrangements and organized everything and I proceeded to share with him some of the details. Apparently this was more upsetting to him than I was aware of because he blurted out "You shouldn't be planning your funeral! You should be planning a life!" (For a guy who was an emotional train wreck - this was pretty clear thinking.) It sounds obvious but believe me, up until then, it wasn't.
I was nearing my 46th birthday and up to that point no one in my family with the gene had lived past the age of 46 so it seemed natural that I would be preparing for my ending days. What he had just said was maybe the smartest, most loving thing anyone had said to me in a long time. I began to think intensely about his words and the more I did, the more sense they made.
I started out with some basics. I thought to myself what if by some huge miracle I made it to 50? And what if looking back from that point 4 years from now, what will I wish I had done with that precious time? Realistically, if that happened I would surely regret spending it just waiting for the end to come. I would need to chase after something MUCH bigger than the monster that was chasing after me. And it would need to be a challenge, a goal that would focus my energy and leave little time for worrying. It needed to be a serious commitment and time well spent. I wanted to be able to help myself and others who suffer the effects of knowing that they have inherited a fatal gene and I also had a burning question that I wanted to research: Is there a psychological component or trigger for the initial onset of ALS symptoms? So I decided to pursue a degree in psychology and I enrolled at Indiana University Southeast. Within just a few short months I was attending classes and my great adventure had officially begun.