Fifty-three-year-old Althea Damgaard knows something about writing the twists and turns of a story because she’s lived them herself. But you’d never know that by her dry wit and clever comebacks.
A Creative Soul
Growing up, all children have overreactive imaginations. Damgaard was no exception. She loved participating in whatever arts and craft activity mother had planned during their free time. At the age of seven, Damgaard wrote a crazy story about a family of cats and a bag of frog legs which wound up with live frogs jumping out of it, making illustrations to go along with her story. She continued writing her ideas in notebooks and binders from then on. They remain standing in quite a bit of cupboard space in her den.
Time for a Change
At age 33, feeling herself reeling out of control, she asked her mother for advice. During one of those late nights chats with her, she rediscovered her faith, and everything fell into place. She was dealt hard blows because of a layoff from her job and her husband filing for divorce within the first three months after turning to Jesus. These events led to a move back near family and a complete career change.
“I was at the end of my rope, and I knew I needed a drastic change [both professionally and spiritually]. Everything finally made sense, and God aligned it all like building blocks. He showed up with power that beat out any other spiritual thing that I had felt prior to accepting Jesus,” Damgaard says.
Somehow, she kept her creative soul alive in the process.
“In the mix of it all, I kept writing a variety of fiction with some non-fiction while taking classes to learn how to write better. Funny thing is, I did as much writing at work as I did on my own time since I had tons of protocols and reports to write as a quality engineer. So, I have a well-rounded knowledge of business, non-fiction, and fiction writing.”
Just after Thanksgiving in 2006, Damgaard began exhibiting strange symptoms of numbness and tingling on her left side. She was out of work for over four months, going to therapy to regain feeling; she even returned to martial arts after approval from her PT. In the end, she regained most of her range of motion but still had difficulty with her hand.
“I never got a proper diagnosis at that time,” she said.
By the end of 2010, Damgaard could not make it through a work day because her body tired out too fast. Then, after the holiday weekend giving her a long rest, she gave work one last try. She lasted four hours before going on disability permanently.
In April 2011, she received the results of all the tests she went through earlier; she had multiple sclerosis.
“It was a relief to know what was really going on and have an action plan,” she says.
Although Damgaard admits the last 20 years have been more challenging than the first 33, she says she would not trade them for anything. They have made her recognize where the true source of her strength comes from- from the Lord himself.
Lessons from MS
After living with multiple sclerosis for over 20 years, she has learned many lessons. These lessons not only pertain to having a disability but living life itself. They are as follows:
- . You are not an island. It is okay to ask for help. You will figure out who your people are.
- Disability can wind up fun if you let it. Instead of being annoyed with some things I can’t do I try to joke around about talking to my hand and it’s not listening. A sense of humor will help a lot even if some days you need to cry or scream.
- It’s okay to have a bad day as long as you hand it over to God. Sticking to the negative side of things just makes it worse.
- Taking that typing class at 15 and all that typing since has paid off. Even with a numb and tingly left hand that doesn’t feel the keys right, muscle memory for the win.
- Multiple Sclerosis is an invisible disability, at least for me. I still walk around fine, look like I do things fine, and a lot of people around me have no idea. It’s okay that they don’t know or those that do know, that they don’t understand. You figured out who your people are and they are the ones that keep you going. (See #1)