When Toni got home from South Africa, she announced that she would now go by the name "Mbali," pronounced em-BALL-ee. Over the years, I had several friends who traveled to India to meet gurus and came back using new names. Another friend changed her name just because she didn't like the one her parents gave her. So we started calling Toni "Mbali" and didn't think much of it. She looked the same, but something on that trip had apparently changed her. How much so, I would find out later.
A few months later, Mbali returned the favor and fed our cats when Mark and I went to Mexico for our wedding and honeymoon. I had been working like a fiend. At my extremely demanding job as creative strategy director of an advertising agency, I made a lot of money, but the pressure was constant and the hours were long—sixty hours would be a short week for me. In the month before the wedding, while I was finishing a big new pitch, I kept noticing that my mind didn't seem to be working right. The words were in my head, but sometimes I couldn't get them out. My hands hurt and were very stiff. I would will my fingers to move over the keyboard, but they wouldn't hit the right keys. Chalking it up to stress, I managed to wind up the intense work weeks and get on the plane to Mexico. Mark and I enjoyed three amazing, relaxing weeks in Playa del Carmen, celebrating with forty of our family members and friends.
Then we flew home and our life disintegrated in a matter of weeks.
I may only have noticed those weird symptoms for a few weeks in 2006, but looking back it's now obvious to me that I had been having flare-ups of multiple sclerosis symptoms over the previous fifteen years. Sometimes my toes or fingers would go numb. Or my whole body would feel the way your foot does when it falls asleep. I'd have vomiting spells that were so bad I'd lose 20 pounds in a week. I'd be so tired that I'd need to stop three times to rest during the two-block walk to the bus stop. The doctors always told me there was nothing physiologically wrong, that it was just stress. The main prescription they gave me was to relax.