Sometimes Shannon Gunn said she laughs to keep from crying. She was referring to the life-changing diagnosis of having multiple sclerosis she received a few years ago.
"Some days I just feel like a zombie," she said. For Gunn, the diagnosis came after years of headaches, lesions and a "whole slew of tests" that turned up nothing conclusive as to why she felt so bad.
It was a life-altering experience. Gunn went from an active life that had seen her participate in beauty pageants, being a wife and an active career in the accounting field often working 12-to-16 hours a day to one of chronic fatigue, pain and depression.
"It changed my life drastically," she said. She had to quit work and went through a divorce.
Gunn said both of those traumatic life changes are all too common for people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"I worked for 20 years in accounting, but it got to the point where I was unable to do my job," she said. A combination of chronic fatigue, memory loss and other factors caused her life to be shaken at its core.
"I knew something was wrong, but they could not figure out what it was," Gunn said. "It was extremely difficult — with the stress that came with the symptoms but not knowing what was going on."
After her divorce, Gunn moved from her career and former spouse in West Texas back to the Longview area where she had family and support. Soon after arriving, she heard about a multiple sclerosis support group headed up by Dorinda Harper and started going to meetings.
"I fell in love with them," Gunn said. "Our own families love us and support us deeply, but they don't understand. That's why this support group has been such a blessing."
Gunn said the fatigue itself can be debilitating.
"Sometimes our family and friends think we're just lazy," she said. "That can be depressing — just because they don't understand what you're going through.
In her own case, the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was elusive for 10 years. Those were years that saw a seemingly endless line of visits to neurologists, having MRI scans, injections and other treatments and doctor visits.
With support from family, the support group, Community Healthcore and others, Gunn said her life is settling down to as much normalcy as she can expect without a cure on the horizon.
She has her own place to live and plans to either go back to school at Kilgore College or try to find a job — preferably in the medical field.
Gunn said she had been in a drug research study for about two years. She plans to continue with a new 12-month medical study with the hope the pills will slow the progression of her multiple sclerosis.
In the meantime, Gunn said she is thankful for the backing she gets from the Longview Area MS Self-Help Group and leader Dorinda Harper.
"They've been so wonderful. They really took me in," Gunn said. "It's so cool to have others who can relate to what I'm going through."
Gunn said she hopes her participation in the group and in helping organize the March 20 We Can Cope Conference helps others. For herself, Gunn said she does what she can and tries to keep a positive outlook.
"What else can you do? You have to laugh when you can," she said. "I have a quirky sense of humor and do what I can when I can — you have to continue to live life."