An interview with Elissa Grossell Dickey, whose debut novel, “The Speed of Light,” (links below) comes out March 1st 2021 with Lake Union Publishing. Like the main character in her novel, Elissa has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She shares the strength she received from friends and family as she coped with the diagnosis process. She also emphasizes the importance of giving yourself grace when your body forces you to slow down and reset.
PEBBLE OF THE WEEK: Be gentle with yourself this week.
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Welcome to Episode 11 of pebbles of light. I’m grateful to be back. It was a nice break but I’ve been gathering all sorts of wonderful interviews with people that have such amazing pebbles would like to share in this first one back I get to introduce you to one of my friends has been such an inspiring and writer to me. You may have seen on Instagram that were once listed next to each other at a publication that friend, Elissa Grossell Dickey has her debut novel coming out in March. I’ll put the pre order link in the show notes.
Before we jump in, let’s review way back for our “pebble of the week” from the last episode. It was to choose one small thing that you can do to make your home more sacred. Remember that episode was the one about the crashing Christmas tree that broke the ornaments and talking about how no thing is sacred. Feel free to reach out on Instagram or Facebook and give me all of your tips about how to have a more secret home.
On to this week’s episode. Elissa is from the same small little town in northern Minnesota is Myrna Peterson from Episode Seven. We went to college together in Minnesota. We were both leaders in the peer ministry group, and we were even part of a small group that got to do study abroad in a little town on the west coast of Ireland together. One of my favorite memories of Elissa was when us little small town girls headed down to the big city of Minneapolis, to go to a Bon Jovi concert, shortly after college graduation.
About seven years ago, this was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We’ll talk a bit today about receiving the diagnosis. And we’ll also talk about how love and support of friends and family can be such a lifeline during those difficult times. We’ll also talk about how the main character and her new novel called “The Speed of Light” also as an MS diagnosis, and why that is.
Hey, Elissa, thank you so much for being here. Can you share a little bit about yourself?
Sure hi Anne, my name is Elissa Grossell Dickey. I’m originally from Minnesota, but I now live in South Dakota. I am an author and my debut novel, “The Speed of Light” comes out in March, from Lake Union publishing. I’m really excited not just that my debut novel is coming out but also the story is about a main character with multiple sclerosis, and it’s really special to me because I too live with MS.
Can you talk a little bit about receiving your diagnosis of MS and what it was like to tell your friends and family about that diagnosis?
Honestly, receiving a diagnosis of MS is a long process. By the time I was diagnosed, for the most part, my family and close friends all knew that that’s what they were suspecting, because it’s kind of a process of really and other things out. I’d say earlier, it was difficult, telling friends and family or anyone really about what I was experiencing in terms of symptoms, because it’s difficult to explain, and I didn’t know really what was happening. And it wasn’t happening all the time so it felt weird to be saying how one day I could barely walk and then the next day I’d be just fine. It really led to months of, you know, fear and uncertainty. And so it was, it was a devastating diagnosis, but getting that news and having an answer was kind of a relief of sorts after the months of uncertainty.
But since then, like telling other people about it like telling friends I haven’t seen in a while or acquaintances or coworkers, that’s awkward and difficult just because for one thing sometimes I think I’m completely fine to talk about it but then when you actually have to say the words and tell someone, it kind of brings it all up again and then I’ll start crying out of the blue and so that’s kind of awkward. But people are always so so nice, obviously, and it’s just it’s such a, you can you know sometimes I’ll know someone for quite a while and they won’t know because even though it’s such a big part of my life, it doesn’t come up in everyday conversation. And I don’t know if this, I thought I shared this just because you know this person too but a couple of years ago, when I had just started on treatment honest are for MS actually and my youngest was six and so we were all kind of adjusting to it. And a friend from college was traveling through unexpectedly, and Monica Travis I’m sure you know, wonderful person, and so it was great to see her and it was something that was good to bring up but this was, as far as like not knowing how to do it. sometimes it’s done for you when you have small children so because we’re sitting at the dinner table and my six year old out of the blue says, My mom has to do shots forever. And Monica was like, “What?” and I’m like, “Oh hey, subject change! Let’s talk about this.” But hey, that’s an icebreaker and then I was able to bring it up easily. So, so yeah, in general it’s, it can be kind of scary or keep using the word awkward but it’s not always that because you know people won’t be mean but it’s just, it changes things when you tell someone. And so it’s it’s a level of vulnerability I guess but everyone has always been so nice about it.
I like that idea of vulnerability. I have a good friend, who was diagnosed with MS as well and for her it was also kind of just weird symptoms she just kept getting double vision. Yeah, with her and it was this period of time trying to figure out what to do. How old were you when you were diagnosed?
I was 34.
I think she was a little bit younger than that and she had four young children. So, as a mom, how does that hit you because I feel like sometimes we have this idea of invincibility. As we get our older it declines anyway, but you want to be invincible as a mom. right and so how did that diagnosis, kind of come to fruition with you in that regard of how it may change your ability to mother or the way that you mother. I don’t think it would change your ability, but maybe it would just change your process of mothering. Right.
No, it has definitely, I mean from the beginning, changed it. My youngest, Ernie was one at the time, and he was in the, like a one and a half where he was in that toddler phase of, you know, he was running he was everywhere mobile, and so it was I distinctly remember those first few weeks of my symptoms when I would unexpectedly, not really be able to walk and not knowing what was wrong and thinking, how am I going you know No, no mother I guess or no parent wants to think of, can I take care of my kids you know so it was a definitely a scary, scary situation in that respect, but over time as we’ve all kind of adjusted together I mean honestly my stepdaughter remembers before I had it, my older son was six at the time and he honestly doesn’t really remember me not having it so feel like my younger two have kind of grown up now knowing that I have it and to varying degrees of understanding, and so it’s it’s hard like, especially this year I’ve been thinking a lot recently about being the sick mom, because I know that was especially with a pandemic, and my underlying condition. We’ve been more cautious than a lot of families. And so, you know, it’s, they miss out on, they’re missing out on things and it’s hard not to think, oh they’re missing out on it because of me. But I think we’ve all grown more empathetic, and that’s something that I’ve noticed my older son is a caretaker he’s much like his dad that way. And so, I see his empathy, has just grown exponentially, because a helper he asks how I’m feeling and that sort of thing and even my little guy he, you know, sometimes it’s like I’m sure you know mom needs to take a nap again and he’s like what you know. But at the same time I distinctly remember where I was having kind of a tough day and needed to lay down and he was about four and he came and sat by me and said, okay, mom. I’ll just bring you whatever you need and it was so sweet and I just, you know, it’s kind of one of those the kids will be all right situations where this is an ideal and it’s not what a lot of families go through, but we’re doing the best we can, and it’s better I’ve learned that it’s better to listen to my body and rest when I need to. And even if it means okay they’re going to have a little bit extra screen time or okay we have to put off going outside or playing that game because I need to rest, it’s better in the end for everyone because then they get a mom who is rested and ready and energetic to play and to do activities together,
That makes sense to the importance of prioritizing self care for you, so that you’re able to be there for your kids in those times that you need to but yeah when you were talking about them kind of stepping up and being helpers for you It reminded me of an interview I did not too long ago with Myrna Peterson, which is interesting because the two of you are from the same itty bitty town in northern Minnesota. But Myrna talked about that as well, in how her becoming a quadriplegic helped her children see the world differently, and be more compassionate, and have a desire to help and serve people who are differently abled, and I think that sometimes that’s one of those underlying blessings of the trials that we go through is it helps those around us be more compassionate and more have a better perspective on things I guess would be a way to say it. Yeah.
Yes Myrna is amazing, and their whole family is wonderful and, and I miss being up in Minnesota and the river and everything. But, but yes definitely that that has crossed my mind that you know, I think it has changed perspectives and, you know, I certainly try and I know that my family does two tries to think of what other people might be going through especially because with Ms. You don’t always see it it’s not there on the surface, it’s kind of an invisible illness sometimes, so just trying to always step back and think about what other people might be going through that is not there on the surface that you could see. Yeah,
whether that’s physical or mental health. I think that’s, that’s an important perspective on that. How have your other friendships, and your husband and how is that support system helped you to navigate these changes,
you know I’ve thought about that and it’s, it’s been everything, and I know that sounds dramatic but friendship and family and my husband. I mean, it has really made all the difference. It’s just as hard to put into words or like name specific times when when they’ve when it’s made a difference because it’s just, even though we’re far apart, or my family and friends. It’s like they’re always with me they’re just always there. I remember the day I was diagnosed my best friend sent flowers to my hotel room in Rochester, and then since then, my friends and sisters, visited they called they’ve sent care packages and it’s, I don’t know, throughout life, this is something that it’s amazing how sometimes a card always seems to show up like a card of support, it will come in the mail exactly when you need it. And that’s how I have found like phone calls from friends, or letter from my sister like it’s lifted me when I’ve needed it even though we’re not together. And also it reminds me that one of my sisters texted me every day. The morning after I take my injection because she knew early on that, because I do it three times a week, and so it should do early on that I had trouble, like side effects when I first started and so now every day she sends me a text as how I’m feeling like the three times a week that I’ve taken it and it’s just those little acts of love or just everything that is so sweet. Yes, it’s amazing and I feel like just having that gift of knowing that my family and friends are going to be there like no matter what it happ ens in life is amazing and it is certainly made all the difference for me as I’ve navigated this illness.
Elissa and I did study abroad in Ireland together. Were you’re like, “I’m gonna set the book in Ireland, so I have a reason to go there.”?
Just to clarify my debut is not set in Ireland. I have a few stories I’m working on now. One of them is set in Ireland. So certainly, I’m definitely going to need to keep making trips back there in order to, you know, do some research.
How long ago was it with friends in order to do some pictures and your author pictures?
It was the beginning of this year, if you can believe it.
What? This year (2020) has lasted a decade!
I can’t believe we were able to go because it was seriously right, as we were getting back everything was shutting down. Flying there, no problems, and we were there, 10, or actually I think we’re there like eight days or something. On the way back, is when they started they were like asking questions and checking and stuff so I can’t believe that we were able to go and honestly the word that I keep thinking of is surreal because we went back and we mean it was much shorter trip so we didn’t recreate everything but I mean we went back to Louisburgh where we stayed for study abroad trip and standing on that beach where we used to go. It was just surreal, and amazing, I mean those are the two words that I would use to describe it.
So how do those times, those particular moments of just taking time away to spend time with friends and focus on – I don’t know if I want to say life before MS – but just to kind of remember those times, how has that helped give you strength and empowerment to keep moving forward when things are difficult?
That’s a really good question because I think it’s a little of both because definitely been on a trip with my friends. Yes, it makes it reminds you of those young carefree times, and so it did remind me of life before, but on the other hand, it was a lot different this time because I’m 20 years older and I deal with fatigue and I hadn’t traveled in a long time and I had certainly hadn’t traveled since having to bring injections and I was like, how do I pack these what I do. And so it was definitely a lesson learned that it was, it was amazing and, and surreal as I keep using those words but I wanted to do it all and, yet, I kind of realized, you know, next time I travel which hopefully at some point we’ll get to travel again, that I need to factor in time to rest and I need to not, you know, not not think I’m back to being 20 years. But, just listen to my body and do what I can and not, you know, kind of not give up obviously but just listen to my body, and it’s okay to rest and to not do all the things and we certainly I mean obviously we didn’t climb Mount Crough Patrick again. But it’s just such an active trip when I’m not used to it,
It was a little bit of reality check?
Yes. Yeah, but then you know I tried. It was hard I mean because thinking about like, “Oh wow, I used to be able to do this!” But then it was like well, now I I’ve learned my lesson, and that’s what you do is you learn your lesson and you move forward and you decide “Next time, I’ll be better at listening to my body.” Just like when I’m with my kids and if I have to take a nap, then I’ll be better this evening when we’re doing this, if I have to miss out on this activity, then I’ll be better. I’ll be more energetic when I’m doing this next thing.
As far as your novel, can you tell us a little bit about the storyline and then also how sharing your story through that has helped you process the diagnosis. Yes, absolutely.
It’s book club fiction, and it is about a woman and it’s it’s a dual timeline so it covers a year in the life of a tumultuous year is the wording that they use in the life of woman who is grappling with an MS diagnosis, and also a new love, and a terrifying workplace incidents so not to give anything away.
You start with the present timeline and this scary thing happens and then it kind of like flashes back and forth throughout the past year, when she was diagnosed and just falling in love, and then kind of going through all that and then having the timelines meet up. And so, the hope is it’s super page turning and exciting so that you’ll keep going back and forth between the timelines but.
The main character has multiple sclerosis, and it was extremely therapeutic to write this and honestly if I, if I’m honest I basically wrote the story for myself I wrote it because I it was what I needed when I was diagnosed. It helped me process some of the fears and doubts and just kind of all of the emotions I have about living with MS and the symptoms and the uncertainty and the starting medication and just all of that.
Like I told my husband I wrote it for myself but now that it’s going to be shared with the world I am hoping that you know the fact that I was able to put someone in the story like me who lives with a chronic illness and have them be the main character of their own story and and you know, pursuing their happily ever after. That’s, that’s what I want readers to take away is that people with chronic illness and disability deserves to be the heroes of their own story and deserve their happily ever afters.
So it’s kind of like how it’s at TV show homeland, the lead character has bipolar, I think, and she’s like a CIA agent, and they just wanted to try and not normalize but help people that became aware.
Right, exactly where it’s, you know, don’t stigmatize it, you know, stories of them, of us living our lives, basically, and have it be normal.
Exactly. The other day you shared a post and you said, seven years ago today I was sitting in an exam room, receiving a diagnosis that would change my life. To be honest, it felt like a huge relief to have an answer after months of uncertainty, but the answer was multiple sclerosis, I was scared for the future. I thought my dreams were over, I missed my chance, but I soon realized that was wrong. The time was now, so with encouragement from family and friends I finally decided to pursue my dream of becoming an author, three months from now my debut novel comes out. This is in itself wonderful, and the fact that the story is about a woman who’s dealing with an MS diagnosis, only makes it that much more amazing. I’m honored and grateful to be able to share this story with the world to anyone going through this scary uncertain time, I just want to say that I see you, and I understand. I also want to say that it is not too late. Please don’t give up on your dreams, keep going, no matter what. And I feel like that ties in with kind of what you just said. In what ways do you think that sharing your story will help you be able to uplift others I know you’ve had a few copies of your book floating around already. Have you heard any stories from those experiences?
not yet I haven’t heard of people sharing my illness necessarily reading it, but yes that I definitely you know getting that diagnosis and having that be like, kind of no day but today mentality that that’s why I decided to do this, and I hope that is something that whether it’s writing or whether it’s another dream that it just does help people realize that just start now it’s not too late. And I do want to add a caveat because I can get edited on Twitter that they never give up mentality, with the caveat of let your body rest and obviously I’m still learning this but you know don’t push yourself to do something that is going to be detrimental to your health, but there’s no timeline, but it’s never too late, let your body rest, come back and do your best.
Prior to the diagnosis, what do you think was holding you back from writing the book.
It was the. There’s always time later. Well I mean it was it was nice. It was a full time job, and it’s the same old story so to speak. Same thing everybody goes through because it’s it’s tough. If so many, so many things that we have going on in our lives, but it was finally realizing yes that someday is today, where I always thought it was something I’ll do in the future and, you know, this was forcing me to think about, well, today is the day to start, and if I want to do it, I’ll do it now. And so, obviously, there aren’t didn’t magically become more hours in the day. So it was a matter of having it become a part of my normal routine until it felt normal and then, and then writing was something I did, and that was I think the entire thing where writing a book is something other people do or it’s this huge thing and how you know I’ll do it later I’ll figure out how to do it but honestly it’s just sitting down and writing for a few minutes for for a few hours, a few times a week every day like whenever you can until it becomes part of your normal routine, and then suddenly,
you have a look. Theoretically, I would think that after that diagnosis, you would be more busy, it would be harder to juggle all the things do you know what I mean, but just a matter of prioritization Right. Right. And just all of a sudden there’s just kind of this extra layer of mental fatigue Makino.
Oh definitely yes, and that’s where I think it was kind of a dual benefit then because it was also very therapeutic, to be able to write. I mean just writing in general is relaxing it’s, it helps you know get stressors out you put it down on the page. So it was the benefit of having that mentality of today’s the day I need to start now, and also having it be something that, you know, kind of an escape from the scary uncertainties, I could just dive into a story.
So how did you decide the plotline for your character and where it was very similar in light in regards to Ms. How did you decide the plotline, to have it be similar or different from your own personal experience.
I would say it was like internal and external like the internal what she’s going through was very much my own, but externally like kind of the things that happen, are, are not that you know that that’s the fiction part is the things that are going on around her, and I don’t want to get I don’t want to give too much away.
So where can people find out more about you and about the speed of light.
They can visit my website, which is https://elissaadickey.wordpress.com/, or find me on Facebook at Elissa Grossell Dickey, and then Instagram, Twitter. “The Speed of Light” – you can search for on Goodreads to add it, or on Amazon. You can preorder, you can add it to your to be read list on Goodreads, you can order it for your local library. Any and all of those things are wonderful.
Awesome, and it officially comes out is it March?
Yes, March 1 from Lake Union publishing.
Last question. The purpose of pebbles of light is to celebrate those relationships have helped to brighten our path, and in turn help us brighten the path of others. So can you share about one or two people who have placed a pebble of light in your path.
I think I’ll use that example of my sister if that’s okay because when it’s her birthday today. It probably is no big deal to her that she texted me. It’s definitely a pebble of light knowing that someone is thinking about me and wishing me well, and is with me, and that I’m not alone. It’s amazing. Most days I’m fine and life is busy that it’s there and sometimes it affects me more than I even realized and so it’s it’s nice just to have that support from afar is one way.
I can think of a second one. No wait, my husband doesn’t like to get very much credit. He does not like to be on social media is very much just a behind the scenes person but he has been my partner through life, and I mean from. I think I shared this in an earlier blog post, but when I went to, to get my diagnosis, he drove us to Rochester during a blizzard on his birthday. Just because we needed answers and he’s my rock. He is everything without his support. I don’t know where I would be. He has supported my dreams in my career and and that’s something too is that it’s easy for me to say, just do it go after your dream but you know I’m lucky that because a lot of those nights that I’m right, that I was writing. He was cleaning, he was doing the laundry he was cooking. You know, so having a supportive partner, as someone with living with a chronic illness and as someone following the dream as an author is amazing, and I just, I appreciate him so much.
And thank you so much for being here. It’s been so wonderful to talk to you. Thank you again for being here.
Thanks so much and this is wonderful and I love your podcast and I appreciate this opportunity so much.
I hope you’ve loved this episode with you this. I have the chance to read an advanced copy of her new book the speed of light. I really appreciate how it talked about how the main character process her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. And I think it provides excellent insight into how we can help and support our friends and family in similar situations. One thing investor said in this interview was they need to be flexible in what you can do from day to day. My experience with this is much less intense than someone living with a chronic illness, but even for me. That is a difficult thing to do to step back and recognize when I need a break. So the pebble for this week is to be gentle with yourself. I love the Create your day meditation from Brook Snow. I use it multiple times a week. Near the end of the meditation Brooke says, I allow every moment to unfold as it will this day, even if it is different from my intention that phrase helps me to be gentle with myself and to be forgiving of myself. So try to do that this week as you go throughout your week. Check the show notes for links to the book, more about Alyssa as well as the secret day shop that the boys mentioned. Keep looking for those bright spots on your path, and I’ll see you next week. Thank you for tuning in today.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai