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Cedar Rapids native details the story of his life before and after multiple sclerosis
Autobiography delivers caution, optimism through a new lens
Even as some of the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis set in — well before he could no longer walk — there were a lot of things Mark Brown took for granted.
For the former homeless veterans outreach specialist for Willis Dady shelter and HACAP in Cedar Rapids, walking was more than a means to get from place to place — it was his way of clearing the mind and making sense of the world.
“It was the best medicine for everything,” said Brown, who got into the habit of long walks as a dyslexic child, when it relieved him of the pressures of falling behind his peers.
In 2008, eight years after he was diagnosed, he could no longer do that. Resisting anger from bystanders questioning his sobriety as he struggled to walk became a regular occurrence.
Music was Brown’s sanctuary. That sanctuary was the first place he noticed symptoms — where a warm sensation coming down the side of his face took away his guitar hand’s coordination every few minutes.
At a glance:
Title: “Stumbling Through the Life I Took for Granted: A Diary of my Life with MS”
Author: Mark Brown
Length: 608 pages
Where to buy: Available on Amazon.com
Price: Starting at $9.99; available in Kindle or paperback
After years of playing at farmers markets in downtown Cedar Rapids, where he raised about $30,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS took that from him, too.
Now retired, he has a choice: “You can either be happy or try not to be happy.”
In choosing optimism, Brown’s autobiography serves as a cautionary tale that applies to those with disabilities and those without them: never take even the simple parts of life for granted.
The author’s first book documenting his life and journey through disability, “Stumbling Through the Life I Took for Granted: A Diary of my Life with MS,” was published July 26.
“Basically, the book is about what I took for granted — all the easy tasks that are now hard tasks,” said Brown, 61. “I took it all for granted. That’s why I titled it that.”
Through short, episodic chapters, the author narrates a journey with multiple sclerosis illustrated by his ups and downs over more than 20 years living with MS. In telling the life he had before his diagnosis and before his condition significantly worsened, he weaves his gratitude for “before” with his optimism through the little things “after.”
A lifelong Cedar Rapids resident, Brown served two tours in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1991. In 1997, he graduated from Mount Mercy University with a degree in social work. He went on to work for Abbe Center before becoming a homeless veteran outreach specialist for Willis Dady and, later, HACAP.
He retired from his summers of busking with his guitar at farmers markets in 2019, and was forced to retire from work in 2020.
“You realize, when you get disabled, the stuff you took for granted. That’s the thing I really regret — I didn’t cherish the great moments in my life,” said Brown. “With MS, it’s no fun to have fun.”
Even the things he enjoyed became too difficult to do, eventually. Despite that, he looks at what he can still enjoy.
“It’s not what I can’t do anymore, it’s what I can do. I’ve got to focus on the positives of where I’m at,” he said. “If I focus on the negatives, it drains me right down to where I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. You’ve just got to find happiness in your situation, no matter what curveball life throws at you.”
After years of trying to find his silver linings, he lists his support system as one of his greatest blessings through and through. For readers without disabilities, he hopes to instill a sense of appreciation for life.
For those with disabilities, and specifically multiple sclerosis, he hopes to instill the lessons it took him years to learn: don’t ignore your diagnosis, be proactive and start caring for yourself early.
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