Thanks for Asking

Private Journal of Josiah E. Bartlet

I knew my secret had to break sometime. I was hoping for the best but that rarely works out especially when the secret is as monumental as mine. Obviously Abbey and the girls have known since the beginning. Leo found out after I collapsed before the last State of the Union. I've been undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis for eight years now. I've read enough about my disease to know that professionals in the field often encourage us not to broadcast we have MS. People don't know what it is. It's hard to understand how it works. Then Toby goes and figures out I might not be running for a second term and Leo insists it's time the staff knows the truth. And so it began, damn it.

Everything about this disease is crazy. No one knows how or why a person gets it. No one knows what the symptoms are going to be. Symptoms change from episode to episode. All the experts say for certain is that a person will have it the rest of their lives but even that's not true. I met a woman diagnosed when she was 35. She had three episodes within seven months. She fully recovered from all three. Now she's 68 and hasn't had an episode in over 30 years! What the hell is that?

Many of us with MS lose our vision (I think I'll be losing mine), lose our ability to walk, to talk, to think. That's the one that scares the shit out of me. My sole value on earth is my mind. I didn't ask for this IQ. It's a genetic mutation. Nothing more. Now it's the sole reason I exist. Losing my mind to MS-related dementia scares me. This whole disease shakes me more than people think and that includes Abbey.

How many times has she admonished me for not taking care of myself and I play the dumb husband telling her I understand while pretending I don't. Trouble is, I really do understand. See, if you stub your toe, it's a momentary idiocy that you forget as soon as the twinge goes away. I stub mine and a few seconds of panic run through my head. I'm screaming, "Oh God no! It's secondary progressive!" Fortunately those screams are in my head and as yet have never come to fruition. However, one day I know my relapsing-remitting MS will drift into secondary progressive MS and that's when the clock starts ticking down my lucid days.

Today, I'm doing okay. I haven't had a severe episode since the one before the State of the Union last year. I should go back and read my entry for that near disaster. Seems like I always start these entries with tangents but I'm not all that interested in dealing with Toby. I'm incredibly angry with him. I like him. I admire him but he's got to come down from the mount and stop with the sermons. He's not the only person who knows right from wrong. Hell, it's my life and my disease. Yeah, his compassion is astoundingly dispassionate. He'd be the first one I'd talk to about my nightmares right after I fund the project to make pigs fly. If Sam read this, he'd have a stroke. I'm weaving back and forth. Nothing is connecting. Actually, it's because I'm fucking mad. I got to back up and organize.

I knew the truth about my health would break eventually. People are too curious and too interested in finding ammunition to use against me. That's not paranoia. It's reality. Like it or not, the President of the United States, whoever he or she is, has become a celebrity. To be honest, I like parts of that. Abbey says I have a huge ego and she's right. People have to stand up when I enter a room and are not be able to sit until I tell them to. That is pure ego. Here's the problem - if you accept the power trip, then you have to accept the scrutiny that goes with it. People have to call me Mr. President, have to open doors for me. I don't drive myself anywhere. I don't carry money or keys. I don't pack let alone carry a suitcase. I didn't grow up like this. I grew up being useless and purposeless. Who lives like this? Don't ask stupid questions, Jed. You won't like the answers. Oh, well.

Toby didn't bother to ask me if I was feeling well. To him, the situation mattered but I didn't. I have spent too much of my life not mattering to people. I'm 60 years old and finally I worked myself to a point in life where I mattered to other people. This is going to sound weird but I have continually needed to prove myself, my worth, my reason for being alive, for being born. It hasn't been easy.

I'm going off on a tangent but this time I need to. I don't write about my childhood because only three people have a clue about what it was like. My brother Jonathon witnessed most of it. Mrs. Landingham literally saved my life during the worst of it. Abbey gave me a future. My father beat the living crap out of me whenever he wanted to and he enjoyed the activity. Usually it was a backhanded fist across my face. There were times when he beat me till I was black and blue over most of my body. He broke my jaw once. My shoulder was dislocated so often when I was a toddler that it created a disability. Most people never notice how my left arm is short. They do notice the goofy way I put on my coat. I do it that way because my arm doesn't have full movement. It's the only way I can dress myself. He beat me with a belt a few times. During a workday on the farm, he took a branding iron to me. He said he only meant to scare me. Big deal. It was an accident. I truly believe it really was but the burn hurt like holy hell and left a small scar on my back at my waist. It was only part of the iron, about an inch and a half arc barely an eighth of an inch wide. That's how Abbey found out about my father. The first time we went swimming she recognized the burn scars. I'd forgotten they were there.

And what does this have to do with Toby's reaction to my MS? I'm not completely sure but he made me feel the way I felt after my father hit me. I was a worthless liar who set out to hurt others with my actions. Along with that is feeling like I deserved to be hurt. I kept the secrets of my abuse and my MS. Both secrets keep me from being at peace with myself.

Toby likes to be morally superior and I can't say for certain that he isn't. I made the mistake of not owning up to my illness. He caught me. However, I can't expose the shame I feel about that. I can't let him forget that I'm the President and he works for me.

I go over and over my actions and I never lied to anyone. I never opened up to anyone either. My sin was omission. It was my way of denying it all. If I never told about getting hit by my father then my father never hurt me. If I never told somebody I had MS then I really didn't have it. Not having an episode helped feed my denial especially since the last one I had coincided with a very real bout of the flu. The fever brought on the episode.

Maybe that's the idea I'm struggling with here. I can maintain my denial when I'm not sharing the truth. Now that it's out, there goes the ability to deny my truths. I'm scared of how I'll be perceived. People will think I'm dying. We don't die of relapsing-remitting MS. Every time my eye itches they'll think I can't see. Well, that's what I'm thinking.

I won't be able to keep them from thinking what they want to think. I know I'm too concerned with my legacy. I want to be in the company of both Roosevelts, John Kennedy and Jimmy... I hate this part of me. It's vanity, simple vanity. I don't like being one of those "My Daddy beat me so I'm screwed up," people. I don't want excuses and yet I'm using them. Toby caught me. Damn him.

I need help. Mrs. Landingham would have been the one. She's known me the longest and she won't lie to me. She's kicked me in the butt enough times. The flip side of that was the fact that she made me recognize that complications with my father were his fault. I remember when she called me a Boy King. It stunned me. Until then, adults in my life called me everything else but. I was a brat, rude, impertinent, impolite, undisciplined, not as smart as I thought, disrespectful, clumsy, ill-mannered, unwilling to follow rules, unable to accept authority, very ugly, and a blight on the family name. Getting away from home was the best thing that happened to me. Another tangential tirade. How do I get anything done?

When people didn't know I was sick, I didn't have to prove anything. I just did my job. Now, each day, I also have to prove that I'm fine. My focus cannot be on my health and yet it is now. All my decisions are judged on the MS scale.

Toby Ziegler - what do I do about him? My team and I need him. He's brilliant and an incredible writer; actually more like me than any of the others. I want to hate him and, at the moment, I do. He is the thorn in my side and always will be. It's out about the MS. Nowhere to hide any longer. There is a problem though. Right now, I can't see out of my left eye and I'm not telling anyone.

I can't.