How a Pink Dress Healed Me

Holding On, Letting Go, and Healing With Style

Truth is hope with its eyes open. Before I can find my way through a crisis, I first have to let myself embrace it—really SEE what’s real and not hide or turn away, even if it completely unwinds the plans I’d made for myself. If I let myself go with it, the truth almost always leads to a better destination than any I could have planned. As someone who’s been on a healing journey with Multiple Sclerosis for sixteen years, my path has had to change many times. And as a personal wardrobe stylist, that path almost always leads me back to fashion and style.

So it was with the story of a beautiful dress I first wore. A dress that I love, created by a fashion designer I love named Jenni Kayne. It has had an interesting story to tell in my life twice: once when I first wore it, and the second time when it was nearly destroyed.

The dress is pink. And when I say pink I don’t mean Barbie or baby or ballet-slipper pink. I mean PINK, intense and vibrant and alive like a hot pink rose, and the night I first wore it was one of the most vibrant nights. It was a charity event in Los Angeles that my dear friend, a film producer, had invited us to. It was our second time around living in LA. It was a night that reminded me of my days as an entertainment publicist. I was feeling my absolute best, not just in what I was wearing but also with my health. I was surrounded by a few celebrities, feeling so confident and ready to BE. On one side of me was my dear friend, on the other side was Jennifer Garner, and there in the middle was ME in my new HOT Pink Dress.

I was owning it. I felt confident and rocking! Long after that night, that dress was a fiery connection to a precious time and place in my life, a sense of myself that I never wanted to lose.

It was in 2014. A lot has happened since that night. A new home in Nashville, and an experience with MS that has deeply changed the path of my life.

I have always lived with the belief that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade as they say. There really is no other way. You just push through. In my mind, everything happens for a reason, and there is always a lesson in there. When I first got my diagnosis of MS, I did my best to push through many ups and downs, to keep going as if nothing had changed. But 14 years in, after having my worst MS exacerbation to date, I finally reached the point where my energy and my body gave me no choice but to slow down, to stop pushing, stop forcing, and just embrace what was happening, and go completely with it. I took a year off from work and devoted myself entirely to healing. The experience was exhausting and heartbreaking and painful and I would not have missed a second of it for anything. It has given me a clarity and entirely NEW sense of myself that I never would have achieved otherwise. And at the start of  that following year, when I was beginning to dip my toes back into work, I got an email from an old friend and client, inviting me to a fashion gala. I had hardly seen anyone except for family, a couple of close friends, and my circle of healers for quite some time, so I immediately bought myself a ticket knowing that a lot of my clients would be there.

Each year, the Nashville Symphony holds a fashion show as a fundraiser. It is one of the big cultural events of the city, and my friend was the chairwoman this year. I had attended one other time when we first moved to Nashville, but during my year of healing I really wasn’t going out at all. And I was tired. I’d just gotten back from Phoenix, where I had gone through my latest round of treatments with my naturopath, a course that was all about resetting my nervous system. But she was my friend and I wanted very much to support her. And it was a fashion event after all! My kind of event exactly. Surely this had to be my perfect opportunity to return to the world and my working life. To reconnect with women who thought I had fallen off the face of the earth completely. I was feeling healthier—not COMPLETELY ready, but ready enough that I overcame whatever doubts were lingering inside me and accepted my friend’s invitation.

And, so help me, I would wear the Pink Dress—this hot pink, neon pink, spring cocktail dress that still fit me so perfectly and embodied everything I loved about my old self. I had not worn it in 5 years, but clearly no other dress would do.

In hindsight, I should have seen it coming. I hadn’t been feeling right on my return from Phoenix that Sunday. My legs were acting weird as I got on the plane, and I thought I might need a wheelchair to get to my seat. Monday I was so exhausted I had to cancel my day, and Tuesday was the gala. But my clients would be there for me. And the Pink Dress would be there for me. So I would be there for me too.

I pulled up to the valet at the Hilton, about a block away from the event. I wore flip flops to drive in, but as I waited for the valet I changed into a pair of nude suede pumps, two and a half inch heels. Heels… were not something I’d been wearing during treatment. Even with clients I rarely wore them. But you can’t not wear heels with the Pink Dress.

So there I was at the Schemerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville, making my return to humanity and basking in the embrace of friends and clients I hadn’t seen in what felt like forever. People LOVED the dress. The color is fabulous, they were telling me, and I was just starting to get back into the swing of things. It was cocktail hour and I don’t drink, so I had a club soda while all my friends at the bar were enjoying glasses of wine, joking and lining up for pictures like girls at the prom. Lots of bubbles. Lots of excitement.

Then I started to feel weak. Just a little unbalanced. Not very strong. But I told myself—It’s okay, Megan, just get through the cocktail hour, and then we get to sit down and watch the show. I didn’t want to interrupt the joking and the pictures and the cocktails. I wanted so badly to belong in that moment with my clients. It was right about then that my friend’s mom spilled white wine down the front of my pink dress and all over my heels.

This is not the end of the world, I told myself. I have napkins! So I was dabbing the Pink Dress with my napkins as the cocktail hour ended and everyone left the courtyard for their seats. Just then I started to lose control of my legs.

You think of strange things at moments like these. I was thinking how lucky I was that I was at the back of the line, because then no one I knew would SEE my legs buckling and me grabbing for whatever I could find to hold myself up. Because I didn’t want anyone to know how badly I was doing. This was supposed to be my return! What I wanted was for them to see me back at work and looking great and healthy and everything perfect, from my dress to my shoes. And there was my shaky leg, like a kid brother following me on a date. Then both legs. I felt more disabled than I had ever felt in my life. And I hate that word, so that moment was internally devastating to me more than any had ever been. One of my mantras is: I am beyond able. This was new territory.

Later, when I got home, after I calmed down from tears, my husband, Craig, and I joked about it. He said it sounded like I was trying to do the Moonwalk. To me it was more like a ski move. I was grabbing onto chairs like ski poles and swaying back and forth, and my legs couldn’t be controlled . I was scared that my heels would get caught in the metal grating around the courtyard, but mainly I was worried that someone would turn around and see the horror I was experiencing. And, of course, people started to notice. They must have thought I was drunk. One of my clients finally came over to me and all I could say was, “Can I hold onto you?” Even then I didn’t want to say I was having an episode. I just said I was overheated, which was true enough. Perspiring right through my silk dress. And getting very close to passing out.

And can you believe, even then I wasn’t ready to give up on the event. I’d paid a lot of money to see a Carolina Herrera fashion show, and I was going to see it come hell or high water.  But I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way to my seat. They wouldn’t let me watch from the back, and finally I just had to give up and leave. I had to get home. This was more than a normal MS episode. It came on too quickly, and I’d lost all of my motor skills. What did they do to me in those treatments? I thought: this was not right.

As everyone was comfortably in their seats watching the show, I somehow made it to the steps outside and sat right there on the top step sobbing and taking deep breaths.  I was horrified. Devastated. Embarrassed. Every emotion in the book. But I still had to make it back to my car and my flip flops. So I held onto the brass railing speaking to my cells out loud the whole time. I knew I only had to make it one block. But here was a first for the security guard at the Schemerhorn: he got to offer his arm to a wobbling woman. The poor guy was so out of his depth! I pleaded with him. Somehow he got me back to the Hilton, and I gave him all the money I had on me out of sheer gratitude. Which meant I had nothing to give the valet driver who took one look at me and told me to sit down. He would get me my car right away and bring my flip flops that were lying on my floorboard! I promised him I would get him a tip the next day, which I absolutely did. Both of those young men were saints. I would have been absolutely lost without them.

So Operation Grand Return became Operation Get the Hell Home. I drove to my house and my husband and dog, and after I cried in their arms for a while I called my mother and told her everything that had happened. “I love you in that dress.” she said, as she advised me on how to attempt to get the stains out. So she stayed on the phone with me for 45 minutes while soaked the stains in cold water. Big mistake! The dye began to run and the cold water turned HOT PINK. “Get it out.” She yelled. “Take it out now!” Ugh! That night was turning out to be even more of a calamity of errors.

The high heels were the villain apparently: my naturopath told me that increasing my height threw my system out of alignment after he had worked on resetting my nervous system. “Would have been nice to know that,” I balked at him the next day on the phone. Fortunately it all passed quickly. At the time, though, I had no way of knowing what would happen. Here I was, trying to convince the world I was healthy and everything was fine, and I was messed up in a way that all the Jenni Kayne dresses in the world could not fix. I felt like an absolute fraud. And my fabulous pink dress was ruined. Wine and sweat stains were it’s end. I thought.

Turns out the dress was saved by my mother and the dry cleaners. Almost back to new. You can still see the colors a little darker from the stains: silk is not a forgiving material. Not sure I will ever wear it again. It might have to go in a keepsake vault. But it’s still the Pink Dress, my pink dress. The night I wanted in that dress did not happen, true: but something much more wonderful did happen.

I was terrified that my clients would see me falling. And one of them did see me fall, and guided me to sit down, bringing me water.

And two very nervous and puzzled young men helped me get home.

And my husband helped me recover my sense of humor.

And my mother helped me save my dress.

I went to that event with one idea about STYLE and I came home with a completely new and different one. I wanted to wear the dress because THAT was my style. But the real style was in the way I carried myself when my legs wouldn’t. And the people who surrounded me when I needed them. This is the truth of HEALING with STYLE.

Style isn’t just fashion. It’s not just about the clothes you wear. Style is a way of being. The strength and confidence you find in difficult moments. It’s not about striking a pose. Style is how you recover from the fall. I had to let go of old dreams before I could reach for this new truth. The dress had been a symbol of my unquenchable youth. Now it was proof of my ability to heal with style.