The defining element of Adam Gottschalk’s life today is that he has multiple sclerosis. This wasn’t always the case. He lived a more-or-less-normal life for a while, even after his diagnosis, but like most people with M.S., he was always bracing for the next relapse of partial paralysis or numbness or vision failure or any of the other attacks the disease unleashes unpredictably on the nervous system. Thirteen years after his diagnosis, Adam is now a case study of the degeneration that eventually occurs in everyone who gets M.S. He is only 42, but his physical capabilities are like those of an 80-year-old. His hands tremble, he walks with difficulty and his speech is labored and halting.
For a time in the early 1990s, Gottschalk busked outside the Shinjuku subway station in Tokyo, playing Dylan and Beatles songs, and of all the things M.S. robbed him of, it’s the ability to play guitar that he longs for the most. “I miss that part of myself,” he told me when we met at his home last winter. Because he can’t drive, Gottschalk spends most of his time inside his single-story house north of Tampa, Fla. He works part time operating a natural-perfume business, writes plays and poems, listens to obscure music at high volume and smokes a lot of pot (he says marijuana helps with the chronic pain that’s one of M.S.’s more baffling symptoms). Several times a day Gottschalk takes five different drugs: one to keep his M.S. from getting even worse, three for his seizures and an antidepressant that helps him sleep. Dietary supplements cover the buffet in his dining room.