My name is Lisa Cohen.

I’ve been a high-achiever for my entire life, both before and after I was diagnosed with MS. I consider myself a “Type A-minus” personality rather than a Type A (because I can tolerate some things that a true Type A never would), but it’s close enough. I’m still super-driven and the self-pressure is intense.

Since kindergarten, I was consistently go-go-going on that “best & brightest” track…”A” student, Ivy League undergrad & grad schools, then right into a high-powered NYC law firm working insane hours and completely sacrificing my quality of life. I soon realized I was miserable, finding that work to be way too limiting and absolutely NOT a match for who I was or wanted to be. That’s when I made a bold career change to exit the legal profession.

I paid off my student loans and leapt out of the legal field without a net in order to discover what I truly wanted to do. After some trial-and-error and without a network or experience in the field, I created a career from scratch that I loved in the independent music business.

That was the start of my becoming a self-made expert in creating opportunities from scratch, life change, and reinvention…out of necessity, really, but mainly because I was truly driven to live a life that I felt I was meant to live.

I was still putting in those insane work hours, but didn’t think about it because I absolutely LOVED what I was doing. While working to develop my music business skills, I was also fortunate to discover a talent and love for photography, which allowed me to indulge and develop artistic urges that I’d stifled before.

So, here I was…an “escaped” lawyer who had finally found my “thing” managing rock bands and their indie labels, and pursuing a passion for photography. Everything was going great. I was inspired, energized, and finally in what felt like my element.

And then, out of nowhere, my eyesight got blurry. Then I woke up one morning and I was numb from the middle of my back all the way down through my toes. In the summer of 2001, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”). In an instant, my life was turned upside down.

To be both struck with an illness and the possibility of not being able to continue the work I finally found that I loved was a really hard blow.

I found myself experiencing worsening physical impairments. Optic neuritis made regular daily activities and photography more difficult, while the numbness caused mobility problems.

The downtown New York indie music scene that had been my world for five years was no longer physically “safe” for me…

Difficulty with balance and walking simply didn’t match up with navigating dark and crowded venues, musicians’ gear, industry networking and my usual responsibilities at shows. On top of that, debilitating fatigue began to steal my ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis.

In a short period of time, I developed a fear of what my illness and my life might look like in the future.

I began “living small” in many ways, feeling that it might be best to limit myself and adjust to living “safer” because I was sick. I lived waiting for and wondering when the “other shoe” was going to drop. Was I going to be in a wheelchair next week? Tomorrow?

It didn’t feel reasonable to have “dreams” or try to still be the person that I “used to” be, even during fortunate long stretches of time when my symptoms were in remission. I basically gave up, and I lived a small, “less than” life for several years.

Nobody encouraged me to do otherwise and, in fact, it was suggested that I should “resign” myself and not worry about doing anything challenging because I was “sick” (the latter suggestion actually came from a so-called “support group” leader). So, I lived small and on the bench rather than fully engaging in life and expressing my talents.

Have you ever felt invisible? Well, that’s how I felt––Isolated, miserable, and invisible.

However, by nature I am driven and a fighter. After letting MS hog center stage in my life for years, I woke up one day and realized there was no reason to stop being the person I truly was and wanted to be. I decided that, MS or not, I still wanted to live a life that rocks rather than a life on the sidelines. I wanted a life that wears red lipstick instead of one that regrets having been too afraid to try it on. 

That day, I embarked on a journey to live a full and empowered life… a “Red Lipstick Life,” which I define as one in which I’m showing up in life and for myself in ways that I love. With some trial-and-error (and many setbacks), I was eventually able to achieve that, even though my life had been at a standstill for so many years.

I was amazed at what I was able to accomplish in spite of increasing disability.  Things far beyond what I could have imagined happened AFTER I became disabled.  I was able to resume my artistic pursuits, even though I couldn’t do my photography in the same way as before; I helped to run a small nonprofit that served women with MS, I had some amazing personal experiences, I had the opportunity to be photographed by world-renowned photographer Martin Schoeller, and even got my 15 minutes of fame on a billboard in Times Square for an entire week (I know, right??). 

Yep, that’s me “Godzilla-sized” on the NASDAQ board in Times Square!

I founded Rockstar Women With MS and began my professional coaching studies in order to help empower women living with MS to continue to create and enjoy vibrant life experiences and opportunities. As a certified professional coach, I’ve now expanded that to ciGODDESS to serve all women with chronic illnesses by helping them to live their own Red Lipstick Lives.

So, that’s my story…a lifelong drive to achieve with a bunch of settling along the way, experiencing the losses caused by chronic illness and physical disability, and then eventually realizing that I wanted to stop settling and start living in a way to create experiences I love and minimize regrets. If it sounds like it might be a little like your story too, then I invite you to work with me.