Tag Archives: MS

Has MS Changed Me? Hell, yeah …

I’ve been thinking.

MS has almost taken me back to my wild teenage years, when absolutely nothing held any fear.

Take a train to Austria after your last A level? Yup.

I travelled the world, got into numerous scrapes, came out alive and picked myself up. Crossing a river in The Gambia in a sinking ship springs to mind.

Then, when I was 26, I had The Teenager and life naturally took on a more sedate pace.

Which continued for the next 18 odd years.

I settled into a nursery/school/rugby/the many other activities routine. I was in a job I loved, working with a wonderful person but it had no future. However, it was close to his nursery and school and that was all that mattered.

Then, MS. An explosion, obliterating life as we both knew it. I remember a conversation with The Teenager, as he stood on the threshold of High School, when we discussed how we should approach the MS imposter. By this time, I had had my first treatment of Lemtrada and was back on my feet, just.

We decided we should throw ourselves into campaigning and so it was that we attended our first march, against austerity and benefit cuts (‘I’m Not a Scrounger, I Have MS’ placard) back in 2011. The Teenager came with me and was delighted to hear the speakers swearing. He then came with me to awards ceremonies, meetings and discussions. He was interviewed, photographed and involved in all the media projects.

I had changed jobs through this time and was subsequently sacked from it after my diagnosis. The Teenager went through the whole legal case with me, alongside navigating the high school system. But we came back stronger. I got a new job, enrolled in a Master’s and he knuckled down to studying.

Life wasn’t at all easy – I had to sleep a lot, which I think is frightening for an only child with one main parent. I know it still scares him.

Every single event or speech or article I take part in is a blast into the unknown. Public speaking terrifies me. Seriously. Yet I keep putting myself out there and campaigning for disabled rights and acceptance. Most recently, I have been shortlisted for a Wales Online Digital Award and am due to speak live at a conference in Copenhagen at the end of the month. Gulp.

So has MS made me more brave? Erm, yes. What is the worst that can happen when the worst has already happened? I’m still terrified of public speaking, I would like more Photoshopping, a rapid weight-loss solution and a Master Class in public speaking.

However, when I am on stage, I am … me.

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Less Can Sometimes Mean A Whole Lot More

I lived with a millionaire for four years.

I know, weird, huh?

Shortly before that, I was a cash-strapped au-pair in Austria. On pay-day (£35 a week), I schlepped to the supermarket on the main square and bought a single vanilla yoghurt.

It was the most delicious treat in the world and made the endless toddler-wrangling of the previous seven days all the more worthwhile.

When I was living with my new partner, I went to the same supermarket and bought five and ate them all in one go.

They were awful. The taste had gone. When I could have as many as I wanted, I didn’t want them and that unique taste which made them so irresistible had died.

Fast-forward a few years and I’ve pretty much been cash-strapped for the last two decades. Unexpected bills, a brutal divorce, a rapidly-growing child, school trips and all the other weird and wonderful paraphernalia of bringing up a child without passing on the money worries to him took its toll. But we got through it, trimming bits here and there, never making him feel he was different from his friends.

The Teenager would often come home from school and find me giving a new lick of paint to my most recent Gumtree find, or extolling the virtues of an empty pot of earth, which eventually grew into a chestnut tree. Until he went to high school, a lot of his clothes came from charity shops, as did most of his books. Despite the roller-coaster of financial ups and downs, we always just about managed to get through.

Then MS hit and the reality of losing my job and taking on alternative work at a much-reduced wage was tricky. I realised I was never going to earn a decent income, so I ploughed this anxiety into studying instead and it’s been the making of me.

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than your teenager asking you if we were ‘poor’.

We weren’t. Poverty is relative. He always had what he needed, perhaps second-hand, but he had it nonetheless. Technically we were disadvantaged and according to statistics, living close to the poverty line, but he did not need to grow up with that stigma.

Now The Teenager is forging his own life at University, I can fully appreciate the fantastic house we have created – our plant pots may come from a skip, but they produce a wondrous ambience. Our garden table and chairs are from Gumtree and were nothing a quick wash didn’t solve. Most of our furniture is second-hand, but lovingly-chosen and restored, the rest is donated.

Living with less – financially and health-wise – really made me wake up and appreciate every single thing I have. I’m not denying it was difficult but when I welcome The Teenager back home on vacation, I feel proud that we have made such a cosy and warm environment. The love and care that has been put into our house speaks volumes and I always want him to feel he has a safe space to come home to.

Looking back on my ‘Five Yoghurt Scenario’, it really did teach me many valuable lessons – you can’t take it with you, love is priceless and be careful what you wish for.

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Leave No-one Behind

Some of you may have seen my tweet about my dad yesterday.

It would have been his 76th birthday, but MS took him from us shortly after his 35th, back in 1978.

Of course, MS was vastly different back then – no DMD’s, no MRI’s, no MS nurses and no real understanding of the illness. A severely weakened immune system with no way to stop it meant that people like my dad were susceptible to normally-treatable illnesses.

Thankfully medicine has moved on in leaps and bounds over the following decades and a diagnosis of MS is no longer seen in the same way it once was.

When I was diagnosed in 2012, there was an abundance of medicines, support, online help and a plethora of organisations who reached out and helped me through the Newly-Diagnosed forest.

I count myself as immensely lucky to be living in these times. My medication held back the onslaught of the worst that MS could throw at me, and I was able to see my son through high school and into university. Unthinkable for a lot of people just a few decades earlier.

I admire the drive to cure, and the medicines which are life-altering for so many people. Yet, we must also concentrate funding efforts on living with MS. Many people with MS cannot access treatment or are ineligible for DMD’s. Money must be found to support people, and their families, who fall in to this category.

I know first-hand the utter loneliness and isolation MS can bring. The depression (rates which are a whole lot higher than for the rest of the population), the despair. We need to ensure that every single person with MS, whether they may benefit from the shiny new medicines or not, are supported and cared for.

Families too must be supported. Child-carers should never exist. Partners of people with MS must have access to support. But we know this simply does not happen. Benefit cuts, gruelling re-assessments for our incurable illness, lack of work options, a non-supportive, primarily able-bodied society. These all combine to make life with MS an all too often uphill struggle.

No one should face MS alone, whether it is the person with MS or their child, or their partner or their family member. In amongst the joy of new treatments, we have to reach out and gather everyone who lives with or is affected by MS with us.

My dad was apparently a bit of a cheeky monkey (so that’s where I get it from). Once a keen mountaineer, an industrial chemist, a father of four and a husband, I hope he has left behind a legacy that I can do a little bit to move forward.

As I said in my tweet, I miss him more as each year passes. I will never be able to talk with him, the one person who would understand what MS has brought into my life. He remains ‘back then’.

But I’d like to think he would want to look forward, to a future where no one is left behind with MS.

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Aw, No, Not Again?

My three worst MS symptoms are fatigue, nerve pain and brain fog, in no particular order.

To a lot of people, this sounds fairly manageable; we all get tired, a bit fuzzy in the old brain and we all have aching legs and arms? Yes, but, I’m only telling you the three worst symptoms, and there’s plenty more.

Anyway, I like to think I’m quite savvy with my MS comings and goings, yet it never, ever fails to surprise me.

Long story short, the MS fatigue is back with a vengeance and it means serious business. On Sunday, I felt so tired, I actually wanted to throw up. I flung myself on the sofa and was dead to the world for two hours. On Monday, I called in sick to work and went back to bed. Twice.

I went to work today (I have to, bills), navigated the terrain really well and luckily we finished early. My lovely boss even walked up the road and payed a cheque in for me while I sat on the door step of the house we are working at, feeling quite useful as I watched out for parking wardens.

Back home, I got out of the works van, stood on the ground, then my left leg gave way and I just collapsed. Bit embarrassing, extremely painful, hope the neighbours didn’t see.

So I have a flare up and it’s a bad one. I haven’t been like this for months. Every part of me is saying, ‘breathe, take it easy, it’s fine’, but inside I’m fretting. I’ve already missed so much time off work and studying has been pared back to the absolute minimum.

Brain fog has ensured that for the last two weeks I’ve run out of stuff to watch on Netflix and Amazon and am looking forward to the next series of ‘Married at First Sight’. Anything is easier than picking up books.

I’m trying to look after myself though – the boss makes sure I get to shops for food, he’s understanding about the time off and he cheers me up no end when we’re sat in the van putting the world to rights, as builders do. He even bought me a burrito today and expressed surprise when I swooped in on his leftovers, ‘nom, nom, first cooked food I’ve had in days‘.

I know this will pass, it’s just that awful sinking feeling when you know you’ve got to ride out the latest setback. I’ve instigated Code Red, the Ten Minute Tomato Rule – try ten minutes of everything. So laundry is in machine. Cat is fed (she’s on a Whiskas strike and will only accept Sheba – it’s a battle of attrition). I vacuum for one minute every other day and take nine minutes out.

It will all be fine. In the end.

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Writing The Wrongs

One of the best things about having a blog is encouraging others who also want to start one.

Over the years, since 2012 when I first signed up to WordPress, I’ve spoken with people all over the world about how to get started, how to keep up the momentum and just how to have a real idea about what it is they want to say – what they have to say.

Back then, in the dark old days, I wanted to express what was happening after my MS diagnosis, what I was feeling. I was disoriented, lost and experiencing an entire whirlwind of emotions. Plus, I was also being slowly bullied out of my job.

I reached out to a writer who had written a very personal account of her MS in a national newspaper, about her struggle to come to terms with a life with MS. It was raw and brutal, exactly how I felt. We communicated back and forward through emails and she encouraged me to start a blog. The rest is history. Thanks to her, I’ve gone from blog to PhD.

I always wanted to be a writer, so perhaps that is why I feel privileged to be following this path now. MS shunted me from the career I was building to a building career – I work as a project manager for a building company. The irony doesn’t escape me.

But I wanted something more. I love my job – it allows me the flexibility and creative talent to excel at what I do, but it’s not everything. It also has an end-point. My energy is limited, I fall asleep at awkward times, I trip over stray wires, I repeat stuff. Luckily, I work with my best friend who knows more about MS than anyone else.

Writing has allowed me to discuss, dissect and analyse every single niggle I’ve ever had with MS, and bringing up a Teenager throughout a life with MS. Abject loneliness has been replaced with a worldwide hug of immense proportions. You guys just … get me.

You’ve been through the ups and downs, you’ve seen The Teenager through the best and worst of times. You even took the time to send him messages of support when he was in a grim place and he read every single one with a smile on his face.

Writing is incredibly powerful and I didn’t realise that until I started. I poured out all the pent-up angst and you were with me through my epic Pity-Party-For-One.

It’s hard, baring your soul. But, you guys have shown me that it is so, so worth it.

If when I attain my PhD, you’re all invited. Without you, it wouldn’t happen.

Reach out and lift up …

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