Tag Archives: multiple sclerosis

Honestly? MS, Again and Again and Again

Just when I think I’m doing a pretty decent job of faking it with MS, I discover that no matter how hard I try, it will always make its presence known.

When I say ‘faking it’, I don’t mean denying I have this illness, it just means that I try to hide stuff from the people who mean the most to me.

Yesterday, this hit home in an unexpected way; I had been at work and once back home, I put the fan on to cool down the house.

When The Teenager came home, he found me semi-relaxed, reading a book and being blasted by a formidable Arctic chill. So what followed was surprising:

‘You ok?’

‘I’m great! Fab fan! You ok?’

‘God, it’s depressing.’

Hmm, did he mean something had happened when he was out? Or was it the state of the world? Politics? No.

‘I just feel so sad that you have to sit in front of that thing to feel ok. It’s depressing.’

I tried to explain it was all good, I felt fine, I was just dealing with a symptom.

‘Still crap.’

I understand where he’s coming from – he’s had a fair old journey as the child of a single parent with MS which hit right when he started high school. He knows my MS foibles inside-out, but no matter how much he’s witnessed over the years, I’ve never relied on him as I wanted him to blossom and grow despite MS. The same wish I have for myself, I guess.

Of course, he will always have this hanging over him, as I am his main parent. He reads too much on the internet and stores it up until it explodes in fear and anxiety. I will always provide a safe harbour for him to come back to when he needs to.

I guess I am the Great Pretender. I refuse most offers of help, I push myself to the point of exhaustion and in some ways, I gain a lot of satisfaction by doing that and stuff the consequences. Yet within myself, I have somewhat calibrated MS to suit me; I go to work when I’m at my best MS-wise, I catch up on paperwork when I know I can engage my brain, I write randomly, whenever I can and I now accept that when I can’t, I can’t. No matter how frustrating.

When that happens, I’m stuck on the sofa, or in bed. Lying flat in a cool bed sometimes brings more relief than any meds. I realise my life has shrunk, but in a bizarre way it’s also grown. Without MS, I could still be in a dead-end job with a dead-end partner, cycling through life with no real care or direction. Life has been honed down towards what is most important, and that’s been a huge learning curve. I’ve discarded all thoughts of what I should be doing, could be doing, ought to be doing. I now choose.

So yes, MS happened. It’s not the best, it never will be, but I will try for as long as I can to continue to be the best parent I can, above everything. If I could only reassure The Teenager more, I would be happy forever.

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Public Speaking and Other Horror Stories

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a public speaker.

It’s something that has always terrified me.

I trace this back to moving from Scotland to Wales when I was 14, and asked to talk to my English class in a new school about some topic I was passionate about. The girl before me spoke about The Body Shop and smashed it.

I mumbled and stuttered through an excruciating two minutes and swiftly sat back down again, cheeks flaming.

Since that time, I vowed never, ever to speak to an audience again.

Until MS.

Why did MS give me back a voice I lost?

For one, accent doesn’t matter. Second, a slick speaker is all well and good, but sometimes it is just as important to hear from someone like me, an average person , saying it as it is, mumbling and pauses accepted.

During my work in raising awareness about MS, I have been fortunate enough to speak at MS conferences in Hungary, Greece and Denmark. When I say speak, I mean talking with passion to audiences, voice wavering. I always keep in mind that if I can survive a two-hour lumbar puncture by a Doctor who has never done one before on a live patient, I can survive anything (true story)

And that’s the thing about passion – at my last conference, we were talking about Patient Focused Priorities, something I’m, well, passionate about. We had all chatted beforehand, ran through some scenarios, but to be live (it was live-streamed), to be there, at the conference, for that twenty minutes, I wanted to give my all.

It could have gone either way. I blow-dried my hair (taming the unruly curls), I dressed in smart black trousers and a grey top and made my way to the conference room. I was led to a bank of dials and switches and mic’d up (bit embarrassing, muffin top). Then I sat down, heart pounding.

It seemed a good idea weeks before, so we agreed, as I was in Scandinavia, I would explain my background. In Norwegian. A language I used to speak fairly fluently until MS blasted me with a massive relapse of the speech part of my brain, which I’ve been told is quite unusual.

However, me and my wonderful Norwegian host began…

Reader, it was amazing. My Norwegian was awful (to be expected) but our rapport carried us through,

Looking back, I think it is the same for all of the conferences I have spoken at. I’m not coached, tutored or subjected to a round of interviews: I’m invited because I am me, living with MS.

I would like to think that a genuine speech about someone living with MS is more effective than any PowerPoint slideshow.

I may mumble, stumble and fumble, but I get my point across.

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A Wrestler in the MS Ring

The last seven days have been interesting, if nothing else.

Each day brought a flare-up of existing MS symptoms; one day blinding fatigue (hit by an anvil), the next Bambi legs.

Then there were the dodgy hands (hello smashed crockery), the stumbling, the teeth-gnashing nerve pain, the upside-down balance issues.

As I normally do when this happens, I retreat home, batten down the hatches and conduct life from my sofa and my bed. It’s taken years of practise and I think I now have it down to a fine art. Even the cat knows what’s expected from her. She has a chair opposite my bed (with a special blanket on it) and keeps a beady eye on me and also dominates the sofa opposite mine (much to The Teenager’s chagrin when he’s home).

MS is a boxing opponent who just won’t give up. They might leave the ring for a little while, to grab an energy drink or something, ready for the next bout, then they’re striding towards you once more, when you’ve barely made it back on your feet.

And the worst thing about this? Every single one of my symptoms are virtually invisible to all but the people closest to me. If I have to explain nerve pain and fatigue one more time, I’ll scream. And if someone says, ‘but you looks so well’, I’m half-tempted to say, ‘yeah, bit fat, got MS’ and see if they shuffle away.

MS is a very lonely illness. Of course, I live alone, but still. It shoves you into the deepest, darkest corners of real life. I had to cancel meeting a friend yesterday and I was devastated. I schlepped around the house, slept three times and listened to life going on outside my window.

So, I went to work today. I know I’m lucky, working with my best friend. He picks me up in the van, coffee ready in the cup-holder. He takes me shopping and on errands. At work, he made me take ‘cool breaks’. We had a laugh and it felt wonderful to be out and about, engaging in real life, despite my legs crawling with pain. For a short while, MS didn’t matter.

I get knocked down and I get back up again as the song goes and MS truly feels like that. Each day is shaped around MS and I could let it dominate or I can work with it to make it work for me. It’s amazing what you can get done from a sofa before nodding off to sleep yet again.

There may come a time when the balance tips, I know that. But until then, I’ll take the blows and get back up again.

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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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