MS crashed into our lives in 2011, just as The Teenager was starting High School.
Unusually for MS, it came without warning – just a huge, life-altering Big Bang over the course of a weekend when my entire body collapsed inside, my mind scattered in all directions and my very being imploded; I couldn’t walk, talk or function.
For better or worse, my son was with me, all through the endless search for answers, the waiting, the eventual diagnosis, an employment tribunal, three courses of Alemtuzumab and their brutal after-effects, ongoing treatment and figuring his own way through life.
It was a learning curve for both of us, navigating entirely new scenarios, but we hadn’t envisaged this.
I went downhill, both in health and my mental state. One evening, I took him to a neighbour as I couldn’t cope. That was the day I decided to pick myself up and do something different and fight my corner after over a year of work-place bullying – to deal with a potential court case on top of Alemtuzumab was daunting.
We did it and I took him to Manhattan with the tiny pay-out, eager to show him where I had lived for a couple of years to make up for, well, everything; to show him that I had experienced a life he too could have – the possibility of travel and adventure.
He had missed out on having his mum on the rugby sidelines, the parents evenings when a friend would go in my place, the trips to the seaside I couldn’t take him to, but I was always there to hear his trials and tribulations, even when I was struggling to cut vegetables or clean the house. We managed. I slept as much as I could when he wasn’t there, attuned to his key in the lock, sitting up quickly and hiding the blanket.
He’s been a huge part of my blog, with his consent, and even now as he approaches 21 this week, he’s proud. Proud of all we have achieved together, our little family of 2 – sure, we’ve had our low points and arguments, slamming the fridge, the front door, the usual teenager nightmares. Yet, without him, there would be no blog, no book and I certainly wouldn’t be taking a PhD.
After that low point, I had two choices.
Give in and accept whatever came my way or stand up and fight back. As with so many health scenarios, we fought back. He came to protest marches, meetings, film-making, speaking on camera about his life as a child of someone with MS and many, many other things.
This week, The Teenager turns 21, a real milestone for parents.
I’m incredibly proud of him and how he has grown into a confidant, articulate and compassionate adult. He stepped up to the pandemic, moving back from University in March and taking a job at the biggest hospital in Wales for three months, before moving on to our building sites.
Now he is back in his University town, ready to celebrate his birthday, and I will take time out to think about how lucky I am to have a son like him.