Monday, 3 May 2010

Raising awareness

I'm a journalist by trade so it probably comes as no surprise that I've documented some of what I've faced over the last year or so in the publication for which I write ... And in the absence of a new, more fulfilling post ... here it is!

The day my life turned upside down
It’s a startling statistic but Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects around 100,000 people in the UK. And I happen to be one of them. Diagnosed last April, it felt at the time as though my world had been turned upside down. Although I had been feeling under the weather, I put the tiredness, headaches and sporadic collapses down to a hectic lifestyle and burning the candle at both ends.

Looking back I wonder how I ever believed that could be the case but I have a tendency to stick my head in the sand sometimes. Considering this time it concerned my health, ignoring the problem was not the way forward. In the time since, I have read up on the symptoms, treatments and information available both at the local MS Society Foyle branch, and on-line. Now I am a walking encyclopedia when it comes to MS.

This week is MS Awareness Week. It aims to educate people on the impact the condition has on patients and also to raise a few pound for the MS Society charity. As such, I have spent the last week home baking a stack of cakes for consumption at a ‘Cake Break’ at work, all in the hope that I manage to raise a decent amount for the charity.

They have been absolutely brilliant over the last twelve months. Locally, the Foyle representative, Terry McNamee, has been a fantastic source of knowledge and support, and some of the money the branch raises goes towards funding a local MS nurse who is quite simply, brilliant and nationally I have made use of the concise information available from the extremely well put together charity website -

And now I’m also writing this ... in a bid to get across the education side of things for those readers not familiar with what MS is and what it means for people like me. I don’t aim to be an expert, and the crux of it is that when it comes to people with MS, nobody is the same. Like many people, the first thing I thought when I heard MS was, ‘I’m going to end up in a wheelchair’. Yes, that can be the case for some people but I’ve been finding that it’s more of an exception rather than the rule.

If anything, having MS is a silent sort of condition. Well, that’s been my experience anyway. If I had a pound for every person who said, “You’re looking fantastic”, I would be a millionaire. While their sentiments are lovely, and certainly not to be scoffed at, if truth be told it can sometimes be a tad frustrating. It may be the case that I’m actually having a bad day, feeling excessively tired, suffering from pins and needles in my feet and/or running to the bathroom every ten minutes.

I’ve felt a few people stare when I’ve parked in a disabled bay, with my badge there for everyone to see, and watched me walk away with nothing seemingly the matter with me. Yet it is often the case that that trip to the shops may just have taken all of my energy to get there. Being able to park closer to the place I’m going to means I’m able to be independent, and when my feet are particularly painful, that can be the difference between an isolated week at home or a chance to get out for half an hour.

For the majority of the time however everyone has been fantastically supportive. My family and friends are my backbone and my work colleagues couldn’t be more understanding. That level of support cannot be underestimated. My approach is also very positive. I live every day as it comes and try not to worry about what’s around the corner because MS is unpredictable in its nature. I’ve also got a new perspective in life - I worry less about the little things and appreciate what I have more - and that can only be a good thing.

While the last twelve months haven’t always been easy, I’m pleased to say that the good times have definitely outweighed the bad. Last month I married my soul mate in a very moving and emotional wedding service and we are looking forward to a long and happy married life together. Before my diagnosis we had a whole host of plans for our life together and, to be honest, they’re still in place - we’ve just tweaked them slightly!

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