** As this is MS Awareness Week I have written a short piece for the Derry Journal - my employer! It aims to educate readers about the condition and is also a general oversight of my MS story. **
Aged just 27, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis just under a year before my wedding day. It was a shock revelation because while I hadn't been completely well in the months beforehand, I wasn't really unwell either. Niggly health issues were definitely there but I never believed for one second that I had an illness that's life-changing and currently incurable.
Headaches were recurring at a frequently high level, I had constant black shadows under my eyes and was constantly running to the bathroom. I had also collapsed twice for no apparent reason and suffered various bouts of vertigo so in retrospect it seems obvious that there was something inherently wrong.
All of these little things were in fact symptoms of MS. Isolated as one thing after another they seem innocuous but gathered together they, and a confirming MRI scan, pointed to nothing else.
Two years later I pretty much know all there is to know about MS, especially the form which I have, relapsing-remitting. This means exactly what it says on the tin in that it comes and goes. I have had one serious relapse, affecting my feet, and they continue to blow hot and cold. I can walk but sometimes this is under serious pain, others days they just tingle, and on others they are simply uncomfortable.
Just two months ago I started on an injectable medication called beta-interferon. This means I have to inject myself at home three times a week, which initially seemed like a huge deal but is already feeling very normal and part of the routine. It won't 'fix' me but it is supposed to reduce the number of relapses I will have and their severity. The MS nurses, Fiona and Carole, based in Spruce House at Altnagelvin Hospital, have been a godsend throughout this process. Their expert help and information is quite simply invaluable.
The last 24 months have also been filled with other milestones for my husband Joe and I. Our wedding day went ahead as planned, as did our brilliant honeymoon halfway around the world to Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore, we moved house a year ago and six months ago I gave birth to our first baby, Charlotte.
Choosing to have a family was a huge deal, but only in the respect that it's a huge responsibility - for anyone. The fact that I have MS didn't come into it, apart from delaying the beta-interferon process until Charlotte arrived safely.
If anything my life has been more happy since my diagnosis. My outlook on what lies ahead is also more positive than negative. It's true that a life with MS is inevitably unpredictable. Relapses can happen at any time, last for any length of time and can prove disabling. However, I firmly believe that no-one can truly plan ahead and I am no different in that respect.
This week, throughout MS Awareness Week, the MS Society will be launching a new website and I will be featured across the new content in a series of videos. These were filmed the day before I gave birth to Charlotte but I felt so strongly about letting others with MS know that it's not the worst thing that can happen to you, that I filmed on through the early twinges of labour! It was a brilliant experience and I truly hope that anyone newly diagnosed with watch them and see that life most certainly does go on.
A fellow MS-er made a brilliant point last week when she told me 'it isn't the cards you're dealt with that matters, it's how you play your hand'. And let me tell you, I'm playing my hand like I have four aces up my sleeve!