A little over 6 years ago I woke up in Hamilton ready to photograph my sister’s wedding. I had double vision and felt “a touch wobbly”. A few weeks later after a course of antibiotics for an “inner ear infection” I found myself in a MRI machine and eventually got a diagnosis of an “inflammation on the brain stem”
It was starting to become obvious at this point that something was going quite wrong. I was dribbling toothpaste out the right side of my mouth and my eyes were not co-operating and moving around of their own volition. Apparently it was driving my wife nuts with my eyes blinking out of sync.
I remember us sitting in the Doctors surgery with our 6 month old son and being told I had MS. I think my initial reaction was “what the Feck is that” followed by “I can’t even spell MS let alone Multiple Sclerosis”
So me being me and having worked in the technology field for nearly twenty years I went home and didn’t Google it for two years. I didn’t want to know. Was that smart?? I’m not sure. Driving was a big part of my job at the time and on my first trip back at work I was driving to Dunedin. I swear I checked my eyes and face in the rear view mirror every kilometre to make sure it was all still working again.
By the time I got to Oamaru I was so worried that all I could imagine was being in a virtual coma and my wife having to explain to our son why I couldn’t see him, touch him or tell him I love him. I was quite depressed at this point and I wanted to drive in front of a truck.
A trip to my GP when I got back is when I learnt that Depression is a very common symptom of MS and that suicide is the biggest killer of men with MS in NZ.
I spent the next two years on anti-depressants.
Depression, a facial palsy, separated vision and a munted equilibrium are obviously symptoms that I had to deal with at the outset. But that was all 6 years ago.
What else have I had?
My left leg decided to develop “drop foot” a couple of years back and I realised last weekend that it never 100% recovered. Scuff marks on the front of my left shoe are a bit of a giveaway.
Everything else I have are all why MS is called an invisible disease. Fatigue, Pain, Brain Fog and spasms are my equivalent of the four horsemen.
So, what have I learnt from 6 years with MS?
I think that we fight MS on three fronts.
- Physical Battle
- Mental Battle
- Social Battle
The battles are all intertwined but let me break them down a bit.
Physical – we live with our symptoms every day and most of them we can’t control. We can’t control our relapses. We can’t control the pain. But there are things we can do that can help us with some of the physical battle. The heat flattens me and jumps on my fatigue like a goat on a trampoline. I can’t control this BUT I can make sure I drink plenty of water, avoid too much son and if I get too hot lie down on a pet mat I bought from Bunnings.
Mental – It is very easy to just bury your head in the sand and wrap yourself in bubble wrap – I did for two years. The cold hard reality is we all have to live with MS in one way or another. What works for me mentally may not work for you. We are all different. I try to see the funny side of things, I do get angry sometimes, particularly when I just can’t do things like I used to. But like everything it is about how we CHOOSE to deal with it. I’m a red head and in the past I have chosen poorly to live with that fact – I got my hair streaked, the bleach made it looks like urine. Like most things from the late 80’s I chose poorly.
Social – I reckon this is the toughest battle. Who has heard any of the following “But you don’t look sick” “I thought people with MS were all in wheelchairs” “We didn’t think you would want to come because you’re sick” The worst one I hear is “Daddy will you play with me” Whether people do it for the right reasons or not, comments like these can be hard to deal with. Humans are social beings at heart, we crave the love and attention of others. Having MS can impact directly and indirectly on our ability to socialise. It is very easy to become isolated and to put ourselves into a self-imposed exile, to “wrap ourselves in bubble wrap” if you will. But I believe it is critical that we don’t. We may have to adjust how we socialise. I don’t know about you but I can’t party like I used to when I was 20. But I can sit down and have a beer after a game of bowls
I believe the key to living well with MS is not to try and live well with it every single damned day. You simply can’t. The key is to live your life well with MS.
Over the last 6 years I have achieved a number of things. I wrote and self-published a kids book, I run a Facebook page that is read worldwide. I’ve been published in three countries for pieces I have written on MS. Before my diagnosis the only writing I ever did was emails and texts but I’ve always been a voracious reader. The reality is I wouldn’t have done any of these if I didn’t have MS.
I don’t like having MS, but I do have to live with it. So do my wife and son and it is my choice how well we live with it together.
Speech from 7/4/16 at Ashburton MS Society