Every muscle in my body was screaming. Every little negative voice had creeped in. “I can’t do this,” I cried to Niall, my fiancée, as we struggled up the last hill of the 2015 Dublin half marathon.
“Yes you can,” he shouted, reminding me of all I’d been through in the last few months – the tests, the weeks in hospital, the lumbar punctures…
“If you can do that then this, right now, is nothing. It’s just you and a bit of road.”
…so, I somehow mustered up strength I never knew I had. I sprinted those last few kilometres. That little flicker of hope got me across that finish line. It will remain one of my proudest accomplishments – all because I allowed hope to shout louder than fear.
Little did I know how much of a metaphor for life with MS it would become.
A year to the day of that half marathon I had my second relapse in the space of three months. My right leg stopped working and I was left staring at my walking stick instead of my running gear.
Yet, instead of feeling sad, it made me realise how important it is to live in the present – to not put off the things you dream of doing, even if MS means adapting those dreams.
One of my best decisions was lacing up my runners the day of my diagnosis and promising to run that half marathon. I didn’t think about how MS might affect that. I only dealt with the difficulties if they hit.
MS has been cruel to me in the last few months. I’ve spent days crying in pain, trapped in the house and feeling utterly lost. I could continue to worry about the future. What if my MS keeps getting worse? What if I’m still in pain and I need a wheelchair when we get married next year? What if the new drugs don’t work? What’s the point of all that fear though? It could potentially be more destructive than MS, so why give it that power?
Accepting you might need a wheelchair from time to time is difficult – but when I accepted that help, it actually gave me back my freedom. I was surprised to find I felt less disabled using one than I did shuffling along in pain.
The first day it arrived, we went straight to the park and just sat there breathing in the crisp scent of autumn, watching the beautiful leaves swirl to the ground in a flurry of colour like nothing else in the world mattered – and in that moment it didn’t. Cooped up in the house for weeks, I’d dreamt of that scene. It might seem like such a small thing, but in life it’s often the small things that carry us through.
That’s how I cope with MS – by being more mindful of the world around me. It’s about living in the moment and not allowing fear to alter your path. It’s about not putting things on hold. On the good days, it’s about embracing all that you can do and on the not-so-good days it’s about being kind to your body and focusing on things that bring a smile to your face.
During the tough times, it’s about believing you can get over that hill. So lace up those runners and get charging – charge at the fear, charge at the what ifs. Run for everything you’ve ever wanted and never fear resetting those goals – you, and only you, have the power to decide how much you let MS control your life.