It starts when my feet go numb at work and no amount of stamping them about gets the feeling back. Over the course of the following weekend this numbness starts to spread until the sensation is akin to having had local anaesthetic up to my waist. It’s weird and it’s unnerving. On the Monday I’m waiting at the doctor’s, feeling like a fraud, fully expecting the GP to see my neurological history (benign but sizable brain tumour and surgery in 2012) and assume that I still couldn’t let go of the possibility that IT MIGHT STILL GET ME IN THE END.
But an hour later my husband Paul and I are holed up in a bay at the local A&E, me clutching an urgent referral letter from a GP who obviously didn’t think I was being paranoid. The first doctor I saw there said, quite matter-of-factly, ‘I don’t want to scare you but my first thoughts here are MS’. I can’t remember what I said in response, but I almost definitely said sorry or thanks, I probably actually said both.
And so began my not-really-very-pleasant journey towards a diagnosis involving MRIs, neurology appointments and a lumbar puncture which concluded that yes, I did in fact have multiple sclerosis, of the relapsing and remitting kind.
The last few months have been…emotional. Aside from the physical symptoms, I have been mentally wrung-out. I have grieved. I have been in denial. I have been filled with determination and grit, with a stoical acceptance. I have resolved to be strong and warrior-like. I have lost all resolve. Mostly, I have thought about the simple fact that I have MS, ALL-THE-BLOODY-TIME.
And what happened was that I started to see myself as an ill person, destined for strange medications, hospitals and a sedentary lifestyle. With legs like these, with this balance, with this fatigue, how could I ever be strong and fit again? I started some MS medication that very quickly caused some quite serious liver problems and it was while I was being treated with another drug to counteract this, that made me feel even worse, that I started to think – hang on a minute, I need some positivity in my life!
I have dabbled with running here and there in the past, in an attempt to lose weight, an attempt at feeling stronger, an attempt to calm an anxious mind and so on and so on, and it has always worked to those effects. In fact, after my brain surgery in 2012 I turned to running in a big way, completing the Bath Half marathon in 2013. As I lined up with thousands of others at the start line of that race, our breaths fogging in little nervous bursts above our heads, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I did both before I’d even filed past the official start line. I am not exaggerating when I say that, for me, passing the finish line was transcendental. I had never before felt so accomplished.
Over the last few weeks I have begun again to crave that focus and the rhythm of steps and raised heartbeat, the cold air, the warm sun, the puddle-splash, birdsong, the dawns and the dusks that so often feature in a run and seem to sing in chorus; You’re Alive, You’re Alive!
Running gave me a positive focus and served as a way of celebrating what it is to be alive back in 2012 and I realised that I needed some of that back in my life now. I started to read more and more MS blogs and research that all lauded the undeniable positive effects of exercise and healthy diet in a holistic approach to the condition. It started to become clear to me what I needed to do.
And so last week I logged on to the Bath Half marathon website and booked my place for 2018. I also emailed the MS Trust, an organisation I have found incredibly informative and the source of funding for my lovely and indispensable MS nurse, and told them I would be running it to raise funds for them.
I am realistic; this is going to be a mission. MS is unpredictable and could quite possibly throw up a few hurdles along the way, I’m not as fit as I have been in the past and my legs don’t always work quite the way I want them to, but this is not about training to beat a PB or even achieve a certain time. It’s about a commitment to myself to be as healthy and strong in both mind and body as I can possibly be. It’s about saying to myself, Ok, I have MS and it is what it is, but you know what? I’m alive …and I’m gonna run with it.