Four years ago, I woke up and realised I couldn’t feel my right leg. It was an otherwise unremarkable Thursday morning in April and at first, I put the numbness down to sleeping funny, or a trapped nerve. I was working as a teacher with a packed schedule and couldn't contemplate the idea of falling ill.
Before that day, I’d also been feeling a lot more tired than usual but had put it down to 'teacher’s flu'. In fact, I almost felt embarrassed that I was seemingly unable to hack the pace of my new job – but when I swung my legs out of bed and realised I couldn't feel the ground beneath me, I knew it was time to see a doctor.
My GP referred me for tests and I was taken to hospital, where I fretted about occupying a bed that was more urgently needed by someone else. After scans and a lumbar puncture, where needles are put into your back to extract spinal fluid, I was allowed to leave, but returned for subsequent MRIs and further appointments.
Finally, six months later, I was diagnosed with relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable neurological condition that affects your brain and spinal cord. In people who have MS, the coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged and your immune system attacks itself. It’s estimated there are over 130,000 people living with MS in the UK, with around 15,700 of those based in Scotland like me.
Part of the reason it can take so long to get an MS diagnosis is because the symptoms are so varied – for some people the condition impacts their vision, but others lose their balance or ability to walk, talk and swallow. There's also not one fixed test that can diagnose MS. For me, MS is personally characterised by loss of sensation, muscle spasms and extreme fatigue (to the extent that even putting my hair in rollers can feel exhausting).
At first, I was in a daze and it definitely took some time to process the news. Hearing people say things like “Is MS the one where you end up in a wheelchair?” didn’t help either, but a Revive MS course taught me that grieving isn’t something we only do when a loved one dies – you can grieve for your health too. In fact, it's common to do so after a diagnosis like mine. Once I’d accepted that, I wanted to educate myself about MS as much as I possibly could. Feeling knowledgable helped me to regain a feeling of control.
After extensive reading up, I made a new life motto for myself: MS is incurable, but it's not terminal. I try and view my diagnosis as a motivator now, it's forced me to take stock and consider what makes life truly valuable and what brings me joy. I'm still a teacher (and after a year of practice I can walk in heels again) but I do have to pace myself more.
I know that if I'm overtired my leg will go again or other symptoms will flare up. If I use up too much energy, I'll need to rest. On the whole though, Multiple Sclerosis is a driving force that sees me go after what makes me happy.
How Kimberley manages her MS:
Determined to prove MS doesn’t have to stop you from achieving great things, I travelled to Africa and helped to build a school. I've also created my own vintage fashion magazine, C’est La Vintage.
It helps to prevent me relapsing and controls some of my symptoms (although it can also introduce new ones, such as hot flushes). Oxygen therapy can aid with repairing muscles too.
Seeing Selma Blair, who also has MS, on the red carpet with her walking cane was a big moment for me. That said, it’s not always obvious if somebody has MS, which is why raising awareness is crucial.
For more information about Multiple Sclerosis, including where to get emotional and financial support, visit the MS Society website or call the helpline on 0808 800 8000 (it's open Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm).
The MS Trust also have plenty of valuable resources and are on-hand to answer questions about MS through via helpline on 0800 032 3839 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or email email@example.com.
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