This time two years ago life was great, I had returned to education. I had my life together and had begun training as a hairdresser, had two beautiful kids and a beautiful home for my little family. Okay, so being a single mother was never in the Grand Plan, but we were happy. Life was great. How things can change in the space of a few weeks….
On the 14th of February 2015 just before my 25th birthday my whole world came crashing down around me. It was on this day that my GP said four words that changed my life forever, “Michelle, it's Multiple Sclerosis”. How did it feel to hear those words? I have no idea, I was numb. Unable to feel anything. Honestly, I had no idea what multiple sclerosis even was but I just knew it wasn’t good. Looking back now I can’t remember the day properly I was in such a haze. I remember my GP trying to explain the diagnosis to me in simple terms and try to put a positive spin on it. Sitting in my car trying to make sense of it all, crying until there were no more tears left to cry. Stumbling in home to tell my family the news I had received, watching my father’s face crumble in heartbreak, looking into my mother’s eyes as she struggled to stop herself from collapsing in devastation, watching the worry spread across my aunt's face, looking at my two-year-old son playing on the floor, oblivious to what was going on and watching my seven-year-old daughter outside playing happily with her friends. At that point I had no understanding of the diagnosis and worry set in. What about my kids? Will I be able to look after them? Will we no longer be the three musketeers? Will I be in a wheelchair? How bad is this really? All of these questions in my head and nobody to answer them.
In the days that followed I tried my best to hold it together, my children were my reason to get up each morning and for them I had no choice but to continue as I always had. I would get up and get through my day, get them ready for school/childminder, go to college, come home and do the same routine as every other day. By day I tried to suppress how I felt, it was the only way I could get through. I would block it out and hoped it would go away. I was so scared of what this meant for us and how we would cope. But by night, when the kids were safely tucked up in bed, I would fall apart.
A few weeks later I woke up with the whole left-hand side of my body numb/tingly as if someone had drawn a line down the middle of my body. My right side was unaffected but the left side completely dead. Panic set in and I had no idea of what to do, what was wrong with me? Is this MS? Is this numbness the start of my deterioration? I called my GP and he sent me straight to the Mercy University Hospital, I was admitted and ended up staying for a week. Again, another hazy period of time, a blur of blood tests, lumbar punctures, IV steroids, prodding and poking, eyes exams, MRI scans, x-rays, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, teams of doctors, student doctors, endless questionnaires, sympathetic looks, big words and phrases I didn’t understand. Relapse? Symptoms? Lesions? Exacerbations? Gilenya? Tecfidera? I remember feeling the most alone and scared I had ever felt in my life. I couldn’t even have visitors as the hospital was closed to outsiders. Being away from my children absolutely broke my heart, I had never been away from them for so long. I just spent a week lying there feeling empty, lonely and broken.
Looking back now I have one massive positive from that week and that is the neurology team that I am under. Dr O’Toole and my MS nurse Niamh have been a tower of support when I have needed them. Dr O’Toole came to my bedside, sat with me and answered my questions as best she could. She provided me with so much vital information and introduced me to the wonderful organisation that is MS Ireland. I did start to feel a little more positive after this conversation, although perhaps that could have been more to do with the fact that she told me I could go home the following day, more than me being more understanding of the diagnosis! My mother collected me from hospital and I couldn’t get into the car quick enough to see my beautiful babies sitting in the back. One thing I will never forget is the smiles that beamed from ear to ear on both their faces when they saw me. In the days that followed I was over the moon to be home with my children and family again. The kids didn’t leave me out of their sight in case I would disappear again- I still can’t so much as have a shower in peace! They are still checking up on me but I don’t mind, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I did suffer from severe migraines and back pain for a few weeks after but slowly they started to become less regular until they stopped completely and life stated slowly to return to normal.
I started to pull out the information leaflets and booklets I’d been given and set upon the task of understating and managing this disease. I started trawling through the MS Ireland website and have never looked back. All the information I needed was right there, I even got to read other people’s stories. Eventually I plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and get in touch with a woman from MS Ireland called Patricia Lucey. That was the single best phone call I have ever made. She has been a rock for me to stand on, always there to talk and, more importantly, to listen. She has made several house calls to me and has even introduced me to meditation to help me manage my anxiety. Without the support of Patricia and MS Ireland I don’t know where I would be today or what version of myself I would be. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am and do suffer a lot more than I do, I am merely trying to encourage fellow MS’ers to try grab the positive and run with it. There will be days when that seems the impossible but there is always a positive. You just have to find it….
This is not the end of her story. Michelle is going to jump out of a plane to raise money for the work of MS Ireland. To donate and read more about Michelle visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Michelle-Hanley3