Manning Up To MS

Monday, November 19th is International Men’s Day, a celebration of the positive value men bring to the world, their families and their communities. Today Keith Byrne shares his experience and talks about ‘manning up to MS’.

I've been lucky to share my life with some great men. My Dad, my Granddads, extended family members, colleagues and friends. I think that's what made it so hard for me to initially open up about my MS diagnosis. It was as if I didn't belong in the same category as these men that I idolised. I in no way tick any of the pre-requisites society associates with being a ‘manly man’. I'm not the strong/silent type or ‘tall, dark & handsome’ at 5ft. 4 and bald. There is also the statistic that more than twice as many women are diagnosed with MS than men. I was a gamma male, never to be an alpha.

Yet being diagnosed with MS awoke a strength in me that I always knew was there yet I never felt I had a reason to channel it. Once I came to terms with my diagnosis things started to improve both mentally and physically. This didn't happen overnight. It took a number of months as well as discussions with my MS nurse, nutritionist and my close family too. Eventually, after my first ‘MS Newly Diagnosed Day’ I gathered the strength to come out of the MS closet.

Talking about my diagnosis is something I've learned to be very comfortable with. I've since done newspaper and radio interviews. I also started seeing a counsellor. Over the summer, I took part in a video for my job to promote mental health awareness. As part of the promotion for the video, I was asked to speak to a group of approximately fifty of my peers (most of whom I'd never met in person). Each scenario has been a massive challenge as each time I felt totally out of my comfort zone. I can develop an inherent shakiness in these circumstances and I'm conscious that might come across when I'm talking to a crowd of people. Yet I find each time I challenge myself, I’m a little less nervous and little more brave the next time around.

It can't be underestimated how much stress affects our health. I'm intentionally putting myself in situations where my confidence is stretched to its core. It might sound like I'm bringing unnecessary burdens upon myself but there is method to the madness. I feel that, by deliberately challenging myself, I might be that little bit more prepared for situations that are out of my control. I wouldn't say I do this on a daily basis. Ultimately, I have relapse remitting MS From time to time I need a break away from everything.

Outside of the daily challenges caused by MS, like fatigue and brain fog, my biggest challenge to date was the Dublin Marathon at the end of October. In the 3 and a half years or so since my mobility and vision returned back to a somewhat acceptable level I've been trying maintain an active lifestyle. A couple of lunchtime runs a week and maybe a longer one at the weekend led to me signing up for the marathon. The crowds of people out showing their support from the outset of the 26.2-mile trek was so uplifting. I especially felt humbled when I was struggling around mile 20 and I got a pat on the back from a guy as he ran past wearing the same TeamMS t-shirt as me, "Come on pal not long to go, you can do it". Thanks for the motivation and I'm proud to say I did do it!

On the way into the marathon I met a man from Cork who was in Dublin for the day just to run it. We shared a taxi into town. He told me he was 66 and on his 313th marathon. An unbelievable achievement by any means but he also said he only ran his first one in 1999. I'm sure he had his reasons for starting something so taxing relatively late in life and it made me think; we all have our own path to follow and sometimes we get knocked off track. MS has certainly changed the course of my path. Perhaps, in some strange way, it's helped point me in the right direction. I no longer feel inferior to the men who inspire me. I have gained the awareness to realise they already see me as their equal. 

To all the men out there, fellow MSers, Carers, well-wishers and generally sound lads I'll leave you with this quote by Liverpudlian songwriter John Power: 

"Someone will always be more than I'll ever be so then I'll be myself"