My MS Passion Piece

This week Willeke Van Eeckhoutte writes about her passion and shares with us how her childhood dreams did come true. 

When asked what I am passionate about, I need not look very far. I am in it and have my nose it in it quite a bit!

People often ask me what brought me to Ireland, to which I reply, “Not a job. Not a man. Not winning the lottery, but IRELAND itself, warts and all! Rugby, history, nature, Irish people, literature, museums… why not?!” When I’m then asked “You must have been here a good while because I can hear a certain Irish accent there,” I proudly think back to Halloween 2002, ten days after securing a job in Dublin when I hauled myself and two suitcases, one 100 litre backpack and two sports bags to the airport. Somewhere mid-air over England, I thought, “This really IS happening!”

Ireland was, and is, a dream that came true. As a teenager, I always found myself in a library with my nose stuck in books and travel guides about Ireland as well as watching news reports and documentaries. When I started reading the literature by James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, Colm Tóibín and others, Ireland became something magical; the land of my heart’s desire. I became a library assistant after finishing library sciences, but it always felt as if my circle of life was not whole yet.

It took me a while to finally say, “Mum, Dad, I really love you, but I have to do this. I cannot be happy if I’m not somewhere my head and my heart is urging me to go. I need to be near Brú na Boinne, Beara, An Daingean or Gaillimh and have Irish craic agus ceol!” And so I emigrated to these fine shores. Fourteen years and counting.

I had a good job and had the time of my life travelling around Ireland, meeting Irish people, talking about history and singing songs by the open fire. I discovered the innate decency and caring for others in Irish people as well as passion about and dedication to their history. ‘You, the Irish’ became ‘Us Irish’. My heart had come home. In 2005, I was told that I had multiple sclerosis. Four and a half years post-diagnosis, I retired from work due to ongoing severe fatigue and all sorts of eye and facial pains. I refused to let MS define me, though. 

I rediscovered the bibliophile I once was; after all I’d spent half my childhood and the better part of seven years working as a library assistant. Finally in Ireland, I stood by Yeats’s grave near Ben Bulben in Drumcliffe, County Sligo. Now I’m working my way through Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and the Long Room in Trinity College can still bring tears to my eyes. I’m the type of book nerd that embodies the joke about someone having to choose between books and their relationship, where the booklover says, “I still think of him/her when I leave the bookshop with more new books!”

Of course, books are not everything and Ireland is not without its faults. Neither is my native country and neither am I for that matter. Greedy politicians and health systems that didn’t seem to work have inspired me to write lengthy emails asking for the renewal of disability services. I slowly but passionately waded into advocacy waters with MS Ireland by my side. A new passion was born, one that I can stretch as tight or as wide as I can. Obviously, MS didn’t disappear after retiring, but now I can rest and relax now when I need to instead of having to wait until 5pm because my work schedule forces me to stay at work. 

MS is like a bowling game- ten pins at the end of a bowling alley and all over the place with a red light beeping, ‘Try again in an hour!’. At least now, however, I can say, “Nah, I will try again tomorrow because I need to go to bed and read or write a book about Ireland!”

If you want to read more of Willeke’s own blog, please check Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me and Twitter