Rural Life with MS

This week Niamh McCarron writes on the joys of rural living and how her life, and access to medical services, has changed since moving to Dublin city. 

Life with a long-term illness like MS is a balancing act. As time goes on, I’ve learned that I need to balance work with rest and for every ‘big night out’, there is a payback of weeks of early nights. In Ireland, there is also a balance between the services available in bigger towns and those available more rurally. Personally, I’ve experienced both city and country living since I was diagnosed with MS, so when thinking about this blog post I was able to reflect on my time in both locations.

I am from Donegal, but I have spent most of my adult life living in Dublin. About a year into my diagnosis, and for the following four years, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to work from home in Donegal. This period of time allowed me to get used to my MS, at a slower pace. Then, a few years ago, we made the move back to Dublin. Donegal will always be home for me, but I also love the buzz and convenience of the city.  

One thing we considered when moving back to the Capital was the impact it would have on my MS and the treatments I receive. My main concern was that going from working from home to being back into the busier world of commuting and office life would play havoc with my fatigue and result in a sensory overload. I mean, I had rolled out of bed at 8.30 am and worn tracksuit bottoms for four years! I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to deal with Dublin and MS. We partly got around that by moving into a house six minutes from the office. My company know all about my MS, so we came up with plans to help me if I needed to adjust.

Next, I had to think about the access to MS services I had in Donegal versus what I would have in Dublin. Currently, I have a neurology appointment approximately every nine to twelve months. Let’s face it; one or two appointments a year aren’t going to upset my schedule too much, regardless of where I am living. In Donegal, though, I had to travel to Sligo for appointments, a 2.5-hour trip each-way. This was fine when I was going to a scheduled appointment, but it was a stressful journey when I was having a relapse and needed to be admitted. Just for ‘normal’ illness, my nearest A & E department was an hour away. In Dublin, I can access the MS Clinic in St Vincent’s before work in the morning and be at my desk by 10 am. I also have a choice of hospitals I can get to pretty quickly if I needed to in an emergency. 

Of course, it is unrealistic to think that everyone across the country can have the same level of access to facilities. By its very nature, living rurally means that you can’t have everything on your doorstep. Rural living meant that I was too far away to travel to a lot of local MS Ireland meetings, but it also meant I could be at an empty beach within a few minutes – a ‘therapy’ of sorts that I can’t replicate while living in the city.

Rural living can be isolating. One of the reasons I started blogging for the MS and Me blog was to connect with people who understood what I was dealing with. At the time, I didn’t know anyone with MS who lived close to me. Blogging, social media and joining online communities helped bring the big wide world into my wee house in the middle of nowhere. 

Those contacts and friends came with me when I moved and they are still with me today. We still keep in touch online only now I have more of a chance to actually meet with them for coffee. It’s lovely to have the ability, at short notice, to meet someone in town after work. There are many days though, I’d prefer to be sitting on my old back step chatting to the cows in the next field – I think this Town Mouse will always be a Country Mouse! 

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