Studying with MS

During the first lockdown Maggie Green reflected on her diagnosis of MS in 2016 and why she has returned to her studies.

Last year during the first lockdown, I tried to keep busy but being at home gave me lots of time to think and my thoughts turned to 2016, the year I was diagnosed with RRMS. When I was diagnosed, I was very unwell I had no grip in my hands, I was numb, I had pins and needles, debilitating fatigue, brain fog and when I tried to walk it felt like I was trying to wade through waist high wet sand. During that time, I lost my identity for a little while. I was finishing my second master’s and I was struggling to complete it. I had hoped to go on to further study the following year but the diagnosis took over and I spent the next few years coming to terms with my life with MS. I did not think I would ever study again. I was wrong.

During early summer 2020, after lots of research and long talks with my husband I decided to apply to the Doctorate in Education programme in DCU. I contacted the university and before I knew it, I had filled in an application form and submitted my research proposal. A few weeks later I was called for interview, via Zoom of course, and shortly thereafter I was accepted on to the course. I was ecstatic and a little terrified.

I started my course in late August 2020 and I was very aware that I would need to manage my energy effectively. I was worried that the fatigue would impact my ability to work to the level that was expected. MS had impacted my confidence and my faith in my own ability but rather than give up I tried to be proactive. I knew that I had more energy in the mornings than late at night so I started to get up early to read so that I could stay up to date with course work. As the assignments rolled in I started to panic a little, deadlines loomed and working full time, looking after my children and studying meant that my energy levels depleted rapidly each day. I knew that if I was going to sustain throughout the four-year course I needed to put good systems in place.

My husband set up an office space for me in the spare bedroom. I have lectures via Zoom every month from 4.30pm – 8.30pm on Friday and then 9am-6pm on Saturday and whilst I really enjoy the content, I find them challenging. My concentration dips in the evening and dips even further when I get tired. I get through the Zoom sessions with heat packs on my lower back and chest to alleviate the pain from sitting for long periods of time. I listen to my brilliant classmates talking with seeming ease during the calls and a little bit of me feels too scared to speak in case I have difficulty with word finding and cannot get my sentence out coherently. I don’t communicate this to my lecturers though as I don’t want to make excuses. I want to be on a level playing field with my EdD colleagues. I’m stubborn.

Studying with MS has come with challenges. I am not a brilliant student by any means, but I do work hard, and I want to do as well as I can and learn as much as I can. DCU is an incredibly supportive university, and the chair of our programme is exceptionally approachable and kind. My EdD colleagues are amazing and although it has been hard to get to know one another in the traditional way the experience of studying together via Zoom has created a bond between us. My research group are the most witty, wonderful, dedicated educators I have ever encountered, and they have made this journey so much easier. On the days when things get too much and the tasks before me seem insurmountable our WhatsApp group keeps me going. We bolster one another and encourage each other to keep going.

MS doesn’t make it easy but with support and good dash of stubbornness, anything is possible.

Maggie Green