Helen Fowler: I was scared to believe, but hope is never gone

Helen Fowler

Helen Fowler

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It’s summer, almost two years ago. I am attempting to cross Douglas Crescent, a street in the centre of Edinburgh.

I set out across the road. There’s no traffic coming, well, none that I can see, anyway.

I have made it about half-way across the road. But suddenly my legs buckle under me. Something isn’t working in my body the way it normally does. Sensation, control and power – they’re all gone.

I’m frightened and horrified. A couple of weeks earlier I got my diagnosis of MS. It was triggered by me losing my sight. But I didn’t realise that this current attack of MS would mean losing my balance and mobility too.

I collapse on the tarmac, tearing the fabric of my leggings and grazing my knees. I remain lying on the ground, crying. I can’t seem to get my limbs to do what I’m telling them.

I start to panic, thinking I’m about to get run over. I can’t let that happen; my kids need me, or so I tell myself. Fortunately, the traffic around me stops. Drivers pull on their brakes and look at me. They appear concerned, not annoyed.

My husband catches up with me at last. He got left behind earlier as he was busy parking the car. He hauls me to my feet. Together we walk back to the car, me staggering and clinging onto him, conscious of my torn leggings. All I want to do is to go home.

READ MORE - Helen Fowler: The past is no longer in the past

At the time I have no idea if any of this is ever going to get better. As well as being unable to walk unaided, I can’t see well enough to use a mobile phone, read a book or watch TV.

It’s barely twelve months later. A neighbour asks me and my children if we would like to go for a walk on nearby Corstorphine Hill. I’m cautious. She offers to lend me an arm. I think about taking a stick too, but decide to risk it without one.

My children run off ahead of us, not even turning round when I ask them to be careful. I cling onto my neighbour.

Together we walk up through the sunshine to the Walled Garden of Corstorphine. It’s known as a haven but I’ve never been inside it; we moved to the area only a few months before my MS got bad.

Once we get inside the safety of the garden my children start screaming with delight. They race each other around the gravel paths; hide behind trees, skip and sing.

My kids suggest a game of hide and seek. “Mummy, come and find us,” says my younger daughter. I’m about to duck out of the offer, saying that no, sorry, I can’t do that. Not with the MS. But then I think again.

“All right, you run and hide. Then I’m coming to find you.” I start to count, covering my eyes with my hands. “Don’t look,” my children instruct me. I get to a hundred, open my eyes and look around. I see no sign of them. But I can hear giggles. I set out to look for the source of the laughter. On foot. On my own.

It’s only later that I realise I never even stopped to think about whether I could manage to walk in the Walled Garden that day. And it’s later still that I realise the trip was a turning point for us all.

The Walled Garden was brought back to life by a group of volunteers ten years ago. Before they started, the place was hardly recognisable as a garden. Just mud and bare earth.

Like the Walled Garden, I’m in a much better state. Yet there was a time – quite a long time – when I didn’t dare believe that might happen.

When they said my type of MS had periods of remission, I was scared to believe the doctors. But hope is never gone. Not entirely, anyway.

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