Helen Fowler: My stereotype of MS was demolished by reality

Helen Fowler
Helen Fowler
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Lying on the carpet in my bedroom, I am following the instructions from the physio for my MS.

I’ve done the Base Position and the Bridge. Now for the most challenging of all: Table Top.

I lift first one leg off the floor, then the other. I hold them aloft, knees bent, for five seconds at a time.

The idea is I should bear a (passing) resemblance to a table top. Maybe if you use a great deal of imagination.

It’s easy the first time. By the fifth, my legs hurt. A throbbing pain runs through them.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. My younger daughter sits on the bed counting. I lie on the floor, legs lifted up in the air. I feel ridiculous. And glad that only close family members can see me.

When I was diagnosed with MS eighteen months ago, I expected someone to tell me to rest, look after myself.

I thought getting MS meant slowly – but inexorably – spending more time in a wheelchair. Instead, I’m stronger than at almost any other point in my life. I weigh less than I did on my wedding day.

Okay, it’s true some of the weight loss is due to fear. I can’t eat when I’m frightened. And I was terrified on getting that diagnosis.

But I am stronger in some ways than I ever expected to be with MS.

It’s a few days after my last exercise session. I catch the bus to the bottom of the hill near our home.

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There are no seats available when I get on in the city centre. So I stand and hold onto a strap.

I’m aware of my stomach muscles tightening as the bus slows down and speeds up.

I get off the bus. Gingerly. Then debate with myself whether to wait for another one that will take me all the way to our street.

No, I’ll chance it. I’ll walk up the hill. All those exercises, night after night, should mean I’m strong enough to tackle the climb.

I start walking. I keep myself going by counting my steps as I climb the hill.

How high have I counted? I can’t remember. I start counting again. The ascent of Everest creeps into my mind. Oh, dear: how silly. I must just keep going.

I pause to rest, sitting down on a garden wall for a few minutes.

And I gaze at the stars, trying to muster energy for the last 400 metres. No, it’s no good. Even with the strength from the exercises, I can’t keep going. I phone home.

A few minutes later, the shrieks of my children announce their arrival. My husband follows behind. We all sit on the garden wall together. My younger daughter proudly shows me her injured finger. I peer at it as best I can, offering sympathy.

My husband offers to bring the car down to take us all home. But I’m feeling much better for my family’s arrival and a rest. I say no, thank you. I can do this; I can walk the last stretch.

Together we set off. The stars are twinkling as we round the corner to home. Another hundred metres and I’ll have made it.

My stereotype of MS has been demolished by the reality. There’s no doubt it’s harder now to walk up that hill. But I’m still able to do it.

When I got my diagnosis I thought my life as I knew it was over. I’ve never been happier in all my days to be wrong about something.

Helen Fowler is an Edinburgh-based journalist and MS campaigner