Helen Fowler: Happiness and freedom by staying in the moment

Spikes of buckthorn branches catch at my sleeve, scratching my arm.

Writer Helen Fowler.
Writer Helen Fowler.

We are following other families as we slowly make our way along the dusty, sandy path. Nettles jostle at my legs, hogweed plants tower above us. Salt air catches in my throat, filling my lungs.

Then it happens; I’m taken aback. I’ve been here many times before; but nothing ever prepares me for this moment, the sheer, arresting wonder of blueness opening up in front of me. I can’t look at anything beside the sea as it comes into view.

The water crowds out thoughts of anything else, leaving no room for the niggling worry that has dogged me since we set out. I stop thinking about whether I remembered to lock the back door and if I took my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) medication or not. The bigger stuff vanishes from view too.

All I can see and feel is the view of the sea. There’s no room here to worry about the future, about whether l might be due to have another attack. Like the one two years ago that left me temporarily half-blind and unable to walk. Here I notice only seagulls swooping overhead, sand rubbing against my feet, the warmth of sun on my skin.


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The view and all the feelings it evokes are the more wondrous for being so unexpected, even now, after previous visits. It’s a beautiful day to be here at Yellowcraigs and my MS is not taking that away from me. In fact, if anything, having MS has made me more determined to live in the present, without worrying about the future.

Earlier I was wondering if I could manage this walk to a beach party for my daughter’s year group at school. Now I realize it doesn’t matter whether my head is telling me I can or can’t do this. I need to keep going forward, to get my daughter to this barbeque to celebrate the fact she is finishing primary school.

I was frightened of having another fall. But now all I can think about is putting one foot in front of another. I don’t care even if I do fall. I’m not doing this for myself; I’m doing it for my daughter. So I just keep going, trying not to worry about previous falls or ones yet to happen.

The smell of meat cooking on an open fire wafts over to us, encouraging us to keep going. We walk down a slope toward the cooking area. Some of the dads stand there, tending the burning coals. Sausages, rolls and ketchup are lined up, already attracting hungry takers.


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My younger daughter and I perch on a blow-up sofa near to the cooking. Sat here in the sunshine, looking out to the lighthouse on Fidra Island, scarcely a breeze disturbing the sunshine, I realise something unusual is going on. I’m enjoying myself, here, now, in the present moment. It’s a time of laughter, freedom and happiness. I am able to be a part of it – and that’s all that matters.

Living in the present may take practice, avoiding all those fears about the future, as well as sadness from the past. But it’s a gift that is always here for the taking. Even with MS. No, especially with MS. The sand between my toes reminds me of that.

The only problem is that sometimes I forget to stay anchored in the present. Yet it’s only when my mind spins off into MS attacks from the past and ones that have yet to happen that I feel miserable. Here in the present moment, life is always bearable. Sometimes, on an afternoon like today, it’s a lot more than just that.

Helen Fowler is a journalist in Edinburgh and MS campaigner