Guest post by Kim Wilson, MS Walk ambassador
The first time I went scuba diving was a disaster. Diving for views of the tropical fish was part of my vacation package, so I geared up, hopped on the boat and they took us out. When it was my turn, I summersaulted into the water and just kept spinning. The instructor bear-hugged me and I freaked out thinking “this guy is going to drown me.” I kicked free, shot up to the surface and said “never again.”
Bob, my husband, has dived all over the world. When he asked me if I had ever been, I said yes – conveniently leaving out the near death experience. He wanted so badly for us to go together that I couldn’t bring myself to let him down, so we went to get my certification.
As soon as I hit the water, I started to hyperventilate and then couldn’t do much but float around the surface. I was determined though, and the instructor was patient. I had never in my life done anything I was that terrified of. In the end, despite a rocky start, I got my certification and now it’s a badge of success. In a lot of ways, my experience with diving is very similar to what it’s been like living with MS – you just have to press on.
At first, I kept my MS pretty private at work because I didn’t want to burden anyone. And I definitely didn’t want to be pitied. It was during a relapse that I finally let my first boss in Calgary know what was going on. He looked a little skeptical at first, “I need to look up more information about it.” He paused and I started to worry. “Because I don’t know much about it,” he continued, “and I want to know more so I can help you.”
Then, as I was rushing to an appointment last spring – a massage of all things – I fell. I did the quick two step to try to catch myself, but I had rolled my ankle and ended up taking those two steps with the side of my left foot. I grabbed the stop sign and held myself up as I tried to regain my composure. I had about a block and a half left to go, so I foolishly kept going. I caught the curb with my injured foot. My dress had ripped and was now stained with blood. I was so embarrassed. The timing couldn’t have been worse: It was 4pm – rush hour. The first thing that came to mind was “could this be my MS?” Then I just kept thinking “I don’t have time for this.”
Despite numerous physiotherapy and massage appointments, I still have mobility issues, a frozen shoulder makes it difficult for me to reach things with my left hand. My fall sparked a chain reaction of sorts. As a result, my MS became much more visible to others, which is what led me to “come out” to my co-workers at my current workplace. Up to that point, I’d never had trouble walking, but since the fall, when I get tired, my left foot doesn’t lift as high as it should. I reluctantly started using a collapsible walking stick, a bright purple one that I call Penelope. Penelope and I “rock” it together when I need her.
I now manage my symptoms by listening to my body and resting when necessary. I stop physical activity before I over do it. I have swallowed my pride and accepted help. I am not defined by my MS or by my disability. I only see ABILITY – which is the total opposite of how I felt in the beginning. When these symptoms first started, I had to miss my first MS Walk in 20 years. Now I’m taking care of myself and getting back in shape so that I don’t have to miss it again this year.
The turning point
I wasn’t always as optimistic as I am today. When I was first diagnosed in 1994, it was hard for me. I was 29 at the time, and having relapses every two years. I thought my life was over. I ran into all kinds of symptoms, from double vision to decreased sensation and numbness in my arms and legs.
A misinformed employer caused me problems at work, a close friend told me that I wasn’t “much fun anymore,” marriages didn’t work out – I was too young the first time and we ended up going our separate ways. My second husband left me for his assistant – although, looking back at the history of Parkinson’s in his family, I think he was afraid of my MS and of being in a caregiver role.
Things do have a way of turning around though. Bob and I have been married for just over 6 years now and my MS has actually brought our family closer together. We live in a condo across the river from downtown Calgary where I’m able to enjoy walking to work and strolling around the city. I’ve chosen to surround myself only with supportive, caring people who love me and I’ve learned to view my symptoms and relapses as bumps in the road – things I can overcome. After 22 years of living with the disease, I’m inspired by the people I have met and I am motivated to participate in giving a voice to people affected by MS. I now tell the people in my life about my MS right from the beginning because I want them to be aware, and I want to weed out the people who will bail on me because of it.
I want to give a face to MS and to be a positive role model for younger people affected by the disease. In 1994, this type of support just didn’t exist and I don’t want anyone to feel the same fear and hopelessness I felt then. If I can help even one person, I will consider my work a success. I am proud of the acceptance and support of people living with disabilities and the help that is available to improve the quality of life of those living with episodic illnesses. But each year as we come together for MS Walk across the country, we are reminded of how far we still have to go.
Kim is an #MSWalk ambassador. She lives in Calgary with her husband where she works as an Administrative Assistant at the National Energy Board. To her, a cure for MS would mean the best quality of life for everyone living with MS.
We will be sharing more stories from other #MSWalk ambassadors across Canada leading up to #MSWalk. Join Kim in the fight to end MS by registering for your local #MSWalk event today at mswalks.ca. Tell us in the comments: who do you walk for?