Sunday 1 February 2015

I beat MS

When diagnosed, Dermot O'Connor completely changed his lifestyle and his symptoms vanished. Anyone, he says, can heal themselves ...

Always a night owl, I woke up one morning in 1998 feeling tired and groggy. I rushed into work, but when I settled at my desk I soon realised that this was not going to be any ordinary day.

When I tried to speak, the words just wouldn't come out. The harder I tried, the worse it sounded.

This was terrifying. What was happening to me?

I went home and retired to bed hoping that some good rest would miraculously restore my speech.

However, this hope soon faded when I realised that not only had I the same difficulty speaking, but I had now started to lose sensation in my body.

Following a stint in hospital and a series of tests, I was given the most devastating news -- I had a particularly aggressive form of the neurological disorder Multiple Sclerosis.

The neurologist believed that this life-changing and crippling disease was very active in me and I was destined for an extremely rapid decline.

He considered that I would be very fortunate if I was still able to walk within two years. I knew he was widely considered the most eminent of his profession, so how could I question his judgement?

This was, to me, perhaps the cruellest of all illnesses. Whenever I heard about people travelling to Switzerland for euthanasia, it was usually in relation to MS.

Rather than endure the inevitable loss of function and dignity that frequently accompanies this condition, they would prefer to embrace death.

One famous sufferer, the razor-sharp comedian Richard Pryor, had MS and he ended his days confined to a wheelchair unable to speak or feed himself.

To say I was terrified is an understatement. What could have caused all of this? Like anyone in this situation, I asked, "Why me?"

From there, I began a journey, that started with a period of self-reflection. I questioned everything about my life. I looked at my own psychology, my emotions and my tendency to dwell on frustrations and resentments.

Something as trivial as being dropped from a rugby team when I was 15 would still make me really angry when I thought about, even though I was now almost 30!

The quote ascribed to Buddha came to mind: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

I also looked at my nutrition and approach to exercise. Where I worked, I was fondly known as the "human dustbin". Colleagues joked that if they didn't want to finish their lunch, they could leave it on my desk and I'd polish it off.

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