'I thought all my hopes and dreams were quashed... I was wrong' – young woman on shock MS diagnosis
"My first thought was ‘am I going to end up in a wheelchair?’ It was devastating... I believed my life was all over".
These are the words of Sharon Henvey, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 28.
Sharon has been living with MS for 10 years now.
"[The diagnosis] was such a shock. I had symptoms for a few years, like fatigue, weakness in my arms, pins and needles. When I got the MRI scan I just couldn’t believe it."
The Meath woman is the ambassador for this year’s World MS Day.
It took her four years to fully accept her diagnosis.
"It took a while for me to emotionally come to terms with it. My head was a mess and my body reflected this," she said.
However, Sharon said counselling really helped her.
Fatigue is something that Sharon regularly has to deal with.
"There are days when I can’t get out of bed. I have to manage my energy levels, so for example if I have a wedding at the weekend I need to conserve or store up my energy for that weekend. If I don’t I will pay for it."
Sharon says that often, as her symptoms are invisible, they are hard to explain to people.
"I am not in a wheelchair, but MS does impact my life. I have to plan every journey, because I can’t stand or walk for too long. I need to make sure I have comfortable shoes."
Because Sharon appears able-bodied she said she doesn’t suffer discrimination, but she explained how this can be a double-edged sword.
"It is hard to explain to someone when you do need a support like a chair because you don’t look like you are sick or unwell. People might think you are just lazy.
"MS doesn’t define who I am, but I do live with it every day."
According to MS Ireland, common MS myths are that it is untreatable and that people with the condition can’t have children. Sharon defies these misconceptions.
"I get injections [treatment] three times a week and I respond well to them. I live a full life, I work and I have a child. It is a chronic health condition but with support it is manageable."
She still has symptoms, but she doesn’t let them get to her.
"Since I had my son last year, I have a problem with my right leg where it causes me to trip over myself. I get spasms in my hands and legs, they might jump or tickle, but people wouldn’t realise."
One difficult aspect for Sharon is managing fatigue because it can lead to isolation.
"If you can’t get out of bed, nobody sees you. You become withdrawn and isolated, and then the person with MS becomes invisible. Without the support and help from MS Ireland this would happen to so many people.
"MS affects everyone differently. That is why you should ask people how they are doing. It is especially important as an employer to ask what you can do to help support workers with MS, and for people with MS to be able to tell their employer what they need."
MS is the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland.
MS Ireland provides vital services that reduce the impact of MS including physiotherapy, general support services, and newly diagnosed seminars.
For information on World MS Day events around the country please visit www.ms-society.ie.