Graham and Nicki Law got married in 1997. Since then they’ve discovered that they are one of only a handful of couples in the UK where both partners have MS. Here they share their story and explain how they’ve found that mindfulness can help them deal with their symptoms and support each other.
In 2000 Nicki went to her GP with a numb leg. The GP immediately said it could be an early symptom of multiple sclerosis, MS. I found the news devastating, worrying, terrifying. What would happen to Nicki, to our children, to us? Still reeling from this news, a year later I began feeling some weird sensations in my legs and arms. I had weakness, balance problems, pain and numbness. Pull yourself together, I thought, you’re just copying Nicki. Nobody likes a hypochondriac. This is not how you were brought up.
But I realised that the temporary blindness, difficulties swallowing, the weird tingling in my hands when I looked down, all added up to the same thing. After seeing a neurologist I was diagnosed with MS also.
I felt angry. Why was this happening? I didn’t want to hear about the disease, about the future. I wanted to do the bloke’s thing and pretend it wasn’t happening.
I’m a GP – it’s a job I love. As a member of the medical world, you’d think I could deal with learning about my diagnosis of MS. But, as a person in this profession, I felt that I was not allowed to be ill. The irony that illness is frowned upon by other doctors and by managers. There’s a feeling that you’re letting the team down.
During the difficult early times I began to explore yoga. I have not looked back since then. Graham, ever the sceptic, couldn’t see how “an hour’s lying down” could provide any benefit. He keeps telling me that he is a born sceptic. His turning point was when he spent two weeks exploring his mood, his mind and his leadership style on another work course. He came back a different person. He had spent time exploring mindfulness and yoga, which meant he had to eat his words when he came home.
So, here we are: we both have MS. In some ways it’s helpful both having the same disease. We understand each other. We can be sympathetic about new symptoms and share the experiences we have which others wouldn’t understand. We both experience a squeeze around the ankles, the ‘MS hug’. We both have bouts of fatigue. People who have not suffered from this thinks that it means tiredness, that a good night’s sleep will sort it all out. Fatigue is not this, it is a complete exhaustion.
We both recognised that responding badly to stressful events made us unwell and knew we had to look at ways to avoid this. For both of us, yoga and mindfulness have opened a whole world of calm. We’ve developed an understanding of our bodies and minds. We’ve learned breathing techniques help to calm the body, allow the body to renew. This helps us to feel more ready to deal with the next thing, the next event in life.
The anger that Graham used to suffer from, leading to denial, is a thing of the past. We are both much more aware of our bodies and minds and recognise times we need to slow down, take time out.
There are still hurdles ahead. But we feel very lucky to be together to face whatever comes our way.