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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 22 March, 2018

Dublin councillor with MS: 'I was on a walking stick at 32 ... now I plan to run the marathon'

Mark Wards writes about his journey from crippling depression to running the Dublin City Marathon for MS awareness.

Mark Ward

IN 2005, MY life as I knew it was over. After years of being hospitalised, misdiagnosed and countless tests I was diagnosed with Multiple-Sclerosis (MS).  I remember getting the news and my feelings were a mixture of relief and fear – relief that I knew exactly what I was dealing with, but the overriding emotion was fear. Fear for my family and my future.

My initial reaction was to turn into Dr Google. I researched everything I could find on MS. My state of mind at the time would not let me focus on anything positive. I basically diagnosed myself in having the worst case possible of MS.

I developed a persona that enabled me to put on a front to the outside world, that everything was fine. I was getting pats on the back of friends saying how well I was coping. The reality was different. Inside I was dying. I was caught in such a ball of fear that I isolated myself from my family including my children. I was unable to articulate how I was feeling.

I slipped into depression for a number of years. I lost a career, I pushed family and friends away. I could be on Croke Park’s Hill 16 surrounded by thousands of people and yet I felt alone. I was afraid that if I talked about how I was feeling that the persona I was portraying would shatter and I would shatter with it.

There were many interventions by concerned people during this time. I went to doctors and counselling but because I could not open up to them nothing worked. My physical health deteriorated. I was on a walking stick at the age of 32.

I had little power in my hands. I was in constant pain. I was always fatigued. My moods were extreme.

After losing another job, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life. The shame I felt as a man who always provided for his family multiplied the other issues in my life. I had a complete mental and physical breakdown.

Depression crippled me emotionally. I could barely wash myself. My self-esteem was non-existent and I pushed everybody who cared for me away. None of this was my intention but rather symptomatic of depression.

Turn around

During this time a new fear replaced the fears I had about MS. The fear of losing my children and not being there for them kick-started a psychic change in me. Slowly I started to make changes. The first change was the easiest and also the hardest. I began to talk.

I started to change my lifestyle. I changed my diet, stopped drinking alcohol and started exercising. Gradually things started to improve. I enrolled in a course that led to college. A memory that always sticks with me is walking through UCD with all the other students and finally realising that I was as good as any of them.

I qualified as a behavioural therapist and was working in a job that I adored specialising working with people with addiction issues. I had a talent working with people who society had discarded.

I live day by day now. I believe that we only get one chance of this life and I take every opportunity I can make a difference. When I got the opportunity to represent my community of Clondalkin as a councillor I didn’t hesitate even though it was a big hit financially.

The future

To be honest, I am not a fortune-teller, I have no idea what the future will bring.

I have decided to sign up to take part in this year’s Dublin City Marathon.

The reason I have decided to take part in the marathon is to raise awareness for newly diagnosed people with MS. I was diagnosed at the age of 31, on a walking stick by the age of 32 and had myself convinced I was on the scrapheap at the age of 33.

Today I am healthy, mentally and physically.

My relationships with my family and friends are unbelievable. I live a fully active life where I try on a daily basis to make a positive difference in people’s lives – to show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If what I am doing helps them and their families not to suffer the way I and my family did it will be worth it.

There will be a lot of people who know me who will be shocked to find out about this. I do not need to speak about MS now as it does not impact my life as much. I have bad days but they are getting further apart. This is the first time I have spoken about MS publicly.

Having MS does not define me. I changed my thinking about MS. I am not an MS sufferer, MS suffers me, I haven’t got MS but rather MS has me and god love it.

If I believed my thoughts in 2005 I wouldn’t be able to walk to the shop today but instead, I’m running a marathon.

Mark Ward is a Sinn Féin councillor with South Dublin County Council. 

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