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Manning up to MS: My diagnosis awoke my inner strength

I was never an alpha male but since my diagnosis with MS, I’ve faced major challenges and now I feel equal to the men who inspire me, writes Keith Byrne,

Keith Byrne

I’VE BEEN LUCKY to share my life with some great men.

My Dad, my granddads, extended family members, colleagues and friends. I think that’s what made it so hard for me to initially open up about my MS diagnosis.

It was as if I didn’t belong in the same category as these men that I idolised. I don’t tick any of the boxes of what society deems a ‘manly man’. I’m not the strong and silent type or tall, dark & handsome. I’m 5′ 4” and bald.

Then there is the statistic that more than twice as many women are diagnosed with MS as men. I was a gamma male, never to be an alpha.

Yet being diagnosed with MS awoke a strength in me that I always knew was there but never felt I had a reason to channel.

Once I came to terms with my diagnosis, things started to improve both mentally and physically. This didn’t happen overnight. It took a number of months as well as discussions with my MS nurse, nutritionist and my close family too. Eventually, I gathered the strength to come out of the MS closet.

Talking about my diagnosis is something I’ve learned to be very comfortable with. I’ve since done newspaper and radio interviews and I’ve started seeing a counsellor.

Over the summer, I took part in a video for my job to promote mental health awareness. As part of the promotion for the video, I was asked to speak to a group of approximately 50 of my peers – most of whom I’d never met in person.

Each scenario has been a massive challenge as each time I felt totally out of my comfort zone.

I can develop an inherent shakiness in these circumstances and I’m conscious that might come across when I’m talking to a crowd of people. Yet I find each time I challenge myself, I’m a little less nervous and little more brave the next time around.

It can’t be underestimated how much stress affects our health. I’m intentionally putting myself in situations where my confidence is stretched to its core. It might sound like I’m bringing unnecessary burdens upon myself but there is a method to the madness. I feel that, by deliberately challenging myself, I might be that little bit more prepared for situations that are out of my control.

I am not always able to do this. Ultimately, I have relapse remitting MS, this means that I have attacks when my symptoms flare up, so from time to time I need a break away from everything.

Outside of the daily challenges caused by MS – like fatigue and brain fog – my biggest challenge to date was the Dublin Marathon at the end of October.

In the three-and-a-half years since my mobility and vision returned back to a somewhat acceptable level, I’ve been trying maintain an active lifestyle. A couple of lunchtime runs a week and maybe a longer one at the weekend led to me signing up for the marathon.

The crowds of people out showing their support from the outset of the 26.2-mile trek was so uplifting.

I especially felt humbled when I was struggling around mile 20 and I got a pat on the back from a guy as he ran past, he was wearing the same TeamMS t-shirt as me and said:

“Come on pal, not long to go, you can do it.”

Thanks for the motivation and I’m proud to say I did do it.

On the way into the marathon, I met a man from Cork who was in Dublin for the day just to run it. We shared a taxi into town. He told me he was 66 and had run 312 marathons to date. An unbelievable achievement by any means but he also said he only ran his first one in 1999.

I’m sure he had his reasons for starting something so taxing relatively late in life and it made me think: we all have our own path to follow and sometimes we get knocked off track.

MS has certainly changed the course of my path but in a strange way, it has helped to point me in the right direction.

I no longer feel inferior to the men who inspire me. I have gained the awareness to realise that they already see me as their equal.
To all the men out there, fellow MSers, carers, well-wishers and generally sound lads, I’ll leave you with this quote by Liverpudlian songwriter, John Power:
“Someone will always be more than I’ll ever be so then I’ll be myself.”

Keith Byrne is a blogger for the MS and ME Blog where this article was first published. See here.

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Keith Byrne

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