You know when something is wrong. I could party all night. I could walk or cycle for miles. I was at university doing my PGCE. I had wanted to be a teacher for years and I was finally going to do it. I was sharing a house with an old friend who had a dog. Obviously, I liked taking the big fellow for a walk. But one day I struggled. I just had to sit down. It was distressing. I used to bound up stairs like a gazelle. Now flat surfaces were turning into endless staircases. Later in the year, I tried playing five-a-side. It was hopeless. I was carrying two bricks for feet.
Fast forward to a holiday in France. I went on a beautiful walk along a dribbling river bed. It had been a dry summer. The sense of escape and freedom was memorable. But then so was walking up the final hill to the car park. I couldn’t do it. My friends thought I was joking. Now, here I was with disobedient limbs. After a very long time, I’d inched up the slope to collapse in the car. And it was there, somewhere in the Pyrenees Atlantique by Orthez, that I knew I really needed help.
The other memorable part of that holiday was visiting an old castle on a hilltop. It was history all around me. I stood there on the battlements looking into the distance feeling the sense of waiting and forboding; dreaming I was ready to defend my freedom. I could almost hear the roar of the charging English. There was a moment of silent drama as my heartbeat raced expecting to see the sight of the first soldier emerging under the grey leaden sky.
In contrast to the previous incident I was telling myself not to be so weak minded. All I needed was exercise. But when I came back from the holiday I made an appointment with my GP. I wasn’t expecting much. My previous attempts at unravelling the mysteries of my encroaching disorder had failed: “You drink too much,” was the common response. I was for ever being passed on to the practice nurse who would go off on one about abusing the weekly alcohol limit.
Personally I think they were just shirking responsibility. I was a young single professional; of course I drank too much. It was the lowest common denominator.
So this appointment arrived. Stone me it was Nicole. I knew her. She was standing in for my new GP whom I’d never met. That was it. She listened to me and started the ball rolling. Neurologist, CSF, MRI and some weird thing in a darkened room when I had electrodes on my head.
When Mr Blobby was the Christmas number one, my neurologist was beginning to hint at the outcome of my tests. It took until the following March before he confirmed it. It was a glorious day. I had the day off work. For once I wasn’t getting up int the middle of the night to claw my way thirty-eight miles through urban chaos to knock up the caretaker to let me in. It was one of those single storey primary schools flanked by high-rise flats. A symphony of grey with a thousand blank eyes staring down on the playground. We gave our children six hours of hope and encouragement before unleashing them back into their jungles of alcohol and drug abuse. Needles littered the walkways. And there were lads on street corners.
On that glorious day in March, I received my news and drove out to a friend’s. But on the way, I heard Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in A major. It was a wow moment. My friend asked me about the appointment but all I did was rave about the music. “Oh yeah, he said it was MS,” I eventually admitted. My friend was stunned. “But I’ve got the rest of my life to worry about that. I’m going into town to order that CD.” I have since loved that piece of music. And that’s how I end part two; with a huge smile and wave of joy.
It’s the first and second of the four pieces in this extract. Thank-you for reading.