Everesting

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It has now been 6 months since my diagnosis

(happy half-birthday, MS, hopefully many more to come).

The emotional intensity of those first few weeks has subsided into a pattern of slowly getting to know (and trying to better understand) my condition.

At its worst, it has felt like an evil enemy, hitting below my belt with surgical precision; kicking me when I’m down – adding a new symptom when I am still trying to come to terms with the last one.

The couple of days when I lost the ability to walk was as bad as its got.

Sometimes it has felt like a dark and brooding cloud, hanging all around me. Not raining, but threatening a torrential downpour at any moment; impossible to grasp, rein-in or control – a mean-spirited vapour.

On occasion though, it has almost felt like a faithful companion. Never leaving me. Always there. But, at times, doing me no more harm nor inconvenience than the odd gentle nudge so that it is not forgotten: the ever-present pins and needles; a bit of numbness here; a bit of hypersensitivity there. It has become part of me – in a way that I almost don’t mind. Maybe this is some crazy Stockholm Syndrome but, on good days, my MS is just an undercurrent of my personality that I don’t even find particularly unwelcome: it even elicits unexpected messages of support from old friends, some of whom I hadn’t heard from for years.

But I never forget that this “companion” has a dangerous temper and, even during these lulls, I worry about what he might do next.

It’s probably a good lesson for life though: to see the good in something that looks so bad; (or, the flip-side, to be aware that rarely is something wholly good). I like the thought that one’s greatest weakness can also give you strength; but also that what you perceive to be your greatest strength is actually often also your greatest flaw.

The last few months have made also me reflect on why this condition had proved so hard to diagnose. I’ve had perhaps 3-4 “mini” bouts which have echoed my experiences of the last 4-5 years: although they have now become more intense, with more obviously MS-like symptoms, they still seem to start the same way: a minor bug or cold, escalating into an all-over-body, buzzing exhaustion that usually lasts a week or so, plus. This is what my recent past has been plagued with – but historically, by the time I’d get to a doctors (after perhaps 5 days), the symptoms would be subsiding and I’d put it down to another odd virus that I’d somehow picked up. So in a way, the more serious relapse I had earlier this year, which precipitated (at last) an actual diagnosis, has been a “good thing”. I’m now tackling the condition with my new “MS-friendly” diet – and with a course of chemotherapy to come in late-October.

And the last month or so has been good.

Really good in fact.

It’s been a late summer (of sorts) in Bristol and I’ve felt in such good health that I’ve found it slightly unnerving. Cycling-wise, aware of my hospital treatment to come (and who knows what in the future), I’ve made the most of this period of freedom to set all the “benchmarks” or “PBs” that I can add to my (otherwise rather empty!) cycling CV.

I’ve felt happy and (largely, but not always) pretty strong on my bike: so I’ve gone out very consciously to set solo/time-trialling PBs for 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles. And, pretty ambitiously, but much more leisurely, a 200km one as well. They’re done now – and whatever next year and beyond holds I can look back at them as what I once could do, “Back in good old 2015”.

That left just one more solo event that I wanted to do. The “grand daddy” of them all. An event so ridiculous that it would seem like an incomprehensible folly to any non-cyclist – and, indeed, as a behaviour akin to madness to most cyclists. (I dread to think what another non-cycling, MS sufferer would think.) “Everesting” – the repeated ascent of a selected hill until the total elevation gain tops the world’s highest peak. An undertaking that would stretch most athletes, and one which MS would be doing its best to prevent.

Today I ticked it off my cycling bucket list. I think it was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever decided to do (and, believe me, that is quite a competitive arena in my life…)

I’m not sure whether this “achievement” stands as an exhibition of determination and strength; or a terrible neglect of other things in my life that should hold greater importance – not least my health. (Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow with a clearer head on this one…)

Reflecting on what I typed above, a ‘weakness’ of mine (MS) is certainly giving me a strength to prove it wrong; whether though this strength is actually a self-destruction flaw in itself is perhaps something I need to ponder when I see how I feel waking up tomorrow…

But, for now, I feel like a victor – so, to me, the spoils of a satisfied night’s sleep.

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