This article was featured in the Health & Wellness issue of sister publication Irish America magazine, which will celebrate the Irish America Healthcare & Life Sciences Awards on September 25.

My name is Sharon and I’ve got multiple sclerosis.

It sounds as though I’m introducing myself to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but I have cause for solemnity. I was diagnosed with this condition four years ago but it’s only in the past few months that I’ve begun to be open about it to those around me.

There was a reason for my secrecy and an even bigger reason for coming out into the open. I will have to go all the way back to the beginning to explain both to you.

This particular chapter of my life started seven years ago. One morning in May 2007, following a particularly stressful few months, I woke with a tingling sensation down the right side of my body. It was similar to pins and needles but it didn’t go away. I rang my doctor and, fearful of a blood clot, she advised me to rush to the hospital.

A week and many tests later, doctors ruled out a blood clot but were worried I had MS. My test results were inconclusive at that stage so once the tingling subsided to the extent that I was able to ignore it, I was sent home and life returned to normal.

It stayed that way until 2010. That summer, my right side stopped working properly. It was weak and didn’t do what I asked of it. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t carry things without dropping them. I often missed the keys I was aiming for when typing, making work next to impossible. And I was in constant pain. Cue more tests and a definitive diagnosis of MS.

Suddenly, I was very frightened. Every single association I had with MS to that point was a negative one. As someone who had always been healthy, I had naively assumed I’d live to be one of those old ladies who inspire others with their vim and vigor. My diagnosis destroyed this vision of my future, replacing it with images of wheelchairs and disability. All I felt when I thought of MS was a deep and dreadful sense of panic.

Telling others made me panic even more. When I told family and friends, I saw shock and pity reflected in their eyes. I’d never been on the receiving end of pity before and it was not a place I wanted to be.

So I kept my diagnosis relatively secret. I live in Dingle, a small town where everyone knows everyone else. I didn’t want to be known as someone who was sick. I wanted to be seen as the same strong person I’d always been.

I didn’t have much professional support at that time. My neurologist responded to all of my questions with the same stock answer: the outcome is different for everyone; nobody can tell what will happen to you.

Her words made me feel powerless. They rendered everything beyond my control. My future – which had always shimmered brightly and enticingly in the distance – became a darker and more ominous place.

I turned to the Internet, but what I found there frightened me too. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario: people in pain, people who were disabled, a litany of suffering…. I couldn’t bear to read about it and did not want to contemplate that this was what lay in store for me.

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