Chicks Chat with…
Trishna Bharadia, Multiple Sclerosis Campaigner, Public Speaker and Writer. She is also the Ambassador for MS Society UK and Sue Ryder. Trishna appeared in BBC1’s “The People’s Strictly” for Comic Relief 2015. We at Those London Chicks are excited to have a catch up chat with Trishna to help dispel some of the myths surrounding people with MS and help explain what living with MS is really like. Three out of four people diagnosed with MS are women!! I discovered that fact about MS after hearing a little of Trishna’s journey in an inspirational speech she gave at a launch for an incredible Album. It’s entitled Ms Song Cycle, in aid of the MS Society.
A huge thanks Trishna for chatting with us, we know you’re extremely busy. When and how were you diagnosed with MS?
I was diagnosed in 2008, at the age of 28, so I’ve been diagnosed for eight years now. However, in all likelihood I’ve had MS for about 10-11 years because it was only after being diagnosed and then going back through my medical history that I realised an episode that had originally been put down to repetitive strain injury (I’d lost the strength in both my hands) was probably my first relapse.
What were the symptoms/signs that led to the diagnosis?
In summer 2007 I lost the feeling down one side of my body. From my toes all the way up to my shoulder blade I went completely numb. It was like a line had been drawn straight down my body. On my left side I couldn’t feel anything. On my right everything was normal! I went to my GP and was referred to a neurologist. Following two MRI scans, a lumbar puncture, lots of blood tests (to rule out other things) and more episodes of burning sensations, tingling and pins and needles, I was given the definitive diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS in May 2008. Relapsing Remitting MS, which majority of people with MS are initially diagnosed with, means that I have distinct attacks that can last any length of time, come at any time and can affect any part of the way your body works (MS is a condition of the central nervous system so basically affects your core functioning); I then go into a period of remission, where you either completely or partially recover from your symptoms.
“We have a hashtag #NoTwoTheSame which is used to describe the diversity of people with MS.”
After being diagnosed, how did you feel, was there a point at which you felt angry, if so how did you overcome come it?
My initial feeling was relief. I thought, “now I know what it is, I can start doing something about it.” I think the waiting was worse – all sorts of things go through your mind. Having said that, MS is a journey. There is no way for neurologists to be able to tell you how severe your MS will be, how long it will be until your next relapse, what part of the body it will affect or how long the relapse will last. For me, that has probably been the hardest thing to adjust to. You’re living with a constant voice in the back of your head saying “tomorrow might be when the next relapse happens.” This is why MS completely changed my whole attitude towards life and living.
One rather humbling and incredibly inspiring thing that stuck out to me from your speech was the fact that you said in some ways your life has become more enriched as a result of your diagnosis, how so?
Following on from my previous answer, MS made me stop putting things off. Now, if there’s something I want to do, my attitude is that I might not be able to do it tomorrow so I do it now. It’s very much about carpe diem and living for the moment. I tried snowboarding for the first time in my 30s. Yes, it was hard. Yes, I’ve never been so sore in my life. Yes, I spent most of the time falling over. But I’d always wanted to give it a go so I thought if I don’t try it now, I may never do it because it could be harder in the future.
In many ways, since my diagnosis, I’ve started to become the person I’d always wanted to be. I’ve grown in confidence as a result of the charity work I’ve done, particularly when it comes to public speaking. I’ve been able to write for various MS charity blogs (I love writing) and I’ve had the opportunity to experience some amazing things. I’ve spoken at 10 Downing Street alongside Samantha Cameron and Michelle Mitchell (MS Society Chief Executive), been named a Woman of the Year, visited parliament, done Strictly (!) and met some incredible people who have really inspired me. And all of this is as a result of me having MS!
What would you say are the everyday challenges you and many others face living with MS?
Every person with MS is different. We have a hashtag “NoTwoTheSame” which is used to describe the diversity of people with MS. It means that everyday challenges can be very different. On the whole, people with MS face challenges when it comes to socialising (social isolation can be a big problem), employment, access to treatments and varied patterns of care (for example, we have a shortage of MS nurses in the UK), as well as accessibility if you have mobility issues. There’s also the challenge of living with “hidden” symptoms. People will say “but you look so well,” when many people with MS can experience issues with fatigue, cognition, bladder/bowel function, sexual dysfunction, sensory problems and pain.
What advice would you give to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with MS who may feel lost?
Be kind to yourself. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with a diagnosis. Take your time to come to terms with things. Don’t Google! Find information from reliable sources, such as the MS Society and MS Trust websites. When you’re ready, make connections. It can be scary meeting other people with MS, especially if their MS is more advanced than yours, however, sharing experiences can be invaluable. In fact, for me it’s actually been very reassuring meeting some people whose MS is much more advanced than mine because it’s shown me that if mine does progress to a state where, for example, I need to use a wheelchair, I can still lead a full and interesting life experiencing lots of amazing things!