The Road Less Travelled Pt. 1

Hi, I’m Keith. You might remember me from previous blogs such as A Letter to My Newly Diagnosed Self, Turn and Face the Strange and 101 Ways to Describe MS.

Spoiler alert: This week has been really significant for me as I officially graduated from Dublin City University (DCU) with a Professional Masters Degree in Primary Education.

To say I was clueless before taking on this intense 2 year course is an understatement. I decided to totally change my career path in my mid-30s. I had been working in a job that I just couldn’t see a future in, and was routinely unhappy. As a result, I embarked upon a career I never thought possible for me.

Although my personal life felt as though it was going in the right direction, my professional life felt non-existent. I was proud of myself for my reaction to my MS diagnosis. I had started writing blogs, doing interviews and raising money, all to improve, and increase, people’s knowledge and awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. The reaction I got was always extremely positive. I felt comfortable being out of my comfort zone. There still felt, however, as if there was a massive hole in my life that I just couldn’t explain.

I’m a lot less reckless towards myself since diagnosis. I try to eat healthy dinners as much as possible and my alcohol intake is few and far between; particularly since the birth of my son in 2017. I ran the Dublin marathon in 2018, which was a major milestone for me given that I had never considered myself fit at any stage in my life. I also have MS, with all the hurdles that it likes to put in your way. Yet, with all the triumphs I had achieved, something was amiss.

I rarely get things right at the first time of asking. After changing my medication in 2017, I was feeling really low for a period of time. This was not a known side effect of the medication. As such, my doctor put me in contact with a therapist. I still remember the first night I met with her. I rang a couple of times in advance, first to say I was on my way, next to say I had arrived. I was interrupting her session with another client and, therefore, we didn’t get off to the best start. I’m terrible at making a good first impression.

I went back to the therapist a few times, and it transpired after about the 3rd session that the main bug bearer in my life was my job. The therapist put it to me that I would be very suited to primary school teaching. I thought she was having a laugh at first but over the next few sessions she kept suggesting it. I had never ever thought of teaching as a career. In fact, I had never thought of ANYTHING as a career. I always admired those who have a specific profession that becomes part of who they are. My dad was a soldier, my wife is a social worker, my best man’s an electrician etc… A job can really play a big part in our identity.

My Dad, the soldier, returning from 6 months in Baghdad on my 6th birthday.

I was working in banking, and while I worked with some brilliant people, I never felt comfortable talking about my job outside of work. I never got any real satisfaction from it. Some aspects of it were good but, overall, I knew I needed to make a change and it wasn’t going to be easy. A close friend of mine had qualified as a primary school teacher over 10 years previous when I rang him looking for his opinion. I’ll never forget his words: “Keith, it’s not a job that’s suited to everybody but you would be excellent at it”. And with that, plans were afoot.

Of course, I had discussions with my family. I recall almost being as nervous telling my parents I was planning to give up a permanent and pensionable job as I was when I told them I had MS. There was a lot of things to take into account: how would I finance this change? how long would I be out of work? would my wife feel the extra burden of being the only bread winner in the house for a considerable length of time? what if it didn’t work out? I didn’t really know the answer to most of these questions to be honest. I just knew if I looked after myself everything else would fall into place.

I first started college in 2001, in the National College of Ireland (NCI), and failed my first year miserably. I decided to try again the following year in DCU, without realising that you had to pay full fees if you’ve done a year college already. My dad coughed up the fees so that motivated me to pass the first year (just about!). After two years, I just gave up. I was working part-time and wasn’t willing to compromise having a social life so something had to give and that something was my education. Again, I rarely get things right the first time round and, in this case, the second too.

I secured a full-time job in banking in 2004 without really knowing what I was getting myself into. Prior to the economic collapse of 2008, people were freely moving from bank to bank without a second thought. In this case, I was lucky that I rarely make a good first impression as I failed my second interview with the ill-fated Anglo Irish Bank in 2007. However, the collapse would continue to haunt my working life in my final banking position which lasted from 2007 to 2019.

It seems ironic that I went on to earn an undergraduate degree followed by a postgraduate masters in the same colleges that I started in all those years ago; NCI in 2016 and DCU in 2021. I really didn’t have much of a clue about the education system before I started these courses. I know a bit more now but not much. I do know, however, that if you’re willing to work really hard, make sacrifices and have really good people around you, you can achieve anything!

I love that I can call myself a Teacher now. I love being a teacher albeit a novice for now. I was so happy to see my son in the crowd with his mam waving to me after I was awarded my masters certificate. A close family friend regularly reminds that they always admired that one of my motivations, when changing career, was that I wanted my kids to be able to give their dad a title I was proud of when asked what he does for a living. Even before I finished my course my son was calling me a teacher, although I’m not sure if the Yoda comparisons are more to do with my appearance!

I don’t know what the future has in store for me, this has been an extremely busy few years in my house. A bad dose of covid aside, my health has remained stable throughout, long may that continue as I feel my true journey is only beginning.

“What we do in life, echoes in eternity”

Keith

Brief Outline of the events of the last few years:

2018: Started to make plans to change career starting with weekly grinds to repeat Leaving Cert Irish. Also ran the Dublin marathon.

2019: Passed TEG exam (Interview in Irish) which allows me to apply to colleges to train to become a teacher, repeat Leaving Cert Irish papers 1&2 (gets exact same result as I did in 2001), sell house, buy house, find out we’re having our second baby, quit job of 12 years (15 years in total in financial services), accepted into St. Patricks College (DCU) to train as a teacher, go to the Gaeltacht in Donegal for two weeks to meet my new course friends and “learn” more Irish – leaving 2 year old son and pregnant wife at home (I did a big shop for them before I left to ease my guilt), start Professional Master of Education course.

2020: January exams, Cara born on Jan 14th at 1.17am (completed exam that day at 2pm – I HAD to pass this course!), first school placement followed by lockdown meaning everything is moved to online for the remainder of the academic year – hid in the attic away from the family for the majority of this. Did one more school placement. Year ended with the sad passing of my Nana – I wrote a letter to her which I read out at her funeral – she is still very much missed.

2021: School placements were cancelled, I had to source different placements to what I had originally arranged which wasn’t easy during COVID times. Managed to successfully complete the Masters and become a newly qualified teacher. Took part in a podcast for MS Ireland to discuss changing career after diagnosis. Spoke to Damien Dempsey, a hero of mine, during a Q&A in Coolock cinema and told him about my journey receiving a round of applause and a free t-shirt to boot 😂

2022: Officially graduated with my wife and son there to cheer me on! (Cara was being minded by her proud grandparents)

And what would I do if all didn’t work out? I guess we’ll never know 🎤

Q.E.D

A Letter to My Newly Diagnosed-self

January 5th, 2015

Hi Keith,

The doctor has just told you that the MRI results are saying you have MS. Take your time. Just breathe – you don’t have to say anything.

I know you like to try crack a joke when you don’t know what else to say but for now just take time to process this new information.

It’s difficult to comprehend the irony of this situation. The one thing you feared happening to you is now happening – and it’s come straight out of the blue. There’s no need to figure out what to do straight away. You have a lot of allies, many of whom you have yet to meet.

Be kind to yourself Keith, this isn’t your fault. In time, you will learn more about this disease and how to manage it. There are many aspects of your life that you feel will need changing and this will become clearer over time.

Time can be viewed as both an asset and a liability. Use it wisely. Learn about MS. Talk to people about your diagnosis when you feel comfortable enough to do so. As human beings, we tend to wait for someone else to share their own sensitive information first before we share ours in return. Know that sharing your story will help others share theirs. Your world does not, and will not, revolve around MS. Yet sharing your story will help you build a trust with people that you have rarely encountered before.

Try to embrace change rather than fear it. The more you do this the better chance you will give yourself of escaping from that indistinguishable shakiness that has haunted you since childhood. You will face many challenges in the years to come. Most of which will be self-inflicted. Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.

It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself. This is a very confusing time. You have MS to add to being a small bald man who flickers between being an extrovert and an introvert in a matter of seconds, give yourself a break. MS can steal people’s identity but, in your case, MS will be a catalyst for you to find yours.

Keith, you know the inner strength that you have (that you have always had!). Now is the time to start channeling that strength. It won’t be easy but you will do it. The future is too bright for you to turn your back on it. The things that you will achieve go far beyond any dream you have yet to imagine. Questions followed by answers followed by realisations followed by more questions, answers and realisations will be the new normal.

For now, however, just take a deep breath. Share your initial thoughts and concerns with the doctor (she’s lovely by the way and one of your strongest allies). And love yourself Keith. I love ya anyway!

Your pal,

Keith

September 2021

A Children’s Story: Sally’s Finger

An illustrated version of this story is available here: https://read.bookcreator.com/JXlLF6Z1dKVmjNc7fzBni8Ef3Qq1/gDehwggOSgGFPUgO0Uy7EA

Sally sat inside each day,

She rarely left her room.

She loved to play computer games,

And at night, stare up at the moon.


Even when it was sunny,

Sally didn't leave the house.

She sat up in her bedroom,

As quiet as a mouse.


One day, Sally's Mam knocked on her bedroom door


Telling Sally to “go out and play!".

Sally wagged her finger screaming:

"Close the door, just go away!"


Sally then looked at her finger, 


She had wagged with all her might.

She realised she was angry

And it gave her quite a fright.


Her finger pointed towards the door 


Giving her a terribly sad feeling.

As she sat there on her bedroom floor

She looked up at the ceiling.


"I love to stay indoors", she thought.


"It's safer than outside".

"I can’t know what I’m missing,

If I lock myself in and hide".

Sally wished she was more wild

And wasn’t so afraid to go a little crazy

But all this hiding from the world

Was making her quite lazy




She thought, “Right now I am a child,

And childhood ends so soon,

But wasn’t every astronaut a child

Before they set foot on the moon?”



Sally stuck her head out of her window,


She was feeling awfully furious.

The sights! the sounds!! the smells!!

They began to make her curious.


She looked back at her finger


And began to wonder why

She had pointed it at her mother

And not pointed it to the sky?


She then gazed up at the ceiling


And imagined it disappear.

The sun, the clouds, the sky

Everything became so clear.


Her finger pointed upward,


As high as it could go.

“I must get out of this house!"

"There’s so much I need to know!”.


“I want to breathe fresh air


And feel it in my lungs!"

"I want to climb the trees

And learn about the sun”.


“I want to skip, I want to run,


I want to get excited.

I want to jump in rivers,

And swim around delighted!”


“Most of all I don’t want to


Sit at home and wonder why

I didn’t follow my finger

When I pointed to the sky!




* This is a kids story that I found on my laptop half finished.
I hope you enjoyed it. Still needs some work. It would go well
with some pictures I reckon. I haven't blogged in a long time
and I figured life is so much more than a diagnosis so decided
to use this page as a platform for other things too.

Irish Times Interview

Oh hi there,

I haven’t posted here in a while. Just thought I’d share my interview with the Irish Times with you all.

Alas, I won’t be speaking today in the Gibson Hotel contrary to what was discussed in the interview. Family life and college are priority and I’m not much of a multi tasker.

Anyway, the interview is pretty much a synopsis of my journey so far since diagnosis although I must have forgot to mention that I ran the marathon last year 🙈

Please feel free to share the link below.

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/learning-to-live-with-a-diagnosis-of-multiple-sclerosis-at-31-1.4041766?mode=amp&fbclid=IwAR04ytPV_2eGNc3lsJZX3IW2PxBGP9PrilQofcHfNse-6cbx4UMGqhVq4UQ

Your Pal,

Keith

“This is the beginning of the rest of your life”

#KBYerrr

Having children after diagnosis

I was diagnosed with MS when I was 31. I had only recently got engaged and becoming a father seemed like it would be a natural progression for me. Throw MS into the mix, however, and there’s a lot more to consider. For example, fertility became a major factor when deciding which medication to take. I was given information packs regarding each course of medication that I was considered eligible for. Some affect fertility in both men and women, some affect a woman’s fertility only and other’s don’t affect fertility at all. My condition was stable so I only considered medication that would not affect my fertility. Thankfully less than a year after starting medication we were expecting our first child.

Oliver was born in January 2017 – almost 2 years to the day after my doctor advised me that my MRI results came back indicating it was MS causing the blurred vision, dizziness and fatigue. After a week in the hospital we were allowed to bring him home. The moment I got in the car, ready to drive my wife and our newborn son home to start our new life, was the most life affirming moment I have ever experienced. The journey was well and truly underway. I was expecting the sleepless nights to start immediately. I almost felt guilty that he slept so much initially, particularly when I had heard the struggles so many have with newborns. This allowed me to combat fatigue in my usual manner which I was grateful for.

The sleep deprivation, however, kicked in about 3 months later. It got to the stage were I could no longer tell the difference between fatigue and lack of sleep. The sleeping arrangements changed regularly – from sleeping in his cot, to co-sleeping with his Mam and I, to just co-sleeping with his Mam, to just co-sleeping with his Dad. There’s plenty of books out there to help with these scenarios but sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct too. When Oliver was 18 months old we received advice from a midwife and qualified sleep consultant who gave us a routine to work with.

It took a few weeks to implement the midwife’s advice but once we did we noticed a significant improvement. The first noticeable improvement was in his speech, however, he had still yet to walk. I booked an impromptu day off work and walked with him in his buggy to the promenade in Clontarf. I would go walking there regularly myself when I had to regain my confidence in my own mobility around the time of my diagnosis. Something about the sea air helps me think more clearly. Anyway, I took him out of his buggy on the grass facing the Poolbeg Chimneys across the water, I held his hand as he nervously stood up, I cautiously let go of him and like that he took about 20 steps in a row before happily falling onto his bum. We instantly started to laugh and lay on the grass hugging each other. Even at such an innocent age he knew what a big achievement taking his first steps was. It seemed fitting that my son would take his first steps in a place that his Dad used to walk so often and associates with helping him regain his self-confidence when diagnosed with MS.

When initially diagnosed one of the first thoughts I had was how long until I’m going to need a wheelchair? I now know that relying on walking aids is by no means the end of the world and in many ways really help improve a person’s quality of life. One thing as a parent I’ve really noticed is when pushing the buggy there are so many obstacles to overcome such as access to elevators and cars blocking pathways. Places tend to be avoided if they are not easily accessible whereas a small change in mindset regarding accessibility would make a big difference to so many people.

It’s now one year since Oliver took his first steps. Like any child he still likes to be lifted when it suits him. Yet, the older they get the heavier they get. I struggle lifting him for any prolonged period nowadays as the sensation at the base of my spine becomes too painful to hold him for too long. I can only attribute this to an unsuccessful lumbar puncture I had while being tested for diagnosis. It’s difficult trying to juggle family life at the best of times – you want to prioritise your child’s wellbeing at all costs. Yet, with both parents working full-time, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, having to remember to take your medication & Vitamin D supplements, all the while dealing with fatigue and brain fog on a daily basis conscious that if I sway far enough away from the daily routine a potential relapse could be waiting for me, it can be a strain to say the least.

There’s no stopping him from getting up to all sorts these days. Cuts and scrapes happen so often now he believes plasters are the solution to all life’s problems. So when his Daddy is having some well needed rest and he bursts into the bedroom…. “Dada, get up Dada!!” “Sorry son, Daddy isn’t feeling well and needs to rest” “I will get you a plaster”…. I can’t help but smile.