Wednesday, 11 September 2002
By Nikki MacDonald
When Leigh Harvey discovered she had multiple sclerosis she cried and cried and thought her life was over. Eighteen years later Things Have Changed and this Bob Dylan fan refuses to be beaten into submission.
Leigh's one great love is omnipresent in her small flat. She sits surrounded by photos, books, records and paraphernalia bearing Dylan's name and her eyes sparkle at his every mention.
Throughout her 18 years of suffering - the attacks of double vision, the loss of balance, the ever-decreasing mobility - Bobbie has been her Shelter from the Storm.
"I never really believed in God. Bobbie really helped me through the bad times. He's my man," she laughs.
This week is Multiple Sclerosis awareness week, with the annual street appeal taking place on Thursday.
MS is one of the most common chronic diseases of the central nervous system, which occurs when the protective sheath covering the nerves in the brain and spinal cord becomes scarred, distorting the flow of messages from the brain.
There is no known cause or cure for the disease, which most commonly appears in women aged 20-40.
Leigh was in her 20s when first diagnosed with MS. She knew nothing about the disease and was terrified to discover she had it.
"The doctor told me I had MS. I said 'What's that?' and asked if there was a cure. He said no. I thought my life was more or less over."
For years she was in denial, refusing to admit her condition to herself or others and refusing to seek help.
"I would invent excuses for not being on the work netball team. I thought if people knew I had MS they would not want to have anything to do with me. I felt dirty and diseased.
"I thought 'MS Society, I'm not going near that. Everyone there's going to be crippled and I'm going to end up like that'."
The disease manifests itself in different ways, sometimes affecting balance or vision, Leigh says.
"The fact they know so little about it makes it quite scary. It's quite horrible to be at the bench making dinner and you just fall down. I look at my cat and he looks at me saying 'That was stupid, why did you fall down?'"
Leigh decided to get help a few years ago and says now the MS Society is her lifeline.
"Getting in that group, there's something wrong with all of them too. Everybody around the table has MS or Parkinsons. You know they understand what you're going through."
For someone who was always very fit and active, she says the loss of mobility is really difficult to accept.
"I can't walk or ride my bike like I used to. I try to push myself because that's what I'm used to and then I have to stop and have a rest."
She goes to exercise classes, which were started by the society last year.
While she has bad days and bouts of depression, Leigh still sparkles and manages to stay positive against the odds.
"I'm not going to lean back and say take me MS. I want to be cool. I've
got MS but I've got a lot of other stuff too. It's not all walking sticks
and mobility scooters."
© 2002, The Marlborough Express