Saturday, 7th September 2002
Gillian Ingham is energetic, radiant and ambitious.
You wouldn't know from looking at her, but the 39-year-old art teacher at Hillcrest High School in Hamilton is one of the many New Zealanders with multiple sclerosis.
While the public perception of MS is often that it is an older person's disease, in reality MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40.
It's an unpredictable and chronic disease of the central nervous system, which is twice as likely to affect women.
Ms Ingham was diagnosed in 1999.
"When I was first told I had MS, all I could think of was old people and wheelchairs," she said. "People are very surprised to hear that I have MS. It is a silent illness, there are often no outward signs. Most people would not know that I had it. "At first I fought against the disease, which actually made me worse. I wasn't listening to my body. That is one of the things that I have learned to do."
She found support from the MS Trust and a mentor which gave her a lifeline.
However, Ms Ingham has had to make major changes in her lifestyle and set new expectations for herself.
Constant exhaustion is a common and debilitating symptom.
"I used to be very active," she said. "I played squash, skied and went out about three nights a week.
"Now I don't do any of that.
Hillcrest High School was very supportive, and she had time off work to concentrate on her rehabilitation.
She went back to full-time teaching two years ago.
"To me, getting back to work was paramount. I love my job, and it's only when you lose it, do you realise how important it actually is."
Four years after her diagnosis, Ms Ingham feels she has come to terms with her disease.
This year she became a volunteer at the MS Trust, providing peer support
for people newly diagnosed with MS.
© 2002, Waikato Times