University Is Challenging Enough Without A Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

Aoife Kirwan
Written by
Aoife Kirwan

The college experience is one of the greatest roller coaster rides life has to offer. Those years can be so very contradictory, with highs and lows coming hand in hand. It offered me some of the best days of my life as well as some of the worst. It introduced me to some of the greatest people in my life, and some I would rather forget. It is a unique experience for every student. For me, it also came with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

I was studying visual art and working toward my final exhibition in college. When the diagnosis arrived, I insisted on carrying on with my education despite the news. It only made me more determined. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I had MS stop me from carrying on with my studies, from attaining a qualification and progressing in life. I had to think, yes I have MS, but I also have a future to think about. I sometimes think that if I hadn’t been diagnosed at that time that I wouldn’t have been as determined to succeed. The diagnosis made me more aware of the steps I needed to take in life, removing negative things and focusing only on the positive.

Writing my thesis was complicated to say the least. Not only was I spending hours and hours writing, but I was also unknowingly going through some of my first relapses. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body and all I could do was channel my energies into my studies and push any physical discomfort out of mind. The stress eventually caught up to me and I even managed to leave an entire chapter out of the finished submission. I didn’t even notice until I re-read it sometime after.

Even the day of printing didn’t go smoothly. I was experiencing numbness in both feet and whenever I went downstairs to the printer, I managed to fall. I even managed to fall up the stairs! I was pressed for time and had it not been for a good friend who volunteered to traverse the treacherous staircase for me, I would have missed my deadline. I think it was about that time that my nickname came to be.

What do you call the girl in college who for some reason walks around with one or maybe no shoes? The girl who owns the random shoe you find lying underneath your computer table in the library? Cinderella of course! Now, I have to admit that it was probably my own fault. I was in my pumps phase and they just slip off so easily. That coupled with numbness caused me to constantly lose shoes without even noticing. Luckily, I was always reunited with them!

A social life was also quite difficult to maintain. Previously, I had stuck to a work hard play hard motto but bouts of fatigue forced me to choose pajamas over stilettos. My friends were great. They did what they could for me and helped with everything and anything. I began to have a completely new respect for their understanding, kindness and generosity. My degree is only in my possession because of the support network I had through that time. I can’t stress the importance of having a solid support network in life. It makes everything so much easier and far much more rewarding.

The college I attended was also supportive. They funded a personal assistant for me 8 hours per week. I had the option to have my hospitalization and condition taken into consideration when grading came up. My lecturers tried to understand what I needed and worked with me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. They even agreed to extend my deadlines if necessary. In the end, I utilized very few of the extra allowances, but the support of the institution was invaluable. In partnership with all of the important people in my life, I was able to get through the final months of my degree and come out the other side with a smile on my face.

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