My name is Colin Farrell…the real, 52 year old one! I had my first MS relapse in Brunei in 1997 shortly before my 31st birthday. I was preparing to go to work on a night shift at the hospital where I worked in Brunei as a registered nurse. I noticed a small numb patch on the right side of my forehead and commented to my girlfriend, later to become my wife, how weird it was.
Over the next several days I developed numbness and weakness in multiple areas, such as my right arm, my left leg and my mouth and tongue affecting my speech. The MRI was inconclusive and, shortly after, I had a lumbar puncture and EMG’s performed in Singapore, but a diagnosis wasn’t forthcoming. “Polyneuritis” he said, “let’s wait and see.”Over the months that followed, most of the symptoms resolved except for residual weakness and numbness in my right arm and hand. I remember thinking at the time that it could possibly be MS.
Fast-forward to 2003. I had “successfully” ignored one to two subtle relapses per year. That same year, shortly after hearing my dad had terminal cancer, I returned home to Ireland from U.A.E. to spend time with him and see what I could do to help. The night I arrived back in Ireland, I developed pain in my right eye and by the next day was seeing occasional flashes in my vision. The day after that, I had lost all vision in my right eye and was diagnosed with optic neuritis. When I returned to U.A.E, a neurologist finally diagnosed what I had suspected for years. I had RRMS. He prescribed interferon injections (Rebif) three times per week. The side effects from the interferon were truly awful. I felt like I had constant flu and every movement was an effort.
In September 2005, I decided to return to Ireland to live and work. I only found out after returning, that disease modifying therapy wasn’t available for me in Northern Ireland due to lack of funding. This led me to search for alternatives and I discovered the work of Dr. Swank and later Professor Jelinek. I began making small changes to my lifestyle and when disease modifying therapies became available in Northern Ireland, I chose Copaxone based on the evidence provided in Dr. Jelinek’s book, Taking Control of MS.
Although I was mostly vegetarian, I was still consuming some dairy, too much refined sugar and some processed food. Over the next 8 years my weight gradually increased by about 1 to 2 kg per year on the Irish diet. My wife jokes about my frequent “bread implants” as I stuff another slice or two in my mouth! My Achilles’ “heel”… Groan! My activity levels also reduced and I continued to have approximately one relapse per year. My weight had increased from about 76 kg in 2005 to about 89 kg in 2012. Who ate all the pies? I did!
In 2011 or 2012, I decided to begin exercising again and started trying to run, something I had done quite a bit years previously. It was a slow and sometimes painful journey back to some level of fitness. My brother’s death from pancreatic cancer just after his 51st birthday in October 2012 prompted my wife and I to reflect on our lives and reprioritise what was really important. I began to work harder at incorporating exercise into my lifestyle. We were more careful about diet and exercise, but I knew I still wasn’t being 100% effective.
Around 2013 my younger cousin was diagnosed with MS. I made her aware of Dr. Swank and Professor Jelinek and in doing so, rebooted my own commitment to take responsibility for my own well being. My cousin attended an OMS event in Brighton in the UK and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The transformation in her health was amazing. She began running marathons and has since completed numerous marathons including the Big 6; London, Tokyo, Boston, New York, Chicago and Berlin.
In July 2015 I attended an OMS five day retreat at Ammerdown Centre, in Somerset, UK. This was to become the most important week of my life in relation to my MS journey. I already “knew” that what George Jelinek was teaching was the best way to take control and ownership of my health, but I also knew I wasn’t doing it properly. I needed to bring it altogether. Meeting other OMSers who were like-minded about not just settling for medication and disability, was empowering. Listening to the facilitators Craig, Keryn, Linda, Gary and others was inspirational. I finally learned the importance of meditation – the evidence was clear and unequivocal. We have the ability to determine how our genes express themselves. I left Ammerdown with a new sense of what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. The optimism I felt when leaving Ammerdown has never left.
I redoubled my efforts regarding exercise and I began walking five days per week. I decided to use my lunch break at work to try and complete a 5 km walk each day and gradually moved from walking to jogging to running and to do longer runs at the weekends. My wife also began running and it became “our thing” to go running on our days off. We’ve taken part in numerous 10 km, 10 mile and half marathons.
We also became much more focused on nutrition and removed all processed food from our diet, only eating a plant based, whole food diet. My wife is an amazing cook and I have learned to cook too. Vitamin D3 supplementation to optimise blood levels and daily intake of 30 to 40mls of organic flaxseed oil are part of the daily routine. I found Adora Organic Flaxseed oil in Ireland excellent; the less miles it has to travel the better, and they deliver to the door.
Since attending the OMS retreat at Ammerdown in 2015, I have returned to a healthy weight of about 68Kg – a reduction of more than 20 kg without dieting. I have not been 100% relapse-free since attending Ammerdown, but I am without doubt 100% healthier and happier. I am also convinced that my health will continue to improve as we continue on life’s journey.
When I reflect on the journey MS has taken me on, I can’t help but think of the connections and coincidences that ultimately led me to OMS. The shock of my Dad’s diagnosis precipitated my optic neuritis that led to me finally being diagnosed. On returning to Ireland, not having access to disease modifying therapies ultimately led me to discover Dr Swank and then Dr Jelinek. My cousin developing MS and attending an OMS event in Brighton prompted me to attend the OMS retreat in Somerset.
In 2017, we decided to travel again and work overseas, and I have spent the last 18 months in Qatar helping set up a new women and children’s hospital. I could never have envisioned doing this before attending Ammerdown. I saw a neurologist in Qatar about a year ago. He was planning on changing me from copaxone once he had reviewed an MRI he’d ordered. When we met again a few weeks later, he expressed surprise and said that although he could see old damage on my MRI, there was much less evidence of MS damage than he would normally see in someone my age, who’d had MS for more than 20 years. He said that he would “almost” describe it as benign. He said to continue with whatever I was doing. I have no doubt that I will.