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28 October 2022

“I feel empowered that I’m taking charge of my health myself”

Claire Dean has been following the Overcoming MS program for fourteen years. She has been called an inspiration by her neurologist and now runs her own online group exercise sessions every day. We sat down with her to hear about her inspiring journey and her love of exercise.

Claire, tell us about your MS diagnosis.
I was diagnosed in 1999 when I was in my second year of university. The first thing I noticed was my eyesight getting worse and bladder weakness. It was 3 years before I was actually diagnosed, and I ended up having to pay for an MRI scan to get the diagnosis!

How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
At the time, I didn’t know that much about MS. I just remember when I left the neurologist’s office that day, her parting words to me were ‘good luck’ and I didn’t know what to think!  

I then read Judy Graham’s book ‘Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally’ and I started doing exercise, which became really important for me both mentally and physically. Now, I get an MRI done every year and recently one neurologist said, ‘Claire has actually improved since she’s been doing Overcoming MS’. They even called me an inspiration, which was great to hear.

You’ve been following the Overcoming MS Program for a long time, how did you hear about it?
In 2008 a friend from Australia heard about Professor George Jelinek and sent me the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis book. Two years after I found the book, I did a UK retreat with George. It was fantastic meeting him and the retreat was game-changing for me. Since then, I’ve followed the advice in the book closely and I’ve improved a lot. Now I do everything that I possibly can for my health and wellbeing.

I don’t feel worried now, whereas before I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’m very happy to continue with everything that I’m doing, it’s made such a difference to me.

Did you start the Overcoming MS Program gradually or begin all the steps in one go?
When I started, I approached it all in one go but it did take about six months for me to get into meditation. I had already been doing exercise for years at my local MS Centre, and I began the Overcoming MS diet straight away. At home, we started making all our food ourselves, so we didn’t have any processed food and we cut out dairy and meat immediately.

How has exercise helped your MS symptoms and your mental health?
I think exercise is mindful. When I get on the bike, I can’t think about anything else and I’m in the zone – not thinking about what to eat tonight or what has to be done later that day.

Before the pandemic, I used to go to a nearby MS Centre five days a week, where they have a gym, stretch classes and offer kayaking. When it shut down, I felt really low, so I started to exercise at home. I started with crunches and now I’ve built it up to doing 300 crunches every morning! I then joined an online class run by the MS Centre, which really helped. I didn’t know anyone at first but in time I got to know everyone really well and it became a supportive community.

You now run your own HITT sessions. How did that come about?
When we went into lockdown, a trainer from the MS Centre started running online sessions for everyone, which stopped once the Centre opened again. I decided to continue running them myself so that whoever wanted to carry them on, could do it with me. The sessions are interval training, but it doesn’t matter if everyone in the session does something different, it’s just about doing it together.

I run the sessions twice a day on Zoom and we do different exercises depending on what everyone is working on. For example, a friend of mine who’s more disabled than I am just uses bands and weights, but he does it nearly every day with me.

It was a good feeling for me not to have to go back to the MS Centre after lockdown, as I just assumed that I’d be going there for the rest of my life. Now I know I can do it myself, it makes me feel so much better. I personally didn’t enjoy going, as there would be biscuits and cakes and everyone would be sitting down drinking tea or coffee, so it wasn’t the right for me. Now I feel empowered that I’m taking charge of my health myself.

Where can people find out more about your online sessions?
If you want to find out more about joining my Zoom sessions, you can email me at: [email protected].

Claire runs the sessions every morning and evening. The classes take place on Zoom and are free to attend.