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Interview with Linda Bloom, Chair of Overcoming MS

Profile of the charismatic Linda Bloom, Chair of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis charity

Introduction

Linda was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1973. Her parents immigrated to Australia from Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

Having survived the World War Two and the Holocaust, they wanted to get as far away as possible, so Australia was the obvious choice. Linda’s sister, Ani, was born 15 years earlier and from the earliest Linda can remember, Ani was already working as a medical doctor.

Early tragedy

Linda and her sister were always very close and they called themselves ‘twins, 15 years apart’. Tragically, when Linda was only six years old, her mother passed away from cancer.

During those early years her grandmother played a significant role in helping to bring her up and her father remarried a few years later. Linda spent her childhood riding her bike around the neighbourhood and playing elastics and marbles with friends in the back yard.

Holidays were spent in Lake Eildon in the caravan which her dad built by hand. Her hobbies included learning ballet and also playing the piano, which she continued to learn and teach for many years. After finishing school, Linda spent a couple of years travelling extensively including living in NYC for a year.

Education

On returning to Melbourne, Linda completed a Masters of Counseling Psychology and subsequently worked at William Angliss Institute as well as working in a private practice.

She completed a diploma in Solution Oriented Hypnotherapy, which greatly informed her work professionally and would become instrumental in her subsequent recovery from MS.

Below in full is the recent interview with Linda which was recently published on the MS Diet For Women website. It gives a greater insight into the beliefs of Linda and the background of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis charity and its Recovery Program.

Interview

I met Linda a few years ago at the launch of the Overcoming MS charity. Linda has had MS for 14 years and is the Chair of the OMS charity. She shared her story and phenomenal journey with MS and I remember feeling such hope as I listened.

My confidence in the 'natural' approach to MS was cemented! Linda has never taken medication and is living symptom-free. She manages her condition with clean, nutritious and wholesome food, exercise and meditation. I was exceptionally honoured that Linda agreed to do this interview. I know you will really be encouraged as you read her thoughtful and thorough answers. Thank you Linda! MS Diet For Women

How long have you had MS and what were your first symptoms? I was diagnosed with MS in November 2002. A year before I had some symptoms of numbness and tingling in my feet and legs. The neurologist diagnosed transverse myelitis and said “don’t worry about it but let me know if it happens again.” Almost exactly a year later the symptoms returned but much more dramatically. Numbness and tingling spread throughout my body, dizziness, extreme burning sessions all over, absolutely no energy, a clamping sensation around my chest and difficulty breathing. I couldn’t even pick up a pen to write... 

Being diagnosed with MS is a life-altering shock. How did you cope with your diagnosis initially? Did you start taking medication?

It was a massive shock and a huge blow. I was 28 years old at the time living on my own, great social life, working as a Counselling Psychologist, I was in the prime of my life and then suddenly from one day to the next the wall came crashing down and my life changed forever.

It was such a shock initially as I didn’t know anything about MS, but I was very lucky that my sister (who is a medical doctor) was not only with me at the time of diagnosis but also looked after me for the following months as I couldn’t do anything for myself.

I needed 24/7 care. The Neurologist had offered me a choice of three drugs to take and told me to let him know “by Friday” which one I had chosen.

When I went home, something inside of me said that medication was not the right path for me and that there was another way of treating this condition. It was such a strong feeling that I declined the medication with the determination to beat this horrendous disease.

(To be clear, I am not against medication and believe it can have an important role to play, it was merely a personal decision which I made for myself and I wouldn’t advocate to others.)

How did you find out about treating MS naturally, with a healthy diet and lifestyle? How did this change your disease?

My sister, in her research, came across Professor Jelinek’s first book, which had recently been published. She read it to me from cover to cover (as I couldn’t hold the book myself). The message really connected with me.

First of all it was evidence based (which was important for me), and secondly I found it extremely empowering. Here were things that I could do for myself to get better. It was a novel concept in the MS world, and still is to some extent.

So I immediately embraced all aspects of the program. This included dramatically changing my diet to follow a low-saturated fat vegan-seafood diet, supplemented with omega 3 and vitamin D, exercising gradually at first and, hugely importantly, meditating daily.

For me it really was a combination of all aspects of the program that I believe was key to my recovery. I started noticing changes very gradually, like I remember when I took my first breath without pain and discomfort, it was a real milestone.

Then slowly I started to get feeling back in various parts of my body. And the day that it no longer felt like my buttocks were glued together was cause for celebration.

It probably took about a year after starting the program to have some semblance of normality back and I was then strong enough to go back to work. And the recovery continued gradually with symptoms falling away over years.

I’ve always believed that my body is an incredibly powerful tool and it would always let me know when I was doing too much or feeling stressed because some symptoms would return.

Eventually, I was confident enough to realize that the return of symptoms was just a reminder of the balance I need to maintain in my life in order to stay well.

Frighteningly, in 2009, I had a terrible bout of flu and I thought I might be having another relapse, so I went for an MRI scan. All the MS lesions I’d had before had disappeared, which stunned the neurologist and me! After all, MS is supposed to be a lifelong, degenerative condition. I no longer have any symptoms and have been relapse free for almost 14 years. Linda Bloom, OMS Chair, with flowers

What is your favourite dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Breakfast – porridge with honey, cinnamon and fresh berries on top. That’s the standard breakfast for all the family. L

unch – salad with as many veggies as possible in all the different colours, and some tuna or sardines on top. I love to top it off with a flaxseed oil dressing

Dinner – steamed or poached piece of fresh salmon, steamed broccoli & beans, baked sweet potato and a mango, avocado and pomegranate salad finished off with fresh lychees and raspberry sorbet. Heaven!

Which foods do you miss the most and what have you replaced them with?

In the early days I missed cheese the most. A round of brie or some fried halloumi. It wasn’t so much about replacing them it was more about breaking the habit.

Once I made the decision to eat the way I do now (which for me was a really easy decision because I was so unwell that I knew I had to do something radical to change the progression), I just started enjoying and appreciating the things that I can eat.

Now I get hugely excited about fresh fish at the market or a delicious homemade banana ice-cream with vanilla essence and cinnamon (just mushed bananas) or my sister's incredible gravlax and the sight of oozing cheese actually makes me feel a bit queasy. It’s funny what we can get used to.

Do you have any other tips for managing MS naturally?

I think diet is extremely important and a fundamental building block for improving quality of life and symptoms of MS. Also, supplementing with Omega 3s (I use flaxseed oil on toast, porridge, salad dressings etc) and Vitamin D (the sun’s the best, but supplements are very important if you can’t get the real deal.

Then there’s exercise, which is not only shown by loads of research to be beneficial for MS, but also makes me feel better.

Over the years I have done a range of things from yoga, Pilates, swimming, walking, running and rollerblading. I also strongly believe in the power of the mind/body connection. We know that stress promotes inflammation and exacerbates symptoms of MS.

As such is it really important to manage stress levels and work out helpful ways of maintaining psychological and emotional balance.

Learning about mindfulness and meditation and taking time to really get to know myself, my triggers, baggage, unhelpful things I may have been holding onto about the past, learning to forgive myself and others, have all been hugely important on my journey.

Seeking support from friends, family, therapists, journaling, especially in the early days after diagnosis, I believe to be really key in working through the emotional stuff. Tony Bloom

Tell us a bit about your involvement in the OMS charity.

In 2006 I met my now husband, Tony and moved to the UK. By this time MS was something of the past and I didn’t even tell anyone who I met in the UK that I previously had MS. But then about four years ago when I was at a charity function at the MS Society, I started wondering if people in the UK knew about Professor Jelinek and the OMS approach.

When I realized that, although it was a well-established approach to MS management in Australia and New Zealand, no one in the UK had heard of it. I felt compelled to share information about the OMS approach.

So in 2012 we set up the charity Overcoming MS, which is now a global charity. In the early days it was just me with an idea to spread the message and raise awareness about how the lifestyle changes can make a positive difference. It was one conversation at a time.

Now, in our fourth year of operation we have grown into a professional and credible organization run by our passionate CEO Gary McMahon. We have a huge new website brimming with information, people’s personal stories of hope and recovery, engaging and positive forums, and also a big recipes section to tempt the taste buds.

We have run eighteen retreats and workshops in the UK, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Austria as well as just completing our sixty-fifth retreat in Australia, to spread the word and help people get started. We have a free book scheme in the UK, Australia and New Zealand for newly diagnosed people so we can help them access this vital information.

Later this year we are expanding into the US with a tour by Professor Jelinek scheduled for the end of October and early November in California, New York and Boston.  As the Chair of the charity, these days I’m more involved in our strategic direction and governance and how we can spread this message as widely as possible.

Anything Else?

We are really excited that for World MS Day this year on May 25, OMS is launching the OMS Global Dinner Party. It’s an opportunity for people from all over the world to get together and host an OMS-friendly meal. In doing so, they can support each other and also support our charity to get our message out wider than ever before. All of the information on our website.

Linda is a fit, healthy and very active mum of two energetic kids aged three and eight. Between school and nursery runs, she spends her days working on OMS related activities as well as prioritizing looking after herself.

Morning meditations, before the kids get up, exercise and ensuring that her family are eating well are all very important. “The kids have grown up knowing about MS because of my work and because its one of the reasons we all eat very healthily, though they have never seen me unwell.

And I have no intention of them seeing me unwell because of MS.” She enjoys making the most of life and loves travelling with family and friends.

Living in the UK for the past 10 years, she tries to get as much natural Vitamin D as possible. Whether skiing on the sunny slopes of The Alps or swimming with turtles in Lord Howe Island or hiking in New Zealand.

On a recent trip visiting family in Australia she joined 'The 12' people from the Recovering from Multiple Sclerosis book, at the Gawler Foundation in Melbourne, to connect over their respective journeys and recoveries from MS.

This was a big highlight and a real privilege. Linda’s hope for the future is very simple. She dreams of a day when everyone who is diagnosed with MS will be informed about the OMS recovery program so that they can feel empowered to make their own decision about managing their condition.

Until there has a been a paradigm shift in MS management, Linda will continue to strive to inform people with MS of the evidence behind the approach that has changed if not ‘saved’ her life.

Personal story