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11 October 2023

“It’s how you bounce back that is key” – Aneela McKenna

Partners play a crucial role in the lives of people with MS. We spoke to Aneela McKenna, who is featured in the moving film 'MS Makes Me', to find out more about how she supports her partner Andy while also looking after her own mental wellbeing.

‘MS Makes Me’ is the latest episode in Andy McKenna’s series ‘Evolution Stories’, in which he sets out on his mountain bike with Dr Jonathan White, Overcoming MS medical advisor and fellow MSer. They explore how they both feel about life with MS since following the Overcoming MS program and how much it has helped shape their positive outlook on wellbeing, mental health, physical health and the future. Their wives, Aneela McKenna and Jenny White, feature in the episode to shed an important light on what life is like for partners of people living with MS.

We were delighted to speak to Aneela about what it is like to a partner of someone with MS, the impact of the film and her time connecting with Jenny.

As a partner of someone with MS, what message do you hope this episode will give people with MS?

When MS impacts everyday life, everything changes. It can be a big blow to a relationship. I hope that partners like myself watching the film will talk through their challenges and find ways of working together to find solutions that will work for both of them.

It’s no use bottling it up – that’s not helpful for anyone. We may have had some uncomfortable conversations along the way, but it has helped us to find what works best for us both.

How did you feel meeting Jenny (Jonathan's wife), and why do you think it's important to connect with others in a similar situation?

It was lovely to talk to Jenny. I was excited to have her come to Scotland and for us both to share stories. I haven’t really spoken to many partners of people with MS. I was curious to hear about her ways of dealing with it as I don’t always find it easy and have had to find my own coping strategies to live with MS.

I was surprised to know that Jenny learned some things from me and that I managed better than I thought!

How has Overcoming MS helped you personally?

I follow the diet most of the time although there are some slips from time to time. I try to hide many of my naughty treats from Andy! There’s no point in cooking separate meals, so I love it when we cook together and have experimented over the years with the diet. I love it when we create something that we get very excited about, especially transforming my traditional home-cooked curries into Overcoming MS-friendly curries! 

It has definitely made me a better person. I have less stress in my life. I see the challenges that Andy and other people with MS face and it’s important that we don’t fear being ourselves, despite what society tells us is the norm. We can only be our best selves if we are accepting of ourselves and not worrying about the noise around us.

It’s important to stay positive with MS even though I know it’s not always easy, especially when you are confronted with the horrible things that MS can do.  It’s made me stronger as a person, and so I am better at dealing with adversity.  

From your perspective, what was it like when Andy found Overcoming MS?

I remember this time well. He couldn’t stop reading and researching about Overcoming MS and finally one day he decided that things were going to change. It was almost an overnight transition, especially with the diet. Exercise already played a huge part in his life, so he didn’t have to do anything different in that area, but diet was a big one.

It made sense that the Overcoming MS diet would have benefits for me too, so we made the change together. Being dairy-free has helped me in other ways, such as with rhinitis and sinus problems. It’s just the way we eat now. We do get lost at times, but we always find ourselves back on the right track again. Sometimes life and stress do get in the way, but it’s how you bounce back that is key.

Andy also went on to raise over £70,000 for Overcoming MS since he first found out about the Program. He realised the benefits for him, but also how hard it was to find out about it. Since then he has dedicated his life to raising awareness of his Overcoming MS approach to life through his films, storytelling and the incredible community group he has set up, called ‘Stoked on MS’.

What do you do to look after your mental health through your journey with MS?

I thought I might share some tips on how I manage my mental health with MS: 

  • I don’t feel as guilty doing the things my partner can’t do. This was a BIG problem for me in the early days. I make sure I balance “me” time in such a way that we still get to do the things we love together as a couple, but just in a different way.
  • I don’t stop doing what I need to when Andy takes himself to bed for rest, but I will check in on him. This isn’t easy when you see your loved one is unwell. I think I would become resentful if couldn’t do the things I needed to. Andy understands all of this, it’s taken us many conversations to get there.
  • I don’t bring as much of my chaotic self into the relationship which helps manage his stress and mine. My personality is a bit chaotic at times but I try to hide that from Andy especially when it’s something trivial, but I know it might trigger his symptoms. He’s a perfectionist and I am a ‘get things done’ kind of person!
  • I work away a lot so I try to manage my diary in such a way that I am home as much as I can be. When I need to travel, I make sure I am only away from home once a week and no more. 
  • Getting a dog! This has been a wonderful addition to the family. She knows when Andy needs his time out and just relaxes with him wherever he goes. That helps me a lot too.

We are so grateful to Andy and Aneela for shining a light on the Overcoming MS Program through 'MS Makes Me'.

Watch the film here and show your support by sharing it and spreading hope to more people with MS: Evolution Stories: MS Makes Me

Credit: Andy McCandlish