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17 February 2015

From MS diagnosis to Taming the Walrus

I was officially diagnosed with MS. Although the diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise, it was still a shock. The first three years were horrible.

It was a nice day. I was walking with a friend towards a detached house, with outside steps on the right side, leading down to a small garden. Somehow my friend disappeared and I walked down the steps. The garden was barren with two miserable trees. No foliage. A double garage door was the only way in the house so I ventured in. As I entered the basement, an enormous female walrus slowly wobbled towards me.

My God, she was the most impressive being I had ever seen! The top of her head nearly reached the ceiling. Each time she approached closer, her whole gelatinous body quavered as if moved by an invisible wave. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I could only watch her. She had a friendly tusk-less face. She stopped close to me and gazed at me through long eyelashes. I could sense that she didn’t want to scare me, on the opposite. But she was so huge! Then she started to talk and gave me a riddle to solve. Deep down, I knew that I only had to solve this riddle for her to let me walk on. And then, I woke up.

That dream happened three months before I was officially diagnosed with MS. Although the diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise, it was still a shock.The first three years were horrible. I was working full time, writing a PhD, going to the gym six hours a week but still smoking 25 to 30 cigarettes a day and drinking jars of strong black coffee.I thought life was about pushing limits away. But I couldn’t cope with the side effects of interferon injections. It was so hard that I seriously envisaged accidentally falling from Howth Cliffs.

At the time, I thought that being able to “end it” was reassuring. Isn’t it comforting to know you don’t have to go on suffering?

Then something switched. What if there was another option? Shouldn’t I give it a try. I mentally signed a contract with myself: “I will stop taking interferon but I swear to do all that is in my power to get better, which means: I will stop smoking, eat really healthy and do a lot of yoga.If I break my word, I will have to go back on interferons.”

That was about 13 years ago and I have kept my promise. I have absolutely no doubt that yoga helped me keep this promise.When I first tried yoga, I wasn’t convinced I would like it. I was more into step aerobics, spinning and squash and I thought yoga would be boring but everybody said it was good for you. So why not? I soon discovered how challenging yoga can be physically and how good it is for strength, balance and flexibility. Over the years, I have tried and studied many types of yoga: Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Forrest Yoga, Vinyasa and I love them all.

Yoga offers so many “tools”: the breathing, the postures, the hand gestures… Everybody can find something that works for him/her and this is why I decided to become a yoga teacher and therapist. But there is more to yoga than these tools. As Donna Farhi wrote, yoga is “something that happens to us.” Looking back over the past 15 years, I see how yoga is happening to me. I feel less disconnected, more grounded. I also feel drawn towards a healthy way of life. I used to hate the word “balance” – for me it was associated with boring, immobility, lifeless – and now I love it. Once you start practising yoga regularly, with an open mind, something happens. Personally, I feel as if Yoga is putting me back together.

The Walrus was right. It is all about solving the enigma, finding the key towards healing. My key is Yoga.
Veronique Gauthier