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Tropical fish, hope, fear and MS

Tropical fish. I’m not eating them. I don’t care how much Omega 3 they contain or whether they might have built up high levels of mercury.

I want to talk about tropical fish. I’m not eating them. I don’t care how much Omega 3 they contain or whether they might have built up high levels of mercury and I’m never going to fry them in any kind of oil. The fish in question were living in my nine-year-old daughter’s fish tank in the corner of our dining room.

She had saved up for them herself, making them unequivocally ‘her’ fish, so not her younger sister’s or her older brother’s fish. This meant that all the fun, all the excitement, but also all the anxiety belonged to her. For the first couple of days after getting them she spent many happy hours gazing into the tank watching her three little guppies swimming around.

Her first big fright came when the fish were about a week old and I accidentally sat on the fish tank lid. It was not on top of the fish tank at the time (otherwise even I would probably have spotted my mistake), but had been left on a chair. When a loud cracking noise was heard as I sat down, my daughter glanced fearfully in my direction and then screamed out with terror declaring “all my fish are going to die!” Say that again? “Whaaaaaaaaaaa!” This has now been universally acknowledged as an over-reaction, first because the lid was in fact not broken at all (though it was a near thing) but mostly of course because fish don’t  need lids to survive.

But it sets the scene for what happened later when we changed the fish tank water. The three fish – Opal, Tiddle and Flicker – had been with us for nearly two months by then, so water changing was not exactly a new thing. I still don’t really understand what went on that day, but when we changed the water it had near catastrophic consequences.

One moment the three little fish were merrily swimming around in their tank, and the next moment they had become frozen to the spot. This is hard when you are surrounded by water, but it was as if invisible ice had encased them, making it impossible for them to move anything but their frantic little tails.

And just as Opal, Tiddle and Flicker were frozen inside the tank, so my daughter and I became frozen outside the tank, watching them fearfully to see whether they would recover. As I crouched there waiting for a sign that the fish were going to be okay, it reminded me so much of what it’s like to notice a strange new MS symptom. Or something that might turn out to be a symptom

Perhaps I’m in the car and I feel a drop of water on my leg. But is it a real drop? Where could it have come from? Or I’m sitting at my desk working and I feel an annoying hair on my arm. At least, I hope it’s a hair, and I spend many frantic minutes searching to reassure myself that there is a physical explanation for what I’m feeling.  Alarm bells start ringing, fear arrives out of nowhere, the invisible ice descends. And then, just as quickly, it disappears again. The hair is located, the drip of water turns out to be coming from the car’s air-conditioner unit, and my life carries on as normal. Because for me, just like for many others, the recovery process from MS is a very real phenomenon. A plant-based whole food diet, sunlight, exercise, dealing with emotional issues, daily meditation.

These are the things that are keeping me remarkably well, and I am sure will continue to keep me well into the future. My daughter’s fish didn’t have MS of course. We crouched by the tank, looking for a sign that movement would return to their bodies.

Opal was the first to swim free, wriggling his blue body and darting to the surface. That gave us some hope that things would turn out okay. Tiddle followed soon after, and our hope surged. We watched Flicker patiently, really expecting by now that he would recover, and finally his yellow tail gave one last frantic swish and his body was loosened from its odd stiffness. Before long all three fish were swimming around quite happily as if nothing had happened. Hope is a powerful thing. It can grow into a huge flame, bright enough to carry you through the darkest of days. But to begin with it is much smaller…more of a flicker.

Karen Law

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