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S4E51 bonus: Coffee Break #31 with Nigel Bartram

Coffee Break #31

Welcome to Living Well with MS Coffee Break #31, where we are pleased to welcome Nigel Bartram as our guest!  

Our Coffee Break series is your chance to get to know members of our diverse OMS community. In each episode, you’ll join Geoff Allix for an intimate chat with a different member of our global community. Our guests will share their personal stories and talk about their challenges and victories, large and small. We hope you find common cause and a source of inspiration from the stories of these very special people. As always, your comments and suggestions are always welcome by emailing [email protected].  

Nigel is a special member of our community – a retired marketing professional who has fused his writing talents and penchant for humor to share his experiences with MS from a very unusual and humorous perspective. We’ll dive more into that shortly, plus we have a very special surprise for you, so stay tuned. We hope you enjoy this episode’s conversation with Nigel, coming to you straight from Paris, France. 

Nigel’s Bio (in his own words): 

I was born in London but moved around the UK as a child. After a 1st degree in History and then an MBA, my career landed mostly in marketing in the financial sector. In my last job in the UK, as Sales & Marketing Director of a retail stockbroker, following spectacular growth from start-up, I helped lead the company through a heavily oversubscribed IPO onto the London Stock Exchange.   

Aged 43 I upped sticks to follow Caroline, my wife, in what was planned to be a temporary career move for her to France, along with our two young children, and my rubbish French. I became a house husband, looking after the kids, improving my ‘null’ French, and helping build a house in our Paris suburb (with stunning views towards the city. Temporary morphed into permanent. A joyful adventure, imbibing the beauty of our surrounds and French gastronomy became altogether more serious. Settling in France permanently meant I had to find a job. I retrained as a teacher of English, set up a language school, and taught part-time as a university Associate Professor.     

All that was a breeze compared to a body which inexplicably started to go haywire. Overnight, out of nowhere, I lost 90% of the hearing in one ear (which happily came back of its own accord, more or less). In my long-gone student holidays, I worked as a tree surgeon, so heights held no fear for me. So how come I found myself sick with panic driving very slowly along the magnificent Gorge du Verdun with Caroline and the kids on board in 2003? I was petrified by the sheer drop into the ravine, something I’d have relished the challenge of scaling up in yesteryear. I suffered in silence of course.  

I wasn’t diagnosed with MS for another six years, time enough for my ‘flappy foot’ and drunken sailor swagger to become my trademark walk. Bit by bit, bucket loads of other symptoms intruded into my daily life. Time enough also for MS to land me in plenty of challenging situations, some of which, even though they may have been difficult at the time, were clearly comic book stuff.  

The idea of the book crystalised a few years later when I was on an OMS retreat. To my great surprise and delight, I realised that MS hadn’t robbed any of us MS suffers of our senses of humour. Indeed, it had given us a rich new vein of experiences to mine and chortle over, so important when up to half of people with MS experience depression at some point. 

The deal was sealed when the retreat facilitators, Dr Keryn Taylor and Dr Craig Hassed, a world-renowned expert on mindfulness, warmly embraced the idea of such a book for the morale boost it would bring to people with MS, and those close to them, by presenting an altogether lighter side of the condition. Off I went to write down a few of my own stories and harvest those of other people with MS. What a job the latter proved to be! 

 

Questions: 

  • Nigel, welcome to Living Well with MS Coffee Break. We’re so pleased to have you on our program. The purpose of this series is to better get to know some of the diverse members of our community from around the world, and today you’re in the hot seat. Can you tell us a little about your day-to-day life? 

  • When were you diagnosed with MS? Can you provide some context on that? When were you diagnosed and how did you initially deal with it? 

  • At which point did you come across the OMS program? How was that experience for you? Why did you decide to start following it? 

  • You mention in one of the 3 key things to know about you, which can be found in the show notes, that OMS may have saved your life. That’s powerful. Can you speak a bit about that? 

  • Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about a very exciting project you’ve just completed and are about to launch. You’ve written a book called ‘MS A Funny Thing’, which is an illustrated collection of humorous essays you’ve written through the years about your experience with MS. Can you tell us a bit about it? 

  • How has humor helped you deal with the challenges of MS? 

  • Another special thing about this book is that you’ve dedicated all the proceeds to several nominated MS charities. What compelled you to model the project this way? 

  • This book is illustrated, and I understand there is an interesting backstory to how you came to collaborate with the illustrator. Can you share a little about that? 

  • Since we have whet everyone’s appetite about this book, we have a very special treat for you. Nigel is going to read one of his essays from the book! This is very exciting, Nigel. It’s the first author reading on this podcast. Please take it away and perhaps share its title and a little context on the piece you’re going to read for the next few minutes. 

  • Wow, that was fantastic. Thanks so much, Nigel. How can people get their hands on your book? 

  • Before we ask Nigel one final question, I want to remind our listeners that May is Mindfulness and Meditation month at OMS. To mark that, tune into a special webinar on May 17, featuring a live meditation session with Phil Startin. If you’re listening to this episode after May 17, don’t worry, you can view a replay of this or any of our webinars at any time. Details on registering for this free webinar, as well as a link to replays of past webinars, can be found in our show notes. And check out the OMS social channels for daily mindfulness tips that you can incorporate into your day. 

  • Nigel, thank you so much for being on Living Well with MS Coffee Break and allowing our community to get to know one of its own a little better. One last question before you go, and it’s a bit of a tradition in that we ask it of all our Coffee Break guests. If you tap into your experience with MS generally and OMS specifically for a nugget of wisdom that would help people ease into and better adopt the OMS program, what would that advice be? 

 

Praise for Nigel’s Book: 

“There are three things I’d like to say about Nigel’s book. First, in medicine, we now understand that laughter is good medicine. This book is decidedly good for you! Second, all proceeds go to worthy MS charities. Win-win! Third… now what was that third thing? I need to take Nigel’s sage advice and stop nominating how many points I am about to make, don’t I?” 

Professor George Jelinek MD, Honorary Professor, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and Founder of Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis 

 

Three Interesting Facts About Nigel (in his own words): 

  • I’m physically pretty handicapped, with an EDSS of 7, but still live a fulfilled life. I haven’t given up hope of getting some lost physical function back and am working hard to do that and making some early progress. 

  • I’m certain but can’t prove that the OMS regime saved my life, getting me through a flirtation with the grim reaper three years ago.          

  • Until fairly recently, we who’ve continued deteriorate physically despite following the programme religiously, have been a real OMS Cinderella, as though somehow, we’re an aberration and should be ignored. This view is shared by quite a lot of my OMS friends who have similarly failed to experience any recovery. We nonetheless continue to adhere to the programme believing it to be a force for good even if it doesn’t do what it says on the tin for us. 

 

Nigel’s Links: 

  • Nigel’s book MS A Funny Thing (well sometimes J) is officially released on May 30 (World MS Day), but you can purchase early here 

  • Check out the blogs Nigel has written on the Overcoming MS website 

  • Check out Nigel’s website, where you can get a taste of his writings 

  • Register here for the Overcoming MS upcoming webinars or watch our webinar replays here 

 

Coming up on our next episode: 

On the next episode of Living Well with MS, premiering May 25, 2022, meet Arlene Faulk, Tai Chi instructor, storyteller, and author of the new book, Walking on Pins and Needles: A Memoir of Chronic Resilience in the Face of Multiple Sclerosis. Learn how Arlene deploys the ancient practice of Tai Chi to help manage chronic pain associated with MS. 

 

Don’t miss out: 

Subscribe to this podcast and never miss an episode. You can catch any episode of Living Well with MS here or on your favorite podcast listening app. For your convenience, a full episode transcript is also available on all platforms within 72 hours of each episode’s premiere. If you like our program, don’t be shy and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you tune into the show. And feel free to share your comments and suggestions for future guests and episode topics by emailing [email protected]