Yvette was diagnosed with optic neuritis at 23, with frightening loss of vision in her right eye, and multiple sclerosis (MS) was not mentioned to her then as a possible cause. She was given steroids to manage the symptoms and over the next 20 years had several relapses of optic neuritis affecting both eyes. As the relapses were separated by several years, Yvette was relieved to be able to avoid a diagnosis of MS. She kept her worries about MS to herself, exhausting at times, and did not even share them with close family and friends.
She carried on with her life, children, travel and a successful global career in HR. In 2012 without warning her leg collapsed whilst out walking; again, this quickly recovered. However over the next few years her right leg started to get stiffer, she developed foot drop and also experienced weakness in her right arm and hand. Yvette realised she needed to face up to what was happening, knowing that things were changing and that the symptoms were slowly progressing and not going away as before.
In 2014 while researching online Yvette came across the Overcoming MS website and George Jelinek’s book. She downloaded a copy and stayed up reading. The book resonated on many levels, especially the science behind it. Together with her husband Jurgen they both became fish eating vegans from day one. Yvette describes Jurgen as her ‘number one cheerleader’ because she could not have made any of these changes without his unwavering support.
A few weeks later, they attended an OMS meeting in Birmingham and for the first time openly shared their experiences of living with MS with people who understood. They discovered that there were other people ‘just like them’, struggling with the same challenges of the uncertainty and unpredictability of the condition. Surrounded by a room full of people looking to take back some control and take positive action was very empowering for them both.
Yvette attended an OMS week-long retreat in London later that year which not only solidified her awareness and understanding of the OMS programme but helped her take steps towards accepting that she had MS, and that it doesn’t need to define her. She describes this as "a very important hurdle". Her formal diagnosis finally came in 2016 and she now combines following the OMS programme with Disease Modifying Drugs and medication for her symptoms.
Yvette found overhauling her diet relatively easy and lost lots of weight at the start due to lowering her saturated fat intake. Yvette and her husband have learnt to eat more! The hardest challenge for Yvette was cutting out chocolate! Yvette feels that changing her diet has meant she has more energy and less fatigue.
Yvette has a disciplined exercise regime throughout the week including walking, cycling on a stationary bike, swimming and pilates. She set herself a challenge at the end of last year to walk six kilometres by September, which she achieved, with the help of her carbon fibre Ankle Foot Orthoses (AFO) to provide lift for the foot drop and greater stability. This is further than she has managed in years, which her physio describes as a "200% increase in performance." The next challenge for Yvette is to build up to swimming a mile, only 60 lengths more to go!
"I find setting a goal, having bags of determination and discipline and combining all the different strands of the OMS programme, have really helped me improve my overall fitness and wellbeing.”
Yvette did not practice mindfulness before starting the OMS programme, but was so inspired by the benefits she found personally she wanted to learn to teach others. She is now a qualified mindfulness teacher, and is completing a part time MSc in Mindfulness at the University of Exeter.
"Mindfulness for me has been the cornerstone of my MS journey. Of course there’s the science behind it, less stress equates to less relapses and exacerbation of symptoms for people with MS. But I’ve learnt over time through my mindfulness practice, to accept what is happening to me. That doesn’t mean I have to like it! I just no longer beat myself up for not being able to do what I used to do.
"In fact I’d say I am now more fulfilled than ever before in my life. I focus on helping others make mindful choices about how they live and work, as I have done. I teach mindfulness to people with MS and integrate mindfulness where appropriate into my work as an Executive Coach with leaders in corporate organisations. The future is uncertain, and who knows what tomorrow will bring but with the OMS programme I know I’m doing everything in my power to give myself the best chance of having a great life.”
Optic Neuritis - Optic neuritis refers to inflammation that damages the optic nerve – a bundle of nerve fibres than transmit communication from the eye to the brain. It is commonly caused by MS. Optic neuritis is often one of the first signs of MS.
Disease Modifying Drugs - Disease-modifying therapies have been shown in clinical trials to modify the course of MS.
Steroids - Steroids have been used for MS relapses for many years. Most neurologists prescribe them for acute relapses in people with relapsing-remitting MS. The evidence seems clear that they improve recovery time from individual relapses.
Foot drop - Condition of weakness in the muscles of the leg caused by poor nerve conduction, which interferes with a person’s ability to extend the ankle and walk with a normal pattern. The toes touch the ground before the heel, causing the person to trip or lose balance.
OMS Ambassador - OMS Ambassadors serve as regional coordinators, offering advice and encouragement as people start the OMS programme.