I was 20 when I was diagnosed with MS. It was a strange time for me. My dad had just passed away and I was living on my own after breaking up with my girlfriend.
I had so much going on that I didn’t really give MS too much thought. I was young and healthy, so surely I was going to beat it. Maybe the doctor was wrong! I was in denial.
For a long time all my feelings were locked inside me. I’d mask insecurities with over-confidence, acting loud and fun. There was no-one I could tell I was feeling scared and upset.
Meeting my wife and dealing with anxiety
When I met my now-wife Laura and started getting close to her those feelings all came out in anxiety attacks. Convinced I was dying, I’d phone an ambulance, go to A&E and cause a scene in the waiting room.
Then a lady at work told me that she’d had bad anxiety when she was younger. It was so bad she didn’t leave the house. It helped me a lot to talk to someone who knew what I was feeling, and that it was going to be alright.
I researched techniques on how to deal with my anxiety. With time, determination and Laura by my side I became better equipped to deal with it, so it didn’t boil over.
Having our first baby
There’s never been a particular job (apart from TV presenter!) that I wanted to do, but I always saw myself being a father.
After Laura fell pregnant I had my second MS attack. My right hand went numb and fatigue would hit me before the middle of the day. You want to be the man of house and take care of the people you love, then you have these insecurities and fears that your body is going to let you down.
When my daughter Brooke-Haze was born it was the most magical moment of my life, and those feelings went away. The worries did come back again, but at the time I felt superhuman! I was so happy and determined to do a good job as a dad.
Juggling work and fatherhood
When our second child Ember was born things became more challenging. I had a new job where I had to stand up all day, was working 46 hour weeks and was feeling rubbish. When fatigue hit me it felt as if my body was shutting down – even breathing became an effort.
I’d fall into the trap of wishing I was like a ‘normal’ parent and thinking that it wasn’t fair. Being a parent was what I wanted to do. But I felt that MS was tainting the things I should be enjoying.
Finding ways to manage my challenges
My brother got involved and started looking at things that could help me, like making healthy changes to my diet. It was nice to feel that he was thinking about me.
Then I found Dom’s 12 Week Warrior Programme on Instagram. It was the first time I’d stuck to an exercise programme. Before when I’d gone to the gym I’d feel insecure, thinking I looked weedy compared to the other guys. But Dom’s programme fitted into my lifestyle. I could see improvement, and I also saw a change in my energy levels and mood.
One thing I also do now is take half an hour in the morning as time for myself. I manage my thoughts, stretch my body and listen to my playlist. It’s my version of meditating.
Becoming a stay at home dad
Juggling work and childcare became so gruelling that we made the decision I would go off work. We never got a day together as a family and both of us felt like single parents.
My wife earns more than me, so it made sense for me to do the childcare. It was a hard transition leaving work but it’s benefitted my health. And I’ve been so lucky to have this time at home with Ember.
I’ve realised the power of appreciating what I do have.
Reaching out to other people with MS
Now I follow a lot of people with MS on Instagram and Facebook from all over the world. I talk to them regularly.
I’ve posted on Instagram that I feel down and defeated and had messages from complete strangers saying ‘keep your head up, you’ll be OK, you’ll get through it’. It’s such a strong and caring community.
The only thing is that the people I speak to are mostly women. It’s hard to find men who will say that they are struggling and feeling scared. Maybe male bravado means we find it hard to share those feelings.
So I’ve started a website of my own now, Dave Against MS, because I want to share the realities of living with MS.
The things I struggle with
One of my worries about being a parent with MS is not being physically able to keep up with them and they miss out. I also worry about the future – will other kids tease them because of my MS? When I get these worries I try to calmly tell myself all the good things I have achieved as a parent with MS. I also tell myself that IF this does occur, hopefully I will have taught them how to be strong enough for it not to affect them.
Another daily struggle is days out. I have to plan ahead not just for the day we are going out, but the next two or three days because of the domino effect suffered from one strenuous day.
Movement is slower, pains in my legs are more intense and my brain feels foggy. This is something I have constantly struggled with over the years of being a father.
I have learnt to accept this is just an unfortunate situation I can't control, all I can control is my attitude towards it. Learning acceptance and patience is no easy feat, but a necessary one otherwise MS wins.
This was another reason why I started working with Dom to ensure I am as healthy as I can for as long as I can.
Tips for other dads with MS
My tips would be to find some time just for you, to deal with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. And that it’s OK to feel frustrated with MS. You don’t have to be amazing all the time!
Don’t put too much pressure and worry on yourself, do what you can do and play to your strengths.
Whether you’re at home watching your children colouring in or running around a field, the most important thing is that you’re sharing care and love.