Bruce Barrett was diagnosed with MS aged 31. He hopes the new storyline in Coronation Street, which sees Johnny Connor diagnosed with the condition, will help people understand MS
When I first saw Johnny stumble and have various difficulties I said to my wife Amy: “he’s got MS”.
The first signs of my MS were my walking getting slower and slower, like I was walking through treacle. Then my feet would go numb - but I just thought that I’d tied my shoe laces too tight. And like Johnny, I would stumble and people thought I was drunk. I was even refused entry to pubs.
I didn’t think too much about these symptoms. I thought they’d go away. But Amy persuaded me to go to the GP.
I was referred to a neurologist and had an MRI scan. I was shocked to be diagnosed with MS. I didn’t know anything about it and just thought: where do I go from here? I’ve always had an ‘alpha male’ attitude – I’ll be alright because I’ve got to be alright.
Johnny is worried about telling his partner, and I can relate to that feeling of worry. We have two young children and I was concerned about how we would cope and if it would get worse. But Amy and I have always been very open with each other so I told her pretty much straight away. She was very supportive and told me we’d fight it together.
We’ve been together since we were 19, and now we’re both 40. When I was first diagnosed our relationship helped get me through it.
I can get very frustrated with my MS but I always tell Amy how I feel. In any relationship you’ve got to know what annoys, and benefits, the other person.
How my mates reacted
I told my friends about my MS as and when I saw them. People react in different ways – one friend cried, others said it explained things. Some I didn’t hear from again. I think some people feel embarrassed or awkward but I’ve got broad enough shoulders. Just ask me about it!
You find out who your true friends are. They’re the ones who don’t mind pushing my wheelchair. Some of the symptoms of MS can feel embarrassing – things like bladder issues. You can worry that you’ll get the mickey taken out of you, but when those things have affected me people have been sympathetic.
My advice for Johnny
I think it’s really good that MS is a storyline on Coronation Street. There isn’t much awareness of MS so it will help put it into people’s thoughts and make them aware of the symptoms.
If I could give Johnny some advice I’d tell him to try and stay positive. Some days I feel like superman but others I can’t get out of bed. But I try not to dwell on the bad days. From the beginning my attitude has been that MS will have to learn to live with me.
Things that help me stay positive are connecting with others, finding ways to give back and an ipad charged full of good music.
MS information and support
If you’re affected by any of the themes raised in Coronations Street's storyline, you can talk to someone on our MS Helpline. It's open between 9am to 9pm on Monday and 9am to 7pm from Tuesday to Friday.