Gillian's blog - MS and the elephant in the room

"I’m sure all of our experiences of MS are as unique as the disease itself. As someone who was newly diagnosed, I found that people were often a little uncomfortable around me during that first acute relapse.

It was clear I was unwell: within a week I had been zipped into an uncomfortable Michelin Man suit, the muscles in my chest wall were in spasm and my hands felt like they permanently had shards of glass sticking into them. Yet, well-meaning friends kept telling me how great I looked and that you’d never know I was ill. The words "multiple sclerosis" were rarely mentioned, and, if they were, it was to tell me about a friend of a friend who had had MS for years and ‘did really well’ or ‘still wasn’t in a wheel chair’.

I shouldn’t be complaining, because I would have hated having to lay my soul bare and constantly talk about the disease. However, I found it odd that MS was skillfully ignored, or cast as a minor inconvenience, by most of my visitors in those first few months.

A couple of years after I was diagnosed I had an encounter in the street that brought memories of those early awkward exchanges flooding back. I had bumped into a friend who was coming back from yoga. She was enthusing about the class and suggested I attend. I rarely mention MS, but instead of just smiling and saying I might, I was honest. I said I’d tried yoga but found it wasn’t great because you have to hold the positions for so long. I explained that because of my MS I found pilates much better.

As I talked I felt the Floridian air chill (I was lucky enough to be living in the sunshine state at the time). My friend forced a smile, told me she was in a rush and, true to her word, hurried off. I was transported back to the spring of 2007 and the awkward exchanges I’d had then.

I walked back to my apartment, a little shaken, and wrote the poem Elephant."


You are colossal
granite grey
yet unspoken
as you sit
peppermint tea
on the Laura
Ashley chaise
longue opposite

I see brows knit
faces turn flint
if I even hint
at you -
how rude
to allude
to the recumbent
in the room

Others dance
around you
romance you -
if you were
how benign
you would be
how mannerly

Grinning you wink
as you sit
herbal tea
on that chic
pink chaise
by Laura Ashley

Gillian Shireffs was diagnosed with MS in 2007. She blogs at, and you can find her on Twitter at @sunshinescot

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great poem !!


jaki  xx

Very true Laura.

I was diagnosed just in July this year and I have felt the same as you describe, I had a friend who texted me regularly and whom I met up with every other week, but she's been "busy" is Christmas I suppose......not in August though..... Not with all of my friends and associates, of those that I have told to date.

I'm currently off sick from work with my first acute relapse since diagnosis and up untill now have been very selective of who I told, but will now hove to tell some more people, work associates, as an explanation of my absence, I wonder what their reactions will be..................:-S

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