"I've always believed in the power of movement"

Lina Nielsen, 26, is a British sprinter, hurdler and yoga instructor. She shared her MS diagnosis publicly last summer after she relapsed just before competing in the World Championships. We spoke to Lina about how she supports her mental wellbeing.

What was it like experiencing MS symptoms at 13 and being diagnosed at 17?

I didn’t think too much about it when I was 13. But relapsing at 17 took a big toll on my mental health. It probably took me three to five years to process everything.

How did you feel when you were diagnosed?

I think I was in denial. I didn’t want to understand the condition. Instead, I used the internet to read stories from other people with MS. I was also pitied by the few people I told, which I hated. That stopped me from sharing because I didn’t want a pity party.

How did it feel sharing your MS with the public?

I always pictured myself having my athletics career and then telling people about my MS. But announcing it during the World Championships felt right because my relapse happened at such a crucial moment.

I felt vulnerable for a long time, which is something I’m not used to. I’m quite a private person, so it was a bit weird! Luckily, I had people to look up to like parasport athlete Kadeena Cox. And so many people reached out on social media which was great. I’m really proud of myself for doing it.

How do you protect your mental wellbeing while in the public eye?

I reached a point last summer where I realised I hadn’t had time to properly heal from the World Championships. I was doing interviews about what happened. It was like reliving the trauma every time. So I started saying ‘no’. I felt like a bit of a diva, but I had to protect my space and peace.

I realised my main source of support had to come from myself.

Where do you get support from?

The love from the people closest to me. Especially last summer. I don’t think I would’ve got through that period without it. But there aren’t many people who understand exactly what you’re going through. And experiences and symptoms vary so much from person to person. I realised my main source of support had to come from myself.

How has exercise helped your wellbeing?

I really believe in the power of movement. For me, stopping moving when I’m going through a relapse means I’ll take longer to feel better. So I always try to move my body in some way.

Read more about MS and exercise

Tell us about your yoga practice

I’m a qualified yoga teacher, but it’s taken a bit of a backseat at the moment because of training. I believe in making adjustments and moving in a way that suits you. That’s what I love about yoga. There are so many forms and it teaches you to be patient with yourself and do what feels right. You don’t need a fancy mat – you can just do it on your living room floor or in a chair.

This article first appeared in our Spring 2023 edition of MS Matters magazine.

Subscribe to MS Matters