Nigel Bartram was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago. Throughout that time, despite the various curveballs MS has thrown at him, he’s managed to maintain his sense of humour. He’s recently published a book titled MS A Funny Thing (well s😊metimes), which celebrates some of the more comedic elements of living with a chronic illness. Here he discusses what inspired him to write this book and what he hopes it will achieve.
I was born in London, but moved around the UK a lot as a child. Aged 43, I upped sticks to follow my wife, in what was planned to be a temporary career move to France, along with our two young children, and my rubbish French. A joyful adventure, imbibing the beauty of our surrounds and French gastronomy became altogether more serious when I had to find a job. I retrained as a teacher of English, set up a language school and taught part-time as a university Associate Professor.
All that was a breeze compared to a body which inexplicably started to go haywire. In the six years running up to my diagnosis in 2009, bit by bit, bucket loads of symptoms intruded themselves into my daily life, the usual suspects such as dropped foot, deteriorating balance, incontinence, fatigue and so on. Time enough also for MS to land me in plenty of challenging situations, some of which, even though they may have been difficult at the time, were clearly comic book stuff.
What inspired you to create this book? What do you hope it will achieve?
The idea of the book crystalised a few years later when I was on an MS retreat. To my great surprise and delight, I realised that MS hadn’t robbed any of us with MS of our senses of humour. Indeed, it had given us a rich new vein of experiences to mine and chortle over, so important when up to half of people with MS experience depression or severe anxiety at some point.
The deal was sealed when one of the retreat facilitators, who has MS and is a consultant psychiatrist, warmly embraced the idea of such a book for the morale boost it would bring to people with MS, and those close to them, by presenting an altogether lighter side of the condition. Off I went to write up a few of my own stories and to try to harvest those of other people with MS.
How does humour help you deal with your MS?
I won’t pretend life is one long laugh, but given that I’m now all but wheelchair bound, humour is as precious as a jewel in a crown. It’s much cherished, times where I can be myself, every bit as before MS barged, unwelcome into my life. Whilst humour can never take away the mounds of s**t which MS brings, it’s a very important way for me not to be defined by the MS intruder. Humour can bring one out of oneself like nothing else.
I get a real buzz when friends and family remark on how cheerful I remain in the face of my obvious physical struggles. As the saying so aptly puts it, “smile and the whole world smiles with you.” Not that I tortuously search out humour, rather, like a good comic, I can see how funny and absurd some aspects of everyday life can sometimes be, and boy does MS lob absurdities in our direction! Science has finally woken up to the fact that smiles and laughter are good medicine. How can I possibly be depressed, or anxious, if I’m laughing, or even having a quiet chortle?
You spoke to a lot of people with multiple sclerosis when writing this book, did they all agree that humour is important when living with MS?
Yes and how! I can do no better than repeat a few lines from stories in the book.
“Humour kills the beast.” Maximilian Nowak
“I find humour essential to getting through a day with MS, and I’m three years along the journey now, so I figure I’m doing okay.” Ian Daly
“Laughter really is such a brill therapy.” Ali Gwilliam
“I have a jolly good laugh about the curveballs MS sometimes throws at me. I was absolutely delighted and gung-ho to support Nigel when I heard of his plans for a funny book about MS”. Clare McKenzie
What are your hopes for the book?
First and foremost, that it brings smiles and laughter to as many people with MS, their families, friends and caregivers as possible. I hope it sells in large numbers to raise much needed funds for the MS Trust and the other MS charities. I also want it to celebrate the courage and 'never say die' attitude of people with MS and finally, shine a light on what it’s like living with MS to the public at large.
“In medicine, we now understand that laughter is good medicine. This book is decidedly good for you! Second, all proceeds go to worthy MS charities. Win-win!", so says Professor George Jelinek MD, Honorary Professor, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and Founder of Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. So, I want bucket loads of win-wins.
What do you hope to do next?
It’d be brilliant if after reading the book, members of the MS Trust community felt inspired to write a story (or just give me the bare bones to write up). That way together we can create a book just for the Trust, with all royalties going to their coffers.
If you have any ideas for a story for volume two of 'MS A Funny Thing (well s😊metimes)', I’d love to hear from you email@example.com
Where can I buy the book?
The book is available in paperback and eBook formats on Amazon UK click here for the link (the MS Trust will get approximately the same whether it’s paperback or the cheaper eBook). I’m sure you’ll find buying and reading this book, the funniest way of raising money for the MS Trust.
*The MS Trust is in no way responsible for the content contained within this book.
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