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"There have been amazing opportunities that wouldn’t have arisen if I didn’t have MS"

HL_Metamorphosis_13.jpgPhotographer Hannah Laycock on the opportunities MS has opened up

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) I was living in London. I’d been under quite a bit of stress in the lead up. I’d started playing squash again after not playing since I was a teenager, and the next day after a game, I felt a pain under my right shoulder blade, which progressed to numbness across my chest and right side.

My friend who is a massage therapist thought maybe I’d trapped a nerve. But the numbness moved around my body. My GP did some blood tests which came back normal. But I was worried because my dad had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2008. As soon as I told my doctor this, they referred me to King’s College for an MRI scan.

Big shock

By the time I’d got my results, my symptoms had really died down. I had concluded that I probably didn’t have motor neuron disease, because symptoms don’t come and go like that. So on the day of my results, I cycled from my workplace in Chadwell to King’s College. It was a big shock when the neurologist showed me the scans and pointed out areas on my spinal cord and brain.  

Focas_H Laycock_01.jpgI went straight to a friend’s house and fell to pieces. I was so confused and really went downhill and had another relapse. I then had a bad experience with a neurologist and ended up putting in a complaint, which drove my stress levels up further.

I found it really hard to accept, especially because of my dad having motor neuron disease. How could both of us have huge health conditions? For a while I’d been considering moving back to the north east of Scotland due to my dad being ill and, while I loved living in London, and had a lot of friends there, I had no family nearby and it was time to think about the future. My gut instinct was to move back home.

My parents live in Forres but I chose to move to Glasgow as it is the most similar to London in terms of the art scene and city life. But it wasn’t really for me. While I was there I had an interview for the Glasgow School of Art, but at their Highland campus, in the town that I grew up in. They created a role for me in photography and I ended up moving back with my parents for a bit.

Frustrations and opportunities

The uncertainty of my condition does trouble me. But, while I get frustrated with my symptoms on a daily basis, having MS had meant I’ve met lots of people I wouldn’t have normally. There have been amazing commissions and opportunities that wouldn’t have arisen if I didn’t have MS. In 2019 I was invited to commission a set of portraits of others with MS for the drug company Novartis. This was a dream job! I met lots of people at all different stages of their condition. The lived experiences you share connects you on a greater level. You share a level of understanding. I’d love to do more work like that.

I think having a condition like MS can lead to a lot of self-growth and adaptation skills. I was heavily influenced by witnessing what my dad went through. He was inspiring and positive throughout some really testing times, and that’s helped my own mindset and how I look at challenges.

My dad passed away in December 2019. He stopped taking in food and water himself. It’s been a challenging time because we felt that he was finally at piece and a new chapter was about to start, then lockdown happened.

My self-care has slipped a bit during this latest lockdown. I was good at the beginning, doing yoga at home and stuff. But I’m still processing my dad’s death.

My creative work is so important to me. I’d say to anyone newly diagnosed, doing something creative is a really good way to process something like a diagnosis. Don’t worry about the final outcome, it’s the process that’s the important part. It could be painting, dancing, pottery – anything. It just gets rid of some of the mental load. It can really help reduce stress, which of course is important for MS. Don’t worry about the results, just channel that energy!

This interview appeared originally in New Pathways magazine. To subscribe for just £1.66 a month, sunscribe here or give us a call on 01206 226500.