Every year we have a nominated MS Awareness Week, this year it is 24 to 30 April. It makes me smile, in an ironic kind of way, because I spend my life wishing I could forget I have MS, but it is omnipresent. That said, I do of course recognise that those of us who are touched by the curse of MS need to do our bit to raise awareness, hence why I choose to write about it.
The cliché “I have MS, but MS doesn’t have me” makes me cringe because, if we are honest with ourselves, it doesn’t matter what we do, MS always has the upper hand in this relationship. We can fight it with an arsenal of drugs, diet, vitamins and supplements, exercise, rest, eliminate stress from our lives (how do you do that, by the way), keep up to date with every scrap of research and try to maintain a level of fitness to stave off the effects of this disease for as long as we can. But at the end of the day, when you have MS, it looms like a dark spectre, ready to pounce and trip you up when you least expect it.
I think we have a choice on how to approach it though. We can wrap ourselves in cotton wool, put a rug over our knees, shut the front door and allow MS to shrink our world. Or, we can stick two fingers up at it, embrace new challenges and get on with living our lives. I choose the latter approach.
I’ve been diagnosed for just over ten years now and I’m fast approaching a landmark birthday. I was resolved at the beginning of this year that I would learn a new skill, and neither MS nor clocking up my first half a century would stop me!
I have to hold my hands up and say that over the past few years I’ve been incredibly lazy. I’ve been really lucky to go on some wonderful holidays to exotic locations, but I’ve been content to lay on a sun bed whilst my buddy the Pipster pursued her art and took all the photos. The Pipster has taken some beautiful shots but I decided this had got to change, and so I signed up for a Beginners Digital Photography Course through Bucks Adult Learning. A five week course held at The Grange School in Aylesbury, tutored by Marion Mason of Marion Mason Images.
Every week we learnt a new aspect to enable us to move away from automatic mode and not only understand the manual functions on our cameras, but also alter the way we looked at the subject. We explored different aspects such as how to adjust your settings to accommodate different levels and directions of light, capture moving subjects, landscapes, portraits and how the shutter speed, ISO and aperture elements of the exposure affect your end of result.
We learnt a new topic in each session and were set a homework project and then reviewed our pictures before moving on to the next subject. It was brilliant fun and I thoroughly enjoyed learning this way. Marion is passionate about her subject and she managed to convey it in a very relaxed way which definitely encouraged my enthusiasm.
Both The Pipster and I also attended an Outdoor Photography Masterclass tutored by Marion at Waddesdon Manor, where I was able to put my new found knowledge to the test. We had some time in the classroom then went out in the grounds capturing some shots in the stunning gardens. What really struck me was that I was looking at my surroundings with a completely fresh pair of eyes. Of course, prior to my new learning I would have appreciated how beautiful it was, but now I was thinking about how I could compose my picture to put a fresh look on it and what depth of field would I use to get the right effect?
Only one minor mishap befell me when I managed to tip my scooter over while stupidly attempting a three point turn on a precipitous slope, resulting in nothing more serious than a bruised pride to myself, but a couple of hundred quids worth of damage to the scooter so I won’t be doing that again! It would be unlike me not to make a complete arse of myself at least once though wouldn’t it?
Flushed with the success of having learnt one new skill and imbued with an increased confidence, I signed up for a 1-2-1 Masterclass with the incredibly talented Karrin Simpson Cake Artist.
I’ve been a baker for a long time and I’ve made several celebration cakes for special birthdays and anniversaries for family members over the past few years, but I’ve always taken the easy way out and got someone else to decorate them for me. Again, I decided I needed to get off of my butt and do something about this and asked Karrin if she would teach me how to make sugar flowers and model figures.
I spent a really fun and rewarding day under Karrin’s expert and very patient tutoring, learning how to create animals and various different types of blooms out of both modelling chocolate and sugar fondant. Now, my elephant looks like he’s taken a head shot but I must admit that I’m pretty pleased with the peony which was created by fashioning each petal individually and then wiring them together to form a single bloom.
It was such a brilliant day and now that I’ve had an insight in to the world of sugar craft, I can see how this could become a really absorbing hobby. I suspect my brother won’t appreciate a lilac coloured peony with crystal stamens adorning his cake every year and so I will have to extend my repertoire!
The most satisfying aspect of learning both these new skills though is that I’ve done it despite having MS. I just contacted Bucks Adult Learning and Karrin prior to booking my courses to ensure my needs could be accommodated, and then went ahead and did it. As it turned out, I was able to do everything very easily. The only adjustment I needed for the photography course was to use my scooter to get around Waddesdon Manor, and the cake decorating was very comfortably managed at Karrin’s conservatory table; she’s so flexible she will even come to your own home to teach you if you prefer.
So, in this MS Awareness Week, I say don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone and get out in the world to acquire a new skill. It’s fun, satisfying and really empowering to meet new people and learn something new. There are loads of things you can do where MS doesn’t matter at all, and others will only require a tiny adjustment to make them fully accessible. Don’t let MS have the upper hand and keep on shrinking your world. Embrace a new challenge and, to quote Nike ” Just Do It” !
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