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Don’t panic, but I have no feeling on my right side’

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“As far as I was concerned it was an unwanted passenger in the car, nothing I could do to get rid of the company; just acknowledge it was there and continue driving.” This was Ciara O’Meara’s outlook upon receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, or MS, aged only 22.

MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. The immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibres causing communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.

Now 34, Ciara describes herself as both defiant and stubborn in nature. One could argue that these traits have served her well. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she has travelled from Africa to Alaska, completed an MA in teaching, and an MA in nursing education. She now works full time as a clinical research nurse.

In 2008, while sitting third-year nursing exams, Ciara began to experience blurry vision and persistent dizziness. On the cusp of graduating, she felt she knew enough to self-diagnose, concluding she was suffering from vertigo. However, it transpired to be an early and common indicator of MS: optic neuritis, inflammation of the nerve which transmits visual stimuli from the eye to the brain.

‘Vertigo’

“I was prescribed a course of Stemetil to help with the ‘vertigo’ and advised to see an optician regarding my vision. I thought the dizziness to be the consequence of spending long study periods at the laptop. It all seemed pretty run of the mill at the time. Within a week the ‘vertigo’ was gone, exams were over, and I was on a plane to Hawaii for the J1 of a lifetime.”

Ciara O’Meara has completed an MA in teaching and an MA in nursing education. She now works full time as a clinical research nurse.
Ciara O’Meara has completed an MA in teaching and an MA in nursing education. She now works full time as a clinical research nurse.

Returning home four months later, tanned, tired, and full of stories to tell, Ciara fought off a series of recurring chest infections. This gave no cause for concern as it was quite common for her to catch a cold/flu upon returning from a sun holiday. But the episode that would ultimately lead to her diagnosis of MS occurred while enjoying a long weekend with family at home in Tipperary.

“When I got out of bed, a feeling of pins and needles pulsated from the top of my right toes and stopped just underneath my right breast. I had full power, but I was numb and tingling down along my right side. I was worried but I didn’t panic. I checked my face in the mirror and spoke aloud – I was in nurse mode, investigating whether it was a stroke I was experiencing. I got dressed and rushed to the kitchen. I turned to Mam and said, ‘Don’t panic but I have no feeling on my right side’. Mam was looking at me, half expecting me to laugh. My little brother, who was only 12 at the time, gave a laugh and drew a kick to my right leg to see if I was really messing. They both knew I wasn’t when I didn’t even flinch.”

Ciara considers the expeditious action taken by her GP that day to be the reason for the prompt identification of the condition. “Within minutes of him examining me I was on route to A&E. He is without doubt the reason I am living so well with MS today.”

Early intervention has shown to provide positive impact by potentially slowing the progression of the lifelong condition. His vigilance ensured Ciara quickly began disease-modifying therapies.

Ciara, we think you have MS

Ciara drove herself to the hospital. Despite having no feeling on her right side, she still had full power. As a student nurse knowing how hospitals function at weekends, she expected a long wait. However, a general medical consultant and her team approached Ciara the following morning. It would be the consultation that bore the deepest imprint on Ciara’s memory. In a distasteful, graceless manner, life-altering news was delivered. “Ciara, we think you have MS.”

The news thrust Ciara into a state of disbelief. “To this day I have no idea what she said after that. She hadn’t even told me her name. She had no regard for the fact I was only 22, alone with no support in a hospital bed.”

The doctor’s words echoed in Ciara’s mind all weekend, she tried consoling herself that it may not be true. Clinging to the fact the doctor had no MRI, and no lumbar puncture results to qualify her diagnosis. When discharged that Monday, despite still having pins and needles in her right side, Ciara headed for the nurse’s ball in Cork. “I am fiercely independent. If someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more. Looking back the best thing I could have done was go to that nurse’s ball. It cemented for me that life is for living. Life is here and now. The future is unpredictable for us all.”

A check-up the following year was scheduled, and Ciara carried on as normal. “I graduated as a general nurse and got my first staff nurse post on a general medical ward. I was living with friends, going to the pub, going on holidays and enjoying weekends. The pins and needles stayed hovering around my right thigh, but I never thought about it. It was only when shaving my legs, it would hit me with a bang. The sensation of a razor blade on pins and needles was awful.”

A year later, Ciara had another MRI and check-up. The rescheduling of an appointment to discuss her results raised alarm bells. She began to prepare for bad news. “I immediately knew something was wrong. I knew how the HSE worked. There was no way anyone would be called for an earlier appointment unless something had shown on the MRI.”

On June 15th, 2010, a consultant registrar confirmed what Ciara had feared: “demyelination on the cervical spine, conducive with a diagnosis of MS”. Suddenly, there was an inescapable sense of unpredictability and uncertainty to her life. She did not relish the thoughts of having to commence treatment. Nor could she silence her concern about how it would impact her starting a family.

“The registrar gave me information booklets on the different types of treatment available. I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life without any opportunity for guidance or support.”

Ciara began relentlessly searching for more information. Eventually, she decided Rebif would be her first disease-modifying therapy. This involved subcutaneous injections three times per week.

Naming loss of control as one of the most difficult elements of living with a chronic illness, Ciara felt this treatment mitigated that loss, to an extent. “I dreaded having to give it, but I had control with Rebif. I administered it three times a week, on a day and time that suited me.” Ciara’s body tolerated the drug quite well for eight years. During this time, she furthered her education and enjoyed some travelling too. “I was well, and I was ticking through my bucket list at an unmerciful rate.”

In the six months leading up to summer 2017, Ciara’s health began to deteriorate. Suffering increased lethargy, bladder and bowel issues. She chalked this down to her active social life, but an MRI told a different story. The symptoms were indicative of a relapse. New lesions had appeared and it was time for a different drug.

Her consultant advised Tysabri. Unlike Rebif that she could administer herself, this was an intravenous infusion given monthly. “I had no choice as to what day I could take the Tysabri. It had to be the last Tuesday of every month. My fear was being realised, I had to work around MS.” 

First home

At the time, Ciara had been renovating her first home with her fiancé Dave. Consumed by fear, she began to question everything; was there any point in renovating and moving in, what would happen if she were to relapse further, and her biggest fear, what if she could no longer have children?

I didn’t do anything to get this, and I can’t do anything to get rid of it. All I can do is get on with it

She feels an increasing sense of urgency to start a family but conflicted by not feeling ready. “If I wanted to start a family now, they would delay the Tysabri. If not, they would begin the treatment with the intention that I would remain on it for two years before starting a family.” She felt trapped. Resenting how imposing her condition had become. Despite knowing that many women with MS have healthy pregnancies, she was consumed with doubt and fear.

“I came up with a mantra. I didn’t do anything to get this, and I can’t do anything to get rid of it. All I can do is get on with it. Suffering is an inevitable part of life. It is how we choose to deal with it that matters.

Ciara O’Meara with her fiancé Dave
Ciara O’Meara with her fiancé Dave

“MS is unpredictable but, then again, so is life. Worrying about the ‘what ifs’ will take away from me enjoying the here and now.” Ciara believes MS is not a death sentence. Dedicated to raising awareness of MS and to debunking the myths that surround it, she does not want to be known as “Ciara, the girl with MS”.

Living with a chronic illness is both physically and emotionally challenging. MS is not always visible. There are invisible symptoms and issues. She devotes much of her time in raising awareness and educating people about the condition, so that these hidden issues can be understood and supported.

Tolerating Tysabri very well with no new lesions in the last year, Ciara is happy, working full time, and eagerly waiting for lockdown to end so she can walk up the aisle.

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House and 54 acres for sale near Amanda Owen’s Our Yorkshire Farm

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Fancy living near the Yorkshire Shepherdess? Nearby derelict cottage with 54 acres of land in North Yorkshire is up for grabs for £255k

  • Property is near Ravenseat, from Amanda Owen’s TV Show Our Yorkshire Farm
  • Carter’s Cottage is the name of the property listing and it includes 54 acres
  • The renovation project in North Yorkshire is on the market for £255k










Fancy living near the Yorkshire Shepherdess and having the Yorkshire Dales in your back garden?

Now is your opportunity, as a property with 54.5 acres of land is available to buy for £255,000 near Ravenseat Farm, home to shepherdess Amanda Owen, her husband of 21 years Clive, and their nine children.

The catch is that the house and adjoining barn are derelict and off-grid, with no mains services but with access to natural water on the site. 

The family and remote Ravenseat farm feature in the popular Channel 5 show Our Yorkshire Farm, as well as the best-selling book The Yorkshire Shepherdess

Amanda Owen is pictured with her family, consisting of her husband Clive, and their children Raven, Reuben, Miles, Edith, Violet, Sidney, Annas, Clementine, and Nancy

Amanda Owen is pictured with her family, consisting of her husband Clive, and their children Raven, Reuben, Miles, Edith, Violet, Sidney, Annas, Clementine, and Nancy

The nearby property for sale for £255k is called Carter's Cottage and has a similar feel to Ravenseat due to the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside

The nearby property for sale for £255k is called Carter’s Cottage and has a similar feel to Ravenseat due to the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside

There are no mains services to the former cottage or the land but there is a natural water supply at various points

There are no mains services to the former cottage or the land but there is a natural water supply at various points

The property for sale is called Carter’s Cottage and has a similar feel to Ravenseat as it is surrounded by plenty of beautiful North Yorkshire countryside.

However, it does not currently include a habitable home. Instead, there is a derelict stone cottage that would need to be converted before it can be occupied – or even rented out as a holiday home – as well as an adjoining stone barn. 

The property for sale is in Arkengarthdale, which is a dale on the east side of the Pennines in North Yorkshire.

There are no mains services to the former cottage or land, but there is a natural water supply at various points. The property is on the market for £255,000 via estate agents H&H Land & Estates.

Amanda runs Ravenseat farm with her husband Clive. She says hundreds of curious fans come to visit in hopes of catching a glimpse of her or her children

Amanda runs Ravenseat farm with her husband Clive. She says hundreds of curious fans come to visit in hopes of catching a glimpse of her or her children

There is a derelict stone cottage that would need to be converted before it can be occupied - or even rented out as a holiday home

There is a derelict stone cottage that would need to be converted before it can be occupied – or even rented out as a holiday home

The property for sale is in Arkengarthdale, which is a dale on the east side of the Pennines in North Yorkshire

The property for sale is in Arkengarthdale, which is a dale on the east side of the Pennines in North Yorkshire

While bookings are not currently being taken due to the pandemic, fans of the show have previously been able to visit and stay at Ravenseat Farm by renting out either a shepherd’s hut for £90 a night or a separate property on the family’s land for £175 a night.

It is possible to make the area nearby your regular holiday spot – or even your permanent base – as the property for sale is around 14 miles from Ravenseat Farm.  

The building needs a lot of work has plenty of scope to become a family house or holiday home, depending on budgets and planning permission

The building needs a lot of work has plenty of scope to become a family house or holiday home, depending on budgets and planning permission

Land has become increasingly sought-after amid the pandemic’s so-called ‘race for space’ among buyers.

Daniel Copley, of property website Zoopla, said: ‘If you’re tempted to make the move from the city to the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, this cottage and 54.5 acres of pasture land is brimming with potential and has a truly stunning location overlooking the Yorkshire Dales.’

The property for sale is on an elevated position on the east side of Arkengarthdale. 

Reeth is around four miles to the east, with the larger market town of Richmond about 14 miles to the east.

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‘After divorce, I’ve fallen in love. But something is holding me back’

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Question: I’m a divorced man, and I think I’ve fallen in love. This woman I care about so much brought me back to life after my divorce woes and I feel happy when we’re together. My life would certainly change if the relationship progressed and I feel the need to hit the brakes. Is it fear holding me back? Some advice would be great.

Answer: I think it is great that you are able to identify fear as the block to your relationship and it is worth looking at this. You have had a divorce, so your experience of relationship breakup is real and is clearly causing you to pause before heading into a committed relationship again. Some areas worth checking are your capacity for self-awareness, your relationship patterns and habits and your history of decision making.

Looking at self-awareness first – are you conscious of what motivates your actions and speech? In terms of self-awareness, there are many aspects of our ourselves which we are aware of, but we do need help with uncovering the full picture. For example, we can often see that someone we live or work with is stressed but they themselves would not know or acknowledge this and think that they are operating from a calm and collected place. It might be worth you checking with friends what they see in your new relationship and how they see you behaving. Do you seem happier to them, or is there wariness or caution in your approach to your partner? Your friends or family will be able to evaluate your wellness (or not) without the emotion or fear that you may have operating.

Ask for some honest opinions and remember if you ask for advice, take it on board as they may have more objectivity than you do. We all have relationship patterns and habits, so it is worth looking at yours to see if this is influencing your current impasse. These patterns typically start with our family of origin. For example, if there were difficulties (silences, anger, distances, or lack trust and love) in your parents’ relationship it is likely that you have a capacity to put up with or repeat such patterns in your own relationships.

Send your query anonymously to Trish Murphy

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it

It sounds as though you are mistrusting of someone who has “brought you back to life” and it is worth looking at whether this caution is coming from your own past experience or from fear of getting into a relationship pattern similar to your parents’ one. It takes courage to challenge our patterns and the nature of habit is that it operates outside of conscious thinking, so we can respond without even knowing where we are coming from, eg we push someone away just as intimacy is growing. Behaviour such as this could derive from a generational fear of rejection, or a fear of closeness, or of being discovered as not what we seem to be. It is good to explore such habits as we can struggle to see them operating and they can operate as a huge block in our lives.

It is true that the “in-love” feeling can sometimes mask some of the adored person’s characteristics and this is why we always need the “head” as well as the “heart” when making decisions. What is your decision-making like normally? Do you have enough knowledge of this person to make a decision about joining your lives together? Have you spent enough time with them and their circle of friends to make an informed choice? Sometimes the feeling of intense connection at the beginning of a relationship can make us lose sight of the fact that we don’t know the other person very well and in these situations we would do well to slow it down and let our judgement work when the time is right. If you are happy that you have enough knowledge and information to make this decision, then you are probably right that it is fear that is stopping you moving forward.

A little fear is natural and can even help us, for example we drive under the speed limit oftentimes out of fear of getting a speeding ticket. However too much fear can be debilitating, and it can completely bock our intelligence. All relationships involve risk, in that we have to trust that someone else will value us and not reject us. Fear is such a powerful emotion it can cover other more rational and sane judgements and so we need to ensure that we are not just operating from that place.

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it. However, it is worth knowing that fear and panic are closely aligned so we need to tackle them slowly and incrementally or else we go into a kind of frozenness. Overcome small fears first – this might involve speaking with some honesty with your partner – and gradually build up to the bigger fears. Your confidence and self-awareness will grow along the way and this can only benefit you. 

Click here to send your question to Trish or email tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com

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Lighthouse workers end up with front-row seats for Storm Barra

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Four lighthouse workers who went to Fastnet Lighthouse in west Cork to carry out maintenance on Friday ended up having front-row seats for Storm Barra as they had to stay onsite due to the conditions.

The lighthouse recorded a wind gust of 159km/h on Tuesday morning but Irish Lights electronic engineer Paul Barron said that it was a safe place to be as the country battened down the hatches to face the storm.

Mr Barron and his colleagues Ronnie O’Driscoll, Dave Purdy and Malcolm Gillies made the journey to Fastnet on Friday to do maintenance work and were due back on Tuesday but their helicopter flight was cancelled because of the storm. They hope to arrive back on the mainland on Thursday.

Mr Barron said they are passing their time onsite by watching Netflix and having a few steaks and rashers. He admitted it was a day to remember on the lighthouse which is 54 metres above the sea.

“There is a team of four of us out here. It has been quite a rough day. We started off this morning at around 2am and by 10am or 11am we were in the eye of the storm. I was in the merchant Navy before as a radio officer so I have seen a lot of bad weather. I am with Irish Lights 32 years but I haven’t normally seen it like this. We wouldn’t normally be out in this. You are talking 9m swells with winds gusting up to 90 knots.”

He captured some footage of the storm on his phone. During the worst of the weather the men found it hard to hear each other as it was so noisy during the squalls.

The tower was “shuddering a bit” but Mr Barron managed to shoot video footage which attracted attention online and even a call from Sky News.

He says the lighthouse has kitchen facilities and they always bring additional food in case of emergency.

“It could be a fine summer’s day and there could be thick fog and the chopper wouldn’t take off so we always bring extra food. We are passing the time by watching Netflix! This is a good place to be in the eye of a storm. This lighthouse has been built a hundred years so it has seen a lot of storms.”

As for families being concerned about the men Mr Barron jokes that their loved ones are probably relieved they aren’t at home hogging the remote control.

Meanwhile, in Cork city centre the river Lee spilled on to quays and roads on Tuesday morning but no major damage to property was caused. Debris and falling trees kept local authority crews busy and power outages were reported in a number of areas across the county.

At least 23 properties were flooded in Bantry in west Cork. The council had placed sandbags along the quay wall and the fire brigade had six manned pumps around the town.

In north Cork, a lorry driver had a lucky escape in Fermoy when his vehicle overturned on the motorway during the high winds. Traffic diversions were put in place following the incident.

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