• Hannah Morris

MS really is a funny thing

Ireland is a gorgeous place, teaming with beauty hotspots from one coast to the other. Opening the curtains each morning, my eyes feast on views of sunrises over the calm lakes, with the towering mountains in the distance. It’s a real sight to behold. My ears resound with the sounds of the multitude of birds which live both in our garden and fields around us. It doesn’t end there. Rural living comes not only with spectacular views, but also encounters with all sorts of wildlife that you wouldn’t normally expect to see. Here, in the countryside, it’s far from unusual to see the heads of wild goats peeking out from the woodlands at the sides of the road or to be held up, not by road works or traffic lights, but sheep dawdling across a main road. Going to the beach, which is just a few minutes’ walk away, comes with even more wonderful wildlife experiences, ranging from puffins to jellyfish. It seems that every corner you turn, even within your locality, you’ll find something new. We’re constantly discovering yet more gems, even 10 years after moving here. I’m very confident that these beautiful surroundings have been responsible for my lack of MS disease activity since my diagnosis eight years ago.

Until we came to this country, I’d never seen a heron before, but they have become an almost daily sight on the school run. The unfortunate thing, however, is that since I’m always the one driving, I don’t get a chance to see them properly. The road is windy, so I can’t avert my eyes for a split second to look. Instead, I have to settle for being overwhelmed with the excited squeals of my children as they play ‘spot the heron’. Sometimes there’s a competition to see who can spot the most. Although once I did manage to catch sight of one as it flew directly overhead. It looked magnificent, I suppose because when they’re flying they are at full stretch, so look even longer than they perhaps do when you see them perched on sand in the harbour.

Anyway, I’ve kinda started this tale by staying away from the topic, right from the word go. Perhaps it’s due to my cognitively challenged MS brain. There again, maybe it’s just like anybody would be, MS or no: I’m simply in awe and in never-ending joy at the beauty the world around me.

In my defence though, in one way I’m not straying too far from the tale I’m here to tell. After all, it took place during a drive through our local area with my husband. This time it wasn’t a school run, however, so he was driving, and I was able to marvel at the countryside and wildlife. What adds even more to the enjoyment when it’s my husband driving, is the fact that it’s not me on the edge of my seat having to watch out for the next sheep to wander into the middle of the road, or the next dear to bolt out in front of the car without warning, or even be distracted and taken aback by a family of goats poking their giant horns out of woodlands at the side of the road. This was my time to sit back and simply enjoy my sublime surroundings.

Almost inevitably every journey begins with a drive alongside water of some kind, whether it be a stream, river, lake, or beach with the Atlantic beyond. On this coastline you often can’t tell exactly what the stretch of water is in front of you, it’s a veritable patchwork of interwoven lakes and ocean. I’m always fascinated by the little islands which I espy. I often wonder what resides there and contemplate the thought of taking a rowing boat and seeing what lurks on them. I’m sure there are even more surprises there than I’d ever imagine. Realistically, that’s never going to happen though. For one, where am I going to get a rowing boat from? And two, even if I had a rowing boat, would I, Hannah, who can barely walk 100 metres without getting out of breath, find the strength and stamina from somewhere to be able to row at least double that distance?! Err, no! Not gonna happen! Anyhow, that just leaves me and my imagination gently running riot. Not altogether a bad thing. I take great pleasure in the refuge that is my imagination. I’ve done the most weird and wonderful things there, none of which I could ever dream of doing in real life. Happily, I don’t confuse any of this with reality but nonetheless gain great pleasure from my other worlds.

As my imagination and I look over at every island we pass, I find myself in state of blissful tranquillity. I swear that if a doctor had taken my pulse, they would have pronounced me either close to death, or in a coma. But suddenly I’m jolted out of my semi somnolent state, with a heart rate up through the roof, as though I’m running full tilt in an Olympic 100 metre final. So what’s causing my heart to go into overdrive?

You have to remember that up until this point, I’d still not been able to see a heron, despite the fact I’d been passing them almost every morning, these past few months. Well, now I’d finally been blessed with the moment I had been longing for. If I were drinking my morning tea I would have surely choked with surprise. I experienced THE most massive, involuntary gasp and intake of breath, which would have had any passer by stopping in terror, fearing for the life of whatever creature made such a sound. I’m not even sure that it sounded human.

Although I was conscious that herons were pretty tall birds, I didn’t realize they were THAT tall. What I saw was eyeball popping. Like, what was in front of me was massive. HUGE. Taller than a fully grown man even. Even my husband, at nearly six foot, wouldn’t have competed with that. There the heron stood, tall and majestic. As motionless as the waters surrounding it. It looked to be as lost in thought as me. It stood there, head held up, eyes fixed on the waters in front. Maybe this giant heron was waiting patiently for a fish to pass by, so that it could catch it for breakfast. I don’t know why it felt the need to be quite so still. With that massive beak, surely it could easily catch a whole family of fish. Or, maybe it sensed the fear which exudes from its doom laden stature, and experience has taught the crane to remain ‘dead’ still before going in for the kill. Much like you see the wild animals do on National Geographic.

I was so taken aback and awestruck that I was totally oblivious to the state of panic I’d aroused in my husband. Not only had I just summoned up a sound from the depths of my lungs, which sounded as though I had suddenly been possessed by a demon, or the ghost of a blue whale, but I was now staring, motionless, into space like I really had been dispossessed of my being. I hadn’t heard, or sensed the car come to a screeching halt and wasn’t aware of my husband talking to me. His fluster reached fever pitch as he tried to figure out what was up with his by now apparently demented wife. We were sat in middle of the road whilst this played out, looking like complete ‘eejits’ as they’d say hereabouts.

In these parts it’s customary to stop and have a conversation with another motorist driving in the opposite direction, thereby bringing traffic in both directions to a complete standstill: all in aid of catching up on the latest news and gossip, plus the latest episode of Fair City, an Irish TV soap. As foreigners, we found these road blocking catch-up chats so frustrating to begin with but have since found ourselves acclimatised and have become one of ‘them’, joining in just for the craic as they say here (meaning gossip, fun, entertainment, enjoyable conversation). But we’d done something extraordinary. People stop in the middle of the road to chat through their car windows. Other times you get tourists that park their cars haphazardly, on the side of the road, in order to get a snap of a something in the far distance. But ‘NO-ONE’, tourist nor native, just stops their car in the middle of the flippin’ road for obvious reason! Who on earth does that?

So, there we were, husband trying frantically to figure out what was going on with his seemingly possessed wife and me motionless, still fixated on that island and its giant heron. Yeah, I can be odd at times, but I tend to preserve such behaviours for home and family who have become accustomed to my weird and wonderful MS fuelled? ways. That’s a bit of pseudobulbar affect for you. For the uninitiated, pseudobulbar affect (PBA), is condition characterised by episodes of sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing or crying and typically occurs in people with certain neurological conditions or injuries, which might affect the way the brain controls emotion. That’s me!

Anyhow, back to the scene. A seven foot (or thereabouts,) heron standing right there in the middle of the island, not a care in the world, except maybe the family of fish it was waiting to pounce on. It was a sight that had been worth the wait. After all those missed opportunities because I was the one in the driver’s seat. Now I was finally rewarded for my patience with this. Simply unbelievable!

I don’t know how long we were sitting there for, parked in the middle of the road (thankfully there were no other road users at the time!). To me, it felt like we must’ve been sitting there just splendouring over this fantastic sight for at least two minutes. No wonder my children were always making such a noise in the car when they saw one of these magnificent birds.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I had been sitting there splendouring over the sight whilst my husband was really starting to lose it. I simply didn’t get why this wasn’t like a massive deal to him too?! We sat across the other side of a small stretch of water staring at a bird that could literally swallow the two of us with a single peck of that massive long beak. It was fascinating, but it was also frightening. No wonder my heart was still racing.

This was probably the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life. I had been lost in the moment for some time by now and finally the overwhelm began to subside.

As I began to come to my senses, I was finally was able to hear and comprehend what my husband was actually saying…

‘Hannah, it’s just a tree for goodness sake!’

In that moment, my dream shattered. My brain had finally processed what I was actually seeing. It had been such a wonderful couple of minutes when I thought was, at long last, observing a heron in real life. I looked on in disappointment as the heron that had captured my attention so dramatically rapidly turned into a tree, right in front of my eyes. What a complete bummer. It was an episode of rotten old PBA.

This is not an isolated incident of slow sensory processing. I’ve seen many a weird and wonderful thing in the split second between observing something and my brain actually processing what’s there. These have varied from my handbag hanging on the coat hook being presented to me as a World War 2 gas mask, to an old, screwed up instruction manual being magically metamorphosed into a small stack of hundred dollar bills stashed in the corner! Pity I couldn’t cash in on the fruits of my PBA. But the giant heron moment topped them all, which is why I have chosen to share the story, to show that MS really can be a funny thing.

Hannah Morris

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