Image Credit: Getty Images / miljko
mature man with MS walking autumnal forest

Embracing Change with MS

Reading time | 3 mins

Autumn in Connemara sees the countryside change, with the trees shedding their golden and ruby leaves, and the rivers and lakes recovering from the summer. The storms have been rolling through bringing with them darker days, when the prospect of sitting by the fire with a warm mug of tea and perhaps a decadent slice of cake sounds like an attractive way to spend an afternoon. These kind of days are happening more often now. So when the day started with blue skies and a gentle breeze, it seemed like a good idea to head out for a walk.

My go to walk is on the new Connemara Greenway. They have resurfaced some of the old Galway to Clifden railway line to make it suitable for people who want to walk or cycle outside. My mobility has steadily been declining over the years, making a walk on uneven ground an increasing challenge – my toe often catching an errant stone, threatening to topple me. Plus the hills – or in reality small slopes – are becoming steeper every day. The long, slow gradient of the railway is much easier to manage.

When I arrived I could hear the thunderous roar of the river through the three bridges, reminding me of the storm that happened last night. This sound is loud, but the tone is natural and welcoming. I understand it and it predicts to me what I’ll see as I make my way along the path. Nature fulfilled its promise as I made my way, the black path now covered with the red and yellow leaves of the oak, maple and beech trees. The wind had divested them of their cover, softening the sound of my feet as I climbed the slope. I could smell the damp forest and I could see how nature was removing the old to make way for the new spring growth. Broken branches, sodden ground and mushrooms everywhere… Preparing for change.

The River at Connemara
The River at Connemara

Taking a moment of reflection

One benefit of poor mobility is that I have more time to look around me. I can see the beauty around me and remember and meditate on the lessons nature always teaches me. 

As I looked up, I saw an old moss and lichen covered branch resting on two slender branches. For some reason it captured my imagination and I wondered, did these smaller twigs reach out to catch the older branch? Did the new, youthful tree know the wind would come and the elder branch would collapse in preparation to transition itself to the next part of nature’s cycle, gently lying on the ground, so it could help the next generations flourish? Respecting those who went before them and who in turn fertilised their growth.

Pausing, I looked again and realised these could be parts of the same tree. If this was true, I had another way of looking at what happened. In life, we often proceed down a particular path. It is the right one for us, at that time.

We develop, we prosper, but then something changes. The environment we live in alters and what was correct before is no longer suitable. The direction is wrong. At this point we have a choice: continue with our old ways or take an alternative route. No longer reaching up, but reaching out into a different space – looking for more light, escaping the darkening canopy.

An alternative route

Life with chronic illness is like this. We move our lives along a particular path, confident we are doing the right thing that will give us the best chance of happiness. However, like what happened to the tree on my walk, illness can strike, surrounding us, darkening our view. We have a choice at a time like this. Do we try to fight through, breaking out of the gloom, or do we look for a fresh way?

The branch was reaching for this alternative way. It could do this because of the work the tree had done. Providing stores of energy to take the chance, to grow away from the old way. I loved how the new branches respected the older part of the tree, acknowledging what it had already done, and the old part of the tree could be laid to rest, gently and with reverence. We, as people living with chronic illness, should also accept we cannot be who we once were, but we can be our new selves, growing from our old selves.

The takeaway

This walk, although short, helped me to understand how I should live, embracing the change. To be a new me. Although I have illness in my life, I can use it to make me a better person. In reward, as I made my way back home, a rainbow greeted me. Now that was memorable.


A rainbow to remember
A rainbow to remember

NPS-IE-NP-00167 December 2020