I met Linda a few years ago at the launch of the Overcoming MS charity. Linda has had MS for 14 years and is the Chair of the OMS charity. She shared her story and phenomenal journey with MS and I remember feeling such hope as I listened. My confidence in the 'natural' approach to MS was cemented! Linda has never taken medication and is living symptom-free. She manages her condition with clean, nutritious and wholesome food, exercise and meditation. I was exceptionally honoured that Linda agreed to do this interview. I know you will really be encouraged as you read her thoughtful and thorough answers. Thank you Linda!
How long have you had MS and what were your first symptoms?
I was diagnosed with MS in November 2002. A year before I had some symptoms of numbness and tingling in my feet and legs. The neurologist diagnosed transverse myelitis and said “don’t worry about it but let me know if it happens again”. Almost exactly a year later the symptoms returned but much more dramatically. Numbness and tingling spread throughout my body, dizziness, extreme burning sessions all over, absolutely no energy, a clamping sensation around my chest and difficulty breathing, …I couldn’t even pick up a pen to write.
Being diagnosed with MS is a life altering shock. How did you cope with your diagnosis initially? Did you start taking medication?
It was a massive shock and a huge blow. I was 28 years old at the time living on my own, great social life, working as a Counselling Psychologist, I was in the prime of my life and then suddenly from one day to the next the wall came crashing down and my life changed forever. It was such a shock initially as I didn’t know anything about MS, but I was very lucky that my sister (who is a medical doctor) was not only with me at the time of diagnosis but also looked after me for the following months as I couldn’t do anything for myself. I needed 24/7 care. The Neurologist had offered me a choice of 3 drugs to take and told me to let him know “by Friday” which one I had chosen. When I went home, something inside of me said that medication was not the right path for me and that there was another way of treating this condition. It was such a strong feeling that I declined the medication with the determination to beat this horrendous disease. (To be clear, I am not against medication and believe it can have an important role to play, it was merely a personal decision which I made for myself and I wouldn’t advocate to others)
How did you find out about treating MS naturally, with a healthy diet and lifestyle? How did this change your disease?
My sister, in her research, came across Professor Jelinek’s 1st book, which had recently been published. She read it to me from cover to cover (as I couldn’t hold the book myself). The message really connected with me. First of all it was evidence based (which was important for me), secondly I found it extremely empowering. Here were things that I could do for myself to get better. It was a novel concept in the MS world, and still is to some extent. So I immediately embraced all aspects of the program. This included dramatically changing my diet to follow a low-saturated fat vegan- seafood diet, supplemented with omega 3 and vitamin D, exercising gradually at first and hugely importantly meditating daily.
For me it really was a combination of all aspects of the program that I believe was key to my recovery. I started noticing changes very gradually, like I remember when I took my first breath without pain and discomfort, it was a real milestone. Then slowly I started to get feeling back in various parts of my body.
And the day that it no longer felt like my buttocks were glued together was cause for celebration. It probably took about a year after starting the program to have some semblance of normality back and I was then strong enough to go back to work. And the recovery continued gradually with symptoms falling away over years.
I’ve always believed that my body is an incredibly powerful tool and it would always let me know when I was doing too much or feeling stressed because some symptoms would return. Eventually, I was confident enough to realize that the return of symptoms was just a reminder of the balance I need to maintain in my life in order to stay well.
Frighteningly, in 2009, I had a terrible bout of flu and I thought I might be having another relapse, so I went for an MRI scan. All the MS lesions I’d had before had disappeared, which stunned the neurologist and me! After all, MS is supposed to be a lifelong, degenerative condition.
I no longer have any symptoms and have been relapse free for almost 14 years.
What is your favourite dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Breakfast – Porridge with honey, cinnamon and fresh berries on top. That’s the standard breakfast for all the family.
Lunch – Salad with as many veggies as possible in all the different colours, and some tuna or sardines on top. I love to top it off with a flaxseed oil dressing
Dinner – Steamed or poached piece of fresh salmon, steamed broccoli & beans, baked sweet potato and a mango, avocado and pomegranate salad finished off with fresh lychees and raspberry sorbet. Heaven!
Which foods do you miss the most and what have you replaced them with?
In the early days I missed cheese the most. A round of brie or some fried halloumi. It wasn’t so much about replacing them it was more about breaking the habit. Once I made the decision to eat the way I do now (which for me was a really easy decision because I was so unwell that I knew I had to do something radical to change the progression), I just started enjoying and appreciating the things that I can eat.
Now I get hugely excited about fresh fish at the market or a delicious homemade banana ice-cream with vanilla essence and cinnamon (just mushed bananas) or my sisters incredible gravlax and the sight of oozing cheese actually makes me feel a bit queezy. It’s funny what we can get used to.
Do you have any other tips for managing MS naturally?
I think diet is extremely important and a fundamental building block for improving quality of life and symptoms of MS. Also, supplementing with Omega 3s (I use flaxseed oil on toast, porridge, salad dressings etc) and Vitamin D (the sun’s the best, but supplements are very important if you can’t get the real deal.
Then there’s exercise, which is not only shown by loads of research to be beneficial for MS, but also makes me feel better. Over the years I have done a range of things from yoga, Pilates, swimming, walking, running and rollerblading.
I also strongly believe in the power of the mind/body connection. We know that stress promotes inflammation and exacerbates symptoms of MS. As such is it really important to manage stress levels and work out helpful ways of maintaining psychological and emotional balance. Learning about mindfulness and meditation and taking time to really get to know myself, my triggers, baggage, unhelpful things I may have been holding onto about the past, learning to forgive myself and others, have all been hugely important on my journey. Seeking support from friends, family, therapists, journaling, especially in the early days after diagnosis, I believe to be really key in working through the emotional stuff.
Tell us a bit about your involvement in the OMS charity.
In 2006 I met my now husband, Tony and moved to the UK. By this time MS was something of the past and I didn’t even tell anyone who I met in the UK that I previously had MS. But then about 4 years ago when I was at a charity function at the MS Society, I started wondering if people in the UK knew about Professor Jelinek and the OMS approach? When I realized that although it was a well- established approach to MS management in Australia & NZ, no one in the UK had heard of it. I felt compelled to share information about the OMS approach. So in 2012 we set up the charity Overcoming MS, which is now a global charity. In the early days it was just me with an idea to spread the message and raise awareness about how the lifestyle changes can make a positive difference. It was one conversation at a time. Now, in our 4th year of operation we have grown into a professional and credible organization run by our passionate CEO Gary McMahon. We have a huge new website brimming with information, people’s personal stories of hope and recovery, engaging and positive forums, and also a big recipes section to tempt the taste buds. We have run eighteen retreats and workshops in the UK, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Austria as well as just completing our sixty-fifth retreat in Australia, to spread the word and help people get started. We have a free book scheme in the UK, Australia and New Zealand for newly diagnosed people so we can help them access this vital information. Later this year we are expanding into the US with a tour by Professor Jelinek scheduled for end –October and early November in California, New York and Boston.
As the Chair of the charity, these days I’m more involved in our strategic direction and governance and how we can spread this message as widely as possible.
We are really excited that for World MS Day this year on 25th May, OMS are launching the OMS Global Dinner Party. It’s an opportunity for people from all over the world to get together and host an OMS-friendly meal. In doing so, they can support each other and also support our charity to get our message out wider than ever before. All of the information is on our website https://overcomingms.org/come-dine-with-us-the-oms-way/