Multiple Sclerosis De-mystified by local author Chesterfield woman Leonie Martin is celebrating as her first book has sold over 1,000 copies in just a few months.  She has become a self-employed author and writer with the help of the Work for Yourself programme funded by Chesterfield Borough and Bolsover District Councils. Leonie’s first book shares her own experience and shatters some of the myths surrounding Multiple Sclerosis.  She explained, “This is the book that I would have loved to have had ten years ago when I was first diagnosed.  At that time, there seemed to be very little easy-to-access information about living with Multiple Sclerosis - MS.  The result was that I had many years of difficulties when I was living and working with the condition.  I knew that there were going to be physical symptoms but had no idea that it was going to affect the way my brain works - impacting on my thinking and emotions.” “I’ve used my first-hand experience in this book which covers many of the common misunderstandings about MS.  For example, people tend to think that using a wheelchair is inevitable, that MS is a terminal illness and that it can be caught from others with the condition.  But none of this is true.” Now Leonie is using her skills as a self-employed writer and presenter under the benefit ‘permitted work’ rules because her working day is limited to a couple of hours.  “My condition is unpredictable with on-going fatigue problems so self- employment is the way forward.  Working has made such a difference to my self- esteem.  Leaving my multi-tasking career and life-style was devastating but there have been some upsides.  The left side of my brain that deals with numeracy and executive skills has been most affected – but, with the onset of my condition, the right hand side of my brain concerned with creativity has come in to its own.  Although my stamina has increased, I still have to be careful that my enthusiasm doesn’t drive me to do too much or I pay for it the next day or week.  I have learned to live with my condition and know that it is still possible to have an enjoyable and rewarding life.  But it’s taken me a long time to get to that position.  For people with a disability, self-employment is often the perfect option.” The Multiple Sclerosis Society and others have given Leonie’s first book positive reviews.  With an established reputation, she has been commissioned to write her next: a history of Chesterfield’s well-known St Mary’s Catholic High School.  Her current publisher is also negotiating the commission of a third book. Leonie was a typical modern Mum until nine years ago: juggling a demanding career as a school bursar with her family and two children.  She said, “I was under a lot of pressure – as many of us are.  And I was the main wage-earner.  I began to experience problems at work: difficulties with fatigue, concentration and figures – I was transposing numbers.”  Her condition had become increasingly physically debilitating with loss of sensation in her right hand, numbness in her legs, double-vision and vertigo.  “At one stage, I didn’t leave the house for over a month.  It was an awful time.  I didn’t understand what was happening and nor did the people I worked for and who worked for me.”  She was diagnosed with MS and the medical advice was that the stress of her job was hastening the progression of the condition.  Having struggled on for two years, Leonie eventually had to take medical retirement. It took her another five years to come to terms with her condition but she now has a clear philosophy that she applies to herself and others.  She explained: “Not only was I having to come to terms with my condition but having to re-define myself and my whole identity.  With a disability, you are still the same person with the same skills and experience – you just happen to have a diagnosis as well, with adjustments that need to be made.  I feel that everyone has a contribution to make to society - and then you feel part of society which makes you feel better about yourself.” Talking about work, she said, “I have been on benefits for the last seven years.  Before that, I could never have imagined being in that situation as I have a very strong work ethic and had worked full-time for over twenty years.”  Although her energy levels were limited, she joined a creative writing group to re-build her self-confidence.  “It worked,” she said, “Now I am a published author with the book and articles in national and local magazines.”  She hopes one day to write her first novel. Her book shares personal experience and research on different ways to manage the condition.  Leonie explained, “Lifestyle can play an important part.  Keeping as physically active as possible is key to staying well with MS and the book guides readers to exercises to suit any level of disability.  Eating healthily supports the immune system and so can help to deal with the symptoms.  Learning to recognise the connection between stress and worsening symptoms can help you feel more in control.  Anyone who is newly diagnosed, living with the condition or has a friend or family member with MS will benefit by understanding more about the illness.  MS is about living with pain, bladder and bowel problems, chronic fatigue and impact on memory, thought-processing and mood.  The book covers all of this and sources of more information and support.” You can find out more about Leonie and her book which is part of the Need2Know series published by Forward Press at www.leoniemartin.co.uk.  Multiple Sclerosis – The Essential Guide can be bought directly from N2K by phoning 01733 898103, emailing sales@n2kbooks.com, or through their website www.need2knowbooks.co.uk.  It can also be bought through Amazon or all good bookshops.  A review of Leonie’s first book is at: http://www.mssociety.org.uk/support_and_services/information_services/ms_books_journals/latest_books/essential_guide.html
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