Following the recent news of Christina Applegate‘s diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I was moved to share my own story of the illness…
It’s now twenty-seven years since my diagnosis and Multiple Sclerosis has led me to a career path I couldn’t have imagined during my early days of working in TV. I am now an Alexander Technique teacher helping people to improve their consciousness of postural habits and manage their anxiety and/or aches and pains. Working at the Pimlico Alexander Technique Centre over the past ten years, I’ve come to realise what an underused anti-anxiety tool the Technique is. When it comes to Multiple Sclerosis experience has shown me that the most important thing is to manage my anxiety.
It was 1994 and I was in my twenties, working in film and television and enjoying my job, when my problems with sight and balance were finally explained as a mild case of Multiple Sclerosis. At the time I was a regular visitor to an osteopath to relieve severe tension in my neck and shoulders, bad enough to restrict movement. When I consulted my doctors they could only offer the advice, ‘I hope your case of MS does not worsen, just get on and live your life’. Clearly there was (and still is) no cure for this disease.
After that bombshell my main concern was to find a way to live a full and normal life, free from pain. I decided to investigate the world of complementary health for a solution. I started with my diet- getting rid of any junk food, I then saw psychotherapists, reflexologists, even masseuses. They all helped a bit, but when up against chronic neck and shoulder pain they didn’t really show any marked sign of improvement. I saw an osteopath; they were by far the greatest help and the relief from pain was significant, however it was a short-term solution to a long-term problem, and the pain soon returned.
It was a friend from my yoga class that turned me onto the Alexander Technique; a form of complementary health started by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor, who when faced with persistent vocal problems that doctors were unable to prevent, analysed his own postural habits and movement. He found that he was exerting unnecessary tension in muscles which, when released, significantly eased movement. The Alexander Technique was born. Since then it has been used in performing arts schools with everyone from Madonna and Victoria Beckham to Roald Dahl and Sting having practised the technique.
I booked a lesson immediately and found it transformative. It followed on from where the osteopathy left off, directly re-establishing my overall balance and easing unnecessary tension by improved postural habits. I carried on with my lessons, and over time I achieved my goal of living a normal and pain-free life. Ten years later I began the three year training course to become a teacher of the Technique.
It’s now twenty-seven years since my diagnosis and Multiple Sclerosis has led me onto a career path I couldn’t have imagined during my early days of working in TV. I now teach the Alexander Technique out of the Pimlico Centre, seeing between five and eight students a day. I should probably point out here that the reason I use the term ‘students’ is because that’s exactly what they are, students.
The Alexander Technique doesn’t tell you to ‘bend this way, stretch that way, right good, off you go’, instead it teaches you to become aware of your individual postural habits over a course of time, so once you know how to maintain a comfortable and natural sense of poise, you can carry on doing so in your everyday life. The Technique is often known for its ability to improve posture, but it is very much a form of self-help to be carried through one’s life. The results in improved self awareness encourage confidence and promote self-worth.
My students are an eclectic mix, coming from all ages and walks of life, including: singers, nurses, barristers, fitness instructors and even a martial arts instructor and a Member of Parliament. I see all of my students on a one to one basis, in a relaxed and friendly environment, assessing what they are here to achieve, before teaching them the Technique in a way that relates to their problems and goals, and can be applied to their everyday life.