Depression stalks those with MS
- Depression stalks those with MS
Mike Augustine has battled the disease's darkness -- and emerged full
of optimism and humour, MICHAEL VALPY writes
By MICHAEL VALPY
Wednesday, September 29, 2004 Page - A17 (876 words) Pay Per View
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Mike Augustine, in his second year at Ontario's Sheridan College
studying graphic arts and animation, woke one morning in the guest
room of his girlfriend's parents' home with his feet tingling.
The sensation quickly spread up both legs, into his chest and down
into his arms and fingers. It was Valentine's Day, 1992. He was 22
years old. He was terrified.
That was how his multiple sclerosis began. The disease destroys the
white, fatty protective covering -- called myelin -- of the nerve
fibres in the brain and spinal cord and results in symptoms ranging
from numbness and mild cognitive impairment to paralysis and
incontinence. There is no known cure.
Mr. Augustine is now 35. He is on a disability pension. He depends on
canes or a wheelchair for mobility. He has had crushing bouts of
depression. He also is full of optimism for the future. He adores
Christine, the girlfriend who is now his wife. He is thinking about
having children -- and he is just one year younger than Charles
Fariala of Montreal.
Mr. Fariala, afflicted by MS, told a friend in May he wanted to kill
himself. He succeeded a few days ago, allegedly helped by his mother,
who has been charged with assisting a suicide.
Mr. Fariala's end-of-life decision has not only revived the debate
about whether, or how, assisted suicide should be legalized in Canada,
it has startled and disturbed people familiar with MS, a relentlessly
progressive, debilitating disease -- but not life threatening.
The life expectancy of people with MS is not much different from that
of the population as a whole. A spokesperson for the Multiple
Sclerosis Society of Canada said she had heard of only one sufferer
committing suicide, and that was several years ago. However, 50 per
cent of people with MS experience clinical depression.
Mike Augustine has a story about the curse of depression, and how it
abruptly ended for him.
It was in May, 2000, and he had gone with his family to a strawberry
festival. His disease was at its worst. His vision was impaired; he
couldn't see straight. He was having trouble walking. The heat was
weakening him. He was irritable and grumpy. And to top it all, he
couldn't get to a portable toilet in time, and he wet his pants.
He told his father to take him home. On the way back to the car, he
said, he was feeling hateful.
"I was thinking 'Why me? Why am I going through this?' And then I see
this 10-year-old boy barely four feet tall having to use a walker
built just for a short, 10-year-old boy. He was barely able to move.
He was struggling to get through the grass. Yet he had a smile on his
face because he was at the carnival. He was enjoying himself despite
the fact it was almost impossible for him to get around.
"And I looked at myself, and said, 'You are a total twit. You had an
entire childhood to run around and play games, and how many people
don't have that opportunity? Don't think about what you don't have.
Think about what you have had, and will have.' "
The story illustrates Mr. Augustine's approach to life. All through
high school, he had suffered from Tourette's syndrome, an illness
resulting in jerking movements and compulsive antisocial-type
behaviour. "I had no social life." Eventually the illness was
diagnosed and controlled by medication and he thought his life would
Then came the MS diagnosis. He was forced to leave college. He felt,
he said, "empty, helpless, very angry, scared and bitter." He didn't
consider suicide -- not exactly. He stopped taking his Tourette's
medicine, he gave up, he decided he would waste away in a room in his
parents' house and wait for his disease to get worse until he died.
Then Christine found him a job and told him if he wanted her to stay
in his life he would take it. He did. It was, he said, a fork in the
Since then, each time his disease has worsened, each time he has a
relapse, he looks at it as a challenge, a hurdle to jump. At the worst
moment, he said, he went to the MS Society of Canada and told them: "I
don't know what to do. I'm scared. I want to get out of this, but I
don't know what I'm facing and I don't know what avenues are available
He went to all the people they sent him to, doctors, counsellors,
fellow sufferers. He came through.
Mr. Augustine said he is now on the lip of achieving his dream, to be
a newspaper comic-strip cartoonist. He has developed a one-panel
cartoon, which he will soon submit to a publishing syndicate, that
looks with humour at people's problems.
It is possible he may find a way of capturing one moment in his own
life, when he tried to introduce his wife to a friend -- and couldn't
remember her name. She told him. And then he couldn't remember his