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Depression stalks those with MS

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  • bills944
    Depression stalks those with MS Mike Augustine has battled the disease s darkness -- and emerged full of optimism and humour, MICHAEL VALPY writes
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2004
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      Depression stalks those with MS
      Mike Augustine has battled the disease's darkness -- and emerged full
      of optimism and humour, MICHAEL VALPY writes


      Wednesday, September 29, 2004 Page - A17 (876 words) Pay Per View

      Print this Article Print this Article

      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
      be normal.

      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
      to me."

      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
      friend's name.
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