New beginnings at the Chilterns Neuro Centre

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New beginnings at the Chilterns Neuro Centre

Although Claire Ashburner was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in her early 20s, her symptoms remained mild for many years. In her late 40s, all that changed as her MS gradually morphed into a much more challenging condition. Claire sees this time as a marker of the ‘real’ starting point of her MS, challenging her beyond anything she could imagine.

Here, she talks candidly about how she mourned her old life but slowly managed to accept her new life, and how the warmth and kindness of new friends she made at the Chilterns Neuro Centre became a major support for her.

“I ran my own private counselling practice for 12 years and I worked for the charity MIND, where I ran support groups and courses. I nipped here and there in my Mini, with endless spontaneity and barely any need for too much planning. I loved to study so I was often enrolling on a course here and there, I had huge amounts of energy and was full of confidence and courage. I balanced family and work well.

“Following the progression of my MS, I found myself working out how to adjust to the ‘new me’ and I entered the complicated emotional journey of loss, feeling a monumental amount of sadness and withdrawing from everything. I did emerge from this, but with a lot less confidence, very little sense of worth, and pretty much zero optimism.

“I’d heard of the Chilterns Neuro Centre before, Chilterns MS Centre as it was at the time, but I’d never really felt the need or desire to go. I finally decided to see what was on offer when I was referred by my MS Nurse. My first experience turned out to be life-changing and, although I couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, it was an introduction to a supportive and healing space that has grown to be way beyond what I could have expected.

“I joined a couple of leisure groups on offer and, from my first session in the Angell Art Group, I realised that this was about so much more than just doing art. In my early weeks, I was quiet and wanted to be left by myself to get on with things but I also felt safe and supported. I was gently encouraged and guided by the incredible art tutors who offered kindness, patience and sensitivity, and I never felt any pressure or judgement.

“It gradually began to lift my spirits. I was making new friends. I started looking forward to going and being a part of something that felt so much like a welcome tonic. I still love going to this group, which has grown in numbers over the time I have been going – it’s fun, interactive and, at times, very, very noisy!

“The other leisure group I joined was the Wild Art Group, which I have been going to since it began. Lisa, who runs this group, felt like an immediate warm friend and, together with the other members, we have formed a very special bond. I find this space incredibly therapeutic and feel very nourished following each session. I absolutely love the creative and inspired ideas that Lisa comes up with.

“I want to keep working part-time and have just qualified as a counselling supervisor, so I feel very proud of myself. I want to continue to enjoy all my relationships and friendships, spending time with lovely people and especially my wonderful husband, Dom, and the rest of my family, and maybe have an adventure or two along the way!

 “The Centre became a major part of my support system when I most needed it and became invaluable to me the moment I stepped into it. There is no pressure from anyone, there is only incredible kindness and expertise, help and advice from the team. I find it wonderfully cathartic to be amongst other MS-ers who understand and get it.

“I can honestly say that some of the bravest, kindest, most inspiring and fun friends I have ever made have been those I have met at the Centre.”

If you have MS, Parkinson’s or experienced a stroke and feel you would benefit from the services offered by the Centre, or you know someone who would then please get in touch by phoning 01296 696133 or by emailing info@chilternsneurocentre.org