Don't let disabilities get you down

Louise Frare, who suffers from MS, with her scooter that she jazzed up with a bit of purple animal print fur. She says the Living With Quality program she attended last year gave her the courage to face her illness and get on with life.

When Louise Frare woke up on Mothers Day last year with pins and needles from head to toe, her life changed irrevocably.

Louise was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She lost mobility in her limbs, was unable to drive or work anymore and would often become confused and disoriented.

The busy mother-of-four and grandmother of two found herself floundering as she struggled to come to terms with the illness and the huge life changes it spelled for her entire family. Luckily for Louise, a month later she stumbled across Living With Quality, a program for people aged 18 to 60 who have a long-term physical disability.

It was a hell of a shock Id turned 40, my kids were nearly grown, Id lost 28kg in the last few years and I felt the fittest I had my whole life. The diagnosis just knocked my socks off, Louise explained. I couldnt go back to my job, which I loved; I couldnt do the things with the kids Id always done or run the house; and at that stage I couldnt even write my own name. I was pretty depressed and scared... to be really honest, without that group I dont know how I would have coped. It gave me hope I could lead a normal life.

Although Louises symptoms have improved somewhat she still has limited mobility and can only do simple chores before becoming fatigued. Thanks to the Living With Quality group she learnt to manage her condition and to make the best of a bad situation.

It gave me the courage to face the fact I did have a disability; to accept my limitations rather than putting on a big brave face all the time, Louise said. I had to buy a scooter to get around and my initial reaction was Im not an old lady! It was confronting but once I accepted I needed it, it was fantastic. I had my freedom and independence back and I could go the club or shopping whenever I liked. I also used to ride a motorbike but cant do that anymore, so it was nice to feel the wind my hair again, even if it is only at 10kph! I had to accept that needing the scooter wasnt some sort of failure. I even jazzed it up with some fluffy purple animal print. I love animal print, so I also got a walking stick with a funky leopard pattern. You have to develop a sense of humour about it.

She encourages anyone under 60 with a disability to be proactive and take the first step to living a full and happy life.

We could be totally open about absolutely everything in the group. You could have a good cry if you wanted or a laugh, but there was no pressure, Louise said. We shared ideas and stories, and learnt a lot from one another. It made us all feel less isolated and I learnt that theres heaps of services out there offering support. It helped us all to accept we are not our illness we are all just people. And life is there to be lived.

The next Living With Quality program begins on Friday, April 18, at the Carroll Centres Day Rehabilitation Unit in the grounds of St Vincents Hospital. It will run for seven weeks from 1-3.30pm every Friday and afternoon tea is provided. For more information and registration phone Margot Henry on 6627 9350 (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) or the office on 6627 9393 (Monday to Friday).

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