‘I’m not drunk or lazy: I’ve got MS.’
DEBBIE Monaghan often attracts unwanted attention from strangers when she's out.
"It's 10 o'clock in the morning, don't you think it's too early to be drinking," is one of the hurtful comments she's received.
The feisty 56-year-old's unsteady gait is one of many bodily functions that have been affected by multiple sclerosis. But the Tweed Heads resident's tongue is still in fine shape as evidenced by the mouthful she gives back.
"Well that's my business, but it's a tad too early to be so damned rude!" is one of her comebacks.
It's one of the many indignities experienced by MS sufferers, due to the ignorance surrounding the condition, which affects the central nervous system.
Debbie was diagnosed eight years ago.
She says it can be a frustratingly unpredictable disease.
"Here I am today sitting here talking to you, full of life and full of energy, and then this afternoon I could just fall into a screaming heap and be in bed having to sleep," Debbie said.
Every night when she goes to bed she prays she'll still be able to walk in the morning because that's her greatest fear.
She has no feeling in her fingers so she can easily burn herself just by picking up a cup of coffee.
The former nurse now survives on a disability pension and often gets about on a mobility scooter, which can also attract unwanted attention.
On a Tweed Heads pedestrian crossing recently, a man driving a black ute yelled out the window at her: "You're too f*&@ing young. Get off and walk you lazy bitch."
True to form, the hurtful episode didn't defeat her but spurred her on to walk the next time she had to make the trip.
"He actually gave me inspiration," she said, unwilling to allow the abusive ignorance to get the better of her.
Debbie's husband separated from her in February.
She only qualifies for home care for an hour-and-a-half a week because she's under the age of 65, so she has to rely on a lot of help from family and friends. She says it's her positive attitude that's gotten her through.
"I just think, 'Well this is my lot in life'," she said.
"There are people out there who are worse off. I'm alive; I could be dead.
"And look where we live," she says as we drink in the ocean view from the balcony of the Kingscliff Surf Club.
Wednesday was World Multiple Sclerosis Day.
The day before, the Northern Rivers MS Support Group, which has a dozen members between Ocean Shores and Tweed Heads, staged its regular monthly meeting at the Kingscliff club.
Uki resident Diane Michael a retired documentary maker and TV producer, was diagnosed with MS in 2001.
It started with an eye inflammation and progressed to numbness on her right side.
Diane's condition is more subtle in contrast to other group members. She injects herself with drugs three times a week, which keeps her condition stable.
"I'm really quite well most of the time," the 67-year-old said.
"MS is different for almost everybody. My symptoms are sensory as opposed to motor. But generically we all have issues with heat and chronic fatigue."
Others in the group are controlling their symptoms with a natural diet and trying to minimise stress.
The group members would like awareness of the condition to grow so they are not subjected to public ignorance.
Debbie said MS also needed a huge injection of research funds as it only attracted a miniscule amount in contrast to other conditions, many of which people could recover from.
"With MS our lives never go back to normal; it just deteriorates," she said.