‘I won’t let it get me down or spoil our wedding day’... Belfast’s Deputy Lord Mayor on his multiple sclerosis fight
Belfast's Deputy Lord Mayor Peter McReynolds lives with multiple sclerosis.
The Alliance councillor says his challenges in life have made him a stronger, more positive and more grateful person. And one thing the 32-year-old is grateful for is love.
He will marry sweetheart Eileen Donaghey (below) next Friday after a challenging few years following his diagnosis.
Peter has lived with multiple sclerosis now for six years.
It is a disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves.
It happens when the immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin, which wraps around nerve fibres to protect them.
Peter says that his diagnosis was a "total shock".
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"I was diagnosed with MS in 2013," he explained.
"I woke up one day and I had really blurry double vision. Being young, I was just 26 years old, I just assumed it was maybe a hangover.
"I went to Specsavers for an eye test and they sent me to the hospital. I went up to the Royal Victoria Hospital and they kept me in.
"I got an MRI the next day and a lumbar puncture - where they took fluid out of my spine to look for protein - and it was confirmed there and then that I had MS."
The diagnosis was completely out of the blue for the east Belfast councillor, who says that he was initially fearful for the future.
"It was a total shock. But I suppose when I looked back there were a couple of times I had pins and needles, which is a common symptom of MS, and when we were looking back on my medical history," he said.
"I had a really bad case of vertigo when I was around 18 years old that lasted two weeks, and we think that was the first relapse.
"I was just 26 years old when I was diagnosed. It was quite distressing. I was upset.
"You imagine all these different things - wheelchairs and crutches and having a terrible life ahead of you.
"But that is just the knee-jerk reaction.
"My lowest ebb was laying in the hospital bed the night after I had been diagnosed.
"I was put in a room by myself, so I was very isolated and was away from my family.
"I was Googling stuff and filling my head full of the worst case scenarios. I wasn't aware at that stage of all the support that was out there from the likes of the MS Society.
"I thought that the future was looking very bleak for me.
"You see the classic examples of people in wheelchairs, struggling with speech, having mobility and bathroom difficulties with the extreme cases of MS.
"But that is further down the line and without intervention, without access to drugs.
"I think I am optimistic looking forward. I'm very involved with the MS Society now."
He added: "They are great with me.
"But in the early haze of diagnosis, you just reach out to Google, which is a bad thing.
"A common thread with people who live with MS is anxiety.
"You go to bed at night and you don't know if you are going to wake up with something wrong.
"Once you get over that hurdle you are aware that life has to go on. I think positivity is the best way to be, not to get bogged down with the negativity."
Peter says that his condition does not impact on his everyday existence.
He does not suffer with physical manifestations of the condition in his day-to-day life or job and tries to keep stress at a minimum.
When he met his partner he kept his diagnosis secret for several months.
"Eileen and I started dating in 2016," he explained.
"We met after my diagnosis. I held back and only told her after about six months.
"It was quite difficult for me to articulate that. She was very upset and went through what I went through - imagining worst case scenarios and being concerned for me.
"But I reassured her that I was completely fine and she didn't need to worry.
"We are getting married next Friday in Strabane, Eileen's home town.
"I'm really looking forward to the day. We are not going on honeymoon right away. We were looking into going on a cruise after the wedding, and then the Mayor's office asked me if I could lead the service on Remembrance Sunday, and that just had to take priority.
"Eileen is sympathetic to the fact I don't have a nine to five job and it's not Monday to Friday. She has been really good about it.
"I don't mind. (Lord Mayor)John (Finucane) and I have a really good relationship and I understand the Sinn Fein position.
"We are going to have a 'minimoon' on the Tuesday and the Wednesday and I'm back into politics on the Thursday. We'll go away next year. It's no big deal."