Sisters, makeup artists and beauty vloggers Sam and Nic Chapman have shared many things in the nine years of their Pixiwoo YouTube makeup channel , from pregnancy announcements to product launches. Now Nic, at 36 the younger of the two sisters, shares her most personal revelation yet, that for five years she has been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis , the neurological auto-immune condition affecting more than 100,000 people in the UK and which is more common in women. Most suffers, like Nic are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s. In an emotional video entitled My Secret Illness, she opens up her two million YouTube subscribers about her diagnosis and how she lives with the condition.
“I hope the video will help a lot of people,” she told Get The Gloss ahead of its launch. “I’ve wanted to say something for a long time, but you have to be all right up here,” she says, tapping her head. “I know I’m going to be asked questions about it and I needed to be someone who didn't break down every time I was asked about it. It’s fine, I have lived with it for five years and this is the first time I have been able to say, ‘So guys, this is what I’ve lived with’. I cry the whole way through it, not because it upsets me, but because I’m telling the world that life isn’t always rosy. Not that I feel sorry for myself, but life isn’t through an Instagram filter - people have sh*t that goes on behind it and you don’t even know.”
She first noticed something wasn't right after the birth of her son Harry in 2011. “After I had Harry, I had a little blur in my eye; they thought it was optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) and after I had Edie (in 2013) I had complete loss of sight and wore an eye patch. My friend, who is a doctor, rang me and said ‘Why have you got a patch?’ When I said I just couldn’t see out of one eye she said, ‘do you know that’s linked with MS?’ I didn’t know, but my biological dad had MS, so she told me to go and get sorted out.’
The recent death of Nic’s father from the condition was one of the reasons why she felt it was time to make the video. “They say it’s not genetic because not everyone gets it for definite, but most people [who have it] have it in their family.”
Only about two per cent of those with a first degree relative with MS will develop the condition. According to the MS Society, symptoms include vision and balance problems, dizziness, fatigue, bladder problems and stiffness and/or spasms as well as difficulty concentrating, being unable to find the right word (‘it’s on the tip of my tongue’) and short term memory problems.
Nic with her sister Sam
Sister Sam, who is with us, chips in: “It’s in your genes, but it just depends on whether something happens that triggers it.”
It’s not known exactly what causes MS – genes play only a very small part according to the MS Society, but there is evidence that environmental and lifestyle factors such as viruses, lack of Vitamin D, obesity and smoking play a role.
Nic believes pregnancy might have triggered her condition.
“Mine was triggered after 55 hours of labour with my first child. But it could have been from training. It could have been from anything. But I deal with it, I live with it. I was really down to start with but then you just have to get on with life and thankfully, touch wood, I have been OK.”
Hers is the most common form of MS known as Relapsing Remitting (RMSS) , where people have distinct attacks of symptoms which then fade away either partially or completely. She has had three attacks, but nothing for the past three years.
What form does an attack take for her? "An attack is tingling, feeling very lethargic. It might feel like my legs are not my legs anymore and I can’t work them. That’s what an attack looks like and I just have to rest for a lot longer. I have only had three so far. The first one was one eye, the second one was the other eye, the third one was tingling all over the body and I couldn’t feel my legs. But they [the sensation] have all come back, but I don’t know what it would look like going forward. Hopefully there won’t be any more, but you just have to be aware."
The only permanent damage she has been left with is blurred vision in one eye. “I don’t see colour the way I used to and that will never come back, so if I close my [other] eye, I can only see blurred vision - which is great when you are makeup artist! But luckily the other one is super strong.”
Now Nic is back on track and is delighted to able to do her beloved HITT training six times a week in her home gym. “I love it and I think it’s because I couldn’t train for so long. For a couple of years, I just didn’t have the energy. Now I’m back able to do it, it’s the best feeling and I just don’t take it for granted whatsoever.”
Her diet too has completely changed. “I eat lots of greens, I have cut out so much stuff. I don’t have much red meat. I don’t have dairy, not that that’s a problem, I don’t eat much tuna – things that are from the sea that eat the dirt – so I try to eat really, really clean.”
“What, no prawns?” chimes Sam.
“You can have anything to a small degree,” explains Nic. “So when I am at home every day I will have a bag of kale because it’s brain food. Or I’ll have to have greens. If I feel like I am getting a bit forgetful or a little bit lethargic, I will go and have a bowl of greens. I just monitor it and am really careful. When my eye goes a little bit more blurred I just have to rest. My husband is really good, he’ll say, “Nic, go rest!”.
She also gives her children vitamin D every day. “My husband’s auntie died of MS as well as my dad and so my kids have a lot more of a [predisposition] so we make sure they eat very well and that they have the vitamins that they need.”
“It’s really nice to do a video about it and to say this is what people like with and life goes on – you just have to live,” she affirms, grabbing one of the pair's ultra-soft new PowderBleu Real Techniques brushes and getting on with the business of the day, being Pixiwoo, with Sam by her side.
Watch the full video below
For more on the signs and symptoms of MS go the MS Society website here
Follow Nic on Instagram @nixiepixi1 and Victoria @victoriawoodhall