When Stephen Papadopoulos was 16, he secretly believed he had superhuman powers.
Walking into a cool room, the cold didn’t touch him and he could pick up a pot from the stove without feeling the heat. Then there was the time he couldn’t feel his arm.
These were no superhuman traits – multiple sclerosis, which is Greek for ‘‘many scars’’, was attacking the wiring in his central nervous system.
Usually diagnosed in the late 30s and typically a condition affecting women, it took six years for doctors to work out what was wrong with Stephen. When they did, it was relief.
‘‘The diagnosis was a positive thing for me as it meant I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t going insane,’’ he said.
The central nervous system controls everything a person does in life – such as walking, strength, memory and speech.
It affects sufferers in different ways, depending on where the scars are attacking the nerves.
‘‘When I was 30 for example, I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk,’’ he said. ‘‘I couldn’t walk for eight weeks. For me, the symptoms come and go. It’s unpredictable.’’
One symptom that has been consistent since 2006 are the pins and needles he feels in his feet and hands.
‘‘I’m in pain every day, seven days a week,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not too bad during the day when I’m distracted by being active. The hardest time for me is in bed at night when I’m trying to sleep. I probably average around two to three hours of sleep a night.’’
Now an ambassador for MS, he is dedicated to raising awareness of the condition.
‘‘I don’t let MS stop me doing the things I want to do in life,’’ he said. ‘‘I try to live in a positive way, as best I can.’’
Part of the $4.5 million raised at this year’s MS Sydney to Gong Bike Ride will go towards research for treatments.
‘‘It puts a smile on my face when I see so many people out raising money for MS,’’ he said of the Bike Ride. ‘‘They’re out raising money for me and 23,000 other Australians. It’s a good feeling. How could you not smile.’’