A few times recently, I've been asked questions from friends and family members who have (very lovingly) assumed that I was handicapped. (Spoiler alert: i'm not.)
Of course without seeing me, and only hearing about the MS diagnosis (and perhaps having seen worse case scenarios from others in their own life), I understand where those assumptions could be based.
I realized this is a perfect moment to share what I CAN do, what I DO do to keep my health at optimal levels. ...aka How I Thrive.
Remember, this isn't an MS thing, this is a human thing.
These insights will help almost anyone to work with their body and mind, regardless of a diagnosis. We each have a body, and we're called on to listen to its needs.
What I can do.
Just about anything. Though some of the best advice I got after my diagnosis was to rest and "treat myself like I'm in a glass castle," so last year I finnnnnnallly learned what it was like to take it slow. I rested. I opted for tai chi over yoga. I moved from Manhattan to a farm in Texas. I let my body heal. And since an Eastern Medicine doctor referred to this condition as "a disease of exhaustion," I didn't try to power through my healing. I became the observer of my energy levels, and stopped forcing myself to work harder. We all do it, but finally I had every reason in the world to start stopping that routine. (If you're overworking yourself now, check in with your body, and start to consider ways to support long-term health. This body's the only one you got).
Yes, I can still do yoga inversions. I can lift weights. I sweat it out in many different types of work out classes (when I visit "the big city"). I'm aware that prolonged exposure to heat could trigger symptoms, so I avoid hanging out for too long in hot places. Yet even that accidental "warm yoga" class I attended was just fine.
What I don't do is put my body on the back burner.
Some things I take note of -
Balance: I am hyper aware of every step I take, especially if I bump into something (is my coordination off bc of MS? Or am I just bumping into the wall because I'm in a new location?)
Pain: I am always aware of little aches or pains. Sometimes I feel random pain in my foot or hand. I know that people living with MS often complain of pain. If I eat those inflammatory foods (dairy, gluten...read more below), I do too. I'm empowered by this knowledge because it means that I'm in control of my body. Just because I've been diagnosed with MS, doesn't mean that I will experience it at its worst. Quite the contrary. I am steering my experience. As I'm experiencing it now, pain isn't a given, it's a response to the foods I CHOOSE to eat. We all have a choice.
Here are the two most significant ways I've chosen to steer my experience- through food and sleep. (YAY! They're also the most fun!)
Food is the way I build the foundation for my health. I eat foods full of nutrients and I avoid foods that cause an inflammatory response- dairy and gluten always, and usually grain free.
My inspiration, Dr. Terry Wahls reversed her MS with a combination of diet and lifestyle changes. She has a very specific protocol that worked for her. I adapted parts, my favorite being to prepare each meal with 3 cups of vegetables--1 cup of 3 different types--as well as getting adequate protein from a clean source.
That's 3 types of veggies per meal, 1 cup each.
Think that sounds like a lot? Try it and see how satisfied your are. :)
We have the choice to support our health with each bite we take. We also have the choice to diminish our health with the bites we take.
TO BE FRANK- there are times when I haven't eaten super clean, either bc it wasn't available or because I opted for the non-nutritional option. Sometimes I say, yeah, I want a 2nd cup of coffee. Sometimes I don't eat within 30 minutes of waking. But I am aware of the choices I make, and how each affects me. In the few instances when I choose to go rogue from my eating protocol, I know that I am choosing to NOT support my health. And then I get right back in the saddle.
See, we each have this awesome thing called BIO FEEDBACK. Your body will tell you what works. It already does, but only you know if you've actually been listening or not. The stakes may not be high enough for you to care yet. There were certainly times when I didn't. But the beauty of a significant diagnosis is that my body commands my attention. I can't put it on the back burner.
Or to be clear, I make the conscious choice to prioritize my health.
I'm on a f*ing mission to prove that MS is reversible.
And I'm on a mission to be active and thriving for the rest of my life.
So yeah, my stakes are higher, so I'm hyper vigilant in listening to my body.
If I make a poor diet choice for one meal, I make sure to pay attention to see what that means for my body.
Do I feel inflammation at the base of my skull? Sometimes. Do I feel pain in my joints? After accidentally eating part of a flour/gluten tortilla, yes. Is the right side of my body super sensitive to touch? Still, and more so when I eat grains and dairy.
Some friends and onlookers see what I choose to avoid, and comment, thinking that there is some sort of lack.
Nope. Not here! I look at a menu and I see what does work for my eating protocol and order with impunity!
The advantages to the way I eat:
- I don't ever feel "guilty"
- I eat more than most men I know
- I don't ever have a "food coma"
I fill my body with good stuff and move on to enjoying the next bit of life. And you may have noticed that really great restaurants are the ones making really great local, organic food. Which means when I dine at the best restaurants, I'm basically eating the whole menu. And feeling great!
Man, who's getting enough sleep? Sleep became my priority after my diagnosis. I was always a morning person AND a night person. (So much to do!)
Well, once I starting learning about how sleep (and food) contributes to our innate, fundamental wellness and overall body function, I was like time to get in ma' pjs!
A super cool fact: Alzheimer's researchers found that as we sleep, our brain produces more cerebrospinal fluid, which essentially washes waste products from the brain. If that waste doesn't drain, it can build up, creating "dirty brain" diseases like Alzheimer's.
Even in this past year I've seen the benefit of regular sleep for whole body function and hormonal health (which affects stress response, among other things).
I could go on, but we'll pause here. There is so much cool research around the healing that comes from something as basic-yet-complicated as food and sleep. Those who are following this journey via Instagram and Facebook see how I work with them in my daily life, and I'll be writing many more articles about complicated-yet-basic approaches to thriving. Because since this is a human thing (not an MS thing), there are signals our body sends all the time, and it's up to us to listen.
I'm here to say that listening to the body is important and always worth your time and energy.
Book that dentist appointment that you've been meaning to; experiment with a non-dairy/non-gluten diet if you feel aches and pains; turn off the TV earlier and pick up a book to wind down in the evening. Our healing can really be in our hands.
Let's love ourselves enough to make that a priority. xxM