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Changing Physical Appearance with a Chronic Illness

I’ve avoided addressing the elephant in the room since I started the year making personal wellness changes. It’s a sticky subject and somewhat challenging to address when it comes to a chronic illness. Chronic illness and/or disability make any meaningful physical changes difficult (if not impossible). If you are unable to move for more than a few minutes a day, then dedicating that time to exercise is furthest from your mind. Priorities change and addressing your physical appearance can drift towards the bottom of the list.

And that’s okay. Let’s move our intention away from changing our appearance, i.e., losing weight, and refocus on being healthy. Exercising does not need to be about losing weight, but about moving to help your body heal and thrive. Weight loss can become an added bonus, but not a goal.

I started the MS Mommy Blog to be a space where I detail my wellness journey into healthy living and eating. My journey was never about changing my physical appearance, it was strictly about setting a good example to Jai and taking advantage of a positive MRI result. I accepted the following three things: I would never dip below an overweight BMI, never have a body I would be proud of, and never find a source of natural energy.

Because of MS fatigue, I had little desire to go out in the blazing Southern sun and humidity to exercise. Eating was a pleasure I gave myself, especially when I was despondent post-diagnosis. I say all of this because I understand how hard it is to take the initial steps towards making physical changes, but it is possible to start the process no matter your ability levels.

What I am about to discuss is based solely on my personal experience and I am not an expert. Because this is based on anecdotal evidence, your own results will not match mine (and that’s okay). Everyone’s path looks different and that’s okay. Speak with your healthcare professional about your ability levels and any recommendations they might have for you.

Stuck in the Body

When coping with a chronic illness, we are stuck in our bodies.

If you are reading this with a chronic illness, you know this, but I say that for the benefit of those without a chronic illness. It’s easy for outsiders to forget that we are stuck with the body we are in, particularly if our illness is invisible. It’s in those moments we get the harmful comments of: “just get up and exercise,” “it’s in your head,” or “you don’t look sick.”

Getting those comments, and living in a culture where we often ignore invisible illness, makes any desire for change discouraging. We are stuck within numb, shaking, fatigue-ridden, weak bodies that don’t listen no matter how many times we yell at it.

Being stuck in a body is discouraging, especially when you see others chase after their physical goals. Or when you see people squandering their abilities. It’s even more frustrating when you start comparing yourself to others with your particular illness and see how they are able to be active ways you aren’t.

That’s where the first change needs to occur: stop comparing yourself to others. Those with a chronic illness and those without. And you have to stop listening to what people and culture tell you (this includes this blog).

The changes you decide to make must be in your time and in ways that work for you. Do not use this an excuse to not make the changes, you do want to take time to get healthier, but do it without any expectations beyond finding a way to feel better that complements your disease management course.

Determine what you can change & what you can’t

There is so much wisdom in knowing what you can change and what you cannot. There are aspects to our bodies we cannot change unless we had unlimited income, and even that’s limited.

The key is to figure out what is changeable and what you have to accept will be a part of you unless certain circumstances change. Once you know what you can change, then you have to decide how much you want to focus on it and how much of it you’ll put into the “secondary” goal category.

Everyone can lose weight, but do you want that to be a primary goal or something that happens as a side effect to being able to move more?

For some, the idea of losing weight is emotionally painful, so that should not be the first physical goal you make. Instead, if your healthcare professional recommends moving more as a means to help manage your illness, then consider adding a fifteen-minute walk in each day and build up to thirty.

Or if you are advised to cut a particular food from your diet for health reasons, rather than seeing it as a loss, view it as a challenge to figure out how to make alternatives to your favorite foods.

When you make the changes you can and frame them in more manageable ways, you should notice secondary benefits. When I cut sugar from my diet, I was shocked at how much weight I unintentionally lost.

Choosing Health

Focusing on physical appearance and any changes you want to make is discouraging. If you had a weight loss goal for this year, are you still sticking to it? Or have you given up on it entirely?

Revisit your goal if you’ve dropped it and refocus it to be about your health. Don’t think about the pounds you want to lose, but how you want to feel by the end of 2019. Not all of the suggestions below are about weight loss, but about finding ways to adapt to your chronic illness:

  • If your illness prevents you from walking more than five minutes at a time if you can safely do it, why not see if you can add on a minute or two?
  • If your weight prevents you from doing basic chores, why not focus on one chore to do and do it well?
  • If you are mostly bed bound and you want to get more exercise, consider small hand weights or a resistance band for twenty minutes a day.
  • If you want to eat healthier, why not consider dropping one sugary or unhealthy snack in your day? If you find you’re hungry, consider adding in water or some other healthy alternative.

All of these changes are small, and if you are getting started, that’s all they need to be. For myself, I found that small changes snowball into bigger ones because I was encouraged by my results to keep moving forward.

Learning to Love your Body

Before you reach your personal health goals, the first thing you need to work on doing is loving your body as it is, warts and all. This includes accepting the chronic illness that inhabits your body. You don’t have to like that it’s there, but just accept that it’s a part of you and you need to adapt around it.

When you take the time to accept your body as it currently is, in this very moment, it takes the pressure off of yourself. When you don’t meet your goals for the day, you can say to yourself “that’s okay, there’s always tomorrow and these things take time.”

Don’t take this as an opportunity to slack off, you still want to work towards making healthy changes, but you don’t need to put as much pressure on yourself that you might feel you need.

Additionally, when you learn to love your body in its current state, you no longer seek validation from outside sources. We look to media and others as opportunities to compare and rarely do we measure up. If we have friends and family influencing our decisions because of a snarky response, we may get sidetracked.

Rather, say to yourself: I am doing this for me, I am doing this to be healthy, and I am doing this because I want to make a change. Then mentally give the middle finger to those who want to keep you down.


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Featured photo credit: Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

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The Importance of Self-Reflection

After spending a successful month discussing #MSAwareness, it’s time to get back on track with our wellness journey. In January, we covered the importance of self-improvement with a chronic illness; and in February, discussed using self-compassion to work through difficult personal goals. This month, we’re moving onto the importance of self-reflection.

Self-reflection needs to be included when taking the time to make improvements. We need to ask ourselves important personal questions: why start the journey, why it’s important, what we want to achieve, among other important questions to ask. When we know the answer to these questions, we know how to continue forward.

I will frame most of this month through the lens of chronic illness, with my main example being MS. Chronic illness greatly impacts the questions we must ask ourselves and the honest answers we need to give.

What is Self-Reflection

Simply put, self-reflection is taking a few moments to examine your life from a distance. This internal reflection includes: why you think certain thoughts, why you feel a certain way, or the way you react to situations. An external reflection includes: your life as it is, who surround yourself with, and your professional (or lack of) life as it stands.

This practice of self-reflection goes as deep or as superficial as you want. In fact, it’s rather natural for us to do it on an unconcious level. Without even thinking, I take a moment or two of self-reflection every day. Prior to embracing self-compassionate, all self-reflection tended to be negative, but now I am more forgiving.

If you practice religion or spirituality, your prayers or meditation are forms of self-reflection. When speaking to your higher power with a request or desiring a connection to them, their response or your internal monologue functions as self-reflection. In meditation, your thoughts lead you down a reflective path.

The Science

Bringing in science, self-reflection is one of the most important things you can do for yourself if you want success in your goals. Self-reflection gives an honest assessment of yourself and your life. Many successful people take time to check in with themselves a frequent basis. Are they happy with their success or is there more they can do? What didn’t work with that last task that they should fix for next time? Why am I feeling self-doubt even though I know this can succeed?

Self-reflect is not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing, but it will get you on the path you need to find personal success with your goals.

Psychologically speaking, self-reflection is critical for success in goal-making and goal-keeping. It helps a person to recognize the difference between their goal and not completing it, and then taking the necessary steps to complete their personal goals. Self-reflection, like stress, can push a person into moving forward to succeed.

The Importance of Self-Reflection

As a woman who grew up in New England, I find it difficult to be comfortable with the “selfish” practice of inward reflection. I am afraid of the negative stigma attached to any “self-serving” behaviors. When taking a moment for yourself, you are neglecting others or prioritizing your needs above theirs.

Despite the current cultural push to encourage women to be focused on their needs, I grew up in an in-between space that discouraged female empowerment and encouraged it. So it’s confusing to want to do selfish things to become a better person.

Let’s be honest: Self-reflection is a rather selfish exercise. It’s important and necessary if you want to make positive life changes.

  • You check in with yourself and your goals
  • Pushes you forward and provides motivation when you start to lose momentum
  • Grants the necessary time to approach a problem objectively rather than from an emotional standpoint
  • Provides the necessary perspective to ourselves and goals
  • Gives you the opportunity to learn on a deeper and more lasting level
  • Challenges (in a positive way) your deep-set beliefs

We will be slowly working through self-reflection this month: from dealing with a chronic illness, parenting, tips for practicing self-awareness, and acknowledging how difficult it will be to engage in self-reflection and how to manage it.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for the MS Mommy Blog Newsletter. In the newsletter you’ll gain access to exclusive posts and content not available publicly on the site.


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Importance of Self-Improvement and Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness & the Importance of Self-Improvement

Why is it important to consider self-improvement if you have a chronic illness?

There’s no real easy answer because everyone’s situation is different. For some, every day is a chore to get out of bed and just manage the disease. The thought of making positive changes in life is a luxury.  Wrapping one’s head around life-changes can be overwhelming because life-changes implies big goals and grand changes.

But, what if I said it didn’t need to be? That perhaps we are all too focused on the implied definition of self-improvement rather than its actual definition? A definition that simply means making personal changes.

That’s what this year is about: acknowledging that taking the time to make minor changes in a positive direction is just as meaningful in the desire to self-improve as making the bigger ones.

Today, let’s reshape our definition of what is self-improvement into something more manageable. More meaningful and more personal.

Altering Our Impressions

In the Western world, self-improvement or self-help is heavily marketed to consumers. If you had a TV as a child, you’ve grown up knowing that around this time of year commercials promoting diets and weight-loss supplements increase.  Read magazines? Ads and articles abound about the various ways to improve your life.

Daily, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the industry to pull you in and want to make changes so you can “live your best life.

Many of these offers come with the caveat: “you can only make these improvements if you buy x,y, z book.” Which leads to a near $10 billion industry.

Does that make self-help/self-improvement a scam? Not necessarily, but you have to be mindful of who you turn to for help. There are scammers that peddle modern-day snake oil and scientifically unsound therapies, but there are plenty of legitimate options to guide a user through the process.

That said, self-help is an industry. Therefore it’s in the industry’s best interest to keep consumers coming back month-after-month; year-after-year. If it feels like self-improvement goals always seem so big, i.e. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” or “I am going to do something new and exciting every day this year!” that’s because there’s this nebulous goal-making process that does very little to encourage participants into smaller and more manageable goals.

There are some programs that encourage breaking goals down into more manageable chunks, but unfortunately, they aren’t as loud as a reality star on TV telling you to buy their product for massive weight-loss. Or the social media influencer who shows off how perfectly they are meeting their self-improvement goals.

If you have a chronic illness, seeing these examples can be extremely discouraging. If getting any form of exercise is a struggle due to mobility issues, watching someone on social media demonstrate “8 easy exercises to tighten that butt” is not appealing nor realistic. Sure, I might want a nice butt, but none of those exercises are doable.

Where might there be motivation to make any changes if your body is already working against you?

This is why looking for the more realistic programs is important. But, the realistic programs get lost in the social media cacophony which leads to the impression that only big changes can be made when we want to commit to self-improvement.

Goals do not need to be huge, they can be as small as taking one step-a-day, or eating 50 calories less, or even saying one positive affirmation to ourselves when we wake up. Goal creation is about starting the process towards self-improvement and allowing it to build on itself. Forward momentum will move you towards greater personal success as time goes by.

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2019: A Year of Self-Improvement

In 2018, I did some reflection on the importance of self-improvement with a chronic illness. It’s something I wanted to do prior to my diagnosis: live my best life and become the person I imagined I would be when I was fifteen. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get side-tracked in my twenties and it took my diagnosis and becoming a mother to finally realize that I needed to make changes.

Taking the steps toward self-improvement while managing a chronic illness can be overwhelming. Knowing where to begin and what to do was discouraging. Looking around online, I saw wellness challenges, but rarely geared towards someone with a chronic illness

These “regular” challenges were great for someone who didn’t have to fight fatigue, numbness, and the depression that came from coping with an illness. It was hard to make the logical leap to tailor them to my needs. It felt overwhelming to even attempt to do so.

That’s why I wanted to take the opportunity of the new year to create a self-improvement challenge geared specifically for people with a chronic illness. You don’t have to have a chronic illness to join, so if you are just looking to make some small changes in your life at a stress-free pace, this challenge should work nicely for you.

New Year; New You

I always love the new year because it gives me an opportunity, mentally speaking, to view my slate to be clean. To riff on an Anne Shirley’s quote: the new year is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.

Many of us make resolutions and vows of how we plan to approach the coming year, though I am notoriously bad about waiting until today to come up with any thoughts on the matter. I decided that I would be more proactive in 2019, so I created a challenge that I would be willing to undertake and share it with my readers.

As you make changes, big & small, so will I. We’ll take this year as an opportunity to improve ourselves together.

The Challenge: Self-Improvement with a Chronic Illness

Dealing with MS and any chronic illness can lead a person to feel stuck and unable to make any meaningful forms of self-improvement. I know that not long after my diagnosis I was dealing with a lot of heavy emotions that I froze for a few years. But deep down I wanted to make some personal improvement changes, though I didn’t know where to begin.

This wellness challenge works within that specific framework: I want to make changes, I am not sure “how to” or “where to” start, but what I am currently doing isn’t working.

For 2019, I am challenging readers to make the self-improvement changes they’ve always wanted to do but were either afraid to start or didn’t know how to start due to a chronic illness.

What the Challenge is…

This Challenge is a gentle way to work on self-improvement no matter the situation. All the mental and emotional exercises, thoughts, anecdotes, and research will be arranged for the user to make meaningful life changes, rather than a quick fix. This challenge also is:

  • judgment-free.
  • accessible no matter your level of fitness, physical abilities, state of your illness, and financial situation. If you want to make changes, you can.
  • free. You will not be paying for any aspect to participate.
  • focused on making positive changes.
  • support-based. There will be a corresponding Facebook group where you can talk directly to me and others participating in the challenge.
  • a chance to make the changes you’ve wanted to make no matter what they are.
  • drop-in/drop-out. If you only want to do a quick short-term goal, we will be working in 3-month chunks of time. If you are coming to this challenge later in the year, then you’ll be able to get a couple of goals done before the end of 2019.

I will provide the framework needed to start you on your journey. This framework will contain the tools you need to easily personalize your own journey to wellness. 

What the Challenge isn’t…

This isn’t a weight-loss challenge. This isn’t a healthy eating challenge. If you want to lose weight or eat healthy, you are welcome to make that your final goal but do not feel like it is the only path to self-improvement. This challenge also isn’t:

  • about making you feel bad about yourself or your goals. Everyone is unique and beautiful and any positive life-change is a good life change.
  • expecting you to follow everything by the letter. I do recommend following as closely as you can, but it’s meant to help you in the best possible way. Only you know yourself best.
  • requiring big life-goal changes. There will be several short-term goals and one long-term goal, but all goals can be as big or as little as you need them to be for the year.
  • going to be easy. While we will be focusing on a gentle approach to each week, there will be moments towards deep, meaningful changes that may be unpleasant to reflect on. You are encouraged to go at the pace best suited to your needs.

As stated, this challenge won’t be easy at times (but why call it a challenge if it was?).  There may be times where you want to give up, but I am going to encourage you to keep going because by December you can reflect over this year with pride.

Making the Most of the Challenge

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for the weekly newsletter. This is where you will get the weekly challenge updates, writing prompts, free printables, special offers, and all sorts of exciting information I want to share with you, my reader. 

I am reverting back to my 3-day-a-week blog posts, but you’ll only have access to my third post through newsletter subscription, so make sure you sign up so you don’t miss a single post from me.

MS Mommy Blog this Year

You may have noticed that the blog switched from MS//Mommy to MS Mommy Blog. With the new year comes a new look and some slight re-branding. The blog has a new logo and set up, so please check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

Looking forward to taking this exciting new journey with you!


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Welcome, 2019. Here’s to a Wonderful New Year!

On this final day of 2018 – we here as MS Mommy Blog wish you a Happy and safe New Year.

Have a chronic illness and follow my blog? I have a challenge for you!

Join me in the 2019 Wellness Challenge

Before you go, please sign-up for the new MS Mommy Blog newsletter. It will be sent out once a week on Fridays in lieu of my normal Friday posts (no spam or excess emails, I promise!). In the newsletter, you’ll find the 2019 Wellness Challenge, tips, articles, and freebies exclusively for newsletter subscribers.

This challenge will be specifically geared towards people with a chronic illness (not just MS), though people who do not have a chronic illness are welcome and encouraged to join us this year.

This challenge is one based on gentle and gradual changes on a superficial and deeper level. No judgments will be made and it will be completely tailored to you and your needs. At MS Mommy Blog, we’re about being supportive and loving to ourselves and others. 

This challenge will reflect that.

Let’s start the New Year off right and make 2019 our year to make those changes we’ve always wanted to make but were too timid to try. Interested in learning a new hobby? Let’s do it this year. Want to get a new job? Let’s get the ball rolling. Want to feel healthier? No time like 2019.


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Featured photo credit:  Annie Spratt on Unsplash