physical-appearance-with-chronic-illness

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 Big & the Little Things

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


It always feels weird “counting one’s riches” because it seems like bragging, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the objects I have to make my life easier.

A lot of gratitude exercises focus on the internal and intangible, which to be fair are things that should hold deeper meaning in our lives, but something could be said for the objects we possess. The trap is when someone focuses on what they have, they can also see what they lack which can cause frustration and undermine the whole exercise.

Avoiding that trap, I want to focus my gratefulness for my basic possessions. I think it’s important to look at what I have and where I am in life because every person is one or two decisions/disasters away from losing these objects.

Living Arrangements

I am lucky enough to live in a house, though if you’ve ever had a conversation with me you know how much I hate the house itself. I can spend a half-hour ranting about all the things wrong with it, but deep down I acknowledge that I could be in a situation without a living arrangement.

Owning a house is important from a social perspective, though people of my generation are buying less and opting to rent more, it also means that it is ours with little opportunity to lose it beyond a disaster. There is a security that comes from our current living arrangement.

As the days grow shorter and the nights much colder, I recognize how fortunate we are to have a warm house to sleep in, especially for Jai. Living insecurity is a real concern even in America for children, so knowing that he has a safe, warm, and secure place for Jai to sleep at night takes a load of worry off of my mind.

Transportation

We live in a major metropolitan area that has its own transportation system, though massively flawed. When I first moved down ten years ago from New England, I depended on this form of transportation because I didn’t have a vehicle. While it was imperfect, I remember being grateful to have it available to get to my various jobs around the city.

I grew up in an area that didn’t even have regional transportation and what little transportation it did have it was reserved for people with disabilities and not for the general public. Going from nothing to something was opening up the world for me and I loved it. It might take me two hours to get somewhere, but I could get there.

Several years after the move down I got my car back (I previously had no means to park it which is why it stayed behind) and going from public transportation to having a vehicle was even more freeing. I made sure to give rides to people who needed them to return the favors I accumulated over the years without a car. While I could now cut trip times down by half, I never forgot my time on public transportation.

Anytime I can go somewhere and use public transportation, I take the chance even with Jai. I want him to learn and appreciate the transportation system we have in place. I am a huge defender of our transportation system, though I will heavily qualify it as problematic and needing fixing, I do want to see the changes.

That said, I am grateful I have a vehicle and when I go an extended period of time without my car, even with a rental, I recognize how important it is in my life.

Food

During the same period ten years ago when I didn’t have my car I also went through an extremely lean period regarding my ability to eat. I was struggling to make ends meet and chose to pay for my bills and rent over buying food for myself. I started dating Ash around this time, but I didn’t admit to him how little I could afford to eat. Rather, I would offer to make him dinner which was cheaper, provided he pay for the ingredients.

I lost a lot of weight during that time between not being able to eat and walking everywhere with public transportation. I was grateful for that silver lining (I had plenty of weight to lose at that point).

While I figured I would eventually see the end of this lean eating period, I knew I had it better than others. I was able to eat at least one quality meal a day, but I know there are plenty of others who can go days without food or quality food options.

I honestly found this period of my life to be the most enlightening, food uncertainty did help shape my personal perspective going forward: I would always donate and help out in any way I could for others who had no way of knowing when their period of lean eating would come to an end.

When Jai gets older, I want to bring him to opportunities to help others who are dealing with food uncertainty. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a major charity in our city opens up its facilities for people to donate their time and energy to make meals for the poor. I have always wanted to donate my time there, but haven’t had the ability. I think when he’s 7 he’ll be ready to help and appreciate what he is doing for others.

What are some of the more tangible things you are grateful for in your life? What brings about an appreciation for these things? Comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


A Month of Gratitude

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving and the whole upcoming holiday season. On Thanksgiving, while I don’t spend a lot of time meditating on things that I am thankful for, I do try to spend a few moments remembering the purpose of the day and express gratitude internally towards my situation. I recognize that I have a lot to be grateful for and I probably don’t spend enough time appreciating all of those elements in my life.

I decided that rather than spend the month discussing things to do around the home and things to do with children for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would use each post to explore some element in my life that I have gratitude. I may have consciously acknowledged this gratitude in the past (internally or externally) or this might be my first time really exploring the topic on a concious-level. It will make for an interesting series of posts that will range from superficial stuff to more complex parts of my life.

The purpose of this month-long exercise will be to increase my awareness for all the stuff in my life that I am and should be grateful about. By doing this, I will be more present in my own life (rather than focusing on the past or what might happen in the future), see increased health benefits, and increase my level of compassion for myself and others. Read about the researched benefits of gratitude here.

I think this will also help get me more into the holiday season as well: these last few years I’ve found it rather difficult to feel gratitude or want to celebrate despite having Jai in my life. I have worked hard this past year to take steps towards self-improvement, so spending some time focusing on the changes I’ve made and appreciating everything about the changes and my life is important to continue forward.

With each post, I will invite readers to take a few moments to find their own elements of gratitude in the same area of their life and either share it in the comments or share it with whoever should hear it.

It will be an interesting journey for November to be sure.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


For the Love of Food

Food plays a huge role in my life and I could list all the cliche ways it’s impacted me.

One of my proudest moments as a child was when I cooked my parents a dinner with minimal help from my mother. I remember being so thrilled that I did most of the work myself and remembering to wash my hands after handling raw meat without prompting.

My love for food comes both as something to be enjoyed and something that nourishes me to survive. I love to look at a plate for how it’s presented to me when we’re in a restaurant, along with how good it tastes. I would like to think I am a bit of a foodie, but I am far from being obsessed. I think I have a passing appreciation over whether or not a dish is good.

I want to pass this love on to Jai, so as he grows older, I plan on teaching him how to cook and bake as soon as he’s ready. He’s already showing interest as our friend, Lady, was kind enough to pass along a play kitchen that he uses and mimics mommy.

Looking Ahead

For the month of September, I will discuss my relationship with food, how food played a role in my relationship with Ash, feeding a baby and toddler so they can start their food appreciation journey, and what to do to help foster a love of food and cooking in little ones. Every Friday will have a new recipe to enjoy that I am looking forward to sharing with everyone.

Before getting started, what are some of your fond food memories? What is your favorite dish to eat alone and a favorite dish to share? Leave your stories in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Early Childhood Education Blogs

An important resource for teaching a toddler at home is the availability of blogs on the internet.

Twenty years ago it would be a trip to the bookstore to find a book among whatever the store had to offer. The publisher would vet a resource before printing to ensure the information was accurate and achieved a specific goal. Now we can search what we might need/want on our phone within seconds because anybody can put anything out there.

Therefore, finding a reputable resource can be difficult. Some blogs use tactics to shoot up to the top of the search results, which means that just because it’s on the front page of your favorite search engine doesn’t mean it is a good resource to use.

Not all of us go to school for early childhood education, so we aren’t familiar with the priorities in teaching a little one before they are ready to go to preschool. The researcher training I received means that I can’t just search for a specific milestone Jai should be hitting. I need to be sure whatever information I walk away with is credible.

I don’t want to be teaching him incorrectly or placing an expectation on him before he’s cognitively ready because the blog has their months wrong.

What you’ll find below are some tips for vetting your own research to determine if a blog is worth following or if they are spreading misinformation. Granted, this is less of a concern when it comes to early childhood information, but operating under that belief that a child should learning something before they are ready can make the task of preparing them for school frustrating.

How to Vet a Blog

There are several simple steps that I follow to determine if a blog or article is credible, especially if it’s on a topic I am unfamiliar with, like childhood education. Many of these suggestions seem like common sense, but even I’ve been guilty of skipping a step or two only to find a resource isn’t credible later.

Pre-Research Steps

  • Go to the experts first. Determine what are your national standards for a particular age and their recommendations. I find these sites can be a bit stuffy for their ideas which is why I branch out into the wilds of the internet.
  • Decide what you are looking for: activities or material for teaching.
    • Activities do not need as much vetting. Before you start the project, you can determine if it will be age appropriate or doable.
    • Material for teaching is where it gets dodgy. If your child is interested in space you may find that you stumble upon a set of blogs that advocate for alternative theories on planet shapes. Even the ones that advocate mainstream ideas may have incorrect facts that you inadvertently teach your little ones.

Vetting a non-scholarly/non-expert blog

  1. Do a search for the activity or material you want to do with your little one. Read the blurbs underneath the site header on the search page to determine what the site will offer.
  2. Once you click on the site, make the following observations. These are all meant to help you determine the resource’s motivation for getting you to visit their page:
    1. What is at the end of the domain address? is it a “.com,” “.edu,” or something else? My blog is a “.blog” for reference. This will determine the type of site you are visiting. Anything that isn’t .edu/.gov/.org (though .org can be problematic at times) means that the site is commercially run. It doesn’t mean they aren’t an expert, just that they may have other motives to draw you to their site.
    2. What do you see when you first visit the site? Are you met with pop-ups to join a newsletter? A  bunch of ads (if you don’t use ad block)? Cluttered layout? None of these are bad on their own, because all of these are used as a means to earn the blogger money, but it helps you determine their monetary motivation.
    3. Is the resource sponsored? Many bloggers who want to remain reputable will disclose that the post is sponsored by someone else. If the post is sponsored, is it a company you are familiar with? If it isn’t, again, not a bad thing, but you may want to do a more thorough check to determine if the product is worth getting or if you want to go with an analog. If the blogger does not disclose sponsorship, but it is clear that’s what is happening, then consider finding another resource.
    4. Check to see if there is a clear bias on the page: this can be a belief system, lifestyle, or product recommendation. Again, none of these are bad, but it might affect the material or activity you want for your little one. It is just something to be aware of as you set it up/do your research.
  3. Check the length of the post. Quantity doesn’t mean quality, but I do find there is a healthy balance in some of my favorite resources. If a post has too many pictures before getting to a very short blurb on the activity, I am less likely to stay and use that specific resource because it will be annoying to have to keep scrolling down if my page accidentally refreshes (a problem on my phone). Likewise, if the post is too short, and I need more information, I’d rather go elsewhere because it is unlikely they actually know what they are talking about.
  4. Does the information match up with the pre-research you did on the actual expert blogs? If not, but looks like something you could use later, it would be worth bookmarking until then. But be mindful about all the other information posted on the blog.
  5. See if they link out to other resources within the post, especially if you are looking for teaching information. I try to link out to other blogs/resources as much as I can, especially if I am writing a more informative post because that helps demonstrate my ethos and commitment to quality blogging. This isn’t super important to your vetting process, but it may mean that they are a blog worth following for future ideas.

It may seem like a lot of steps to go through in order to determine a blogs relevancy, but it’s worth it because it can help weed out the bad information or activities out there. Many blogs you stumble upon on the first page of a search are there because they deserve to be, but sometimes you manage to get a less reputable one in the mix.

Below are my current recommendations for some favorite childhood education blogs.

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