roadblocks-with-a-chronic-illness

Overcoming Roadblocks with a Chronic Illness

If you are taking this journey to wellness with a chronic illness, an understandable first concern will be: what about the normal roadblocks I encounter with my illness? What if I have a flare-up and cannot do anything for weeks time so it sets me back?

These are valid concerns and I am here to tell you that it will be okay when that happens.

Despite my best efforts, I still get mild MS flare-ups throughout the year. Because of my blog, I’m more aware that during the transitional times of the year, spring into summer, summer into fall, I am more likely to have some form of a flare-up.

These flare-ups can set me back a day, a few days, a week, and in one extreme case, a few months (though that’s been a while). 

I have learned to accept that these flare-ups are normal and move forward in my journey in spite of them.

New Journey; New Frustrations

Whenever starting a new journey there’s always moments of self-doubt. Will I succeed? What will the success look like? What would failure look like? How do I avoid failure?

There are always a ton of questions. When dealing with personal goals that require us to do extra work, such as adding in an extra walk for the day, looking over a boring task that you’ve been avoiding, or working through a particularly emotional part of your life; it’s easy to get stuck and want to avoid dealing with it altogether.

That’s part of the problem, something gets frustrating so we put it off and then we get discouraged and the cycle continues. Adding in a chronic illness where things happen out of our control adds an additional layer of frustration.

Chronic Attacks!

In the Multiple Sclerosis communities, we have many different names for when the illness/disease takes over: flare-up, exacerbation, and my personal favorite, the relapse. If you have another autoimmune disease, chronic illness, or personal wellness roadblock, you might have a different name for it.

To avoid confusion, let’s just call it an “attack.”

Attacks happen. You know they are going to happen and that might be discouraging, but it’s part of your normal like it or not. We might as well take a moment and embrace it. Our normal is not the same as anyone else’s normal. Let’s be honest: no one’s “normal” is like anyone else’s with or without a chronic illness.

The best thing we can do in these situations is to recognize that attacks will happen and prepare ourselves for dealing with them effectively. If you know what triggers an attack and how to manage it, then make a game plan.

Make the Changes Anyway

Since we know roadblocks with a chronic illness are going to happen anyways, there’s never going to be a good time to make the wellness changes you’ve been wanting to make. That’s why now is the time to make those changes regardless.

I would love to have a day where I don’t deal with any fatigue so I can do my yoga or respond to a bunch of emails that end up taking several hours. But I won’t get that day and if I do, I cannot plan for it. Chronic illness never allows me to fully plan when and if things get done.

If I want to do yoga or be productive, I have to make those changes regardless. Roadblocks with a chronic illness are normal, so it makes sense to accept them and work with the roadblocks when it comes time to start a wellness journey.

It sounds like I am saying “just do it,” and on the surface level, I am. But what is different is how you approach the “just do it” attitude. I am reducing a very complicated situation down to changing perspective because that’s the first step in a very difficult and very personal journey.

It’s all a Matter of Perspective

If you’ve been in the middle of your illnesses long enough, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to have a “normal” life. Concerns for attacks can rule your days, so you forget how different concerns would interfere with those who don’t cope with a chronic illness.

A car breaking down can take someone out of commission for weeks at a time, like an episode for us. Twisting an ankle might keep a person from exercising for a week until they recover, just like an attack.

Sure, we have the added concern the same things that happen for “normal” people happening to us PLUS dealing with an attack, but the point is –  everyone has things that can bring up a roadblock and stymie all progress made when trying to live a wellness-based life.

Maintaining the perspective that there is always a concern for an attack, but focusing on it ending (even though you don’t know when) and finding small ways to work around it will keep you going. Obviously, some attacks will prevent you from moving forward because if you are bedridden and there may be little you can do to adjust. However, if you are bedridden but able to lift a weight, even if it’s a book for a couple of repetitions, the very act of doing something may be enough to help keep you going.

Adjust your perspective to see that you are not alone because everyone has roadblocks, and that your roadblocks just look a little different than others.

Roadblocks with a Chronic Illness

As you begin your wellness journey, expect the roadblocks or attacks to happen, and embrace them. I am not recommending leaning into them to make excuses, but say to yourself: well, this is going to happen and I can’t necessarily change it, so I might as well work around these roadblocks to bring about a positive change in my life.

I cannot guarantee it because I am not a healthcare professional, but there’s a chance recognizing these attacks as normal and adjusting your perspective to be prepared for them might help lessen the attacks when you get them. It may never prevent them and what damage/time taken away from your life, but when you are ready for something you know how to effectively deal with it.

I have found that I’ve shortened the length of my attacks when I am prepared and don’t allow the attacks to discourage me or my progress. I tend to have an attitude of “well this is an annoyance, but I clearly need to slow down because I am overworking my body in some way.”

This suggestion and method of approach are not “one-size-fits-all” but if you’ve never tried to prepare yourself for these attacks in mind, it would be worth trying to account for them over the next couple of weeks.

For Wednesday, look for a post on how to begin the process of planning for and accounting for roadblocks.


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Now What? Beyond the Diagnosis

This post was originally published in March 2018.


On Wednesday I published a deeply personal post about the first couple of months after getting my MS diagnosis and how I went through the coping and grieving process. Because it was an emotionally charged post, I wanted to balance it out with a post about finding acceptance and the healthy ways I’ve tried to manage my MS both physically and mentally.

First, let’s get this out-of-the-way: Any changes made you have to want for yourself and they will occur in the amount of time appropriate for you.

Do not let people, myself included, tell you that you have to make changes in a specific timeline or before you are ready.

Do not read this post and feel like you aren’t doing enough to manage your grief or your diagnosis. You are unique and different from me and that’s okay.

You will make the changes when you are ready.

Despite this, there are things I cannot recommend:

  • Staying stagnant and giving up
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Refusing to be open to new experiences

In my last post, I engaged in all of the above behaviors at one time or another, so when I say I cannot recommend them, I say it from personal experience. If you find that you are engaging in one, some, or all of these behaviors, it means you are still working through your grieving process.

That’s okay, but ideally, you want to move beyond the grief at some point because it brings personal peace that makes the pain and frustration more manageable.

So what does it mean to transition into acceptance?

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Illness as a Positive

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. 


Having a chronic illness is no fun.

I know that’s a bit of a shocker for anyone reading this, especially if you have a chronic illness/disability. That said, having a chronic illness did bring about a positive change in my life: I think it forced me to rethink my life and my health and make important changes.

I am not about to turn this post into inspiration porn (don’t worry, that link is safe for work), but I do want to express gratitude for the wake-up call my MS gave me. I call it my “rock bottom” because it forced me to make some decisions about the direction I wanted to take physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do, however, wish it hadn’t taken a chronic illness diagnosis to make these changes

I would be more than happy to give back my illness and keep all the healthy changes if given a chance. 

Prior to the Diagnosis

To understand why I am grateful for my current health, it’s best to compare it to where I was physically prior to my diagnosis.

I’ve hinted at my state in previous posts throughout the blog, but I never fully discussed my mental and physical state. Partially because it was never necessary to the post, but mostly because I was ashamed of where I was at in life.

I was delusional about my physical health. It’s easy to see that on the other side, but living in the middle of it I thought I was healthy. I would eat vegan, run, do yoga, try to meditate when the time would allow, but essentially go through the motions of what I thought was healthy living.

And then I would wonder why I wasn’t losing weight. I justified it by saying this to myself repeatedly:

Ah, that’s just muscle being put on. Muscle weighs more than fat.

I am just stressed out right now, so once I get beyond this period, I will be fine. I need to eat like this because it’s how I am coping with my stress.

Apparently, my 5’3″ body is meant to be 160 pounds. Since I can’t lose the weight, that must be my natural set point.

I also didn’t feel better, I was just grumpier for waking up earlier and sweating a bunch with little to no payoff.

Let me be clear and say that weight is not the absolute indicator of health: athletes can be considered overweight and be at peak physical fitness. A person can be a normal weight and be coping with an illness of sorts. Weight can be a symptom of a bigger problem and it can also cause other issues, but looking at weight for whether a person is healthy or not shouldn’t be the only factor. It is just one of the factors.

Through most of my adult life, I was carrying around an additional 20-30 pounds. This extra weight played a negative role in my overall activity level, my mood, my energy levels, and my depression. I firmly believe that these factors exacerbated my MS symptoms. There were days where I would come home after teaching and fall asleep for hours until Ash got home, wherein he’d have to make or order us dinner.

It was always a slog to get any important work done for school and professionally speaking.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had very little motivation to make any positive changes in my life. I would do it in spurts, but those would fade out when I didn’t see immediate results. I had nothing truly motivating me beyond “this is what our culture tells me to do.” It wasn’t enough and therefore I couldn’t stay motivated to continue.

I figured I could never get into peak physical and emotional condition because I just couldn’t. No other reason other than that: I just was not able to be healthy.

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The Importance of Movement

It’s fall, which means colder weather makes it difficult to get moving to either exercise outside or make it to the gym. Perhaps because of the season, it is more important than ever to keep moving. As we head into winter, chances of weight gain increase along with seasonal mood changes that might be mitigated with some form of exercise.

Yesterday, researchers released a study regarding the importance of exercise and health. It’s something I’ve known a long time from health class and personal experience: exercising makes me feel better. If I sit still long enough (even in the span of a few hours), I start feeling bad.

That was the point of this study: the longer we sit during the day, the more danger we put on our health in the long-term. Sitting for vast spans of time and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. This study wasn’t providing new information, this article from 2014 discusses how dangerous sitting for hours on end is for our bodies. But this study was another confirmation of what researchers were saying: movement is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While the studies weren’t talking about the emotional impact of a sedentary lifestyle, more of the long-term impact, aerobic exercise is a form of anti-depressant for those suffering from major depression. A person should never quit their drug-regimen in favor of running without consulting their healthcare professionals first, but adding running or some other high-aerobic workout to the routine might increase the anti-depressant impact for mental health management.

This information is great to have to make informed decisions without an autoimmune disease that impacts fatigue levels, but living with MS, getting out of bed can be a hardship some mornings.

What to do when your body works against you?

I count myself lucky with my MS: my disease is rather benign and easy to manage compared to someone with PPMS, SPMS, or even some versions of RRMS. But it can cause my mood to swing, my depression to kick into high gear, and send my fatigue into overdrive for no reason other than “just because.”

Getting out of bed to go for a run some mornings is particularly rough when my body just does not want to move. Additionally, I’ve suffered from being overweight and depressed, so I understand how each individual factor can impact personal motivation and ability.

So what can you do?

  1. Speak with a trusted healthcare professional about what you can do to increase movement in relation to your particular health concerns or limitations. You want to find an expert who will be sensitive to your situation to provide positive encouragement, but also one who will point you in an appropriate direction for the types of exercises needed to get you started.
  2. Even if your doctor is providing you with generic information, use that information as a starting point with your own research.* Find simple exercises you can do from bed or the couch while watching television. From there, you can build up your type of exercise and the amount of time spent.
  3. Drink water. Water helps energize muscles to help prevent fatigue, protect joints and the nervous system (a huge plus for MS), and decrease MS symptoms.
  4. Keep your goals reachable and manageable. If you know that getting out of bed will be difficult most mornings, see about adding a different type of exercise that can be done from bed until you have a good day.
  5. If you have to miss a day or forget, just plan to restart tomorrow. Don’t look at a day off as a failure, but just something that happens. Try to maintain an attitude of moving forward rather than dwelling on forgetfulness. Don’t overdo it if you do miss a day – with MS that can set you back from exercising tomorrow.

*Note: your own research must be done with extreme caution and consideration to your ability levels. Do not put yourself at risk.  Read my disclaimer about health advice here.

Lack of Motivation

I find that the lack of motivation is my biggest obstacle to exercising. I wish I could write, “do this and you’ll always be motivated!” but the truth of the motivation obstacle is this: it varies from person-to-person and moment-to-moment. What keeps me motivated may not apply to another person and what keeps them motivated would never work for me.

When dealing with a chronic illness, motivation can run thin, sometimes without being the individual’s fault, but because of the way the illness impacts brain function. Having physical impairments stacked against you can be depressing on its own.

So how to combat this?

It’s never going to be a “snap your fingers and get over it” solution. That is not possible and won’t work. Rather, figure out what is important to you at the moment. Is it disease management? Depression management? Having more energy day-to-day? Wanting to see the numbers go down on the scale? Figuring out that primary starting place may be enough to get the ball rolling and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Having reports released about the importance of exercise are validating for me on my health journey because it shows that I am on the right path, especially on days when my energy and motivation are at its lowest. I just have to move forward and try not to be discouraged by a bad day or my MS.

What prevents you from exercising? What keeps you motivated to exercise? Relate your stories below in the comments section.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Beating the Heat with MS

This post contains affiliate links. All affiliate links will be marked with a “*” behind it. For more information, please read my disclosure policy.


Multiple Sclerosis is no fun. Especially in the summertime.

Around this time of year, every year, I find that my energy and motivation wanes and my productivity level drops. I am pretty hard on myself, always having high expectations of my abilities and what I can get accomplished on a day-to-day basis, so any time I feel like I am doing less than what I could be doing, I get really down on myself.

I recognized that there is a pattern to my productivity levels depending on the temperature outside. On the cooler days of late fall, winter, and early spring I am able to get more done every day. It isn’t perfect or guaranteed, I am just more likely to get everything done that I want.

But once late spring, summer, and early fall hits, when the really hot and humid days sink in, I find that I am lucky to get more than two major things done on my to-do list. Most days require me taking a nap and if I push myself through it (and therefore too hard), I won’t get anything done past a certain time in the day.

Weekends are the hardest. I am so worn out chasing Jai around all week that when I get the opportunity to stay in bed for most of the day while Ash does the “heavy” lifting, I do. And then very little gets done on my to-do list.

There is a definite correlation between my productivity and the weather.

And I am not imagining it.

Heat & MS

It’s well-known that MS and heat do not go hand-in-hand. Many other MS patients find that the heat can be particularly draining, possibly due to electrical connections between neurons no longer being efficient from the heat. Because of this, flare-ups are more common, especially for those who suffer from spasticity.

In researching this post, I learned something I didn’t know: prior to MRIs and other efficient tests to diagnose MS, patients were submerged in hot water baths to gauge their symptom reactions to the heat.

I find this fact particularly interesting considering my intense love of hot, hot showers. Ash does not understand why I love them so much. And now I don’t know why I love them so much, I don’t find that it affects my body in a negative way, in fact, I find them extremely relaxing and soothing. I should try some lower-temperature showers to see how it impacts my energy level for the day. I may be negatively impacting my productivity in favor of a hot shower.

The recommendations by medical professionals are for MS patients to avoid the heat and humidity as much as possible. Some recommendations go so far as to tell patients to move to better climates. This is all well and good, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, not economically feasible, or we don’t want to let the weather affect our social plans.

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