Checking In: MS Symptoms

This post was originally published in February 2018. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication.


What good is discussing diet and lifestyle changes if I don’t reveal the ongoing results?

Doing an honest self-assessment of any sort is hard, particularly when trying to find ways to manage an unmanageable disease. There’s a huge desire to make everything a “success” or engage in placebo effect-like thinking, but that isn’t always the case.

Overall, I feel like I am managing my MS better. Still, on a day-to-day basis, my mileage may vary because of various external factors.

Current Health Self-Check

Currently, I am not doing so well. Not necessarily because of the MS, but I have a weird seasonal head cold. Drippy nose, sore throat, and exhaustion. I can only assume that if a person without MS gets a virus like this, they may feel wiped out but can go about their daily lives with minimal interference.

With MS and any illness, I get so wiped out that getting out of bed is a hardship. Ash had to stay home until Jai went down for his morning nap on Tuesday because I was so worn out. I needed the extra couple of hours of sleep. This afforded me before I was able to start the day and take care of a toddler. Jai and I stayed in our PJs and read lots of books and minimized movement so I wouldn’t overdo it.

This is a crucial example of why getting sick with MS is “dangerous.” It won’t necessarily cause any physical harm. Still, infections are a significant cause of flare-ups, so there is a risk of needing to get steroids to treat the inflammation. I don’t get avoidant if I know someone is sick. Still, I do recognize that even a simple cold can knock me off my feet for a couple of days that might just inconvenience someone else.

I usually wouldn’t write about getting sick factoring into how I am currently feeling because I tend not to get sick all that often. Still, since having Jai, it has become a more common occurrence. 

Beyond the cold, I am feeling okay overall. There’s been some emotional disappointment in not being able to maintain my diet as strictly as I wanted. I am doing what is best for my overall health, and that is more important. My brain fog and memory issues haven’t lessened, but that may be because I am not doing enough mental exercises to help stimulate neuron repair.

Fatigue is still an issue, but not so much on the days that I am more active. I find high-cardio days mean that I have more energy throughout the day. On the days I only do yoga, there might be a more significant dip in energy by the afternoon.

Being completely honest: I haven’t noticed many changes since my last check-in after my diet reset. I feel more active, happier, less sluggish, but no apparent changes to my MS symptoms.

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Adaptive Parenting

This post was originally published in March 2018. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication.


While MS can make parenting difficult, and I have to be okay with my limitations, there are ways to be the parent I want to be. Remembering that I am enough for my son, and he won’t necessarily recognize my limitations helps. I learn to plan workarounds in our daily lives to minimize MS’s impact. As he transitions to a different developmental stage, my adaptations will evolve with him. My ability to be more interactive will increase as he grows older. 

This isn’t advice, but an insight into how someone deals with their MS and what works for them. If you are a parent with MS or newly diagnosed, remember to be gentle with yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. You are doing the best you can, and that’s the most important thing.

Finding Alternatives

I’ve related some of my personal frustrations regarding my MS: fatigue and mental fog. Fatigue prevents me from being able to have the energy I need to chase a toddler, and mental fog means that I can’t recall information quickly. Learning opportunities feel like they slip away because I can’t remember information quickly or accurately.

Below are some ways I actively adapted my parenting due to the MS. I am sure there are other things I do without thinking that are adaptations, but I can’t identify them right now.

Fatigue

This is a rather simple solution for me: take rest breaks when I can. But with a toddler, that’s easier said than done. Additionally, when I take rest breaks, I feel guilty because I am not spending active time with him. Below are some ways I’ve adapted my parenting despite the fatigue.

Playtime

How I’ve worked around it: encourage more independent play for Jai. While he’s going to be 18-months soon, he does a lot of independent play for his age. This means I will sit in the room with him while he plays with his toys, or when we go to the park, I will sit and allow him to explore safely. When I need to intervene, I do. Still, for the most part, I will enable him to entertain himself when I am feeling unusually fatigued.

This is good for him in several different ways. It grants Jai a safe form of independence that will help boost his confidence. Jai can critically think through a problem, like detangling two toys. It also allows him to discover his abilities or limitations. When he is around other children, I found that taking a hands-off approach improves his socialization.  

I gauge his emotional mood, and if I feel he needs more one-on-one interaction with me, I will get down with him and play for as long as I am able. I warn him if I find my energy is flagging. This is to avoid a sudden stop in playing from me. I will then redirect the play into something less high-intensity, like reading a book or playing with a stuffed animal.

I have found that “alerts” have helped minimize any sort of upset feelings: “Mommy has 5 more minutes that she can play like this with you,” or “you can go down the slide 3 more times before Mommy needs a break.”

There is liberal use of timers in our household. I will use the timer as an objective third-party that can arbitrate the length of my play. I do this to be fair to Jai and to begin teaching the concept of time. When the timer goes off, Mommy needs to take a little breather, therefore take that time to play independently again.

Naps or Rest Breaks

Jai would take two naps a day, averaging two hours at a time, and I used these periods to get things done or take a nap myself. He’s hit a developmental stage where, in his opinion, naps are mere suggestions and no longer necessary. It’s a toss-up if he’s going to take his morning or his afternoon nap, so the only way we know is if I put him in his crib.

While he may not need those periods to sleep, I need them to rest so I can keep going throughout the rest of the day.

That’s why I continue to keep him on a nap schedule, but they are rest breaks for the both of us. For about an hour, he will be in his crib with quiet music playing, pleasant lighting, some of his favorite toys and books, and allowed to play until I can collect him.

By putting him in a calm and low-sensory stimulation environment, I am giving him a chance to calm down and process all the activity during the day up to that point.

When he gets older, and I am more confident in allowing him to be out of his crib unsupervised, it will transition to quiet time, which is similar to his independent play. He will already be used to that quiet time, it will only be a location and activity change.

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Immune & Energy Booster Turmeric Shots

This post was originally published in December 2017.


Several years ago, I participated in an intensive yoga course, which required attending classes at a local studio almost daily and first thing in the morning. This was before my diagnosis, but just after I experienced my first flare-up, so fatigue was an issue for me at the time.

I was complaining to another student while we were waiting to step into the studio about how tired I was. We were doing a strict detox diet, and coffee was not on the approved list. She pulled this small bottle* out of her bag and handed it to me.

Her: “It’s a turmeric shot. These things are great natural energy boosts.”
Me: “Turmeric? As in the spice?”
Her: “Yeah, have you heard about it? It’s got all these great ayurvedic properties, but it’s been found to boost your energy naturally. It’s more potent than caffeine.”
Me: “And it’s safe?”
Her: “Absolutely. It’s all-natural. Just try half of it and let me know what you think after class.”

I tried it, and she was correct. I felt extremely energized. I was almost shaking to get the class started, that’s how powerful it was for me. I will add this note: it was the first of any sort of energy drink I had in weeks. We couldn’t even drink green tea, so the results might have been slightly skewed due to my body just going into overload.

I didn’t get a chance to follow up with the turmeric as an energy booster after that experience. But it stayed in the back of my mind. When I read about the benefits of turmeric in the diet for brain health and as an anti-inflammatory, I decided to look back into it. It might be worth trying to help manage my MS.

The Health Benefits of Turmeric

What makes turmeric the wonder spice is the curcumin. Curcumin is believed to be a beneficial supplement to fight Alzheimer’s due to its anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting properties. It also is found to have cognitive-boosting abilities, though this needs to be researched further. It can also help prevent certain forms of cancer.

These two things alone: inflammation and cognition are issues a person with MS deals with daily. I am not advocating forsaking all other forms of MS therapy. I am adding it to my daily diet to supplement traditional forms of MS therapy. And as a runner, the anti-inflammatory benefits are beneficial to recovery.

But the energy/metabolism and the immune benefits? This becomes a universal appeal for daily consumption of turmeric. Even if you don’t have MS, having a natural way to get more energy and boost the immune system will be beneficial to your health. It may not cure a cold or prevent getting one, but it will give you that extra boost your body might need.

Making My Own Turmeric Drink

Before removing sugar from my diet, I found it harder to stomach turmeric even in a drink form. The taste was too weird, and I needed something sweet to help cover it up. It’s how I handled flavors I didn’t care for in the past: add sugar to make it more palatable.

A few weeks after quitting sugar, I bought several shots of turmeric for an early morning road trip I was making to Tennessee. I took some sips and found that I actually enjoyed the flavor and felt quite the energy boost. Sugar struck again as a ruiner of flavors. Now that it was out of my system, I was able to enjoy something I previously disliked.

But what took my breath away was the price per bottle. I could drink one bottle per day for the health benefits, but my wallet wasn’t going to be fond of the ~$6.00 per 3 fl oz. I knew I could make it even cheaper.

I found a couple of recipes online. However, they didn’t adhere to the vegan diet. They used honey or some other animal-based additive. I decided to create my own recipe. Below the break, you will find my recipe and some ideas for modifications.

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Sugar and Chronic Illness

This post was originally published in October 2017. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication. Find my thoughts on sugar and chronic illness under my update.

2019 Note: This was a check-in post relating to a series of diet changes I made. Because I was breastfeeding Jai, I could not take my MS medication until I finished. I wanted to find a way to manage my illness until I restarted my medication.


Cutting sugar went smoother than I expected, though there were a few days where I was irritable, according to Ash. I refuse to believe him, but deep down, I know he’s right. No longer having that emotional crutch makes for a very grumpy me.

Psychologically speaking, it was a lot easier than I expected. As long as I didn’t have sugary treats in the house (I tossed all of our sweets or sent them with Ash to work); I avoided buying sugary drinks (everyone knows that my weakness is a good Pumpkin Spice Latte in the fall). If I had fruit for any sweet cravings, I was good to go. Every time I drove by a Starbucks, there was a temptation to pull in and just give in to that PSL craving, but I made sure to keep going and have a few bites of pineapple as soon as I got home.

A couple of times, I did eventually stop at Starbucks, and I made sure only to order an Americano. Before I was pregnant, I was in the habit of drinking all my coffee black unless it was a latte. It wasn’t hard for me to get back into drinking with nothing in them. I think it helped a bit too.

Coffee is a wonder drug (and sadly, probably something I need to add to my drop list), and can make a lot of things better.

I didn’t notice any headaches, though, at the beginning of the week, I was more sluggish and in need of an extra nap or two during the day. By the time Ash came home from work, I was very ready to pass Jai off to him, so I could lay down and not think or move for an hour. By day 3 or so, I had a little more energy, and by this morning (day 5), I had even more energy to do my running around without the need for a nap.

I also noticed that during my long run on Thursday, I was able to keep up with my mom and felt less fatigued at the end of it. I also felt motivated to go again this morning (though that would be off schedule). Me? Motivated to run off schedule? This really is unheard of – I hate running.

While shopping, I made sure to review all the labels like I said I would: any time it was High Fructose Corn Syrup or unidentified form of “sugar,” I would move along. From my research, they said that sugar is hidden in everything, and it really is true. Sugar is everywhere. Foods that I usually love to eat, like certain types of crackers or even grab-n-go frozen meals…all contain sugar. I also made sure to avoid agave and honey. If the item were sweetened with fruit juice or dates – I would be willing to grab it to consume.

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Veganism and Me

This post was originally published in November 2017. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication.


2019 Note: This was a check-in post towards the end of a series of diet changes I made. Because I was breastfeeding Jai, I could not take my MS medication until I finished. I wanted to find a way to manage my illness until I restarted my medication.

One week of the vegan diet down and going strong. It’s difficult to tell if there’s a difference in my energy level while I am still fighting this chest cold. Still, I do feel like my mood is relatively calm and mellow.

I am anticipating that once I start feeling better that I will notice a spike in my energy levels. After my first flare-up, but before my diagnosis, I went vegan for a few months. I found it as a natural energy booster while I wasn’t consuming caffeine. I expect the same results because I am eating similar to before, if not better, because I am not eating sugar or junk foods.

I am finding that I am craving meats and STILL craving fried foods. While I am not craving beef or pork, I am craving chicken and salmon, mainly fried chicken and fries. I still haven’t indulged in my fried food cravings, but I am astonished at how much harder it’s been to drop those foods. I expected sugar to be the hardest for me to remove from my diet with the cravings, and it hasn’t been.

I occasionally feel sorry that I can’t indulge in sweet treats, especially in the fall, but what I wouldn’t give to have some salty fries right now. Or onion rings. Or mozzarella. Or some sort of fried chicken skin…

I found some puffed veggie “fries” that work as a snack, and I’ve been making homemade microwave popcorn for idle snacking at night. I am going to try baking some fries or a vegan version of twice-baked potatoes. I think either of those might help satisfy my cravings.

Next week is the penultimate food removal and going to be the most difficult with functioning in the real world: gluten.

Overall Health Update

Getting on the scale this morning, I have officially lost 12 pounds from when I first started this journey. It was never about weight loss, but to see that this morning was a huge confidence booster. Hopefully more of it will melt off as I eat healthier and healthier and keep running. Once I finally hit a bottom with the weight loss, I will reveal official numbers.

2019 Health Update

It’s interesting how things come full circle. I maintained the vegan diet through the end of 2017 and into part of 2018 but found it unsustainable when I dropped gluten as well. I re-introduced eating dairy, meats, and gluten and never noticed that energy boost. Still, I suspect it had more to do with not maintaining as balanced of a diet as I intended.

In April of this year, I went vegetarian again and transitioned back to veganism in June. My reasons for transitioning back to veganism had less to do with health, though that was part of it. It had more to do with ethical reasons and being mindful of my overall environmental impact. This time I was more conscious of my diet, especially with all the running I’ve been doing. Since transitioning to vegan in June (but still eating gluten), I’ve had more energy and feel better overall.

I indulge in junk food, especially after several days of intense running training. I just ran an intense half marathon, so one of the first meals I had was a plate full of fries. I maintained the attitude I was going for back in 2017, and that is to embrace moderation.

I still firmly believe making dietary changes have helped me manage my MS while off medication. I won’t say it was any one thing, but rather, being mindful of my eating and ensuring it was balanced. If you could call my eating habits anything, it’s mostly clean eating with the occasional fried/unhealthy indulgence.

As to the weight mentioned at the end of the post, here is the official number reveal I promised. I was 164lbs when I started my journey in September 2017. When I wrote this post in November 2017, I was approximately 152lbs. According to the BMI standards, I was still considered overweight. At my most recent weigh-in, I am down to 130 lbs. This puts me solidly in healthy weight territory.

Two different races, two years apart.

I suspect losing nearly 60 lbs (I was 186 at my highest when pregnant with Jai) helps manage my MS. I don’t know if this is true, but I do feel better overall because of it. I understand this isn’t something everyone can do, especially with a debilitating autoimmune disease, but if you have the means to lose weight, it is worth trying. 

I wanted to revisit this post since I wrote it exactly two years ago, and it was interesting to see what changed and what stayed the same. It’s not often I think of taking the opportunity to see my personal growth.


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