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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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


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


Healthy Vegan Pumpkin Bread

It’s starting to get chilly in the South so grabbing a slice of pumpkin bread becomes more appealing in the mornings. I’ve gotten Jai on board with enjoying pumpkin bread, so much so that the other day he made a very specific request for pumpkin bread.

When my baby asks for pumpkin bread, I make him pumpkin bread.

Jai is a grazer so it’s important to pack whatever he eats full of nutrients and protein. I had some hemp hearts and flax seeds in the house and decided to add those in my recipe to up the protein potential. The first batch, Jai was less enthused about, but when I added in some applesauce in a second batch, it helped sweeten the bread a little more to satisfy his cravings.

Before you take that first bite…

Something to keep in mind with the following recipe is that one slice will go a long way. This recipe is healthy, in that, it is packed with protein, omega 3 & 6, and other nutrients, but it’s extremely calorie dense. Because the bread is high in calories this isn’t a snack food, but one slice is a meal. If you are watching calories I caution limiting your intake to one slice per meal.

See my notes at the end of the recipe for a way to reduce the calories. Read More


Good for the Nerves: Fall & MS

MS is a disease that’s affected by the weather, particularly extreme temperature variables. Summer and wintertime can be particularly rough because of the temperature swings on either end of the thermometer. The temperate or more moderate weather of the spring and fall can offer some relief for those who need it.

I know that for myself when it’s a consistent mid-70’s with low humidity, I am at my most comfortable. I find that I have more energy, able to sleep better at night and find the need for a midday nap to be lower. I still need naps because I have an energetic toddler, but I can skip the nap with minimal impact on my evening energy levels.

I know that my MS situation is different from others, so what is comfortable for me to function may be uncomfortable for others. That’s the unfortunate truth about MS – while fall is the ideal season for me to be my best, it can make others miserable. If fall isn’t your season, that’s okay because there’s bound to be another season that works best with your illness.

Fall Weather & MS (in the South)

All of this is to say that the fall weather makes me happier. I feel like we get more temperate days in the fall than we do in the spring, though if I looked at the temperature statistics I am probably wrong.

In the South, fall means that while we may still get 90-degree days, it feels like the day’s heat dissipates faster in the evenings and takes longer to be oppressive in the mornings. It also brings more rain during the hurricane season, which is less helpful because of the humidity, but ideal in keeping temperatures lower.

More Activities to Keep Moving & Healthy

As discussed on Tuesday, fall festivals are a great way to get out and enjoy the outside with family and friends. Going on hikes, particularly in the South, are more pleasant because the leaves haven’t dropped just yet, so there’s enough shade from the sun in the forest.

Walks are more pleasant to take in the evening, more importantly, less of a mental hassle when you don’t have to consider bringing a bunch of cooling supplies to keep from overheating (for me: ventilated shoes, water, and a hat).

As a runner, I find that some of my best personal records happen between the months of October and April because of the milder weather. I also don’t run into the issues of dehydration headaches after a race that I get in the hotter month. I get these headaches no matter how much I hydrate before, during, or after the race.

If physically able, yardwork is less oppressive as well. Raking leaves is a great cardio activity to get moving, as is trimming bushes.

While hydrating is still extremely important for those of us with MS, I find that it’s not as imperative as it is in the hotter weather. I also find my means of hydrating open up: I am a huge tea drinker and love drinking herbal tea in the fall. While drinking straight water is always recommended, drinking herbal tea is easier to swallow than straight, boring water.

Relaxing Atmosphere: Less Stress, Less Flare-Ups

Scientifically speaking, fall is a more relaxing time of year: we’ve been conditioned to enjoy it at least in the United States. Fall elicits cozy feelings, warmth, and togetherness ahead of the holiday season. The idea of sitting by a fire pit with a cup of mulled cider, a blanket, and good company is extremely relaxing.

My happy place is Pumpkin Spice Lattes which are a huge indicator of fall. That first sip of the year always relaxes me in the  “ah, fall is finally here” sort of way.

Stress is a huge factor for flare-ups, at least for myself, so having relaxing evenings helps minimize my stress. Any stress that comes during the fall is usually the kind I enjoy, i.e. planning gatherings, parties, events, and outings.

While my first flare-up happened at the beginning of December nearly six years ago, most of my flare-ups happen in the winter and summer months. I think because I have worked hard to make fall a relaxing time of the year for myself.

If you have MS or a chronic illness that is affected by the weather, what do you do to help manage it during your favorite seasons? What is your favorite season and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton