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 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


Civic Duty

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. 


Today, in the United States, is the mid-term elections. So I wanted to express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to vote.

I remember learning about voting through elementary school and about the suffrage movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. I grew up knowing that being able to vote was a right, but as a woman less than one hundred years away from the Nineteenth Amendment, it was also a privilege of sorts. My great-grandmothers would have gone part of their lives unable to vote whereas I knew that once I turned eighteen I could register.

As soon as I was able to, I registered to vote. Every time I moved I switched my registration. If I knew I wouldn’t make it to the polls for a particular election, I filed for an absentee ballot or moved heaven and earth to make it home. I can confidently say that I have not missed a single November or Primary election. I even try to go to the smaller ones for the local elections.

If I ever missed an opportunity to vote, I can count them on one hand.

Voting is extremely important to me. I recognize the sacrifice that the women underwent so many years ago to make sure I had that right to vote that I don’t want to ever waste that opportunity. I feel that I am able to honor these women by standing in line and waiting my turn to cast a ballot. By going to my polling station it’s an act of gratitude for all of those who went before me to make it possible.

I also recognize that my ability to vote and the fact that my vote counts, is a privilege. Not everyone has free and fair elections even in my own country. While there is a lot of vitriol out in the US political climate right now, our elections are still relatively free. Racially, I am part of two groups of people who have historically been disenfranchised, so each time I walk up to get my card I am nervous that I might run into some conflict with a poll worker.

My state is currently under national scrutiny for the disenfranchisement of some voters over the course the current mid-term elections, so getting out to vote was extremely important to Ash and me.

So important that with the exception of the 2016 elections (Jai was only one month old at the time), I make a point to bring Jai with me to vote. I want him to see that this is his right and if he wants to help bring about change, he needs to see how that happens. Right now he’s enjoying the sticker at the end, but when he gets older I want him to enjoy watching Mommy or Daddy pressing buttons on the screen and watching the card spit out after the vote is cast.

I will start explaining what each election is about, who is running in it, what they are running for, and explain why I am voting the way I am. I hope he’ll ask me plenty of questions along the way and more importantly, I hope it gets him excited to go out and vote as soon as he can at eighteen.

So while it may be a minor thing to be grateful for, I truly am glad that I have the opportunity to play such a small role in how my country is run. Sometimes it feels as though my voice isn’t heard or ignored, but I know that I did what I could regardless.

Do you enjoy voting? What’s your favorite part of the process? Share your thoughts and any fun stories in the comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


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