being-honest-with-yourself-and-chronic-illness

Being Honest with Yourself and Your Chronic Illness

Self-reflection is worthless if you can’t be honest with your self. Speaking from personal experience, both through observing others and myself, humans are good at over-inflating their sense of importance and perception, and that rarely matches with reality. Add in chronic illness and it widens the gap between perception and reality: it’s easy to not be honest with yourself and how your chronic illness impacts your life. This gap can prevent you from making important life changes.

How so?

There are two ways it will go if you aren’t honest with yourself: one, you set your sights on something without considering your illness and your symptoms will prevent you from achieving that goal; and two, you don’t think you can do something because of your illness and it stops you from trying.

Growing up I had a family member who leaned into their illnesses (some real, many manufactured) to keep themselves from ever achieving their goals. They would get so close and then self-sabotage. Often the excuse was, “I can’t do x because my illness is preventing me from doing so.” Yet, they would be outside pulling weeds for hours at a time with no physical complaints.

They may have been honest with themselves about what they were capable of and weren’t honest with us. That’s a separate issue altogether.

I sincerely believe this family member, if they weren’t honest with themselves, would have taken over a chunk New England with their business. They had so much ambition, energy, and drive that they were the only one preventing themselves from seeing personal success.

It’s important to sit down and be honest with what your abilities are, what they really are, to see what you can do. If you aren’t honest, you will only find yourself discouraged and get in the way of your own success.

Start with Honesty

In the late ’70s/early ’80s, singer Charlene sang about a woman lamenting about the decisions she made in her life. After experiencing life in ways we only dream of, the “speaker” realizes too late that she never experienced the life she truly wanted. “I’ve Never Been to Me,” is one of those sappy songs from a different era (and is rather problematic for a modern audience), but I think the message stands. It’s wonderful to have a “perfect” life on the outside but if you aren’t honest with what you want, you will never find meaningful success.

Admittedly, it’s one of those easy-listening ballads that is very much an emotional guilty pleasure.

We can fantasize about the perfect life because it’s what we think we want, but it may not be what we need. There are things that we think we want in our life, things we think will make us happy – they will be our paradise, and perhaps if we get them, we will be satisfied.

And for a lucky few, that may bring about satisfaction. Winning the lottery may solve our money problems, but there usually is a whole host of other issues that pop up we don’t think about that spoils our happiness. What if our paradise is something more ordinary that we aren’t willing to admit to ourselves? That’s where you have to get to a place of personal honesty with yourself.

The Problematic Lie

Have you ever tried to lose weight through counting calories?

How successful were you? If you found success immediately, you may not be able to identify with what I am about to tell you. If you weren’t successful, you already know where this is going.

Even to this day, I struggle to lose weight via rigorous calorie counting. The idea is this: I am given a set amount of calories I can consume in a day. That number can go up if I exercise or stay the same if I do not. This set of calories will be just enough to keep my body sustained and healthy but allow it to lose weight over a specific period of time.

Simple, right?

Well, if you are like me, no. It isn’t simple and this is why: I lie. I lie to my calorie counting apps and more importantly, I lie to myself.

I will fudge the numbers a bit. I may count one less strawberry or inaccurate “estimate” my food amounts. I may overestimate the exact amount of exercise I do. And what happens when I do this? I don’t lose weight.

Why? Because I am lying to myself about what I am doing. Sometimes it’s intentional and other times it was to justify that extra late night sweet. But when I actually became honest with myself and what I was doing, I found I lost the weight.

This is just a lengthy way of saying, if you are lying to yourself about what you can and can’t do, i.e. I can’t do something because of x, then you are only hurting yourself. Or if you think you can do something, but you haven’t really self-assessed, you’ll only get frustrated.

Lying to yourself is problematic and will lead to you not finding success in what you want to do for personal wellness.

Being Honest with Yourself and Your Chronic Illness

The short answer to this post is: be honest with yourself. Be frank with your chronic illness. Be straightforward with your abilities. And finally, be realistic with your personal goals.

Yes, your illness may have taken away your mobility. You may not be spry like you once were. But has it completely prevented you from trying something new? Have you had to learn how to adjust to manage the illness? So why not adjust to try some dream of yours.

I’ve said this at least one other time on the blog: I wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I wanted to write fiction novels like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, so when Ash pointed out that I was writing for a living I didn’t believe him. I assumed my MS would prevent me from putting a cohesive novel together, but he was right. I’ve achieved my childhood dream, it just did not take the form I expected.

Who is to say that I don’t eventually write a fiction novel of sorts?

The point is, my MS did not prevent me from achieving my dreams. I had to be honest with what I was able to do and what I did to find success in some capacity.

If you’ve been easily discouraged in your goals or found that you never complete your resolutions, consider taking a few moments to ask yourself: have I been honest with myself and my abilities? Have the goals I created unreasonable for me to attain at this point (if ever)? Have I used my illness as an excuse to prevent me from making some type of change? Why is that?

Just take a few moments to sit down and see what answers you come up with, then loop back around to my self-reflection posts from last week. See what answers you come up with and where they might take you.


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Featured photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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Self-Reflection with a Chronic Illness

My self-reflection journey had two significant steps: step one, reflecting on life immediately after receiving my diagnosis; and step two, reflecting on life after Jai’s birth. You could say that I am in the middle of step three because self-reflection with a chronic illness is a lifelong exercise. I am a firm believer that self-reflection should be a lifelong practice regardless of your health. It keeps us moving forward and prevents becoming stagnant.

Today’s post is about the answers I came up with when I looked at my life just after my diagnosis up until now. Like with Monday’s post, I will end with some questions to ask about your current situation.

Post-Diagnosis; Pre-Health Minded

I have discussed this period of my life a few times on the blog.

After my diagnosis, I was in not in a healthy emotional place. I grieved the loss of my “old life,” such that it was. I tried to process the physical betrayal I felt, the uncertainty of my future, and why I felt like life just hated me. Despite that, or perhaps to help cope with it, I did self-reflect a little bit about my life and MS.

A thought I kept coming back to was my mortality and what that might look like. While MS is unique to everyone, the only example I had in my life was Annette Funicello. I swore that my health trajectory would take me to a place where I would be trapped in my body like her. I told those close to me that I was convinced my RRMS would progress to SPMS by the time I was forty, just eight years away at the time.

I was in a weird space of fighting the progression of my disease, but also just accepting what was happening. Part of my anger and self-loathing I had at the time led me to just want to give in and let MS kill me. But I also wanted to fight MS and get healthier. Torn between the two extremes I got stuck in a holding pattern for several years.

I did make an effort, if you could call it that, by speaking with my neurologist about disease management through healthy living, but I didn’t make any of the changes I told him I would. Thankfully, he was patient with me to wait until I was ready to get onto a drug regimen to manage my MS.

Once on Copaxone and later Tecfidera, I managed my flare-ups. Any exacerbations I got tended to be mild compared to the ones I got off medication. I was still super stressed, not exercising, not eating well, and not feeling good. The medication worked overtime.

2014. Hampstead Heath, London, UK. I was on Copaxone at the time, but unmotivated to take care of myself. I tried several months before to live “healthy” for a while, but failed to actually do anything.
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The Difficulties in Self-Reflection

A wellness journey is no different from a physical one: the path will get difficult, overgrown, washed out, detoured, and sometimes disappear. Through perseverance, we find the path again or overcome the difficulties encountered in the journey. Self-reflection functions as rocky terrain: it requires heavy emotional lifting that bogs you down and hinders forward movement. If you are training yourself to meet your personal goals, the resistence builds you up to tackles the next stage in your life’s journey.

It’s April, and you may have dropped any idea of completing your New Year’s Resolutions but know that you can still make those goals. The “New Year” is just a date, and it’s always a good time to get started on your life goals. For the sake of your own wellbeing, consider taking the next couple of weeks (in blog posts) to self-reflect even if you’ve decided to completely reject your goals.

What’s Ahead: the Difficulties in Self-Reflection

What should you expect in the next two weeks of posts?

I will be using the lens of self-reflection to review three parts of my life: pre-diagnosis, during the diagnosis process, and post-diagnosis. Within these posts, I will provide exercises for you to reflect on the same moments you encountered in your journey.

The goal will be to see where you were, where you are, and where you are going in your life as it is. Think of it as the famous Christmas story: we’ll be visiting three “ghosts” in our lives to see how we can change our current life’s trajectory.

The tough part is the level of honesty required. When self-reflecting, it’s easy to rationalize certain thoughts and behaviors rather than being honest.

I am not able to get a certain task done because I am too overwhelmed. My illness prevents me from achieving a professional goal. When I am in a better emotional place, I can finally learn that hobby I’m interested in.

The truth is this: you have to be honest about why you are not getting a task done and why you feel overwhelmed. Is it because you don’t actually want to get it done or completing the job makes you feel worse than avoiding it? Is your illness actually preventing you from achieving your professional goal or are you using it as an excuse to justify mediocre work?

I know that sounds harsh, but the truth we avoid is the one that holds us back from achieving our goals. With the next set of posts, I will ask you to be honest with yourself, so let us acknoledge the frustrating nature of self-reflection.

Remember Self-Compassion

Back in February, I discussed the importance of self-compassion. As you reflect, remember to be compassionate with yourself as you begin to uncover your truth.

A quick refresher: self-compassion is being kind to yourself in the same way you would be sympathetic to a friend or loved one. Imagine a friend approaches you with the same fears, concerns, and scenarios you are experiencing. What comfort or advice would you provide them? Take that same advice and apply it to yourself.

Remember to take it easy on yourself, be kind when you hit a roadblock, but find a healthy and workable detour.

Taking a Much Needed Break

While we will be moving forward with working towards our goals, be okay with needing to take a step back. If you need to take a break, there is nothing wrong with giving yourself the time. The process it took to get to your current state didn’t happen overnight, nor will the process to get out of it.

Engage with self-care, go out and do something for yourself. Take yourself out on a date. Honor what your mind and body tell you. Just remember to re-engage with the wellness process, even if you don’t want to. There’s a difference between taking a break and avoiding the issue altogether.

Self-reflection is like any sort of physical exercise. Sometimes you have to push a little harder when it hurts in order to achieve your desired results. Like with exercise, be sure to do it in a safe manner to prevent causing harm.

Consider Outside Help

Because I am not a medical professional, any advice I give in my posts may not fit you. Consider reaching to an outside source if you think your self-reflection will take you down a problematic emotional path. Sometimes the things we discover ourselves are upsetting, or memories/emotions come up that are too much to handle alone.

If you aren’t in therapy but think you need the outside help, consider finding someone. There are many options available, including reputable apps, so finding the right fit is easier no matter the location. While I haven’t tried one for myself, these are ideal if your chronic illness affects your mobility.

If you don’t think therapy will work for you, but you have someone in your life whom you can speak with, approach them to see if they would be willing to help as you self-reflect.

Asking for help is not a weakness, it’s recognizing the current life-load temporarily requires a helping hand. We are social creatures, so doubtless you will find someone who wants to help see you through this journey.

If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my weekly newsletter so you can get more information on this year’s wellness journey.


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Featured photo credit: Canva.com


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Stress and MS



Stress and MS.

These two go hand-in-hand. Without one, you wouldn’t get the other. Stress is a universal problem, something everyone deals with at some point in their life. Sometimes it is good, it motivates us to push through a problem for a solution. Other times it can hinder us and negatively impact our health.

I’ve talked about stress multiple times on the blog, but I knew that for MS Awareness month it deserved its own post. Stress plays such a big role in coping with MS, that for some of us, it induce our initial symptoms.

What is Stress?

Experts talk about stress on the morning talk shows. We complain to friends about it. Universally, we know and understand stress. But physiologically, what is stress and how does it affect someone who isn’t suffering from MS?

Stress is the body’s response to changes in mental, emotional, or physical changes. While the body is designed to handle stress, too much can trigger a negative physical reaction. If enduring a period of long and extreme stress, you are more likely to get sick. Your body starts to work against itself: ulcers, headaches, depression, anxiety/panic attacks to name some conditions induced by stress.

But it’s not always a bad thing.

Stress as a Positive

I firmly believe in good and bad stress. I thrive on positive stress: working on an important personal project and working up to the deadline to complete it.

Stress is one of the main drivers to get me to write as much as I do for the blog. It keeps me on track and keeps me posting.

I find that it’s such a major motivator in my life: I am freaking out to complete something, but I feel so productive once it’s accomplished. Turns out that “good” stress is a thing: it’s also known as eustress. Eustress we know we can handle and it’s usually short-term. It’s not necessarily easy to handle, but it’s manageable and can be used to drive us forward.

It’s what helps make an effort towards self-improvement.

Stress as a Negative

When we think about stress, it’s usually negative. It’s what causes us to freeze and feel burnt out. It’s hard to work through and can leave us feeling tense and angry.

This sort of stress is the kind that shortens your lifespan. It’s the kind that you have very little control over. When life throws hurdle after hurdle at you, and there’s no way to get out from underneath it, it’s this form of “distress” we experience.

This distress is where morning shows stake their segments upon. We buy books, browse blogs, pin ideas, and take classes all trying to cope with the distress we experience. We want to get rid of it because of how uncomfortable and miserable it makes us feel.

Unfortunately, we have very little control over when it ends and what it does in our lives.

Stress and MS

I spoke with my neurologist a year or so into my diagnosis and mentioned a potentially stressful situation. I asked him about how this situation would impact my health and my MS.

“Negatively,” was his response, “ask [those involved] to knock it off and do you want a prescription to give them?”

We had a good laugh over the absurdity of doing such a thing, but it got me to thinking. I was still in the middle of a stressful situation with graduate school and I wondered if it was contributing to some of the “secondary” MS symptoms I experienced: memory fog and fatigue.

I was not wrong: stress does lead to flare-ups. Curious enough, having MS (or any chronic illness) can cause stress too. It turns into a vicious cycle: you worry about the disease, the disease acts up, which stresses you out even more.

Exacerbations Induced by Stress

This study, published in 2004, looked at all the studies associated with MS, stress, and exacerbations over the period of thirty-eight years. They found a connection between stress that increases the chances of exacerbations with those diagnosed with MS.

If you have MS and found that your exacerbations or just your normal symptoms get worse when coping with a stressful situation, you aren’t imagining it. I personally found relief in knowing that managing my stress was a way to lower my chances of getting an exacerbation.

I understand that I am in a unique position to be able to manage my disease to lower my chances of an exacerbation. Not all people with MS are able to do so, if at all. There are days where stress gets close to causing an exacerbation, but I am able to recognize what is happening to help slow everything down to avoid it.

The Emotional Toll

Anecdotally, I can say for certain that extremely stressful situations, particularly relating to my personal life, increases my chances of getting an exacerbation. I was shocked at how quickly a flare-up appeared when I was in the middle of an extremely stressful moment and my arm started to go numb. Normally, I wake up with the exacerbation. It doesn’t literally happen before my eyes.

Thankfully, when I resolved the situation, the numbness went away within a day.

What’s most annoying about stress is that I have to plan my life around it. I have to take it into consideration when making major decisions. Will this freak me out? Will this bring on an exacerbation?

As I mentioned in my posts about toxic relationships, I’ve had to learn to be okay with cutting toxic people out of my life because of the problems the relationship induces. It’s discouraging when I have to manage relationships for my MS because there’s always this fear of lacking compassion on my part.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with feeling selfish which is always an uncomfortable place to be in.

Managing my stress is emotionally draining and stressful in itself. Later this week, I will discuss how exactly I manage it. Hint: self-compassion is involved along with learning to no longer care.


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Featured photo credit: Leah Kelley from Pexels


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I’m Sorry, but I Can’t Remember: MS Mental Fog

I first received my MS diagnosis while I was in a graduate program for literature. One of the key components to graduation is the Comprehensive Exams. In these exams, it’s expected to memorize key dates, figures, concepts, and timelines to do essay identifications and write several seminar length papers with little to no help over 48-72 hours. Prior to the diagnosis, I knew I was struggling with memory issues, but I assumed it was from lack of sleep. After my diagnosis, I realized what I experienced was a form of MS mental fog.

Granted, post-diagnosis, my University was required to make accommodations for me, but my pride struggled to allow it. Acknowledging that I have memory issues is something I still struggle with today: as someone who needs their brain for their living, knowing that it isn’t working properly is a huge blow to the ego.

All of this is to say, that this post is one of my harder ones to write because of how sensitive I am about my memory.

What is MS Mental Fog?

In more technical medical terms, MS mental fog falls under the cognition category. Cognition includes information processing, memory, attention and concentration, executive functions, visuospatial functions, and verbal fluency. As listed on the NMSS website, more than half the patients with MS experience some form of cognitive dysfunction. You have cognitive dysfunction if you experience one or more of the following (but not limited to):

  • Struggle with processing information appropriately with one of your senses, like something tastes off or does not feel like it should.
  • Remembering new information, such as names or tasks.
  • Decreased ability to concentrate.
  • No longer able to multi-task or divide attention.
  • Inability to plan or prioritize tasks (important to unimportant).
  • Decreased ability to judge spatial distances or think abstractly.
  • Struggle to find words in a conversation or writing.

I know I’ve struggled with all of these at one point or another, with some of them being an everyday occurrence like the fatigue.

Dealing with Memory Issues

I assumed my memory issues had everything to do with a lack of sleep from graduate school. Like many of the “problems” I was having, the solution would be to simply sleep when I got a chance.

I got the chance on several occasions and while it did help with my memory because anytime a person is “well-rested” they improve to a degree, the problem did not go away.

But once I got my diagnosis, it was like a flood-gate had opened. I had successfully repressed and blocked out any acknowledgement that there were deeper cognitive issues up to that point. Now that I knew what was going on, I had an “aha!” moment and felt like my cognitive issues got worse.

I don’t believe they got worse, but rather, I finally acknowledged that they existed.

Teaching was a passion and I realized how much harder it became. Remembering simple concepts, answering common questions all became more difficult. I found myself having to plan out my lessons to the very minute to ensure all the important things were covered. Half my time was spent planning my classes while the other half was spent grading.

It was little wonder I had no time to work on required work for graduation. I didn’t push myself too hard because I felt useless with my memory issues. I think I hoped it would somehow go away or I would find a key to fixing it so I could get back on track.

Testing Acuity

I eventually got so frustrated with my cognitive issues that I spent a whole day testing my acuity in a lab associated with my neurologist’s office. I wanted to get a baseline of my abilities, but I also wanted to figure out if I truly was getting worse like I suspected.

A mentally trying day, I was given a series of tests where they would ask me a series of questions to test my memory. I had to rank things in various orders, come up with synonmns for words, and other tests that really stretched my brain power, reaching far in my mental reserves.


It was one of my least favorite rounds of testing, but I made it through it.

They gave me the results: I did have some memory issues, but I wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. They mentioned the only reason why I noticed it was because I was in graduate school and needed to use my memory more than other patients, but it was small comfort.

They provided me with some insight on how I could manage my cognitive issues, but I was doing everything I needed to do already.

Seeing Some Improvements

When I got pregnant, I put concerns about my cognitive issues on the backburner. It wasn’t until after I gave birth to Jai and getting more sleep that I noticed I had a better time remembering things. It wasn’t perfect, but my cognitive issues were better.

I don’t know why I improved my cognitive abilities. I assume that during the pregnancy, my body was able to heal in the same way it healed the lesions I previously had.

I still am not at one-hundred percent. I struggle with memory recall or committing things to memory. Word recall is a struggle on a daily basis, and I still feel this barrier in my brain that prevents me from feeling like I have full access to my mind.

The Emotional Toll

This particular symptom of my MS takes a larger emotional toll than fatigue or numbness. Fatigue is omnipresent and numbness is a sad reminder of my illness – but memory fog really hits me in my ego and feelings of self-worth. It’s so hard to say to a friend “I know you told me this already, but I can’t remember what you said…” because it feels like I didn’t listen to them in the first place.

I tell acquaintances that I don’t remember their name or their partner’s name. I generally play it off as a symptom of “getting old” if I don’t know them well, but with closer friends, I will fully blame the MS. Everyone understand because I know everyone has their own form of memory blanks.

I am just painfully aware of the blanks which is what frustrates me so much.

The biggest toll the memory fog plays is in my relationship with Ash. I swear up and down that I remember a conversation in a particular way, and he remembers it differently. I get extremely frustrated because it feels like he’s not listening to me or trying to mess with me, but deep down I suspect that he’s right and I just can’t remember anything because of the MS.

Having memory issues is one of my biggest personal fears. When I learned about Alzheimer’s, I freaked out over the idea of losing control over my mind. MS creates the same sort of fear: with each exacerbation I have, I increase my chances of cognition issues becoming permanent. What if my MS takes me down the road similar to Annette Funicello? Would I know who I am or would I be trapped in my immobile body?

As with many other symptoms, I’ve learned to place my fears aside and work through the steps of self-compassion to manage the MS. I am keeping myself mentally active through reading, writing, teaching, and playing puzzle games (all recommended by the people who tested me), and stretching myself mentally often.

I still have my moments where I am extremely frustrated by my lack of mental abilities, but they are becoming more infrequent. I think that’s all I wanted to say, but I can’t remember.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton